What should I pack for my Alaska trip?

Although the climate in Alaska can be unpredictable, we like to say that there's no bad weather, just bad gear. Along with the essentials (underwear, toiletries, etc.), we recommend packing clothing that you can comfortably layer, sensible shoes, and a few essential personal items to help you make the most of your time in the state.

Layered Clothing

Before we get into your packing specifics, there's one rule of thumb for clothing in Alaska: Avoid cotton. The fabric does not easily dry and once wet, provides no insulation. Opt instead for synthetic materials and wool. Both remain warm when wet and synthetics in particular are easier to clean and dry faster.

The key to packing for Alaska is layering. That means bringing base, mid, and outer layers that you can wear together or separately depending on the weather.

  • Your base layer is meant to keep moisture off your skin. Pack thin, moisture-wicking, short- or long-sleeved shirts.
  • The mid layer is meant to keep you warm. Wool sweaters, polyester fleece tops, or a lightweight down jacket all work well as mid layers. They aren't too bulky and they provide plenty of insulation.
  • Your outer layer protects you from wind and rain. For the majority of Alaska travelers a good rain jacket is the most important item to pack. Give it a trial run before you come to make sure you can wear it comfortably over your other layers.

For your bottoms, be sure to pack at least one pair of hiking pants made of a quick-dry material. If you get cold easily, and have some lengthier outdoor excursions planned, also consider bringing a pair of fleece leggings or long johns.

In addition to your basic layers, we recommend two pairs of wool socks, light gloves, a warm beanie, and a brimmed hat.

Although Alaska is very casual, (we will never win an award for best-dressed state) if you're traveling in or out of Alaska on a major cruise line, don't forget your fancier attire. Your cruise line will specify the number of formal nights on board. Also, pack a swimsuit.

Sensible Shoes

Depending on your level of activity, you may be doing a lot of hiking or walking. Pack a pair of hiking boots or sturdy walking shoes. Make sure they are well broken in. Since there's a good chance you'll be in rain a bit too, it's not a bad idea to treat your shoes with a waterproofing compound before travel.

Personal Gear

With your strategically chosen clothes packed, make some room for these personal items:

  • A hydration pack or reusable water bottle. Alaska boasts some tasty glacially fed tap water.
  • A pair of sunglasses, especially if your trip includes any glacier tours.
  • A pair of binoculars is a must, as is a camera with a charger, extra battery pack, and memory cards.
  • An iPad or eBook reader for those longer bus or train trips. In some cases, like aboard the Wilderness Express train service or Park Connection Motorcoach, seats are equipped with their own power outlet.
  • If traveling with children, keep in mind some tours and transportation will require a car seat. Be sure to check with your reservation agent for those details.
  • Sunscreen, just in case.
  • If you're traveling in June and July, bring insect repellent. A good spray or wristband repellent will keep Alaska's mosquitoes at bay. Keep in mind that it should be the heavy-duty stuff: 30 to 40 percent DEET concentration is most effective.
  • A small day pack. Luggage is not always accessible during travel, so plan to use your pack for any items that you want to have handy. It's also helpful for hikes and day tours.
  • It is very important to bring your drivers license or main form of identification while traveling. If you are taking an Alaskan cruise, you will also need a passport and all other important cruise line paperwork (luggage tags, etc.).

Alaska is full of amazing experiences. Packing smart for your trip only assures that you'll be able to enjoy every single one of them.