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How To Pack for the Polar Regions

6 min read

Packing for your polar expedition can be simple and stress-free with a little help from our experts. In this post, you'll learn how to stay warm and comfortable, save space, reduce clutter and ensure you have everything you need--and only what you need--on your polar expedition.

Essential Gear for Zodiac Cruising & Shore Landings

Every polar passenger must be outfitted with a few things to leave the ship on Zodiac cruises and shore landings:

  • Waterproof pants
  • Muck boots
  • A PFD (personal flotation device)
  • Your Quark parka
Passengers load into Zodiac cruisers for an outing to explore Antarctica.

Passengers board a Zodiac en route to a shore landing. Photo: Miranda Miller

These items ensure your comfort as much as your safety, and you won't be allowed to leave the ship without them! The PFD has a strap a guide can easily get ahold of, if needed, and having all passengers dressed in one way and guides in another helps you easily identify a team member when you need one.

The good news is that your PFD and muck boots are provided onboard for the duration of your trip, and your Quark parka is yours to keep as part of your expedition package.

Specially designed by our knowledgeable team, your insulated, waterproof, seam-sealed, hooded 3-in-1 parka will serve you well and keep you warm and dry. Check it out:

When you get to your cabin, you'll also find:

Your magnetic ID card, which open your room door and also allows staff to scan you and other passengers as you exit the ship for excursions, so everyone is accounted for. On many ships, there's a plastic sleeve on the arm of your parka that's great for storing this.

Your reusable water bottle, which clips onto your parka or PFD with a carabiner clip.

Other essentials you'll want to make sure you've packed that will make your shore landings and cruises more comfortable include sunscreen, lip balm and sunglasses.

Backpacks and Dry Bags: To keep your hands free when boarding Zodiacs (a safety requirement), bring a water resistant or waterproof knapsack or backpack to keep your camera gear, extra socks and other essentials dry when you head out on shore landings.

A waterproof backpack keeps your essentials dry while hiking and exploring on land and by Zodiac in Antarctica.

A waterproof backpack keeps your essentials dry. Photo: Miranda Miller

Packing & Layering for Polar Weather Conditions

You'll be traveling to the coastal regions of Antarctica during the southern summer, and to the Arctic during the northern summer; in both cases, conditions are typically mild but changeable. Enjoyable sunny days can swiftly change to cold, windy storms with snow flurries and rolling seas. Temperatures can range from below freezing (this is common even in daytime), to warm enough to enjoy time on deck taking photos and spotting wildlife in your t-shirt!

Pack to dress in layers so you are prepared for these rapid weather changes.

Tip: Choose merino wool for its warmth and antimicrobial properties. It'll stay fresh and dry over many wears.

Base Layers: A good set of base layers create a foundation of warmth on polar expeditions, and you can wear them multiple times. Silk, merino wool or polypropylene underwear are all great as they are non-bulky and will keep you nice and warm. Extra lightweight versions are available if you want to sacrifice a tiny bit of warmth for more packing space. Remember that merino wool has natural anti-microbial properties, so it'll help you stay fresh and dry even over many wears.

I always kept my merino wool base layers on and simply changed my waterproof outer pants for a favorite pair of jeans at meal times. You'll find that dining is comfortable and casual on expedition, so you don't need to pack a whole separate wardrobe for onboard life. In fact, I found it useful to keep my base layers on during meals in case I wanted to go on deck right after. The great thing with wool is that it regulates your temperature, so even though you're wearing an extra layer, you won't overheat.

This video shares great tips on keeping your luggage weight down:

Insulating Layers: Woolen or fleece pants, sweaters, tops and turtlenecks are great for layering. While I was packing, I weeded out puffy, bulky midlayers in favor of synthetics and fleece. Be sure to try on your mid-layers with your base layers and waterproof outers before packing to ensure they're the right fit together.

Water, Wind & Weatherproofing with Expedition-Worthy Outers

Gusting winds can cut right through inferior materials, and you can expect to get splashed in a Zodiac. Stay warm and dry by complementing your Quark parka with a set of outers you'll feel comfortable in throughout your expedition.

Tip: Don't worry about packing dress shoes for dinner. Expedition life is casual, even at mealtimes!

Footwear: You'll need a pair of shoes with nonslip soles when walking around the ship. Slip-on sandals, slippers or flip flops are neither safe nor suitable for wearing on board. Don't worry about winter boots--remember, muck boots are provided! They're super comfortable, provide grip, and hug your calves to keep water out.

Quark Expeditions passengers are given waterproof boots to wear for the duration of each expedition.

Waterproof Pants: Waterproof over-pants are essential when you travel by Zodiac or participate in onshore activities. You'll wear them over your baselayers and a pair of warm pants, to create an ideal combination of warmth and dryness. I love Helly Hansen Dubliners and wear them myself on expedition. They're affordable and do a great job of keeping you dry.

Gloves: To keep your hands warm and dry, pack a minimum of two pairs of layered gloves (in case one pair gets wet or lost). When taking photographs or on deck in good conditions, you'll want a pair of thin polypropylene or merino wool gloves, which will otherwise be worn underneath a pair of bulky, warm outer gloves. You can even get glove liners with sensors that allow you to use touchscreen devices without removing them, which are great for smartphone photography.

Tip: Try a fleece-lined wool hat for maximum warmth and comfort. The wool keeps heat in, while the fleece is soft next to your skin.

Hat and Scarf: Pack a warm, woolen hat or cap that covers your ears, as well as a scarf, neck gaiter or similar face protection. You'll find that a peaked or brimmed hat will help protect against the sun, but be sure it has a strap to hold tight during windy conditions. You can get creative here, too… most of your gear is going to look pretty similar to everyone else's! If you want to show off a bit of personality, your hat is the way to do it.

Socks: Avoid cotton socks. Instead, bring warm, long wool socks that can be worn over a thin pair of silk or polypropylene socks. Pro tip: Icebreaker merino wool socks get a lot more wear without washing than synthetics (and they don't get funky, either). Bring 2-3 pair for your entire expedition.

P.S. Don't forget your swimsuit!

The Polar Plunge is a popular rite of passage on Antarctic expeditions with Quark!

A passenger takes the polar plunge in a big way! Photo: Miranda Miller

Ready to get packing?

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