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Ultimate Packing List For North Pole Cruises & Arctic Expeditions

Travel experience team member standing on the sea ice in front of Le Commandant Charcot
By Andy Marsh
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Image of a man standing in the arctic with mountains in the background wearing expedition clothing and a red expedition jacket, hat and gloves

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So you have decided to join a once-in-a-lifetime expedition cruise to visit the furthest reaches of the polar regions. The next steps are to ensure you are fully prepared I have created a detailed packing list.

In this article, I share my firsthand experience of all the items you should consider taking on your cruise to the North Pole or your icebreaker expedition based on my experience exploring the polar regions. 

In this packing list, I cover everything you need to pack for your cruise:

  • Expedition clothing and layering
  • Footwear
  • Onboard clothing
  • Day Bags and waterproof bags
  • Sunglasses 
  • Cameras
  • Accessories 
  • Sunscreen & Medicine

This packing list is intended to give you an overview of everything you need to bring and contains specifics for Le Commandant Charcot. A comprehensive packing list for your ship will be provided during the reservation process, as there are slight nuances between ships and cruise lines, some of which are more formal than others.

Expedition Clothing & Layering

Temperatures at the North Pole and in the Arctic can vary considerably. Hiking on a day with bright sunshine reflecting off the snow can make it feel much warmer than it really is. 

It is essential to plan outer clothing accordingly. One of the most important considerations is what clothing to bring with you to ensure an enjoyable and comfortable expedition. 

Expedition cruising involves spending time outside in polar environments, so it is essential to be prepared for various conditions. These could include freezing conditions, wind, rain, and snow. Staying warm is vital. The best method to keep warm and comfortable is to dress in layers that can easily be added or removed, depending on the temperature or activity.

Outer Layers

Outer layers are designed to keep you dry and protected from the elements. Expeditions often include wet landings by Zodiac, so waterproof outer layers are essential. 

a woman wearing expedition clothing sitting on the ice at the north pole

Expedition Jacket*

A weatherproof, water-resistant insulated expedition parka is a must on polar expeditions. These jackets are designed to keep you warm and dry and are ideal for wearing outside on the deck on colder days, on Zodiac rides, and during activities such as dog sledging, where you are stationary for periods of time. 

* On Le Commandant Charcot North Pole and Icebreaker Cruises, an outstanding warm windproof expedition parka is supplied, and you can keep it! Please check with our Travel Experience Team for other expeditions to see if an expedition jacket is included.

Waterproof Windbreaker Jacket

a woman wearing a red windbreaker jacket and hat on the deck of a ship in the arctic

A lightweight, waterproof, and windproof jacket is ideal for warmer days or activities when the expedition parka is too warm, such as hiking. For longer hikes and sunny days, an expedition parka can be too warm, so a lightweight jacket is necessary on the outer layer. This jacket should be accompanied by insulated underlayers that can be removed or added as required, depending on your body temperature. 

We recommend materials such as Gortex that are both windproof and waterproof.

Waterproof Winter Snow Trousers

I highly recommend a pair of waterproof insulated snow trousers that will keep you warm and dry whilst on zodiacs, shore landings, and hiking in the snow. These versatile trousers are perfect for a range of conditions, from spending time on deck wildlife watching to outdoor activities such as hikes and for Zodiac excursions on colder days.

Lightweight Waterproof Outer Trousers

I also recommend a pair of lightweight waterproof trousers that can easily be carried in a backpack. These lightweight trousers are ideal for shore landings, and Zodiac rides where it is possible to get wet and on warmer days when insulated snow trousers may be too extreme. For shore landings, they can be easily removed after exiting the Zodiac and carried in a backpack when hiking.

Headgear, Hats, and Gloves

When exploring the polar regions, it’s essential to ensure that you lose body heat through your head and hands, especially when you are still on Zodiac rides or watching wildlife on deck. A warm hat, ideally made of wool or fleece, is essential. I also highly recommend a fleece neck warmer to offer extra protection.

Warm, water-resistant gloves are another essential item. I carry two pairs of gloves, a thick set of polar mittens for colder days and a thinner pair that can be easily put in a backpack when hiking.

Mid Layers

A packing list essential, mid layers are designed to keep you warm under your outer waterproof layers. To help regulate your body temperature, it is essential to choose materials that don’t absorb water, are breathable, and can be easily added or removed as necessary.

a woman wearing mid layers in the arctic packing list

Fleece Insulation layer

For added warmth, a warm layer such as a polar fleece jacket can be worn under an expedition parka or outer jacket. Fleece is an ideal material as it is easy to dry if it becomes wet, unlike wool. I recommend a fleece with a full-length zip, as this can help regulate temperature when hiking. Also, consider a fleece with a hoodie for additional protection.

Lightweight Down Jacket

A lightweight down jacket is an ideal optional insulation layer for wearing under a windbreaker on warmer days. These layers can easily be added or removed as required and are suitable for hiking or Zodiac cruises.

Hiking Trousers

Comfortable hiking trousers are ideal for hiking and shore landings during warmer summer days. Choose a water-resistant and breathable anti-chafe material to remain comfortable on longer hikes.

Base Layers

Base layers keep you comfortable in varying temperatures and during different activity levels. They are designed to wick moisture away from the skin, helping you remain warm and dry during activities such as hiking.

mens base layer on a white background north pole packing list

Top Layers

Here is a selection of long-sleeved T-shirts that repel moisture. For the best comfort, we highly recommend synthetic materials or merino wool. Avoid cotton and other materials that soak in moisture.

