Packing redux

A post about how my packing worked out.

I always have a hard time packing for weather that I’m not in right at that very moment, and this was the ultimate “hard to imagine what I’ll feel like wearing” trip. It was mainly a case of making sure I had the right layers.


Here’s the post where I first detailed my packing list, if you want to look back: Layers, layers, layers

So how did it all work out? Did I pack the right things?

Nano puff jacket. (Patagonia Nano Puff) Never really needed this. I brought this onto shore on all our landings just in case, so it was nice to have something that packed down small. Jeff wore his as his outer layer a few times on the deck of the ship instead of the big yellow parka.

Ski pants. (NorthFace insulated ski pants) Perfect. Kept me warm and dry, no complaints.

Fuzzy warm fleece jacket. (Patagonia Los Gatos fleece jacket) I didn’t really need this. It just wasn’t that cold.

Hiking pants.  (Prana Halle pant) These are what I wore on the ship between landings and on sea days. I’d just switch out of the ski pants into these, over a pair of long underwear.

Gloves. (Freehands photo gloves—these ran really small so I needed a large.) My photo gloves were perfect. Kept my hands warm and I loved being able to just let my index finger and thumb peek out to work the camera controls. I had a backup pair of waterproof gloves with me but never needed to use them. I also packed some Smartwool liners, thinking these might be good for working the camera and still protecting me from the cold a little, but I never wore these.

Long underwear bottoms. (Patagonia capilene) Two pair of Patagonia capilene, one cap 4 (expedition-weight) and one cap 3 (medium-weight). Two pairs was plenty. I washed them out in the sink a couple of times. They did a great job of keeping me warm and dry. I definitely worked up a sweat on some of the hikes, and the long underwear never even felt damp.

Long underwear tops. Two Patagonia tops, one cap 3 and one cap 2. Same as with the bottoms. Great performance, dried fairly quickly when I washed them out in the sink, too. Two tops were enough.

Fleece. (Basic fleece from the Gap that I’ve had for years, so no link.) I wore this as my top layer onboard the ship, and then wore the yellow parka (which also has a fleece lining) over it when I was outside. Plenty warm outside in these layers.


The three of us hanging out on the bridge of the ship.

Fleece-lined wool hat. Worked great. Sometimes was hot when I was hiking, so I’d take it off and put it in a pocket.

Polar buff. (Fleece buff) Could be used in lots of ways, but I never used mine even once. Jeff wore his as a hat/face covering as you can see above.

Sports bra. (Under Armour sports bra) So glad I had this. Like I said, I broke a sweat on several hikes, so it was nice to have wicking material next to my skin.

Smartwool ski and hiking socks, plus liners. (Smartwool) Never needed the liners. The smartwool socks were plenty warm on their own.

Underwear. I packed enough for a new pair everyday without needing to wash any on the trip.

Swimsuit. For the polar plunge!

Sunglasses, two pairs. In case I lost one.

Hiking shoes. These are the only shoes I brought. They worked well for hiking in Tierra del Fuego NP in Ushuaia and had good traction for wearing on the ship’s deck.

I also packed a pair of jeans and a couple regular long-sleeved shirts for wearing before & after the trip. If I’d really needed the space, I could’ve skipped these, but there was no reason to, as I had plenty of space in my pack.

So that’s it for my clothes. We packed everything in soft-sided luggage (backpacking packs) because we weren’t sure what space in our cabin would be like. As it turned out, there was space under the beds, so we could’ve stored hard-sided suitcases there with no problem.

Other things I packed:

Hothands hand warmers. Never used these.

Vicks. I’d read that penguin poop really stank, so I brought this to put under my nose to kill the smell. But I never really noticed a bad smell other than on one landing (Neko Harbour), and even then it wasn’t bad enough that I felt like I needed Vicks.

Sunscreen. Besides that the snow is reflecting the UV rays, there’s a hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica. The good thing is, you’re so covered up in clothes that really the only exposed skin is your face, so you don’t need a ton of sunscreen.

Phenergan, SeaBands, Dramamine. I was determined to be prepared for whatever the Drake threw at us. In the end, only the phenergan helped me at all. I was so glad to have this!

Woolite travel laundry soap. These are what I used to wash out my long underwear in the sink.

I think that’s everything. In a real pinch you could probably buy everything you really needed from the ship’s gift shop, although you wouldn’t have many choices. But they did seem to stock all of the essentials, so if you forgot something, you wouldn’t be completely out of luck.

