Preparing for a polar expedition can be a daunting task. “How cold will it be”? “What type of gear should I bring”? “Is one pair of gloves enough”? No stranger to the world of cold weather gear, Nadine Ponte, Merchandise Manager of Quark Expeditions Polar Boutiques found herself asking these same questions prior to her expedition to Antarctica this past December. A seasoned traveler in her own right, Nadine was about to embark on a Fly Cruise to Antarctica, a condensed expedition in which travelers skip the Drake Passage and fly to directly to Antarctica.
This unique expedition presents a new challenge to even the most experienced travelers – a reduced luggage allowance of 15 Kilograms (33 lbs). We spoke with Nadine post-travel to gain some insight as to how she maximized space in her luggage without compromising on warmth.
How was packing for a Fly/Cruise different than other voyages?
I thought more carefully about packing and spent more time planning what I was bringing due to the weight restriction imposed on the flight to Antarctica. I assembled all the items I thought I would need from my wardrobe a few weeks before my voyage and replaced any gear in poor condition from our Polar Boutique. I placed everything in a durable 70-liter waterproof backpack. From the initial large amount of clothing and gear I wanted to bring, I started reducing things item by item until I reached the 15KG weight limit (approx. 33lbs). The biggest challenge was choosing less casual clothing than I wanted in place of the warm gear I needed for landings. I like to have variety of clothes and room for creativity based on my mood so having choices was key for me. In the end, I planned the pieces of my onboard outfits to interchange with each other so I wasn’t limited to just a handful of outfits.
What was on your packing list?
Packing for landings and cold weather was the easiest part. By using the best quality items that were multifunctional, I was able to bring everything I needed and still have room in my bag. For landings I brought:
- 2 base layer bottoms and tops
- 2 mid layer pant and top, waterproof pants
- 2 pairs of Icebreaker Merino wool socks
- pair of fleece boot liners (these were awesome – my feet never got cold even while zodiac cruising)
- wool neck warmer
- 2 warm hats
- liner glove and pair of waterproof gloves
- lip balm
I was also comforted by knowing that if something happened and I absolutely needed more clothes, there was a Polar Boutique onboard full of things I may need to stay warm and dry.
When I think about it now, I could have gotten away with only 1 set of Icebreaker Merino base layers, because that’s what I ended up wearing the most and they stayed fresh after the 4-5 days of landings.
We get a lot of questions regarding what to wear onboard the ship. Is it casual or dressy?
The overall atmosphere onboard is very relaxed and comfortable. In my bag;
- 2 pairs of jeans / casual pants
- 2 sweaters (bring a sweater that can also be used as a mid-layer when going outside or worn with jeans / pants)
- 2 casual tops / shirts
- A comfy pair of shoes (running shoes, hiking shoes, anything flat with a bit of grip because the deck can be slippery)
- 1 outfit for the flight to and from Antarctica - layers worked really well for the change in temperatures (I wore leggings, a t-shirt, an over sized sweater and scarf)
- A bathing suit for the polar plunge or something else that you’re willing to get wet. Some people went in with shorts and a t-shirt, and one person even plunged in a penguin suit!
What clothing did you find the most useful?
Hands down, my Icebreaker base layers. I wore these on every landing and onboard, all day long even under my casual clothing. There were so many occasions that I wanted to go outside to either view the scenery and wildlife where I didn’t have time to run to the cabin to change. They definitely kept me warm! I also kept my mid-layer sweater on with my jeans; I could easily swap jeans for waterproof pants and I was ready for a landing. You’re moving very quickly on a fly-cruise, so anything you can do to make preparing easier will save you more time to get out and enjoy.
Did you bring anything you didn't need? Or wished you'd brought something you didn't?
I definitely didn’t need my work-out gear! I was active enough with the landings and activities, so I was able to skip the gym. And the hair-dryer; there was one provided in the cabin. I also brought cotton socks for wearing onboard, however I ended up staying my wool Icebreaker socks all day as they were warmer. In fact, I wish I brought a lighter pair of Icebreaker wool socks for the flight home!
What baggage would you recommend bringing? Any tips?
I was very happy with my choice of a waterproof bag and backpack. I felt comfortable that my camera equipment would stay dry on landings and the space was large enough for my gear. I saved me from having to bring a regular suitcase.
Do not bring a suitcase type of carry-on with wheels, though. You have to walk almost 2 km to get to the ship from the plane and it’s not smooth enough to roll the bag behind you. Waterproof backpacks are the best for this as the weather can be either snowy or raining during that hike. You will also transfer to the ship via zodiac so it’s best to have your equipment protected.
Note: you can leave extra luggage in a locked room at the hotel for Quark passengers in Punta Arenas if you have extra items you don’t wish to bring with you to Antarctica.
What did you learn on this voyage that would help you be better prepared for the next?
Ship life is even more casual than I thought and comfort is key. It was interesting to see the onboard styles transform as the voyage progresses and people start to care more about warmth and comfort than looking fancy