Each year 30,000 people visit Antarctica out of those 30,000 people only two thirds actually land  on the continent and of the 20,000 people that actually step foot on Antarctica there are a handful of crazy people that are foolish enough to camp at the bottom of the world.

We were one of those people.

Did we get to sleep in tents like these? No way! These luxurious beauties were filled with our emergency gear. Oh, no when camping in Antarctica you do it like a real man and sleep in nothing but a bivy!

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We didn’t get to sleep in tents either

When Quark Expeditions told us that we had the option to camp on the continent we jumped at it. Being able to say that you slept on Antarctica under the stars with nothing but you, your sleeping bag and a small bivy sack is the ultimate camping experience. Plus, it makes for some darn good bragging rights as well.

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This is what we slept in

It had already been a day to end all days. We had survived the Polar Plunge, paddled through brash ice and mesmerizing scenery of Neko Habour, landed on the shores of Neko Harbour to visit a penguin colony and ended the afternoon paddling in Paradise. It had the makings of a perfect day and now we were topping it off with ultimate adventure.

Thirty one other people were as crazy as us and together, we took up the challenge of making it through the night in sub zero weather while sleeping in snow on the shores of Paradise Bay.

More Crazy Campers, Sarah, Helen, Albert, Marianne of the US and South Africa

There are a few rules that one must take into consideration before deciding to camp on Antarctica.

  1. No food or drinks are allowed. This is a very strict rule. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot bring a nip of Vodka to warm your bones and you cannot bring a snack to get you through your midnight cravings. You are only allowed to bring a bottle of water.
  2. You will be picked up at 5:30 am sharp.
  3. No Going to the bathroom. You are in no way allowed to get out of your sac and find a private spot to do your business. Relieving yourself on the continent is strictly prohibited. Quark Expeditions brings one emergency disposable toilet, but it is to be used for absolute emergencies only.
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Karin Makes Sure our Emergency Toilet it Sturdy

We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect night. The wind had died down and the weather felt almost balmy. Between our layers of clothing, extra warm Quark Expedition signature yellow parkas and our polar sleeping bags and bivy sacs, I had a feeling we were all going to be quite comfortable.

The first thing we had to do was set up our camp. We trudged through the deep snow to find the perfect site and began to stomp out our bed for the evening. We only had to flatten a space as wide and long as ourselves as we’d be snuggling up in our sleeping bags covered with a nylon bivy sac to keep out the wind.

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Stomping around to pack down the snow

After stomping out our spots, we put down a foam mattress to protect us from the chill of the snow, hopped in our sleeping bag and bivy sac and settled in for the night. Just before heading to sleep, one of the guides Solan snapped us out of our little dens to watch the moon rise. We had the pure luck of sleeping under a full moon and as we drifted off to sleep it rose slowly over the mountains.

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The sleeping bag and sac had draw string pulls that closed directly over your face to keep out the cold and wind, and while this kept us warm, it also caused for a few other complications. Every couple of hours I woke up to the feeling of claustrophobia and had to claw my way out of my sac to catch a breath of fresh air. It was an awful feeling. I felt as if I was suffocating and couldn’t open up that sac fast enough. Of course it was never an easy task as I coudnt’ find the draw string, I couldnt’ get it to fly open fast enough and couldn’t decide how I wanted to sleep. Do I suck it up and leave my face exposed or go back into my nylon coffin.

I felt so much better in the morning when I told Dave my feelings and he replied that he felt the same way.

For the most part, we were both quite warm for the night. The biggest mistake that we made was to forget our down booties on the ship. We had bought some amazing North Face down booties in Nepal and they would have been perfect to keep our tootsies warm for the night. Alas, our toes froze and I beat myself up all night knowing that I could have had a toasty sleep from head to toe had I not forgotten those booties.

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It was 5:10 am sharp when Solan, Karin and Miko yelled our morning wake up call. “There are beautiful things to see today everyone! Time to get up!”  “We leave in 20 minutes”

I didn’t waste any time as I had to pee and I packed up my sleeping back in record time to be on that first zodiac to reach the ship. Luckily, as others awoke groggy from their slumbers, Dave and I hastily packed up. Apparently he had to hit the toilet too. And in 20 minutes flat, we were on the zodiac and back on ship in time for breakfast.

Are we glad that we camped on Antarctica?

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Of course we are. It’s the ultimate Antarctica experience and a great story to tell for the rest of our lives. We survived a night on the continent and it gave us a taste of what the early explorers had to go through to pave the way for expeditions like ours. I can’t imagine the hardships that they faced and the strong will it took to survive these conditions day in day out without today’s modern technology.

As for camping on the continent.

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Camping in Antarctica

It is a short and methodical experience. You land on shore at 8:30 pm and take about an hour to set up the camp. You chat and mingle with your fellow campers and then after grabbing photos and videos and taking in the view, it is straight to bed. The temperature drops quickly and you want to be in your sacs before the chill sets in. After a restless night of sleeping you are back on board the ship before the experience even has a chance to sink in. You are exhausted and when asked by everyone on the ship how it was you reply “It was definitely an adventure!”

Your not quite sure how you feel and like everything in Antarctica, it isn’t until you get home and digest what you actually did that you realize, wow! I just did something that very few people in this world do and I am so glad that I signed up to be one of 31 people to sleep on the continent with Quark Expeditions.

