The aurora dancing above a snowy field. Hearing the snow fall on a quiet, dark night. That amazing feeling when you step inside, peel off your layers, and the warmth seeps back into your bones. There’s something magical about Alaska in the winter.
I’ve been writing about Alaska for years – especially because I grew up there and lived in Alaska for 15 years. Over the past few, I’ve been getting more questions about traveling to Alaska in the winter – especially what to pack for Alaska in the winter. I’ve put together this Alaska winter packing list to answer all those questions.
Alaska Winter Travel Tips
Before we dive into my list of what to pack for Alaska in the winter, I want to give you a few quick tips about Alaska winter travel. I’m sure you’ve already seen this as part of your research, but to underscore:
- Alaskan winter weather is cold. Between November and March, the average high in Anchorage is just 28°F (-2°C) and the average low is 18°F (-8°C). It can get much colder – especially if you travel further north to somewhere like Fairbanks. You are warned – your eyelashes (and snot ?) will freeze!
- It snows a lot in Alaska, but not all the time. Anchorage receives an average of 79 inches of snowfall per year, but in the coldest months it may only snow 3-5 days in the month. Two hours north, Talkeetna receives an average of 178 inches – that shows how much variability there is in snowfall and depth. Pack for snow!
- Transportation options are limited in the winter. If you plan to travel around Alaska in the winter, your best options are to take either a car or the Alaska Railroad. The Alaska Railroad offers a limited winter train schedule called the Aurora Winter train; it’s a great option if it works for your itinerary.
Alaska Winter Packing List
If you want to stand outside and watch the northern lights or catch a dogsled ride, you need the right equipment – you need to know what to wear in Alaska in the winter!
What you need to pack for Alaska in the winter is on par with packing for Iceland, Norway, or parts of northern Canada. It’s probably a lot of things you don’t don’t already own, and it’s pretty important that you get the right stuff or you’ll still be cold.
Unlike most of my packing lists, in this one I’m very specific about which brands I use and recommend. You don’t have to go with these – but I strongly suggest you follow my lead where you can afford to! I also had Mr. V chime in with his recommendation for what men need to pack for Alaska in the winter.
Here’s my Alaska Winter Packing List, from (your) toes to head!
1. Smartwool Socks
I don’t think I can be a real Alaskan and not have at least two pair of these over-the-calf Smartwool socks in my wardrobe at all times. Just for those cold California days, ya know?
Actually, I wore these socks growing up in Alaska and during bitterly cold Midwest winters in Iowa during college. They work for keeping your toes warm.
2. Rubber-Sole Boots
Okay not the best picture, but if you don’t have winter boots, I have your ultimate solution.
These are ‘Norwegian after-ski’ boots sold by Pia’s in downtown Anchorage, and you should buy them on your first day. They’re ultra-warm and perfect on snow and ice. If you plan to step in deeper snow, consider these taller ones.
3. Smartwool Long Underwear
Similar to the socks, I pretty much spent whole seasons living in my Smartwool base layer… so much that I actually wore holes into them!
That’s moderately gross, but goes to show how well they work at keeping you warm – and how comfortable they are!
4. Uniqlo Legging Pants
While I love denim as much as the next gal, as a fabric it gets mighty cold when the temp drops below freezing.
Instead, I layer up with Uniqlo leggings for women. They’re super comfy, are willing to go on over a base layer, and tuck easily into an outer layer (next on the list).
5. Snow Pants
I’ll be honest: I’ve had my own snow pants since at least high school. But they still work! It’s an investment that will last you for a lifetime of repeat trips to Alaska.
I don’t even know if the labels are still on the snowboarding pants I use on cold days, but these ones from Burton (a reputable snowboard company) are super similar and don’t look too puffy. Fashion matters, even at 20 below!
6. Uniqlo Heattech Tops
Uniqlo’s HEATTECH line is designed to be super warm by trapping your own body heat, without adding extra bulk.
This turtleneck is a good starting point, but they also have ‘Inner Heat’ and ‘Ultra Heat’ options for even more warmth.
7. Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket
Just like your lower body, keeping your upper body warm is all about laying up! I love this Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket because it fits under the outer layer I recommend (next on the list) but if you prefer, they also have longer parka lengths to add more warmth around your hips and thighs.
8. North Face Apex Bionic
For the record, I freaking love my North Face Apex Bionic jacket. I’ve had it since 2007 – that’s over a decade – and it’s still going strong.
I recommend this jacket for the your outer layer because it cuts the wind without making you look like a Stay Puft marshmallow person. Seriously, I can’t rave about this as a life jacket enough.
9. Wool Hat, etc.
It’s no surprise that Smartwool also makes great hats, gloves, and neck gaiters (a good alternative to a scarf). I personally love their Merino 250 blend because it’s soft and ultra warm. I recommend choosing dark colors like this grey and black beanie, black liner gloves, and this matchy-matchy gaiter so you can find any of them if you drop them in the snow. (A real concern!)
Similar to the snow pants above, I recommend snowboarding mittens as your outer layer on your hands. This is because snowboarding gear is generally flexible and agile – and you won’t feel like you can’t move for all the bulk.
These Burton mittens are a great option, with clips and pockets plus a cinch above the wrist to cut down on any cold breezes getting up in your sleeves.
Other Alaska Packing Tips
Before you grab your bag and head out the door, a few last-minute tips on packing to help you ace your Alaska trip this winter:
- What you pack for Alaska in the winter is very different from other seasons. Be sure to check the forecast before your trip so you pack enough layers. Obviously this packing list is very different than my general Alaska packing list, which works for spring, summer, and autumn – that’s because you need very different things. Check that list if you’re not traveling in the cold months.
- Adjust your packing list based on how long you’re traveling. I didn’t include any suggestion on the number of each item you’ll need. I generally suggest 1 base layer (Smartwool long underwear and Uniqlo Heattech) for every 2-3 days; and 1 middle layer (leggings and tees/tops of your choice) for every 3-4 days. Your base layers are going to do the hardest work, so you need the most of them.
- Bring a guide if you need one. Lonely Planet is my favorite guidebook company (disclaimer: I write for them, so I also know they really use locals and experts for their guidebooks!). The Lonely Planet guide for Alaska is a great resource for planning your trip – even in the winter – and once you’re on the ground in the Last Frontier. If you’ve never used a guidebook before, check out my helpful post on how to use guidebooks!
Have any other questions about what to pack for Alaska in the winter? Let me know in the comments!
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