Sunday, 5 February 2012

Packing and preparing for Antarctica

Packing for an Antarctic cruise, for two people who like to travel light, really light, was a challenge. We didn't want to compromise on comfort and protection, but also did not relish carrying huge amounts of gear. In the end, we struck a pretty good balance, although there were some things I'd change upon reflection and experience. Here's some advice for making the most of space whilst being fully prepared...

- Layering really was key. The biting wind keeps temperature brisk, but the combination of uphill trekking through snow and the raw sun's rays certainly heat things up. Thermals, a t-shirt, fleece and waterproof/windproof jacket plus trousers were absolutely plenty, and I never felt cold on landings.

- Take two pairs of thermals. Washing clothes in the bathroom sink was just about the only option on our ship, and thermals really are essential every day. Best to have a second pair to hand so your fellow passengers don't move away when they see you coming...

- Constant walking when on land ensured that our feet never got too cold, but wellies are not known for their warmth so a good pair of fleece wellie socks, plus one or two thinner pairs underneath is sensible. Don't bother taking your own rubber boots - most of the ships have a huge stock (unless you are a really unusual size) which are good quality.

- One thing I wished I'd taken along, and ended up buying there, was a fleecy neck warmer. Often exposed to to the cold on zodiac cruises, my lower face and neck suffered the most the first couple of days - the neck warmer could be pulled up to cover my face and was perfect.

- If you plan on taking lots of photos, then glove liners are fantastic - I wore my heavy-duty waterproof gloves on the zodiacs and when hiking, and stripped down to the liners when taking photos for an extra layer of warmth on my fingers.

- After the first couple of landings we ditched our rucksack - it was cumbersome to carry around and we only took cameras on shore anyway. What worked better was taking a foldable dry bag, which we stored the cameras in when travelling on the zodiacs (or whilst it was snowing), then tucked away in a pocket whilst taking pictures. There's so much going on that you'll want the camera to hand at all times anyway!

- Soft, comfortable clothing, such as joggers and t-shirts, were great, both for lounging around the ship and under waterproofs on land. And speaking of waterproofs, it's worth taking decent over trousers. 'Wet' landings (going from zodiacs into water and wading a metre or so to land) are frequent, and tobogganing down snowy slopes wouldn't be quite so fun with a wet bum. On the steep hikes, we rested sitting in the deep snow, and observed penguins and seals from wet rocks, so protection from the water is essential.

- Bring lots of camera memory card storage space. In 11 days, I took over 1500 photos, and that was after deleting some...

- There's no need to take tons of clothes. With thermals always sitting directly on the skin, other clothing can be re-used and rinsed off during the trip. Better to take a few good-quality pieces than bagfuls!

- Finally, remember some entertainment. Although there's plenty to do and see on the Shetland islands and Antarctic Peninsula, there are four days of travelling there and back on open water, and although sitting and chatting with fellow passengers and lectures offered by the leaders kills a lot of time, everyone needs down time too. We took a couple of books - the Lonely Planet guide and a book on Antarctic wildlife, and also our kindles, for Antarctic and non-Antarctic related reading. For the rough seas, when I didn't even want to see a book, an MP3 player was invaluable.

Check out my re-caps of our Antarctic cruise:

A sad farewell to Antarctica
A taste of life as a penguin
The perfect Antarctic Christmas present
Snow, icebergs and more penguins: the beauty of Antarctica
Ushuaia and the beginning of an Antarctic adventure

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