You’ve decided on the adventure of a lifetime — an extended visit to Alaska! Maybe you’ll hike in Denali National Park and Preserve, take a train across the state, visit the historic and rugged small towns or just wing it and see what the road offers.
In any case, bringing all the Alaska essentials is necessary to ensure your trip is the adventure you dreamed of. Follow our guide to understand everything you need to pack for your Alaska vacation.
Clothes for Alaska in all seasons
Alaska weather can change quickly, and you want to be prepared. No matter the season, we recommend bringing the following clothing items:
- Long underwear: Good for a cloudy day, camping, fishing, boat excursions, skiing, just about anything you can think of in Alaska. Whether packing for Alaska in July or December, a pair of long underwear is a must.
- Windbreaker: On top of a mountain or onboard a cruise, the wind can pick up and cut right through you without one of these!
- Fleece: Nothing beats cozying up in a fleece sweater. These are good for late-night summer fires or a casual winter walk.
- Socks: Socks might seem like a given, but make sure you have the right kind. Cotton socks won’t cut it when cold or wet, so we highly recommend a few pairs of wool socks to get you through your trip.
- Beanie: A beanie is basically part of the Alaska uniform. Any time of year and any activity, you will see locals doting beanies of all colors and styles when there’s a chill in the air.
- Hiking shoes: You don’t come to Alaska to sit. There’s no better way to experience the natural beauty than to get into the mountains. Hiking boots will take you much farther than normal walking shoes, showing you the best there is to see.
Additional clothing necessities for summer:
Even when making your Alaska packing list for summer, you’ll want to bring layers. Temperatures can hit nearly 90, but on average, you’ll likely see temperatures around the 60s, dipping into the 50s for the evening. Below are additional clothes you’ll want to have when visiting Alaska in the summer:
- Shorts: Yes, Alaska gets warm enough for shorts.
- Sunglasses: Not much is worse than trying to enjoy the view through squinted eyes. A pair of sunglasses is a must. If fishing while in Alaska, they also protect your eyes from the chance of getting hooked. Bonus tip: Make sure your glasses are polarized, it makes it easier to see salmon swimming through rivers and streams!
- Rain jacket, pants and boots: The whole shebang here. While the sun can hammer down, Alaska also has a rainy side. It’s best to be prepared with full rain gear so a little drizzle won’t stop you from all your excursions. We recommend looking for waterproof instead of water-resistant gear.
Additional clothing necessities for winter:
There are many incredible reasons to visit Alaska during wintertime. Whichever winter adventure you’re embarking on, when you’re making your packing list for Alaska winter, it can be daunting.
We have all the tips and tricks to ensure you stay completely comfortable on your trip without weighing down your suitcase too much. Check out our guide to visiting Alaska in the winter.
Below are additional clothes you’ll need when visiting Alaska in the winter, including our recommendations for the best coat for an Alaska winter:
- Parkas: On those chilly days, we guarantee you want to be wrapped up in the warmest, puffiest coat possible. We recommend looking into lightweight, packable parkas designed for Arctic adventures.
- Snow pants: If you plan on skiing, snowshoeing, hiking or having a good old-fashioned snowball fight, choose a pair of insulated trousers made from water-resistant fabric.
- Gloves and mittens: You must consider function and style when picking gloves and mittens. If you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors in cold temperatures, pick a heavy-duty pair that can stand up to the cold. Otherwise, a lighter pair will do the trick.
- Large scarf: Large scarves are a great, multi-use item. They offer extra warmth on the airplane, train, or motor coach and are a must have for wrapping up on a chilly day.
- Insulated boot liners: If you aren’t up to investing in a new pair of heavy-duty snow boots for your trip, a pair of insulated liners is a great alternative.
- Neck gaiter: On a truly cold day, a good fleece neck gaiter will stop cold winds from getting in between your scarf and collar.
- Warm hat that covers your ears: No need to elaborate — just do it.
Our best tip for winter packing is to prioritize function over style. This is not the time to break out your cutest scarves and mittens, find gear that’s going to really protect you from the cold!
Depending on where you’re staying, most accommodations can supply you with toiletries like shampoo, conditioner, and soap — leaving space in your luggage for other gear and toiletry essentials like your prescriptions, glasses or contacts, and your camera equipment for recording those memorable wildlife encounters you know you’ll have.
