Preparing for Antarctica

Posted: January 8, 2012    Categories: Antarctica

In just 3 days I set out for Antarctica on the M/S Expedition!

This is probably the biggest adventure in my 5-years of traveling. It will easily be the furthest south I’ve traveled (previously Invercargill, New Zealand), it will probably be the most remote location I’ve ever been (depending on how you define remote), it will be the longest trip I’ve taken by ship in the roughest seas I’ve ever been on. It will also be my seventh and final continent to visit.

This trip is also requiring more thought in term of packing that any other trip I’ve taken. Normally I just throw stuff into a bag take off. Here is a brief overview of what I’m planning to bring:


The trip starts in Ushuaia, Argentina and then visits the Falkland Islands and South Georgia island before heading to Antarctica. While Antarctica is a land of ice, most of this trip will be above the Antarctic circle and it will be in the summer. Temperatures are actually warmer in most of the places I’ll be visiting than they are in Wisconsin in the winter. For example, here are current temperatures I found on Google:

  • Ushuaia, Argentina: 55F (12.7C)
  • Stanley, Falkland Islands: 61F (16C)
  • South Georgia Island: 48F (9C)
  • Base Esperanza, Antarctica: 39F (3C)

So it isn’t as if I need to prepare for -40 degree weather. You do need to dress warm, but it isn’t as extreme as you might think it is. It isn’t as if I’m going to the South Pole where temperatures are always extremely cold.

I actually own a parka that is the same kind used by staff at Mcmurdo Station and I assumed that I would be bringing it to Antarctica, but it seems like overkill given the temperatures. It is very warm, but also very bulky. I’ve decided not to bring it and instead take my Revolution Plus which should be warm enough for the conditions I’ll be facing. Moreover, it has far more pockets which will let me get off the boat without my camera bag.

Everything else will be just layers of clothes; Long sleeve t-shirts, button up long sleeve shirts, pants and long underwear.

Footwear is always an issue when traveling. Sneakers, sandalas, formal shoes and boots all serve different purposes. I’m going to be bringing my hiking boots which I’ve been traveling with for the last 5 years. The ship has rubber boots which I can wear or put over my shoes so I’m not worried about bringing waterproof shoes with me.

The clothing hasn’t been nearly as big of a problem as I initially thought it would be. If I ever go to the South Pole (which I hope to do someday) it will be a different story.

Camera Gear

I have no idea if/when I’ll be going back to Antarctica so I don’t want to miss any photos.

The biggest change I’m making with camera gear is that I’ll be taking a 500mm lens with me. Traveling non-stop means you have to make sacrifices when it comes to gear. I normally only travel with 3 lenses and 1 camera body. At best, I have been able to zoom out to 200mm but my images at the resolution are usually horrible. As such, I have never take good wildlife photos.

The folks at are letting use a 500mm lens and tripod. I’m hoping the lens will give me the reach necessary to get shots from the deck of the ship and of whales we might see from the boat. I’ve seen many whales over the last 5 years, but I have never gotten a good photo of one.

I’m also going to be taking my second body with me (my old Nikon D200) so I don’t have to swap lenses as much. The main reason I don’t use my D200 is because it performs poorly in low light, which shouldn’t be an issue that far south in the summer.

Given the length of the cruise (18 days) I estimate the number of photos I’ll be taking to be well into the thousands. I also tend to take more photos of people/animals because it takes more shots to capture a head or movement to be exactly the way you want. I’ll be bringing along a fair number of memory cards and hard drives to back everything up.

Many of the concerns I have traveling with heavy, expensive gear aren’t an issue when you are on a boat. I don’t have to carry everything from place to place, security isn’t much of an issue and I’ll have time to edit photos each night.


If you are traveling to Antarctica in the summer and not venturing too far beyond the Antarctic Circle, I don’t think you need to pack that much different than you would if you were going on a ski trip. Yes it will be cold, but the temperatures aren’t as extreme as you might think.

I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to say on the subject when I return.

Until then, wish me luck!

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