EIf you’re after a real adventure (and ultimate bragging rights), then you should add camping in Antarctica to your bucket list!
When we booked our journey to Antarctica with One Ocean Expeditions, there were two experiences that we were desperate to try out – sea kayaking and camping in Antarctica.
Having camped in hundreds of different places around the world, being able to sleep under the stars on the white continent is something we knew would be a real adventure.
And just like any real adventure, there was no guarantee of success.
Before signing up for the 11-day Antarctic Peninsula Adventure we chatted with the sales team and found out that departing at the end of February meant the weather would be starting to get colder, and they couldn’t promise that the camping mission would go ahead.
This didn’t deter us though and we knew that whether we slept on the continent or not, it would still be something we’d never forget.
When we boarded the Akademik Ioffe in Ushuaia, our expedition leader Boris announced that it appeared conditions could be deteriorating, and for safety reasons they would have to wait to see what happened.
We crossed the Drake Passage during a storm and thought our chances were gone with the wind. That was until we woke up on the first morning in the Antarctic Peninsula.
Blue skies greeted us and there was no wind! We couldn’t believe our luck and we spent the first day going on zodiac and island excursions.
After lunch rumours started to go around the ship that perhaps tonight the weather would stay clear, and conditions would allow us to camp on the continent. Excitement levels were at a real high.
Sure enough when we returned from our second excursion for the day the announcement went over the PA system – the ship’s captain, and expedition leader, had approved this adventure.
Check out plenty of other amazing things to do in Antarctica in our latest article.
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Camping in Antarctica – Preparation and Adventure
It was time to learn more about how we would pull this off!
The Safety Briefing
Camping in Antarctica is an optional activity that is included on some of One Ocean Expedition’s trips, and about half of the guests were ecstatic to try it out.
Everyone who is interested had to meet on the bow for a mandatory safety briefing, where Ben, the assistant expedition leader, went over what was the be expected and the gear that would be used.
The forecast for the evening was a balmy -5°C, fairly warm considering we were in Antarctica. This meant that the real risk of anyone suffering from the cold was almost non-existent with the high tech camping equipment.
Rather than sleeping in tents the One Ocean Expeditions team use bivy sacks for their camping activities. These waterproof, windproof sacks are perfect for cold-weather camping and also allow a clear view of the sky above.
We were shown how to put the thermal mat inside the bivy sack, followed by the heavy duty sleeping bags. The bags are rated to -15°C comfort, so everyone was going to be warm enough.
Besides going over the equipment we were all reminded of the strict quarantine laws on Antarctica, which meant we could take nothing onto the continent with us besides fresh water, clothing and our camera gear.
Going to the bathroom is also strictly prohibited. A bucket and tarpaulin cover would be brought onto land for those needing to go number ones, but if at any point someone needed to do their business in the middle of the night they would be taken back to the ship to do so.
With everything explained and understood we headed back to the cabins to get ready for this epic adventure.
Check out our ultimate destination guide all about travel to Antarctica!
Heading to Hovgaard Island
After dinner we brushed our teeth, went to the bathroom, loaded up with all the warmest clothes we owned and headed to the zodiacs.
The location for our night camping in Antarctica was going to be Hovgaard Island, a small island off of the Antarctic Peninsula. Penguins and seals have complete control of the place, and we loved the idea of hanging out with these curious neighbours.
We walked down the gangway, while the passengers who had opted to stay on the ship stood outside, drinks in hand, singing us songs and cheering.
The atmosphere on the zodiac was buzzing, and the sun started to dip lower in the sky. We couldn’t wait to finally touch down on Hovgaard Island!
Setting Up Our Camp in Antarctica
We landed on Hovgaard and immediately collected our camping gear. We walked up to a large, snowy slope that had been allocated by the One Ocean Expeditions team as the official Antarctica Campground, and got to work setting up our bivy sacks.
The first thing to do was dig out a flat platform in the snow, and the whole crew got to work with the shovels.
Soon everyone had managed to build a nice campsite, and once we got the bivy sacks set up we headed down to the water’s edge to catch the sunset.
We couldn’t have planned it any better. Once the sun dropped behind the mountains the sky lit up in violent tinges of reds and purples. The colours were so vibrant we all put our cameras down to simply admire it. Photos couldn’t do it justice.
