The 8 Best Vests, Raincoats, Coats & Jackets for Alaska
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Whether you’re planning an aurora-chasing trip in the cold winter, or want to spot wildlife during the long days of the summer, Alaska is a destination that challenges even the most expert traveler’s packing skills. I’ll admit, I’m lucky: I grew up in Alaska, and learned how to dress for its dynamic seasons and varied weather from an early age. That’s why I know exactly which items in my wardrobe to reach for when it comes time to pack for my next Alaska trip – and that includes outer layers, like jackets and coats.
The outer layer you choose each day of your Alaska adventure can make or break your trip. Choose the right layer(s) and you’ll be comfortable; choose poorly and you’ll be too hot, too cold, or alternate between the two every five minutes.
So why can you trust my recommendations on the best jackets for Alaska? Well, they say a picture’s worth a thousand words:
Those photos show me, in Alaska, wearing the exact jackets (and shoes) I recommend in this post – and from recent trips, not just when I was growing up there. I’ve been packing the same gear for Alaska for years, and I’ve literally road-tested everything I recommend. (For men’s options, I either asked Mr. V what he’s packed for the trips he’s joined me on, or chose the exact equivalent product from the same company where possible.)
So as you settle in to pack for your Alaska trip, never fear. Choosing which jacket(s) to pack doesn’t have to be yet another overwhelming decision. Choose a few of these jackets to layer based on the season, and you’ll be all set for an unforgettable – and comfortable – Alaska trip.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of many Alaska Native groups, including the Aleut, Athabascan, Haida, Inupiat, Tlingit, and Yuit peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
The Best Vest for Alaska for Men and Women
When it comes to fashion, Alaska is the best place to put to work the art of layering. You’ll learn that wearing layers during frigid winters is the best way to keep warm and regulate your body’s temperature. You’ll find below the best vest for Alaska, an essential layer in your outfit.
For Women: UNIQLO Ultra Light Down
UNIQLO combines practicality and style in their Ultra Light Down vest. The Japanese brand has updated its classic vest to show a sleeker and more stylish design.
The company built the vest with a gorgeous anti-static lining and has updated its quilting pitch and seams to boast a more attractive fit. Perfect for travelers, it has a pocketable design, and you can easily fit it in a pouch.
While the vest is not waterproof, it comes with a durable water-repellent coating, so you’ll be protected when it starts to drizzle. You can easily keep the cold air out thanks to its adjustable hem. While the vest serves as a valuable middle layer, you can also use it to go out for dinner in Alaska, as it makes a fashionable top layer when paired with jeans.
For Men: J.Crew Sussex Quilted
A customer favorite, J.Crew has brought back their Sussex vest by popular demand. This vest covers all the basics: it has a timeless style, it’s comfortable, it’s warm, and it’s (relatively) affordable.
The stunning details are what stand out the most in this vest. The lightweight quilted vest features button adjusters at the back waist so you can dial in your perfect fit and a leather pull tab on the main zipper. It also comes with a beautiful corduroy-lined collar and pockets, one on the chest for your phone and another one inside for your essentials.
Best of all, J.Crew built this insulated vest with organic cotton and recycled nylon; the lightweight PrimaLoft filling comes from recycled plastic bottles. Similar to UNIQLO’s, it is excellent for casual or active use, thanks to its versatile design.
Best Soft Shell Jacket for Alaska: The North Face Apex Bionic
You’ll be doing a lot of outdoor activities in Alaska, so having a suitable soft-shell jacket is a must. However, finding the best jackets for Alaska can be tricky. That’s why I’ve chosen two models that will be up to the task in terms of weather resistance and breathability.
The North Face is a well-established brand when it comes to the best outdoor clothing manufacturers. Unsurprisingly, they have designed one of the best jackets to wear in Alaska for women.
The Women’s Apex Bionic Jacket is smart, stylish, and practical; I’ve had mine for over 14 years and it’s still one of the best jackets I own. In fact, I finally had to send it in for zipper repair after my August 2021 trip to Alaska.
The Apex Bionic features a refined design and 100% windproof fabric to keep you warm and block the wind in any circumstance. The jacket’s fabric also has a nice flex and is very soft. The many pockets are a plus, so your hands can be off-duty during those long hikes.
While the jacket is rather form-fitting, it’s roomy enough to wear a light vest or hoodie under it.
