We review the best gear for a polar expedition (Shutterstock)
Review Words : Phoebe Smith | 02 July 2019

18 of the best travel gear essentials for polar expeditions

From exploring the Arctic’s icy tundra to watching whales and photographing penguins in Antarctica, dressing right for an adventurous water-based trip is key...

1. Swarovski CL Companion Nomad

These new bins from Austrian optical master Swarovski not only help you look for wildlife (choose from 8x30 or 10x30 models) but, with their leather armour sleeve, make you look good while doing so. 

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2. Arc’teryx Beta AR Jacket

Yes, it’s expensive but, boy, does this waterproof AR (All Rounder) deliver. Made from Gore-Tex Pro, it features zipped hand pockets, pit zips to vent on warm days, an adjustable hood, and a separate collar for extra protection.

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3. Rohan Weather System Gloves

Mitts are warmer than gloves, but impractical for photography.

Enter this nifty pair made from a warm, durable polyester, featuring a magnetic fold-back ‘finger shield’ that converts them into fingerless gloves in seconds. 

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4. Keen Targhee III

 

 

Most ships will lend you muck boots for landings, but at other times a pair of light walking boots is ideal.

These are waterproof (made without PFCs), have a tough set of lugs and are made from long-lasting leather. 

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5. Smartwool Merino 250 Base Layer ¼ Zip

 

There are lighter base layers, but a midweight one like this is a great option: use it to layer up on cold days and on its own when warmer.

The zip allows venting, the seams are flatlocked for comfort and it’s all just 230g. 

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6. Jack Wolfskin PomPom Beanie

In the polar regions, biting winds can blow any time of the year and whatever hat you take needs to cover both head and ears to ensure good heat retention.

This option is windproof, warm and breathable.

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7. Sleeping Mask and Earplug Set

You’ll have near-24-hour daylight at the northern or southern extremes, so ensure you get a good night’s kip with an eye mask.

Nab yourself some trusty ear plugs, because you never know if your cabinmate will snore (even if it’s your other half!).

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8. Ortlieb Light-Pack Two

Taking your expensive camera and lenses to shore on a small inflatable boat is always worrisome, which is what makes dry bags so useful.

But getting your kit in and out of your rucksack can be a pain – but not if your rucksack IS a dry bag. This 330g number carries 25 litres in its roll-top design and also has pouches for water bottles, stash bungees for rain jackets and comfy shoulder straps. 

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9. Icebreaker 260 Tech Leggings

To keep warm in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, it’s all about the warm underwear. These long johns are designed to be worn under your trousers to keep you toasty.

Made from 100% merino wool at a 260 midweight, they offer great comfort, breathability and all the seams are flatlocked to prevent chafing.

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10. Bridgedale Explorer Heavyweight Knee

 

Most of the boots you’ll be lent on ship will come up to your calf and the last thing you want is to be faffing around with socks falling down or letting in cold air.

Knee-highs are the way to go, and these feature zonal padding for comfort, are anti-slip, and made from a pong-free merino wool blend.

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11. Mountain Equipment Odyssey Pant

Vital for ‘wet landings’ from Zodiacs and to counteract the wind chill, these trousers are made from a top breathable and waterproof fabric.

The knees are articulated and the crotch is gusseted for good movement, while the hem is adjustable. But the winning feature is the full-length zip on the legs, making them easy to put on even in blustery conditions.

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12. Go Travel Worldwide Adaptor + USB

 

Like money, battery power is something you can never have too much of.

Save the former while getting the latter with this adaptor that fits sockets in over 190 countries and charges your phone via USB, too.

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13. Patagonia Better Sweater Jacket

 

For a fleece with a difference, check out this Fair Trade-certified number.

Not only will it keep you super warm when worn under a waterproof (see layering boxout), but it’s also dyed using a low-impact process. 

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14. Bioderma Photoderm MAX 50+ Sun Mist

Just as you’ll need sunglasses, you’ll also need sun protection. This high-strength formula is ideal as it’s operated by twist cap (no lid to lose), helps block UVA and UVB, stops blackheads forming, doesn’t require rubbing in, and can even be applied to wet skin.

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15. Sandisk Extreme Pro

 

 

Everyone knows you need a big memory card for capturing your shots.

But do check the read/write speed as this is key for firing o multiple photographs of birds flying, penguins slapping each other and whales breaching.

Go for a minimum of 95MB/s to be sure. 

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16. Dark Peak Nessh Jacket

No matter whether you’re headed north or south, an insulated jacket is key to getting warm and staying warm. You have two choices: those filled with synthetic down or those stuffed with goose or duck down.

Both work by trapping warm air between the fill. Synthetic down jackets are usually a bit bulkier, but can often be cheaper and will work even if you get them wet. Those using goose or duck down tend to offer a better warmth-to-weight ratio.

Look at the ‘fill power’: the higher the number, the warmer the jacket. This jacket is packed full of 850-fill goose down (all responsibly sourced) and wrapped up in a water-repellent nylon outer, yet only weighs 322g (size M).

The back is scooped so it won’t rise up when you’re crouching down to get eye-level photos of the wildlife and the side panels are vertical rather than horizontal, allowing for excellent freedom of movement.

The zip is two-way so you can open it from the bottom or top – great for getting something out of your trouser pocket – and integrated wrist gaiters keep your hands warm by preventing draughts (they can fold away if not needed).

The helmet-compatible hood and hem are elasticated and there are two zipped external pockets and three internal ones. But the best thing is that for each jacket bought another is donated to a homeless person, meaning that your purchase will serve to keep more than just yourself warm.

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17. Smith Longfin

Sunglasses might not be the first thing you think about packing for a polar expedition, but they’re an absolute must.

The white snow all over the place reflects the sunlight and plays havoc with your eyes.

The abundance of marine life in both Arctic and Antarctic waters means it’s also worth investing in a pair with polarised lenses, which allow you to look into the water more easily and reduce glare.

The lenses on these ones from optical specialist Smith are not only polarised, but also antireflective and boast a hydroleophobic coating (a fancy way of saying they repel water, moisture and grease – such as that from fingerprints).

They also feature nose and temple pads for a comfortable and close-to-face fit.

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