“You can’t be cold – you’re from Alaska!” Whenever the weather gets cold, no matter where in the world I’m living, someone feels the need to point out that I can’t feel cold because I grew up in Alaska. Untrue, my friends. I do feel cold… I just also know how to dress for cold weather.
Whether you’re planning an Alaskan cruise or heading on a land tour between 5 days, 7 days, or even 10 days exploring Alaska, here’s what years of living in and traveling to Alaska have taught me about how to pack for travel in Alaska.
Note: Throughout this post, I’ve added photos of me in Alaska over the years, so you can see I’m actually wearing the items I recommend!
This post was originally published in August 2014, and was updated in July 2017, March 2019, and June 2021.
Quick Alaska Travel Tips
Before we launch into my packing list for Alaska, I find it handy to cover a few quick details that explain why these are the 10 essentials you need to pack for Alaska. Browse these sections quickly, then dive into my Alaska packing list below.
Best Time of Year to Visit Alaska
If you’re looking for the best weather conditions, it’s undeniable that summer is the best time of year to visit Alaska. During the season of the midnight sun, you’ll experience long days, warmer temperatures, clearer skies, and the lowest chance of snow (really, it doesn’t snow in the most common parts of Alaska during the summer!).
The best months to visit Alaska are June through August. These are the months with the best weather – most sun and least rain – and warmest temperatures. Unfortunately, this short peak season means you’ll be visiting at the same time as every other traveler, so consider whether shoulder or off-season travel might be a better option for you. You’ll still experience mild temperatures in the shoulder season.
Weather in Alaska by Season
This Alaska packing list is primarily aimed at travelers in the summer and shoulder season (early May to late September). Outside those months, you’ll be dealing with snow for sure, and you’ll need real winter gear to stay warm.
- In the summer months(June to August), temperatures usually range from lows around 50°F to highs in the mid-60s to mid-70s F. Summer weather in Alaska is the best!
- In the spring and autumn (April/May and September/October), temps change quickly but you’ll still find (mostly) mild weather, from lows around freezing (32°F) to highs in the upper 40s.
- In the winter (November to March), expect below-freezing temperatures during the short, cold days – and subzero temps at night. Bundle up, especially if you plan to be out to see the northern lights! (Here’s my Alaska winter packing list to help.)
Below you’ll find gear that works best for spring, summer, and autumn.
General Rules for Packing for Alaska
There’s really only one rule for what to wear in Alaska – and I feel like I’m spilling the beans on a local secret here – : layers.
I say it for every packing list I write: layers are key to staying comfortable without overheating or freezing. You can start a day hike in the morning with several layers on, and take them off as the day warms up and you make the climb. Throw on a rain-slick over your jacket to stay warm when the grey clouds over Kenai Fjords finally drop some rain. You can bundle up or strip off layers as the weather changes every five minutes.
I’ve lived in colder climates than Alaska (Iowa and Indiana, I’m looking at you!), where people wear just one big jacket to stay warm. As for me, I’ll keep wearing my layers to be comfortable no matter what adventure the day brings.
What You Actually Need to Pack for Alaska
I’ll be honest: I pretty much pack 90% of the same things over and over… and I bet you do too. That’s why I have this separate list of travel essentials I always pack.
Also, most packing lists are about 90% of those same things, right? So instead of giving you a comprehensive Alaska packing list that’s 90% of what you already know or are already planning to pack (yes, you do need 1 pair of underwear for each day…), here’s a packing list that’s 100% of specific things you need for traveling in Alaska. I also had Mr. V chime in with suggestions for what men should pack in Alaska.
Visiting Alaska in the summer is not the kind of destination where you need specialized equipment and an entire list of gear to bring. For most people, the clothes you normally pack – with a few extras, detailed below – will be more than sufficient for all the Alaska adventures you’re planning.
In addition to the items listed below, you might add other things based on the activities you plan to enjoy. Unless you’re planning backcountry hiking in Denali or another of the national parks, or a bush plane trip out away from the major tourist track, pack your normal clothes and you’ll be fine.
What to Pack for an Alaska Cruise
I wanted to call out one small section about Alaska cruise packing tips, because that’s one special type of travel that most people do – and you might have specific questions about what to pack for your cruise in Southeast Alaska (where the weather is quite different!).
In short, all of the items I suggest below will work great on your cruise ship. Let me break it down quickly – be sure to pack these items for your cruise:
- Walking shoes with good traction (the ones I recommend below are great for this!)
- A warm jacket (I’ve got two suggestions below)
- Rain gear/waterproof jacket (again, recommended below)
- A Daypack for Excursion days (recommended below; also check out my tips on choosing cruise excursions)
- Your camera (duh!)
If you need more suggestions, I have an Alaska cruise packing list with even more tips on what to pack!
What to Pack for Alaska Travel
1. Lonely Planet Alaska Guidebook
There’s nothing quite like using the guidebook to guide your own exploration of a destination; and Lonely Planet is my favorite 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 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!
Bonus: Get this guidebook for free with a free 30-day trial of Kindle Unlimited. Sign up here!
Bonus for 2022:
While you don’t need your passport to visit Alaska, this vaccine passport offers a handy way to keep it safe along with your vaccine card (which you very likely will need at some point on your trip) and other cards too.
Slim enough to fit in a jacket pocket or any bag and made of durable vegan leather, I’m proud to offer this product directly to my readers!
2. Sleep Mask
I’ll say it again: Midnight sun!
No really though: if you have any problems sleeping with light, you’re going to need an eye mask to block out the light and get restful sleep.
I recently discovered the OwlzzZ Sleep Mask and it is fantastic. The design might look a little sci-fi, but it does an incredible job of blocking light and doesn’t put any pressure on your eyes.