The North Face has also designed an Apex Bionic jacket for men. Once you try it on, it will become your all-around jacket.
It features top-quality materials, including a water-repellent finish to keep you dry for longer. The fabrics are lightweight and breathable, regulating the body temperature and allowing moisture to evaporate. This fabric is also 100% windproof, reducing the effects of wind chill.
It comes in a wide range of sizes, so big guys won’t have trouble finding a suitable size. The jacket is stretchable and roomy enough to wear a couple of layers under it if needed.
Whether you’re looking for a coat for men, women, or any way you identify, the Apex Bionic is honestly the best jacket for Alaska – if you don’t trust me, trust the 15 years I’ve been wearing it while traveling to Alaska.
Best Light Down Jacket for Alaska: UNIQLO Ultra Light Down
Light down jackets are an invaluable companion for your Alaska trip. Lightweight and packable, they come with outstanding heat-trapping functions to keep you nice and warm on Fall and chilly nights.
Thin, light, and warm, UNIQLO Ultra Light Down is one of the best jackets for Alaska in the market.
Don’t let the extra thin fabric fool you, this jacket has an amazing heat-retention. Its high insulation level slows down your body’s heat loss, keeping you warm in temperatures as low as 40 F. Thanks to its pocketable design, the jacket is perfect for frequent travelers and is easy to carry around.
The design is similar to UNIQLO’s vest, featuring water-repellent coating, anti-static lining, and an adjustable hem to keep cold air out.
UNIQLO has also designed the Ultra Light Down jacket for men. The men’s jacket follows the same principle: a perfect balance of comfort and design. Surprisingly light and warm, the jacket is ultralight and ultra-packable.
Unlike other models, the Ultra Light Down comes with a three-dimensional gusset under the armpit, making it easy to move your arms. The fabric is an anti-static lining and features a water-repellent coating.
Its stylish matte finish gives it an elegant look, so you can also wear the jacket for a casual night out and still look good.
Best Rain Shell for Alaska for Women & Men: The North Face Venture 2
While I have suggestions for heavier duty rain jackets in the next section, I thought it might be helpful to include a lightweight rain jacket or rain shell suggestion for Alaska too. While I now travel with both my rain shell and rainjacket when I go (because, as you’ll see, my suggested rain shell packs down super small), I made many trips with only my rain shell and know it can be enough if you only want to invest in and/or bring one waterproof jacket for Alaska.
When it comes to lightweight rain gear, I always reach for my North Face Resolve jacket. I found one in a Goodwill store years ago, and it has kept me dry (and colorful) on many Alaskan adventures since.
For women, the Resolve 2 Jacket is perfect because it’s formfitting without constraining your ability to move. Waterproof, breathable, and wind-resistant, this jacket can layer easily over a light down jacket or vest if you need it to – or work as its own primary layer on a drizzly summer day in Alaska.
In addition to working well when precipitation occurs, the hood folds up int to the collar, and it works as a windbreaker on dry days. That lightweight material is perfect for travel, as the Resolve 2 folds down or rolls up super small to pack, too.
The North Face also makes a Resolve 2 jacket for men. It has many of the same features, but is cut bigger to fit men’s shoulders and is still long enough to avoid riding up when a damp breeze comes up.
As a midweight jacket, it works well especially in situations where you need to layer up (which, as you know, is pretty much all the time in Alaska). However, just like the women’s version, this jacket has breathable flaps and mesh inner layers to help keep it comfortable and easy to pack.
In case you (or the man you travel with) are worried about fit, this jacket runs true to size and has received 5-stars on over 85% of its reviews. It’s one of the most popular rain jackets made by The North Face (for both men and women) and is a perfect lightweight rainjacket for Alaska.
Best Waterproof Rain Jacket for Alaska for Women and Men
You might experience a few rain showers during your Alaska trip, which is why you need a jacket that’s up to the task. Below you’ll find the best rain jacket for Alaska for women and men.
For Women: Pendleton Eureka
You’ll have a hard time finding a more gorgeous and stylish garment to flaunt on your rainy days in Alaska. Pendleton Eureka’s raincoat is a fashionista’s dream. I bought their old, uninsulated style, but the newer, insulated version looks just as good – and is way warmer.