Bottom Layers

On colder expeditions during the spring and autumn months and on North Pole cruises, we highly recommend wearing thermal trousers under your outer trousers for added warmth on deck and in the Zodiacs.

Underwear 

Wear sports underwear made of materials that wick away moisture and are anti-chafe for comfort on longer hikes. If you are prone to the cold, you can also consider thermal underwear.

Socks

Warm woollen socks are perfect for wearing whilst hiking and on the Zodiacs.

Footwear

Insulated Rubber Boots

On an expedition, wet landings from the Zodiac are often the case, and wearing waterproof boots is mandatory on all shore landings. Insulated rubber boots provide the warmth and protection required for exploring the Arctic, both in the Zodiacs and on the shore, for shorter, less strenuous hikes. Rubber boots are supplied on the North Pole and icebreaker cruises. Please check with us to see if they are included on other cruises.

Hiking Boots

For guests who don’t want to hike in rubber boots, we recommend bringing a pair of hiking boots that you can change into after landing on the shore. For longer hikes, it is important to wear in the hiking boots beforehand to prevent blisters.

Onboard Footwear

Comfortable shoes and trainers with a good grip and non-slip are ideal for wearing whilst on the ship. If you are joining a cruise with a formal evening you wish to attend, please bring a smart pair of shoes.

Onboard Clothing

Daily Clothing

During your time on the ship, we recommend casual, comfortable everyday clothes. The interior of the ship is warm, so a light sweater is ideal. Please bring enough clothes for the duration of your trip. On Le Commandant Charcot, a laundry service is available for an additional fee.

Evening Clothing

We recommend smart-casual attire for evenings on Le Commandant Charcot, especially when dining in our restaurants, where shorts and t-shirts are not allowed.

For Women:

● Simple dress

● Skirt or trousers

● Blouse

● Polo

For Men:

● Pleated trousers or chinos

● Sports jacket

● Shirt

If you wish to participate in formal evenings on Le Commandant Charcot, the following is advised.

For Women:

● Cocktail attire

● Evening dress (if you wish to)

For Men:

● Dark suit

● Tie recommended, possibly bow tie (if you wish to)

Gym Wear

Please bring your regular gym clothes if you want to use the ship’s gym facilities or participate in gym classes.

Swimwear

If you would like to participate in the polar plunge or use the spa facilities and pools, please bring swimwear.

 Day Bags and Waterproof Bags

We highly recommend a small, waterproof backpack for shore landings and use in the Zodiacs, where gear may be splashed. When hiking a small backpack to carry water and spare clothes is essential.

Sunglasses

Highly protective UV sunglasses are essential as sunlight reflected off snow creates a powerful glare. We highly recommend bringing a spare pair of sunglasses.

Packing List Accessories

Binoculars

Wildlife may not be close to the ship often. A sturdy pair of binoculars with a decent range is highly recommended for wildlife viewing in the Arctic. For those without, Le Commandant Charcot has some excellent spotting scopes on deck.

Cameras

For photographers interested in wildlife, I highly recommend a telephoto lens. Often, subjects can be a long distance away, so a zoom lens of over 600mm is highly advised.

Ensure you bring a camera, extra batteries (the low temperature can cause batteries to dissipate faster than in temperate regions) and enough memory cards for the voyage. I highly recommend bringing a camera cleaning kit to maintain the camera.

Phones, Laptops and Devices

Bring any devices with charging cables and power adapters with you. If you plan on taking photos on your phone, consider a waterproof case.

Walking Poles

Walking poles are highly recommended for walking on the ice on Le Commandant Charcot expeditions. The ship carries a limited number of walking poles, but if you wish to hike with two poles, it is recommended that you bring your own.

Water Bottle

A water bottle is supplied on Le Commandant Charcot voyages. We highly recommend bringing a water bottle to keep hydrated whilst off the ship on cruises where no bottle is supplied.

Medicine & Sunscreen

Sunscreen is essential when travelling in polar regions due to the intensity of the sun’s rays reflecting off the ice. Choose a sunscreen with a high SPF rating of 50. Lip balm protection is also essential.

If travelling in Greenland during summer, we highly advise Mosquito repellent, anti-itch balm and mosquito head net is also a good idea.

If you take any medication or prescriptions, please ensure you bring enough for the duration of the Arctic expedition and any extra needed in case of a delay. 

If you are a light sleeper also consider bringing an eye mask.

Packing List Resources

The following reputable companies make all the types of high quality outdoor gear on this packing list.

Stellar Equipment

Patagonia

Rab

Arcteryx

Marmot

If you need any advice about planning your expedition cruise, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our Travel Experience Team.

If you would like to join us on an expedition cruise you can see our Expedition Cruises Here.

Thanks for reading.

In this article

About The Author
Travel experience team member standing on the sea ice in front of Le Commandant Charcot
Andy Marsh
Founder of North Pole Cruises
Andy is a passionate explorer and an expert in the polar regions. With over 15 years of experience travelling to some of the most remote polar regions, Andy has sailed across the Drake Passage and explored Antarctica and South Georgia by tall ship. He has years of experience working extensively with small boats in Svalbard and Greenland. He even worked on the Falkland Islands, helping to set up the first TV station there. Andy loves to share his knowledge with guests planning their expeditions as an expert in expedition cruising and a polar know-it-all. His most recent and thrilling voyage was on Le Commandant Charcot to East Greenland, a journey that is sure to captivate your imagination.

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