Pro-tip: As of August 2021, it’s on sale!
3. A Warm Hat
As my mother used to say when I was growing up in Alaska: all of your heat leaks out through your head!
Even in the middle of summer, there can be a bite to the early mornings air, and a hat can keep you cozy and warm while you wait for the sun to warm up the air.
While it can certainly rain (a lot!) in certain parts of Alaska, the sun is also bright in the summer in Alaska (exaggeration!). A good pair of sunglasses will make your days (and nights under the Midnight Sun) better.
5. Lightweight Down Jacket
While many people recommend a fleece jacket on their Alaska packing list, I don’t use fleece much anymore – and I don’t think it’s the most efficient synthetic material to layer-up and keep you warm.
I ~*love*~ my UNIQLO lightweight down jacket, and it’s perfect for layering. You can easily throw this on under one or both of the other jackets I recommend below and you will be more than warm enough.
It’s light-weight but still offers enough down to keep you warm. It packs up small and light, and it looks good with everything.
6. Rain Trench
Here’s something most people don’t know: the rainy season also occurs during the Alaska summer! Growing up, almost every July was pretty all rainy days – and August too!
Even if you’re planning a summer trip, pack a good waterproof rain jacket to stay warm and dry. Nothing spoils a good adventure more than getting damp and chilly, and a waterproof shell is the best way to stay dry while still layering up.
Pro-tip: I don’t think you need rain pants unless you’re planning a serious adventure like a full day hike.
7. Layering Jacket
I bought my North Face Apex Bionic jacket (pictured) back in 2007, and it is the jacket I would grab during the zombie apocalypse: it can handle ANYTHING.
It can also handle layering up and keeping you warm on a trip to Alaska, which is why I recommend it as either an under-layer (on a rainy day, under a waterproof layer) or as an outer layer.
Which is more unpleasant: all of you being damp because you didn’t pack a good rain coat (#6) or your feet being damp?
Pack good moisture wicking socks just in case you encounter a bit more precipitation than you’re planning for.
9. Hiking Shoes/Boots
I don’t love bulky hiking boots, so you won’t find a pair of boots on my list of the best shoes and boots for Alaska.
Instead, I recommend a good pair of trail runners (Soloman Trail Running Shoes) that are comfortable for everything from the plane ride to the trails you choose to hike. These are more than sufficient for the hikes I recommend, but if you’re doing something more intense, you’ll definitely want to upgrade.
Pro-tip: Instead of packing separate warm footwear, throw a pair of wool socks into your bag and you can wear them if needed.
10. Day Pack
Whether you’re strolling around Seward after your cruise, hiking up Flattop in Anchorage, or on the bus for a day-long tour in Denali National Park, it’s good to have a small bag or day pack to hold your camera gear, water bottles, and a few snacks.
This is Alaska after all; you’ve got to be prepared for any adventure!
FAQ About this Alaska Packing List
After publishing this post a few years ago, I’ve gotten several questions over and over. Here are the answers to those most frequently asked questions.
- “Do I need base layers?” In short, no – if you’re visiting Alaska in the summer months, you most likely don’t need base layers like long-sleeved shirts and long underwear.
- “What about those terrifying Alaskan mosquitos???” I get a lot of questions about mosquitos, the unofficial Alaska state “bird.” If you’re visiting in the late summer, especially traveling to Interior Alaska, I recommend bringing a bug spray like mosquito repellent or insect repellent to help keep from getting eaten alive.
- “Should I bring a pair of shorts or tank top?” While Alaska has a great summer, it’s not exactly warm enough that most people will need traditional summer clothes. It’s always a good idea to pack sun protection and a lip balm with UV protection too though.
- “How can I pay for things in Alaska? Do I need anything special?” Nope, Alaska is perfectly set for whatever payment method you want to. As it’s a U.S. state, everyone accepts U.S. dollars; most companies take all major credit cards.
- “If I’m doing a cruise and land tour, is the packing list provided by my cruise line good enough?” While I can’t be sure as I don’t know the exact recommendations each of the cruise lines make, they probably provide good advice and you’ll pack extra items for formal nights and specific shipboard activities.
What Else to Pack for Alaska
I’ve put together a weekend packing list, which can help you see some of the basics I pack for every single trip. Additionally, here are a couple tips to help you pack for your trip to Alaska:
- Your packing list for Alaska will vary a lot based on the season you visit. As I mentioned above, both temperature and precipitation are the big factors that affect what you should pack for Alaska. Be sure to check the forecast before your trip so you pack enough layers – and always pack rain gear. You’ll be in Alaska thinking “thank you, Valerie!”
- Don’t want to pack a guidebook? Snag a digital copy. Lonely Planet offers ebook versions of all their guidebooks, usually at the same price or cheaper. Here’s the link for the Alaska ebook; it’s also available for free with a 30-day trial of Kindle Unlimited!
- Adjust your Alaska packing list based on how long you’re traveling. Whether you’re only spending 3 days exploring Anchorage, doing a 7-night Alaska cruise, or a full 10 days in Alaska, add one more top for every two days of travel, and one more pair of trousers for every 3 days. Don’t forget extra undergarments and socks!
- If you’re looking for travel flats, I always recommend Tieks. While these are an investment at $175 per pair, they hold up so well while traveling. I put over two million steps into my first pair! Read my review here.
- You should pack your personal items too. Buying them in Alaska is a lot more expensive, so remember to bring the basics and your travel essentials too!
Have other questions about this packing list for Alaska or what to pack for Alaska? Let me know in the comments or join me in my Alaska Travel Tips Facebook Community!
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