Packing for Antarctica or Arctic Travel

You’d think after 20 years traveling to the Polar Regions I could pack in my sleep. Well actually I do pack and repack in my sleep, but that doesn’t make the job any easier. It is not the clothing that gives me trouble, it’s all the gear. How do I get all the gear into the size and weight limitations of the airlines and make it manageable for a 5’2” 120lb person?

Lynn Gear resized 600

For most of you packing your clothing is what’s got you worried. Will I pack too much or too little? Do I have all the things I need to stay warm and dry? Do I really have to bring everything or can I rent it all. If you live in a place like Florida, the tropics, or other warm places in the world maybe you don’t own any of the clothing you’ll need for your upcoming Polar adventure. Lots of you are thinking “I don’t want to buy the clothing because I’ll never use it again”. Well, if you are like me, and some of our clients, once you do your first Polar trip you will be hooked. It won’t be the last and you will need all that clothing and gear again and again.

Some of the ships make things easier and provide you with a waterproof parka/jacket and use of the necessary rubber boots (also known as Wellies or gumboots). This will make things easier and cut down on the weight of your suitcase, unless you are someone like me. I prefer to wear my own boots and clothing; so even though I can, most of the time I don’t leave my boots and jacket at home.

In addition to the boots and jacket you will also need waterproof pants, warm under layers (wool or synthetic long underwear), Polar fleece and/or down or synthetic sweater or jacket, warm socks, gloves or mittens, and warm hat (if you’ve booked your trip through Polar Cruises you are in luck, we send you a nice warm hat as a gift).

These are only the necessary going to shore items. What if you aren’t used to cold weather? Well maybe you will want to bring a neck gaiter, extra set of long underwear, additional socks (not a bad idea to have 2-3 pair), extra pair of gloves or mittens (in case the first pair gets wet).

Now, what will you wear onboard the ship (when you aren’t onshore)? I tend to wear much of the same gear onboard because I spend most of my time out on deck (as long as it’s not too stormy). At night I do change into casual pants, t-shirt or shirt, slip on shoes; but I always have my jacket close by just in case. Believe it or not the weight of all this clothing will fit within the most restrictive of the weight limits (flight between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, Oslo and Longyearbyen, Ottawa and Resolute), but you still have not added any of the gear.

If you aren’t into taking pictures with a DSLR (digital single lens reflex camera) with multiple lenses, plus video, plus sound recording equipment, plus tripod, plus monopod, etc. you are probably set. I think you get the picture. This is where my problems begin. Not only does each of these pieces of equipment add weight, but most of them require charger, battery, memory cards, laptop, cases, and on and on.

So, what did I finally pack for this trip to Svalbard and what did I finally decide to leave behind? My first attempt ended up with a 60lb checked bag and 2 carry-on bags (1 rolling & 1 back-pack), total weight 90+ lbs. That’s a bit much for a 10 night voyage onboard ship and 1 person, don’t you think?

My second attempt, 2 checked bags (42lbs & 15lbs) and still the 2 carry-on bags. The total weight has gone up, of course each time you add luggage you add weight.

Third attempt, this should be the charm... 1 checked bag 44lbs plus 2 carry-on bags (1 rolling & 1 small daypack). Total weight 60lbs. How did I do this? Well I left my tripod, spotting scope and related items at home.

Last night as I was trying to sleep I kept thinking, am I making a big mistake not taking the scope? Well only time will tell... I guess you can’t bring everything. I’ve been known to be repacking minutes before the shuttle service arrives at my house to take me to the airport. I always know I’ll regret it when we have our first Polar bear encounter of the trip. So here I am, sitting on my flight to Norway after 2 very stressful days of packing and repacking wondering if I will ever get this process down and not have to think about it so much?

Sometimes I think that I should just stop taking photographs, recording wildlife sounds and simply pack my clothes and enjoy the trip. That sounds like a great idea, except the last time I tried that I wished I had brought my camera because we had the most amazing wildlife sighting and I wanted to share it with everyone back home. Maybe next time I should travel with a friend (or my husband) and we can split the weight between 2 people.

Good luck packing for your next adventure vacation I hope you don’t have the troubles I always seem to have. I’m open to any advice any of you have to offer, it certainly can’t get any harder.