Besides featuring an unbeatable classic design and beautiful bold colors, this long rain slicker comes with high-quality materials to keep you warm and dry. The raincoat features fully lined and insulated fabric. Of course, the fabric is also 100% waterproof, resisting heavy showers and windstorms, and has underarm grommets to improve breathability. It has welded seams and a covered placket with a waterproof zipper.
The raincoat also has an attached hood (which actually stays put) and quilted-nylon lining in their colorful Tucson pattern. Its inside is as beautiful as the exterior, with nylon body lining and a colorful Tucson pattern.
For Men: Helly Hansen Dubliner
As Pendleton doesn’t offer an equivalent rain jacket for men planning an Alaska trip, Helly Hanson has designed the perfect alternative. The versatile Dubliner men’s rain jacket is bold, elegant, warm, and suitable for rainy weather.
Despite not being very thick, it is extremely warm and blocks even the most intense winds. It’s waterproof and windproof, thanks to its HELLY TECH® Protection. It also comes with fully sealed seams for added protection against rain and wind. The lightweight fabric with PrimaLoft® insulation adds comfort in cold weather.
Following a sustainable approach, the insulation is 80% recycled, and the water-repellent treatment is PFC-free. The fabric also features a decent breathability rating to keep you dry.
Best Heavy Down Jacket for Alaska: Columbia Whirlibird IV
When the temperature dips, it’s time to put on that heavy-duty jacket to maintain your body heat. Here are the best jackets for Alaska in the winter.
Columbia is another well-established brand when it comes to outdoor clothing. The Whirlibird IV Interchange Jacket offers fantastic performance in terms of weather resistance, breathability, and comfort.
Featuring a classic 3-in-1 design, the Whirlibird comes with a waterproof-breathable shell and thermal-reflective, insulated liner that you can wear separately or together, depending on the temperature and weather. It also features underarm venting to let perspiration out.
If you’re not a fan of bulky jackets, then you’re in luck. The Whirlibird is a far cry from boxy winter jackets, and its foil insulation method helps to limit the puffiness factor. You won’t have to buy a new jacket for snowy days as the Whirlibird also has mountain-ready features, including underarm vents and ski passes, goggles, security, chest, and hand pockets.
Columbia has also made a men’s model of their Whirlibird IV Interchange jacket. It has the same waterproof-breathable shell and a thermal-reflective, insulated liner as the women’s version.
The thermal reflective liner features OMNI-HEAT insulation technology and breathable material with little silver dots that reflect body heat for heat retention. The waterproof-breathable shell comes with adjustable and handy features for those who enjoy winter sports.
Columbia offers this three-in-one men’s jacket in multiple staple colors and sizes.
No matter the season you’re planning to visit Alaska, these jackets will keep you dry and warm. Have any questions about these jackets for Alaska, and why I recommend them? Let me know in the comments.
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Hi Valerie. Great write up! I’m planning my first trip to Alaska next month and am so lost what to take for clothing. I’ll be going very early May like 4th/5th so I know it’s gonna be somewhat cold. I do plan to be outdoors plenty and in Anchorage, Denali and Seward. Any recommendations?
A baselayer, a fleece jacket and a waterproof shell should be enough?
Thanks for reading, Karen. I would do a base layer, a fleece layer, a light down layer AND a waterproof/windproof (weather-dependent) layer in early May. Down will help ensure you stay warm enough in the possible event that it rains!
Hi, Valerie. My husband and I will be touring via train in mid ju)y for 2 weeks. Some hiking, lots of nature but nothing too strenuous. What shoes and jackets would you recommend? Thanks so much.
Thanks for reading, Tammy. You left this comment on my list of recommended jackets so please refer to the post above, and here is my list of recommended shoes and boots: https://www.valisemag.com/best-shoes-boots-for-alaska/
I live in England and I am going on a titan tour of Alaska in July what is the best mosquito cream or spray to use. Also I won’t need short sleeve t-shits because of mosses is that correct.
Here’s my guide to mosquito sprays: https://www.valisemag.com/mosquito-repellants-for-alaska/
You can certainly wear short sleeves, it’s just up to you.
My son and his family will be PCSing to Fairbanks in August. What would be the best choice for outerwear for mom, dad and less than 1 y/o baby? Thanks
I don’t have any advice for baby, but they should come prepared with winter gear; August starts to get cold in the Interior of Alaska (Fairbanks) and they’ll want those items ASAP by September. Also, it’s generally cheaper to buy everything in the Lower 48 than in Alaska!