5 Tips Antarctica Taught Me About Staying Warm Wherever You Are

published Jan 10, 2023
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Mom walking with child wearing winter jackets in the snow
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It’s no secret that weather has been unpredictable lately — just ask the massive cold snap and blizzard that recently froze basically the entire United States before thawing out into relatively mild temperatures. As winter weather gets more extreme, it’s important to know what to wear to stay warm. Luckily for you, I just returned from an Antarctica expedition. Now I’m packed full of tips and advice (with the help of the ship’s excellent expedition crew) for braving the coldest chills on the planet. Here’s what you need to know about keeping warm in freezing temperatures.

Perfect Your Base Layer

According to Aaron Lawton, Viking’s Expedition Operations Manager, a great base layer is the most critical part of your cold-weather clothing setup. You’ll want to cover your top, bottom, and extremities.

“Merino wool is a wonderful base and provides excellent thermal properties as well as moisture-wicking capabilities,” Lawton says. “A warm pair of socks, something similar to a ski sock, is a great addition to the base layer.”

While I was in Antarctica, my base layer was a pair of leggings and a thin but warm long-sleeved shirt. I preferred a base layer on the thinner side so I wouldn’t feel too stiff with everything else on over it — a tactic that works well no matter where in the world you are.

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Choose the Right Insulating Layer

Above your base layer, you should have an insulating layer. It keeps you warmer while also keeping out any moisture that might try to seep into your clothing, which will just make you freeze. Ideally, you’ll have both a top and bottom insulating layer. Lawton suggests using fleece pants and a wool or fleece top.

Use an Appropriate Outer Layer

On Viking expeditions, they provide guests with rain pants, neoprene rubber boots, and a two-piece expedition jacket to take home with an inner puffer layer and an outer wind- and waterproof shell. (It’s legitimately the warmest jacket I’ve ever owned, making me sweat even through the cold Chicago wind.) These layers provide insulation from whatever volatile weather systems might throw your way — and they’re vital for keeping you warm, dry, and cozy. Helly Hansen is one of the best brands for your outer layers. Plus, it’s pretty stylish.

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Cover Your Extremities

If you’ve heard this advice a lot, it’s because it’s true. You lose heat through your extremities: your hands, feet, and head. And if they’re cold, you’re probably chilly no matter what you’re wearing. 

“A wool hat [or] beanie is a great way to protect your head and a pair of warm gloves or mitts, preferably waterproof, will also be a great addition to the ideal outfit,” Lawton says. “And good socks. Don’t skimp on the socks as happy feet are important to having a happy day.”

Know When to Go Waterproof

The moment I realized I’d brought the wrong gloves to Antarctica was a wet and chilly one. I was wearing an adorable pair of pink-striped gloves — but they were fabric and thin. 

A wave splashed up the side of our Zodiac (an inflatable boat) and hit me from the chest down, soaking my gloves completely. For the rest of the day, I had to keep my hands stuffed in my pockets. The weather was bad and if I took them out, my fingers would freeze instantly. So take it from me (and Lawton), and make sure you’ve got waterproof outer layers on days that could be wet. 

“Cotton isn’t a good idea when out in the elements as it doesn’t insulate very well, especially when wet,” Lawson and my stylish gloves say. “Being dressed to accommodate … weather changes means the difference between enjoying the changing weather and feeling uncomfortable as a result of the changing weather. A bit of salt spray on your face while in the Zodiac makes you feel alive, as long as it stays on the outside of your clothing.”