What to pack for an expedition cruise

Travel Advice

Off on your first expedition cruise? Packing is a challenge at the best of times, but when you don't know what to expect, it's even more difficult. Our handy packing list should point you in the right direction…

Are you going somewhere cold? First hint is, think ski (not great if you don't ski, but it's a start). But remember, there is a difference. When you are skiing, the exercise will help you keep warm. On an expedition, you may be quite physical - hiking to a glacier, or kayaking between the icebergs, for example.

Guests on hydraulic viewing platforms aboard Greg Mortimer

But you may be completely inactive - for example one morning when we were in Svalbard, the whole ship's complement took to the zodiacs to track two polar bears, mother and cub, who were striding along the water's edge. For two hours, we sat entranced in our rubber boat, inches from the Arctic ice, a steady wind blowing across the water, captivated by this amazing sight. But imagine, had we not been wearing the proper gear, just how cold we would have got as we sat as quietly and motionlessly as possible so as not to disturb the bears.

So, the key is layers. Next to the skin, a cosy base layer, using natural fibres such as merino wool or silk. Thermals after that, then a more bulky fleecy item or two, trapping extra layers of warm air between garments for added insulation. Likewise socks - one, two or even three pairs can be good. Over the top of everything, waterproof trousers, and an insulated jacket - make sure it's windproof, waterproof and very roomy, to make space for the extra layers beneath.

Quark Expeditions - Polar bear in Spitsbergen

Don't forget a neck gaiter, a cosy hat that covers your ears, and gloves of course - wear a lightweight touchscreen pair so you can still take photos, with warm overmittens - on strings if possible, just like when you were a child at school, so you don't drop them in your hurry to get the best shot or manipulate your binoculars!

Most expedition cruise lines will supply a free parka, and provide rubber boots for you to borrow, so you won't need to carry these in your luggage - check before you go. (By the way, expedition cruises are not dressy, so you don't need gowns and jackets for the evenings - just normal holiday wear).

Couple on Hapag-Lloyd's Hanseatic in the Arctic

In warmer climes of course it is a different story. You will go ashore by zodiac, landing on uneven terrain or stony beaches, so take waterproof sandals to help you disembark speedily. Easy wash lightweight moisture wicking fabric is perfect in steamy climes, especially if you are going to be hiking. Long legs and sleeves help with protection from the sun and from insects. Be sure to take a wide-brimmed hat to protect your head, face and neck from the sun. Depending on your destination, you might find a lightweight waterproof jacket is useful - check what the rainfall levels will be during your visit.

You are likely to be snorkelling, so check that the ship carries equipment. They will probably have masks, tubes and flippers. In some areas at certain times, a wetsuit is also useful if water temperatures are cool - again, the ship is likely to carry these. Take your own if you wish, and also do take the trouble to get prescription goggles to make the most of snorkelling if your eyesight is not perfect.

True North Adventure Cruises - Snorkelling in the Kimberley

Whether hot or cold, you will want a lightweight waterproof backpack in which you can carry your camera when going ashore, as well as drinking water, lip salve, and other equipment. Moisturiser, sunblock and UV sunglasses are essential - don't assume that in cold weather you won't need these. And in warmer climes, take good quality insect repellent as well.

Photographing the Northern Lights

Finally, take the best camera you have - and if you are going to be snorkelling, take an underwater camera too. If you're aiming to capture the Northern Lights, a sturdy tripod is a must. Make sure you are equipped with sufficient batteries and memory sticks - if the ship doesn't have what you need, you are not going to be able to find a store for extra supplies. And don't forget your binoculars.

Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Adventures. Her most recent adventure was a cruise on Silver Origin and she has also sailed with Seabourn, Ponant and Aqua Expeditions. Her favourite adventure destination is the Galapagos however she's also enjoyed cruises in the Middle East, East Africa & Indian Ocean, Brahmaputra, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, the Mekong, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and the Arctic. When she’s not travelling she loves reading, food and wine.

More about Edwina

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