Below is a list of toiletries you’ll be glad you brought (or purchased) on your trip to Alaska:
- Insect repellent: The only downside to summer in Alaska is the abundance of mosquitoes. While not dangerous, they can be annoying, so bring plenty of insect repellent to protect your open skin.
- Sunscreen: Most people are surprised that you can get sunburned in Alaska, but it is very possible. The sun angle is lower in Alaska than in the continental United States, meaning that more of your body is exposed to direct sunlight.
- Lip balm: Winter in Alaska is very dry, leaving your lips primed for chapping.
- First aid kit: From outdoor sports to camping to general life, mishaps happen. Be prepared with a small first aid kit. We recommend having band-aids, itch cream, fire starters, a flashlight, an emergency blanket and a multi-tool.
Below is a list of basic gear you may need for your trip to Alaska, depending on your planned activities of course:
- Headlamp: While Alaska is the land of the midnight sun in the summer, a headlamp comes in handy during darker months.
- Bear spray: There are many bears in Alaska. We recommend watching a tutorial or asking somebody to show you how to use it if this is your first time.
- Bell: When hiking through the woods, a bell helps alert bears to your presence. If you don’t have a bell, it never hurts to sing or talk with your travel buddies.
- Dry bag: We recommend a small dry bag for fishing and larger ones for activities such as kayaking or backpacking to keep your belongings safe and dry.
- Day pack: You need something to carry all your things while you’re out and about, and a purse won’t cut it. Get a comfortable day pack to hold gear and layers.
- Binoculars: Whales, Dall sheep and bears, oh my! There’s wildlife around every turn but sometimes they are a little far off to see. A pair of binoculars ensures you won’t miss a thing.
- Fishing license and associated gear: Fishing without a license is a big no-no. Thankfully it is easy to purchase online at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and print at home! Besides a rod and reel, be sure to have waders, waterproof boots and shell layers.
- Water bottle: We love insulated bottles that keep your water at the right temperature no matter the time of year.
- Camera: Alaska’s beauty is unmatched, and you best believe that everyone you know will want to see photos after your trip. Don’t forget extra batteries and memory cards.
- Ice cleats: A pair of these will save you anywhere from icy downtown sidewalks to exploring one of Alaska’s many glaciers.
- Waterproof phone pouch: Protect your phone and capture all your memories at the same time.
- Portable smartphone charger: Phone batteries can have a tough time in the cold weather — especially the older your phone model might be. It will ease your mind to have an extra boost no matter where you are. Remember, these have to be packed in your carry on!
- Dryer sheets: Winter in a northern climate is dry. Throwing a few dryer sheets in your suitcase will make your clothes smell fresh and is a game changer when you look in the mirror to find a head of hair full of static and clingy clothing.
Packing tips for your trip to Alaska
Whether exploring the cities and towns of Alaska or spending your time in nature, we’ve developed some tips so you can pack light and still have all the necessities for an experience in Alaska:
Lighten your load
No matter how long your trip, you can get away with packing one week’s worth of clothes and doing laundry on the road. We offer laundry facilities in most Westmark Hotels, or you can wash smaller items in your sink at night or find a local laundromat. Lightweight hiking shoes, which do double duty as street shoes, are a great footwear choice for the variable terrain of Alaska. Wear your heaviest shoes onto the plane to save space in your carry-on and pack more efficiently.
Pack it up
Wheeled pack, roller bag, or convertible backpack? There’s a wide range of carry-on options, and your choice will depend on your itinerary and personal taste. We like the convertible backpack, which looks like a soft-sided suitcase but morphs quickly into an ergonomic backpack. Tuck the loose straps away for easy stowage in the overhead bin. Upon arrival, pull out the straps, don the pack, and away you go!
When packing, roll your clothing to save space and minimize wrinkles. We also love packing cubes to keep everything organized and readily findable. Some travelers swear by compression bags, which save volumes of space. But beware: It’s easy to go over airline weight limits with these.
Maximize your personal items
Research your airline’s carry-on rules and make the most of those personal items. Rather than a purse or toiletry kit, choose a small backpack that will fit under the seat and is roomy enough to hold essential Alaska gear such as binoculars, a camera, snacks and accessories.
Rent, don’t buy