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Camping in Antarctica

Abandon the cruise ship for a night and bed down to witness the immaculate white landscape beneath the South Pole's night sky or hear curious penguins and seals coming by to investigate who's crashing on their turf. Plus, it's usually warmer than you'd assume for Antarctica and you'll go home with a tale of how you slept right on the ice. How many people can say they've done that?

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What is it like to go camping in Antarctica?

Spending a night camping on the South Pole ice is unique, stunningly gorgeous and genuinely not that cold! It's also an adventurous activity that's available to everyone in good health.
The excursion typically starts after dinner on the cruise ship. You'll want to eat enough to tide you over until the morning--there's no food allowed on the mainland. Toilet facilities will also be limited.
Then you'll hop in a zodiac for transport to the shore. It takes about an hour to set up the camp. Some tour operators use tents while others offer closer-to-nature experiences that enable you to sleep in a bivy sack, also known as a bivouac. (Bivy sacks are one-person waterproof bags you sleep in as an alternative to a tent.)
After sunset, temperatures will start to dip so everyone will be advised to get into the tents or bivy sacks. The nighttime experience varies by season. Between November and March, you'll experience up to 24 hours of daylight, with the most hours of sunlight around the summer solstice on December 21st. If you're in a bivy sack, you can admire the bright sky from the snug comfort of your warm pod. In November as well as February and March, sunset, sunrise and the night sky in Antartica provide amazing photo opportunities--the twilight literally casts a translucent, otherworldly glow on the clouds. You'll return to the ship around 5:30am in time for a warm drink and breakfast.
In an effort to leave no trace on this pristine natural environment, there's no food allowed, but participants can bring a bottle of water.  There is usually a portable toilet available but it's best used only when absolutely necessary--try to take advantage of the cruise ship facilities before leaving on the zodiacs.

What should I keep in mind before booking?

Remember the following before you sign up for a camping activity.

  • The activity will be a one-time thing (if the weather conditions are appropriate). Camping equipment will be provided by the tour operator but participants should bring several good thermal base layers. 
  • You can bring water - but per strict regulations, no other drinks or food are allowed. 
  • Toilets will be very limited. Portable toilets are brought for emergencies. You may also bring a urine-collection bottle (available in both male and female versions) if the portable toilet option does not appeal. 
  • You should be in good health. There is always radio communication with the ship, so in case of emergency zodiacs are dispatched, but it could take time to return to the ship.
  • It's generally warmer than you'd think. Summer temperatures in Antarctica are usually around 0°C (32 °F) or warmer, and if you wear appropriate thermal gear you should be comfortable. 
  • You probably won't get much sleep, but be prepared that this night is less about sleeping and more about absorbing the magical adventure of spending a night on the ice.

Is it safe?

Camping in Antarctica is a safe activity. There's no risk from wild animals and it only takes place under the right weather conditions. If you wear good base thermal layers and bring extra clothing, you should not feel cold. The activity is always supervised by experienced crew members who are in radio contact with the ship. In case of emergency, zodiacs will whisk passengers back on the ship.

Tents in Antarctica
Tents in Antarctica

FAQ

  • Is camping included in the price?

    Sometimes. Certain operators offer camping as part of their total prices, others don't. If it's not included, prices range from 150 to 300 USD per person.
  • Can I change my mind after booking?

    Yes you can, although a refund is not guaranteed and depends on each operator's cancellation policy.
  • How and when should I book?

    Secure your spot when you book the cruise. With some operators, you can also book when you're on the ship. But remember that places are limited so the earlier you book, the more likely you snag a spot. 
  • I didn't book camping, is there any way I can still participate?

    It depends on the operator and whether or not they have any space left. Some might have standby list (if so, ask to be put on it). 
  • How cold will it be?

    Most agree that with the proper gear, it's not as cold as you'd imagine! Professional camping equipment (either a tent or a bivouac /bivvy) will be provided to ensure the proper insulation. Be sure to wear proper clothing you shouldn't get cold. Keep in mind that it is weather dependent, so if the tour operator decides conditions will make the experience too cold, the activity won't take place.
  • Do I need to be physically fit or have previous experience?

    No, everyone is welcomed to join camping. No previous experience is required and you don't need to be physically fit. The only requirement is to be in generally good health.
  • What happens in case of emergency?

    The crew members that accompany the camping are always in radio contact with the ship and emergency zodiacs can be dispatched asap. There is also emergency gear and food rations brought in case weather conditions change swiftly and you are out in the elements longer than planned. 
  • Do I need to bring any extra equipment?

    No, all camping equipment is provided by the tour operator. Just make sure you bring enough appropriate clothing.

What should I wear if I go camping in Antarctica?

Wear your warmest clothing and bring about three layers of good quality items to stay warm and cosy. Pack extras but keep in mind that you may not have access to a large tent to change in, so plan on wearing things like thermal underwear. 

  • Waterproof and windproof parka and pants
  • Two layers of socks - thin and thick, extra pair can be brought just in case
  • Thin gloves and warm mittens 
  • Hat
  • Extra fleece

Tips

  • Remember: no food is allowed on Antarctica. Make sure to eat enough during dinner on the boat--you'll leave for the campsite shortly after the meal ends.
  • There are no proper toilet facilities, but in most cases, the crew will set up an outdoor portable camping toilet (behind some sort of barrier for privacy). If that doesn't sound appealing, consider bringing a urine-collection bottle (there are both male and female versions available).
  • Consider bringing a flashlight or headlamp. The staff can usually provide these for you but it's always good to have an extra source of light. 

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