Dressing for the Arctic

Being correctly prepared and having the right kit makes all the difference, particularly on a trip like this, so it’s never too early to start reviewing your kit. The good news is that between the clothing items provided, and what you already own, it shouldn't cost you a lot to fill in the gaps for your polar wardrobe.

Clothing

Underlayers

Base layers are going to be key to staying warm when you're in the Arctic, both top and bottoms, as they trap air close to your body and can be added and subtracted until you hit a happy medium. As we like to say, 'dress like an onion'.

We recommend you don’t wear any cotton, but instead choose merino wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers, as they retain body heat far better.

On top of one or two base layers, you can then add a jumper or fleece layer, before your outer weatherproof jacket.

Outerlayers

You will definitely need a weatherproof outer 'shell' comprising both a jacket and waterproof trousers.

A decent gore-tex or skiing jacket is ideal, which you may already have. Similarly for the waterproof trousers, skiing trousers/pants work really well. The vast majority of boats will include a jacket for you and some will also provide waterproof trousers which saves you either buying them or carrying them on the journey.

Gloves & socks

Hands and feet are typically the first things that get cold when you are out on Zodiac excursions, so a combination of both thin and thick socks and gloves is a great idea.

Also key to warm hands and feet is keeping them dry. Your boots, provided by the boat, will keep your feet dry, but splashing from the Zodiac as you cruise through the icy water may get your gloves wet, so make sure your gloves are either waterproof or bring a pair of rubber gloves to protect them whilst you are cruising around. Fishermen have been doing this for decades. It’s also worth taking a second pair as there is nothing worse than putting on wet gloves for an afternoon excursion.

Other important items

Also, don't forget to pack:

  • A woolly hat (always worth having a second one to avoid putting on a wet one!)
  • UV protective sunglasses (the sun is very strong
  • High factor suncream
  • Lip balm and face cream to protect against high wind
  • A Buff or neck gaiter
  • Your swimwear - for the polar plunge!
  • A rucksack
  • A dry bag, to keep your camera dry if your rucksack isn’t waterproof

A telescopic walking pole (or poles) with a snow basket on the end, so it doesn't sink into the snow, can also be a really useful extra point of balance on the ice. They don’t take up much space in your luggage and are light and you can get good ones that double as a pole for your camera or binoculars.

Those keen on wildlife might also appreciate packing a decent pair of binoculars. We strongly suggest bringing your own binoculars, however, each ship will have a limited number available for guest use if you don’t have your own.

What kit will be provided?

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Most ships provide rubber insulated boots on loan to guests for the duration of the voyage, while quite a few also offer complimentary parka jackets. These are really decent bits of kit, often with a high neck to keep out the wind, and a zip in fleece inner layer. Please check the 'Prepare For Your Voyage' documents to see what’s provided on your vessel.

When choosing your parka jacket sizing, given the added underlayers you’ll be wearing, we suggest choosing one size larger than you would normally. The same goes for your rubber boots, to take into account the thick socks. Try on your jacket and boots straight away - if an item isn’t quite right there will always be a stock of other sizes, so don’t fret about getting the sizes 100% correct.

The details of what clothing will be provided on your own voyage can be found in your original confirmation email which you should have received shortly after booking. If in any doubt, please get in touch.

Clothing: FAQs

  • Will I need to bring a winter jacket if a parka is provided?

    We’d suggest that you take a warm coat with you, along the lines of a micro down jacket or a good softshell. This will be a useful extra layer when you are on board and perfect for anytime on land before or after your cruise.

  • What is the typical dress code on board the ship?

    It's relaxed and leans very much towards the casual and comfortable, rather than needing to feel that you’re on parade.

    People typically dress in a mixture of outdoor/walking attire or whatever they tend to wear at home. Bring what you will be comfortable in, it really isn’t a fashion show and the expedition ships are very ‘dress down’ in approach. Our advice would be dressed ready to dash outside at any moment so you don’t miss any wildlife opportunities that may be swimming past. In the evening, especially on the more luxurious ships, some people may put on a collared shirt or make a bit of an effort, but there’s certainly no whipping line.

    When packing it's worth also bearing in mind that all of the ships are kept very warm inside, to the point you could actually wear shorts and a t-shirt if you really wanted. So you don’t need to pack lots of layers while on board. The laundry service on all ships is typically very efficient and inexpensive, so again you don’t need to bring an excess of clothing. You do need to have closed toe footwear on board. Open toed sandals or flip-flops are not allowed for safety reasons.

  • Where would you recommend buying polar clothing?

    Your best bet is to visit a reputable, local outward bound store where you’ll have access to good free advice and can try items on before purchasing.

  • Is it worth taking trekking poles?

    Yes, definitely - the collapsible poles are ideal and don't take up much space.Even having just one pole can be really useful as a third point of balance. 

  • Is it worth taking walking boots?

    This will depend on the trip you are going on and how active you want to be. If you are on a land-based expedition then you will definitely need walking boots and it is essential that you have taken time to walk them in and 'wear them in' before the trip.

    If you are travelling on a ship and intend to do lots of walking then it may be worthwhile, but you should ensure that they are waterproof and well insulated. In our experience, on the majority of trips people with walking boots use them for the first landing and then forget they have them in favour of the rubber boots provided by the ship.

  • What sort of footwear do you need whilst on board the ship?

    Flat rubber-soled shoes are best, particularly for the icy outer decks, so trainers are perfect.