Camping in Antarctica: A Survival Guide

On my list of 40 things I want to do before I turn 40 is camping in Antarctica. In November of 2018, I checked that off my list. This blog post is all about my experience of spending the night on the 7th continent. I break down all the steps from what to pack to how we slept!

It is one of the best things to do in Antarctica and I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who is planning a trip to the continent.

Camping in Antarctica

Step 1: Packing

You don’t need to bring many personal items with you ashore for camping. The expedition team will take care of most of your needs when it comes to your sleeping gear, but you should make sure to bring:

I know this seems like a very small list, but you don’t need as much as you think you will. You’ll be on land for a pretty short period of time, and depending on what kind of weather you’re used to, you probably won’t need as many layers as you think you will.

Camping in Antarctica Step 2: Dig a hole

When you arrive on land you’ll need to grab a shovel and dig a hole to sleep in. With a group of 29 women and 1 man, all of which were from the Girls Love Travel group, there were lots of dirty jokes about holes and their sizes. There were also some light-hearted mentions of digging our own graves, which were scary and not as funny.

 Camping in Antarctica: A person in a yellow jacket using a shove to dig a hole in the snow in Antarctica.

My girl Amy and I both live in Vermont and have been winter camping like this before, so we decided to share a hole to share body heat. We dug about a foot and then some into the snow and made it wide enough for both of us to lie down in. Little did we know how much space our sleeping gear would take up. We ended up having to make the hole wider and longer to find both of our bivy sacks inside.

Camping in Antarctica Step 3: Sleep set-up

I have never had a more complex sleep system in my life. I’m usually a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and tent kind of a girl, but this was a little bit different.

While I was cold during the Antarctic polar plunge I did a few days before this camping trip, I was able to get warm when I returned to the tip soon after. It’s important to have the proper sleep system to keep warm as you’ll be out all night in the elements.

Please note: In case of emergency the ship is anchor close by, but being prepared will make your night the best in can be.

Camping in Antarctica: 2 sleeping bags in a snow hole with snow-covered mountains in the background

We had to put together the following system that was given to us in a giant stuff sack. The items are listed from the inside out:

  1. Sleeping bag liner
  2. Sleeping bag #1
  3. Sleeping bag #2
  4. Under the sleeping bag goes a foam sleeping pad
  5. Over everything goes a large bivy sack

After the system is set-up, which seems simple, but takes a lot of work, plop it into the hole you just dug. You’re one step closer to a warm night in Antarctica.

Camping in Antarctica Step 4: Going to the bathroom

This was a topic of great discussion for many of the ladies on the ship; There is no place to go to the bathroom while you’re on land in Antarctica and is an important thing to know before going to Antarctica.

I’m sorry to break it to you, but if you need to go while you’re camping you have 2 options.

  1. Use the portable toilet the expedition staff bring on land OR
  2. Bring a wide mouth Nalgene bottle and a (if you need it) a feminine urination device. (Make sure you pack these even if you think you may need it.)

I used both and here’s how it went…first off, I couldn’t turn down using the portable toilet with the snow wall built up around it as a privacy wall. It’s the most scenic toilet I’ve ever used. I will say that it was very cold taking my pants down to go, but what are you gonna do?

In the middle of the night, I woke up and had to go to the bathroom soooooo badly, but I was wearing very little (see next step for more information on why.) and didn’t want to get out of my hole. So I crawled as far out of my sleep system as I dared, opened my water bottle, and went for it. Somehow, and I probably couldn’t do it again, I didn’t spill a drop. Just in case I had my bandana, which I always keep on hand nearby. Although I had my feminine urination device I didn’t end up using it because of the mess it made when I practiced with it at home.

Camping in Antarctica Step 5: What to wear to bed

Everyone’s body is different, but I have found over the years that the less you wear in a cold weather camping situation the better. The purpose of a sleeping bag is to keep the warmth your body is generating inside the bag and reflect it back on yourself. Your body cannot make that process happen if you have a bunch of layers on.

Camping in Antarctica: a woman surrounded by snow smiling at the camera with a blue hat and black sports bra on.

During my overnight, I stripped down to my sports bra and underwear to have as little skin covered as possible. Then I put on my thickest pairs of socks.

Women tend to get cold feet when cold weather camping, and I’m one of the women whose feet turn into little icicles when I’m camping in the cold. Some gear companies have even started giving women’s sleeping bags extra insulation around the feet! Yay! And to top it all off I added my favorite fleece buff hat!

Camping in Antarctica Step 6: Sleepy time

So you’ve removed your layers, and you’re ready to enjoy the not-so-dark night-time in Antarctica. Getting inside and settled in the sleep system is a process, to say the least. You need to up zip the bivy sack and both sleeping bags before you climb in. The twisting and turning of your body to get inside the sleeping bag liner to zip up all 3 items again. The top of the bivy sack had a drawstring so no snow could get inside and get anything wet.

Getting comfortable camping in Antarctica while squished inside 3 sacks is a challenge. If you can do it, I’ll be really impressed. My night wasn’t terrible, but as a side sleeper, one of my hips was always cold as it compressed the down on the sleeping bags giving my hips no insulation.

From tossing and turning all night I became tangled in my sleeping bags and had a difficult time getting out in the morning trying to find the location of the zippers.

I survived the night Camping in Antarctica!

I have now gone camping on 5 out of the 7 continents with only Europe and Australia to go. It was a one-of-a-kind experience that I’ll never forget. Even if you’re not a camper I’d recommend you get out of your comfort zone and do it if you’re headed to Antarctica. How many times in your life will you have this opportunity?

Have you gone camping in Antarctica? What are some tips or questions that you have about the experience? Let me know in the comments.

 Camping in Antarctica is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Here is my personal account of my night on the 7th continent. #antarctica #camping #snow #coldweathercamping

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