The classic advice holds true: Layer, layer, layer. You may have ignored your mom when she told you to bring an extra sweater and wear a hat, but up here it is essential to have the right outerwear for a visit. Here are some packing tips on what to bring to Alaska to prepare you for your winter adventure.
1. Long underwear
We know it doesn’t sound sexy, but we’re not talking about the old-timey kind that prospectors used to wear (you know, the ones with the back flap). An essential layer like this can make the difference between being miserable and being comfortable. Consider a pair made of silk, which not only keep you warm but also wash and dry quickly overnight in your room or cabin. Plus, silk is lightweight enough to wear it without needing extra room in your clothes.
2. A parka
Temperatures in Alaska range into the extremes, both hot and cold. In winter, what you can expect depends on where you’re visiting and how ocean currents are impacting climate in any given year. Generally, it’s going to be colder in the interior (Fairbanks) and less frigid along the coast (Anchorage, Juneau and Sitka). You could catch a winter “heat wave” and experience Fahrenheit temps in the 50s. Or you could find yourself experiencing legendary chills of 50 below zero. You just don’t know. Prepare for the worst. Look into lightweight, packable parkas that are designed for extreme cold – check temperature ratings before buying. Outdoor clothing gear stores like Patagonia and REI are a good place to start.
3. Hiking boots
A strong pair of versatile hiking boots will let you go directly from a winter hike to a fireside lodge restaurant without needing to pack your shoe wardrobe. Consider boots with Gore-Tex or some other type of water-resistant material to keep your socks dry.
What you want are warm, moisture-wicking socks. Remember the old mantra of outdoor hikers and enthusiasts everywhere: “Cotton is rotten.” Cotton socks will absorb sweat and moisture and chill you out – not in a good way. Wet feet are a gateway to hypothermia. Try synthetics, blends or wool.
5. Gloves and mittens
Yes, both. Your sleek leather gloves look great, and they’ll probably be fine for balmy days in the winter. But when the mercury dips below a certain point (you’ll know it), your digits can quickly become frozen. Pack a pair of heavyweight protective mittens and you’ll be ready for any outdoor adventure that piques your interest.
6. Snow pants
We don’t mean the bulky ones your mom dressed you in before you walked to school. The right pair might be a coverall-type that protect you while you’re snowmobiling or insulated pants made from water-resistant fabric – great for skiing, snowshoeing or day hikes on a glacier. Try sporting goods stores or ski shops for these.
7. A versatile top layer
A warm top layer that you can stuff into a day pack is a must-have for a trip to Alaska in any season. A fleece jacket or vest is lightweight and packable, and nice enough to wear for a night on the town after a long day of winter activities.
No, we’re not kidding. If you’re spending a lot of time outdoors in Alaska, you’ll still be getting sun exposure, and you can burn. All the sunlight bouncing off the white snow can be even more intense than summer sun. That is, of course, unless you’ll be in Fairbanks during the winter solstice.
On the same note, understand that snow blindness is a real possibility if you spend a lot of time outside. The Alaska sun sits at a low angle in the winter, intensifying the effect of UVB rays, which can burn the cornea. You might not realize it’s happening until several hours later. The condition requires treatment and vision usually returns after about 18 hours. It’s best to prevent snow blindess from happening, so eye protection is a must. Wrap-around sunglasses are best.
Now that you know what to wear in Alaska, you’ll be ready for anything. Be sure to check into special winter rates at Westmark Hotels and let us be your home base for your winter adventure in Alaska and the Yukon!