Camera gear

This is as good a time as any to talk about the camera gear that I brought with me. Taking photos is a huge part of my enjoyment of an experience and one of the things I most looked forward to about this trip.

So here’s what I brought with me and how I used it.

Nikon D750
Nikon D600
16-35mm f/4.0
35mm f/1.4
24-70mm f/2.8
80-400mm f/4.5-5.6
Fuji x100s

spare batteries
rain covers
dry bags
polarizing filter
SD cards
Macbook Air
2x portable hard drives
microfiber lens cleaning cloths
2x Black Rapid straps

This setup worked pretty well. For landings, I put the long lens on one and used a wide-angle on the other one. I switched it up between the super-wide and the 24-70mm for the wide one. The 35mm f/1.4 (which is one of my most used lenses, generally) I used only inside the ship, and before and after the trip.

To carry them to land, I put each camera + lens combo inside a dry bag, then put the dry bags in my backpack. I wore my two camera straps (which are cross-body straps) over my parka, then put on my lifejacket, then my backpack. On the zodiacs, you had to remove your backpack and keep it at your feet. Once on land, I’d take the cameras out of the dry bags and hook them onto my straps, and I was ready to shoot.

Me wearing two cameras in antarctica

Me wearing two cameras on Carvajal. You can see one camera and two straps; the second camera was being used to take the photo.

What I would do differently: I wish I’d brought a small waterproof point-and-shoot camera. (I was looking at the Nikon 1 AW1 before we left, but didn’t buy it.) Partly for taking pics on the zodiacs–where you were very likely to get spray or even full on splashes except on the very specific zodiac cruises, where you were moving slower and the whole point was to take photos. But for going to/from shore, we sometimes went through some amazing ice, and I generally didn’t want to risk getting the camera wet. (I did take it out a couple of times, but I also got completely drenched one day from behind–not while I had a camera out–and I was like, well, I guess that’s why you wear waterproof clothes! The splash hit me and went over my head onto the people across from me. So mostly it was too risky, I felt.) (Someone asked Alex, the expedition leader, before our first landing, “How waterproof do our backpacks need to be?” and he said, “As far as I’m concerned, it either IS or it ISN’T waterproof.” LOL.)

Also I wish I’d had a waterproof camera just for taking photos of immediately before/after loading and unloading. Because I like to document everything. And I did manage to get some photos of these moments a couple of times, but it would’ve been easier if I’d had a little camera that I could just slip into a pocket and not have to worry about keeping dry. (Because my Nikons were each in their own dry bag inside my backpack for zodiac rides, and the loading area was too small and cramped and things happened too fast to try to shoot and then put it away before it was my turn to load.)

I wiped them down with a damp washcloth several times, because they did both get a lot of spray at a few points. I had plastic rain covers for them, which worked ok. I used them in snow/light rain and during the hurricane when I was shooting on deck even though I could barely remain standing up.

I always had spare batteries in an inside fleece pocket (to keep them warm) but I never had any problems with cold draining the batteries. Probably b/c it wasn’t actually that cold.

I expected to see lots of amazing camera gear on this trip, but amazingly, only a few other people had DSLRs with pro lenses. People joked about the fact that I carried two cameras. And the first time I busted out the 80-400mm, as we sailed through the Beagle Channel out of Ushuaia, someone joked, “She wants to be the first one to photograph Antarctica.” HA!

But I’ll also say that you didn’t need DSLRs and pro lenses to get amazing photos. Sometimes I looked at the awesome photos people were getting from their tiny p&s cameras and I was like, “Why am I lugging all this around again??” But all in all I was happy with my setup.

Layers, layers, layers

Final documents from Quark include a “pre-expedition briefing” in PDF form, which opens with a list of six things to remember, like that you must have a passport valid for at least six months after the trip, you must confirm whether you need a visa to enter Argentina, you must book your own flights to/from Ushuaia, and you must bring waterproof pants for wearing in the zodiacs. LOL. Passport, visa, flights, waterproof pants. Check.

Let’s talk about layers. It seems the general advice for clothing in Antarctica is 3 layers on bottom, 4 layers on top. Plus stuff for your extremities. The average daily temperatures are reported to be between 25 and 35F, but it can be very windy. It can also snow/blizzard at any time, and there are the zodiac rides to contend with (splashes as you cruise to/from land). The water there is 28 degrees F, btw. (Did I mention that they offer a polar plunge?)

