10 Essentials You Need to Pack for Alaska in the Winter
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The aurora dancing above a snowy field. Hearing the snowflakes 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 about what to pack for Alaska in the winter. This is an important question, as packing too little or the wrong items can make for a miserable trip and ruin all the fun you have planned – whether that’s aurora chasing, dog sledding, ice fishing, or just heading out on a winter hike.
If you’re planning a trip to Alaska in the winter (November through March), I recommend doing research into the specific areas you plan to visit. The weather varies greatly across a big state like Alaska, and the temps and forecast for one city/area will be dramatically different than other cities and regions.
In any case, there are some essentials you should pack no matter when you plan to visit during the winter or where you plan to go. Below you’ll find a list of the 10 winter essentials you need to pack for Alaska; I also recommend double-checking my list of the best boots and jackets for Alaska to ensure you’ll be covered and – more importantly – stay warm during all your adventures.
In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are 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.
This post was originally published in September 2019, and was updated most recently in September 2022.
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 dog sled 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 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 pairs 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 into deeper snow, consider these taller ones. (Or check out my suggestion for another winter boot for Alaska.)
3. Unbound Merino Wool Leggings
For a long time, I’ve been a fan of other merino wool leggings, but I recently took Unbound Merino’s wool leggings for a spin on my Alaska trips in 2022 – and I love them.
First of all, they’re insanely comfortable, which means you can wear them everywhere from the long flights to and from Alaska to the Aurora winter train to an extended aurora viewing session in negative temperatures.
The other important feature of Unbound Merino’s leggings is their natural odor-reducing properties. This means that even if you end up too warm in your layers, your leggings will stay fresh and ready to serve as a base layer against Alaska’s cold winter weather throughout your trip.
4. Uniqlo Legging Pants
While I love denim as much as the next gal, as a fabric, cotton 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 like those Unbound Merino leggings, 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!
or on Amazon
Mr. V’s Pick for Men: Here
6. Unbound Merino Long-Sleeve T-Shirt
Just as I love Unbound Merino’s leggings as a base layer on the bottom, their long-sleeve merino wool shirt is perfect for your top half.
Just like the leggings, this top is warm and soft and perfect for layering up – but also won’t get sweaty and smelly if you end up over-layering or come back inside and get a bit too warm.
To be honest, I love this top so much it’s now a staple whenever I pack for any trip – it’s thin enough to work as a layer but warm enough to wear on its own depending on the destination.
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 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.
or on Amazon
Mr. V’s Pick for Men: Here
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 the 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 suggestions on the number of each item you’ll need. I generally suggest 1 base layer (Unbound Merino) 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. (Pro tip: it’s available for free with a 30-day trial of Kindle Unlimited!)
Have any other questions about what to pack for Alaska in the winter? Let me know in the comments or join me in my Alaska Travel Tips Facebook Community!
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My daughter’s International Rescue and Relief program from Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, is spending the Spring semester in Alaska (instead of Malawi). I’m not sure how many professors and students are going, but I’m sure they could all benefit from your guidance. I’ve been sending her your lists and info.
Thanks for reading and sharing, Barbara! I hope your daughter finds it helpful!
My daughter and I will be in the Anchorage area for two days early April, 2023. Any suggestions of things “not to miss”? We come in on a Thursday afternoon and fly out the following Sunday. We want to see the city, of course, but really want to explore outside of Anchorage. Thank you.
Thanks for reading, Gaye. I don’t really recommend visiting in April because it’s in-between the winter and summer activities. I have this post that may help you plan your time: https://www.valisemag.com/alaska-in-april/
Thank you for all of this wonderful information Valerie! One of my daughter’s is student teaching in a small village outside Anchorage. She finishes in early March so we are going over and meeting her in Anchorage for a few days before we all head home (NY state). Everything was so helpful! Planning this on our own is very overwhelming and you broke it down for us especially since we are going in March and not the “warmer” months that most websites and reviews are from.
Love the piece on packing also!
So glad to help, Lori! Have an amazing trip!!
Thank you for all the information!
We are taking an Alaskan cruise May 20,2023 and wanted to confirm your thoughts on the items you listed above for that time of year. We are going Zip lining and on a Whale watching/Glacier excersion.
Hi, Tina. You shouldn’t need much winter gear… May is on the edge of summer!
Is December a good time to visit Fairbanks, Alaska? The things we would like to do is a Northern Lights tour, dog sledding and maybe snowmobiling. We were maybe thinking the first or second week in December 2024. About how cold is it that time of year? We are from Northeast Ohio so we do get cold & snow in winter.
Hi! I recommend checking Google for weather data – there are lots of great sites with historic weather info.
I also have this article that might help you: https://www.valisemag.com/alaska-in-december/