Check out Quark Expeditions for planning your own Antarctic Expedition. Mention ThePlanetD and receive 5% off your booking - 5% can be redeemed on any voyage and be combinable with any of Quark’s promotions.

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32 Comments

  1. Jarrad

    Oh, I am definitely adding this to aplace that I must go one day! And camping outside in just a swag would definitely make for good bragging rights!

  2. John

    Amazing, but definitely not for me. I can barely sleep while camping under the best circumstances – this would be near impossible for me. Awesome that you were able to do it though.

  3. Stephanie - The Travel Chica

    Cool experience! I had no idea how strict they are, but it’s obviously a good thing.

    I think the claustrophobic feeling would be a problem for me too. I camped outside on top of a volcano with just a sleeping bag, and it was pretty cold (obviously, nowhere near as cold as what you experienced). I had the same experience of waking up to stick my head outside for fresh air.

    Not the best sleep of my life but certainly worth the experience.

    1. debndave Post author

      Yes, it’s definitely strict. They don’t take any chances of anyone tracking any contamination onto the continent. We even had to vacuum our bags and clothing before stepping foot on the continent.

      1. debndave Post author

        We did not. we weren’t allowed to. we were on land at about 5:00 pm and then we left at sunrise. We seriously did not go to the toilet.

  4. Parm

    Thank you for sharing and for keeping it real! Even though I like warmer destinations, I would love to go to Antarctica one day for the experience. I can only imagine how surreal the landscape must be. I’m from Vancouver – Came across your website awhile back and love all your articles. Keep up the good work Adventure Couple!

    1. debndave Post author

      Thanks Parm. Antarctica is definitely an out of this world destination. Thanks for stopping by too! We really appreciate your support.

    1. debndave Post author

      I definitely felt that way at times. It freaked me out when I couldnt’ get the draw string to open fast enough. In my foggy sleep haze, it seemed even more amplified. I guess after a few more times of doing it I would get used to sleeping in a bivy. It’s all about getting comfortable right from the start so you don’t wake up until it’s time to get out of bed. I’m game to give it another try for sure.

  5. Pamela

    Glad you did it. Once as a pre-teen my dad took us camping on a frozen lake in December in Alaska. The temp fell to -25f. It was cold, but still worth the experience.

  6. Lisa Wood

    Oh wow – I am not sure if I would be game enough to do that one!! But I so would love to try :)

    It sure looks cold – and for sleeping with the bag over my face…that would be freaky! What happens if you really really have to go to the toilet!!!

    What an amazing experience.

    1. debndave Post author

      They do have an emergency toilet that you can use if it is an absolute emergency. It’s just a little disposable toilet and there isn’t any privacy, but if worse comes to worse, you can use it. I don’t think anyone did during our night out. We would also have to carry everything back to the ship. Ugh

  7. Laurence

    That is a truly incredible adventure – if a cold one! I’ve camped in all kinds of conditions, but this is an experience that I would absolutely love to have. Awesome job guys :)

  8. Ali

    When my friend and I were looking for Antarctica trip, we really wanted to do this, but the ones that offered camping were already booked up. It sounds awesome, but I think I would’ve been miserable. And I didn’t even think about the bathroom restrictions!

    1. debndave Post author

      That’s a bummer it was already booked. It isn’t that miserable. We made sure not to drink a lot of liquids at dinner and avoided wine and alcohol. When you arrive at 8:30 and leave at 5:30 am, it doesn’t give you a lot of time to have to go. especially when you avoid liquids. I am so glad that you experienced Antarctica though, it is an amazing place!

  9. Vicky

    Must have been an experience unlike any other. Reading all of your Antarctica posts has been particularly interesting for me as I recently finished reading the book – Endurance — which chronicles Ernest Shakleton’s 1915 unfortunate voyage to Antarctica and describes the living conditions for the 28 men that were stranded there for over a year. After having been there you might find it particularly interesting! Definitely a good read.

    1. debndave Post author

      Thanks Vicky, we’ll check it out. After camping on the continent we certainly got a small taste of how those men suffered. I can’t imagine what they went through.

  10. Pingback: Camping in Antarctica, The Videos and More Tales

  11. Jeff

    I was fortunate enough to be able to do this as well and it was great. Our crew did create make-shift toilets not just for emergency and with a least a minimum of privacy though I think most avoided using them if possible. We were also given shovels to help dig a spot. The idea was to be a bit deep for extra wind protection. Obviously that was more work before and after (you had to put everything back to “normal”) and I don’t know if it helped that much or not, but I was comfortable and didn’t have any problems with wind. In fact, I think I was one of the very few who actually slept fairly well. It turned out, for various reasons, that a second night of camping was added and quite a few of the hardier souls (not me) ended up camping twice!

  12. Jennifer

    Amazing! We’ve slept in an igloo and we’re about to do it again at the Matterhorn in just a few weeks. But it is no comparison to this experience. Antarctica is high on our bucket list and we too want to camp on the continent. Thanks for sharing your experience because you’ve provided useful information I never would have thought of like not drinking beverages and possible claustrophobia.

  13. Sam @ Travellingking.com

    WOW – just WOW – this is things dreams are made of.
    Yo would imagine that you would be FROZEN sleeping in only a sleeping bag in freezing conditions. wow!

    I don’t think I would be able to last not going to the toilet 5 times a night!!

    What an incredible expereince!

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