As to be expected, now that we were in the shade the temperature started to drop rapidly. We all made our way back to the bivy sacks, took off our boots, snow pants and snow jackets, and crawled inside.
It took a few minutes to warm up, but once we did the bivy sack and sleeping bag became quite cosy.
We stuck our camera gear inside with us to make sure it didn’t freeze, and slowly drifted off as the stars started to came out.
The snow platform was surprisingly comfortable, and with the thermal mat, sack and sleeping bags between our bodies and the snow we were protected from the elements.
At about 1am I felt a gentle shake and woke up. Alesha rolled over towards me and whispered, “Look at the stars.” I turned my eyes up and couldn’t believe what I saw.
Billions of stars glowed brightly in the dark sky, glistening like glitter beneath a strobe light. The Milky Way rose above the snow-capped peaks in a majestic arc.
“Take a photo,” Alesha mumbled, before rolling over to go back to sleep. As warm as I was, I wanted to try and capture what I was seeing. Defying the cold I sat up, stuck my arms out and set up the tripod and camera.
For 5 minutes I snapped a few photos, spending the time while the shutter was open to gaze towards the heavens and watch the stars shine. When I had captured a few I packed everything up and fell back asleep, trying to get warm again.
We stirred awake around 6am with the sun already high in the sky. Some of the other campers were already up and walking around, and we quickly joined them.
Crawling out of the bivy sack was quite difficult with the cold temperatures outside, but we did it as quickly as possible, bouncing around once we were out to get the blood flowing.
Within a few minutes we had put all our clothes back on, packed up the sacks, sleeping bags and mats, and made our way back towards the waiting zodiacs.
The One Ocean Expeditions crew did a final sweep of Hovgaard Island to make sure no foreign objects had been left behind, then we made our way back to the Akademik Ioffe.
Craig, the restaurant manager and Beckie the bartender were waiting for the happy campers with fresh coffee and tea out on the deck, and to say it was appreciated would be a huge understatement.
We all gathered around, sipped on our hot brew and let out a huge cheers. We had managed to survive a night camping in Antarctica, and the experience is not something we will ever forget.
Tips for Camping in Antarctica?
The first to keep in mind when camping in Antarctica is that it is only possible in summer when there is ample daylight hours and temperatures are much warmer.
That being said this is still considered cold-weather camping, and therefore you need specialist equipment to do it. 3-season tents won’t cut it here.
We visited Antarctica with One Ocean Expeditions, and they had high quality winter-grade bivy sacks, sleeping bags and thermal mats for all their passengers to use on the continent.
With the most important gear taken care of, the next thing to take with you on your Antarctica camping adventure is warm clothes.
We recommend wearing thermal pants and thermal tops (merino wool is our personal choice), as well as two pairs of warm socks, a sweater, gloves and beanie. Also bring a torch, headlamp or your phone with a light.
The outerwear and snow boots will be supplied by One Ocean Expeditions, so you can leave the big, bulky jackets and pants at home.
Take a bottle of drinking water with you, but that is all you can take. No food or other types of beverages are allowed on the continent for environmental reasons.
A large waste bucket is provided, along with a tent-style cover to go around it for those that needed to go to the toilet while on the island. This is only available for number ones though, so make sure you go to the toilet before leaving the ship.
If at any time you feel uncomfortable or want to go back to the ship you can ask one of the One Ocean Expeditions crew members and they will return you on a zodiac immediately. But once you go back to the ship, you aren’t allowed to return.
The most important thing to remember is that while this is an exciting activity, and something that you’ll be telling your friends about for years to come, it’s not exactly ‘dangerous’.
If there’s any chance of a storm rolling in or the temperatures dropping substantially, the expedition leader will cancel the night’s activity. This is a bummer, but they really do have everyone’s safety as their main concern.
The biggest tip we can give for camping in Antarctica is to just give it a go! It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and is one of the most amazing things you could ever tick off your bucket list.
[box] Our night spent camping in Antarctica was done as part of our partnership with One Ocean Expeditions. All thoughts, opinions and stars we tried to count while lying in our bivy sacks are, as always, our own.[/box]