Camping in Antarctica: A Survival Guide
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On my list of 40 things I want to do before I turn 40 is Camping on Antarctica. In November of 2018 I checked that off my list. This blog post is all about my experience spending the night on the 7th continent.
Camping on 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:
Any layers you would normally wear on a shore landing (which you should already be wearing.)
Camping on 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.
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 lay down in. Little did we know how much space out 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 set-up in my life. I’m usually a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and tent kid of girl.
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:
Sleeping bag liner
Sleeping bag #1
Sleeping bag #2
Under the sleeping bag goes a foam sleeping pad
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.
I’m sorry to break it to you, but if you need to go while you’re camping you have 2 options.
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 bad, 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, that 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 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. You body cannot make that process happen if you have a bunch of layers 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. Studies have shown that women tend to get cold feet when cold weather camping, and I’m one of the women who’s 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 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 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 actually went 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?