Staying dry and warm are the two main issues. I want to have as many options for layering as possible. So here’s what I’m bringing. I did buy a lot of new stuff for this trip. I basically used it as an excuse to upgrade all my ski stuff, which was all old and bought with no research (it was before the internet!).

To start with, Quark gives us the jackets. We will all get these big bright yellow jackets, which have a zip-out fleece liner. So the outermost layer is taken care of. They also loan us the waterproof boots for wearing on landings, so we don’t have to worry about that.

clothes for antarcticaLeft to right, top to bottom.

Patagonia nano puff jacket hoody. This was my biggest debate—hood or no? I settled on hood b/c even though it looks goofy (elastic around the face) it’ll go over my hair even if it’s twisted up, something a hat cannot do. And I wear my hair twisted up a lot. This jacket is SO thin and it packs up into its own pocket, yet it is SO WARM. It’s also prima-loft, which is synthetic, so it still keeps you warm even if it gets wet, unlike down. So this can be an outer layer or an insulating layer.

Insulated ski pants, waterproof. I went back and forth about whether to do insulated waterproof pants, or rain pants + fleece pants (plus long underwear with either). In the end, vanity won out, b/c I like the look of the ski pants a lot more than the rain pants that I was willing to pay for. (Note: there were some $450 rain pants—no joke—that were more stylish but hello they cost $450 so no.)

Warm fleece. Crazy soft and makes you want to keep touching yourself. And I mean that in the most wholesome way possible. Also very very warm. Most likely too warm to wear as a layer on land with everything else, but will be nice for hanging out on the ship.

Water-resistant hiking pants. For hanging out on the ship.

Gloves—two pairs of waterproof ski gloves (one of which are photo gloves where you can pull back the index and thumb tips so your fingers can work the camera controls) and a pair of smartwool liners.

Long underwear bottoms, Patagonia capilene. I debated between synthetic and wool when researching, but when I went to the Patagonia store it was an easy decision. The merino wool versions cost twice what the capilene versions cost. These come in 4 different weights, 1 being the lightest, silk-weight, and 4 being expedition-weight. I went with one cap 4 and one cap 3.

Long underwear tops, Patagonia capilene. I originally bought two capilene 3 tops, but after wearing one up at Keystone in single digits and being *plenty* warm, I decided to switch out the second one for a cap 2 weight, to have more options.

Fleece-lined wool hat. I bought this in Iceland the first day there when I was freezing. It’s toasty.

Polar buff. Like they wear on Survivor! Except this is a polar version, which has a fleece part at the neck. This can be worn in lots of configurations as a scarf, hat, balaclava, etc.

UnderArmour sports bra. Hot pink b/c it was the cheapest color on Amazon. Seems comfy, has wicking ability, gives me giant uniboob. But with so many other layers, I don’t even think it will be noticeable.

Fleece. Your basic fleece. Not much else to say about this one.

I just realized I left out the socks…will be bringing one pair of smartwool ski socks, two pairs of smartwool hiking socks, and a pair of sock liners. I’ll also bring a few pairs of regular socks.

I will also bring a couple of long sleeve shirts, a pair of jeans. Pair of sneakers for wearing on the ship. Two pairs of sunglasses.

After we get back, I will post an update about how well this worked out and what I’d do differently.

Camera kit

Antarctica, november 2007

I am narrowing in on my Antarctica camera kit. I am thinking a lot about what sort of options I will want as far as lenses, etc., but also I’m thinking about how I will carry it all.

Landings are made via inflatable zodiac boats that take you from ship to shore, and sometimes you cruise around in the zodiacs as well (for getting up close to icebergs, etc.). It’s cold. Although everyone says, “It’s not as cold as you think it will be!” But you still wear expedition-weight long underwear and serious layers on land. I need my gear to be protected from water (splashes while on the zodiac) in some sort of waterproof bag. I need it to be easy to carry while I’m getting on/off the zodiacs. And then I’ll need it to be easily accessible when I’m on land. I will also need to protect it from condensation when bringing it back onto the ship from the cold after landings.

Here’s what I’m thinking, lens-wise:

16-35mm f/4
35mm f/1.4
24-70mm f/2.8
80-400mm f/4.5-5.6

This list is a work in progress.