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10 Essentials You Need to Pack for Alaska

10 Essentials You Need to Pack for Alaska
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“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 the cold.

Whether you’re visiting Alaska for a cruise or planning anywhere 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 August 2014, and was updated in July 2017 and March 2019.

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, it’s undeniable that summer is the best time of year to visit Alaska. During the season of the midnight sun, you’ll experience 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.

I’ve written about the best time to visit Alaska, as well as a breakdown of what makes each season special: spring, summer, autumn, and winter.

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 (June to August), temperatures usually range from lows around 50°F to highs in the mid-60s to mid-70s F
  • In the spring and autumn (April/May and September/October), temps drop quickly, 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 days – and subzero temps at night. Bundle up! (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 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 an 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 things you need specifically 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 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

Me aboard Uncruise in Alaska in 2017

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 Alaska cruise.

In short, all of the items I suggest below will work great on your Alaska cruise. Let me break it down quickly – be sure to pack these items for your cruise:

  • Good walking shoes with traction (the ones I recommend below are great for this!)
  • A warm jacket (I’ve got two suggestions below)
  • Rain gear (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!

2. 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 morning air, and a hat can keep you cozy and warm while you wait for the sun to warm up the air.

3. Sunglasses

It may be called the Land of the Midnight Sun, but the sun is up pretty much always in the summer in Alaska (exaggeration!). A good pair of sunglasses will make your days (and nights) better.

4. Eye 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. The Renew Sleep Mask from Encircled is a splurge, but it’s sustainably made, durable, and uses materials that are good for your skin and the planet.

5. Lightweight Down Jacket

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 rainy.

If you’re planning a trip, pack a good rain jacket/trench to stay warm and dry. Nothing spoils a good adventure more than getting damp and chilly.

Pack for Travel: Rain Coat

Mr. V’s Pick for Men: Here

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.

North Face Jacket

or on Amazon
Mr. V’s Pick for Men: Here

8. Socks

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.

Pack for Alaska - Dickie's Socks

Mr. V’s Pick for Men: Here

9. Hiking Shoes/Boots

I don’t love bulky hiking boots, so take my recommended pair (Soloman Trail Running Shoes) with a grain of salt. These are more than sufficient for the hikes I recommend, but if you’re doing something more intense, you’ll definitely want to upgrade.

Mr. V’s Pick for Men: Here

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, it’s good to have a small day-pack to hold your camera gear, water, and a few snacks.

This is Alaska after all; you’ve got to be prepared for any adventure!

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:

  1. 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!”
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.

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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K Kumar

Saturday 20th of March 2021

Hello! I’m planning on a trip in June and your guide looks great, but I had a question about the bugs! I’ve seen some blogs say the bugs on hikes are terrible so anything you recommend? Hat, spray, etc? We plan on anchorage to Denali (via train), then Denali to Fairbanks. Any fun restaurants or breweries you’d recommend?


Sunday 21st of March 2021

Thanks for reading! The bugs shouldn't be too bad in June, but I recommend getting a good bug spray to deal with them. You can also check out my full Alaska travel guide for all my recommendations for what to do and where to eat:


Thursday 18th of March 2021

Valerie thanks for giving a true perspective on traveling to Alaska. Our cruise last August was cancelled and with Canada's ports closed until 2022 I have more time to really plan our excursions. The weather sounds like late August will be very similar to what we experience here in southern Ontario from late March through May. Would I be safe to pack as if I was traveling locally at that time of year?


Thursday 18th of March 2021

You're welcome, Karen! Checking the weather, that seems about right to me. As I said though, you can't go wrong with layers!

Donna Ruelas-Semasko

Friday 27th of November 2020

Didn't really get into the "real" clothes - I was looking for more - 2 sweaters, night robe, how many pairs of good walking shoes, etc. And I am a person who gets really cold so at 15 degrees I am layered up along with a face mask and warm gloves - and I didn't see anything about gloves - nothing ruins a hunting trip or a hike or other adventure for me than cold hands. Will keep looking for a bit more info for my trip next year. Thanks.


Saturday 28th of November 2020

Thanks for your feedback, Donna.

I recommend checking out my winter packing list too if you'ere going in the coledr months:

I generally assume people know how to pack the basics, as I said in this post!

Julie V.

Sunday 13th of September 2020

How far out in advance would you recommend people begin to book things? For instance, flight from the lower 48, hotel accomadations, rental car? We plan to go in July 2021. Thank you.


Thursday 17th of September 2020

I typically recommend booking at least three months in advance, but as many people changed their travel plans from 2020 to 2021, I would start booking now! Just take into account any cancellation/change policies when you do!

Miller Gerardy

Saturday 29th of August 2020

What are requirements/restrictions regarding the virus in regard to Oklahoma travelers? Some states require a quarantine time period before traveling in their state.


Saturday 29th of August 2020

As far as I know, the requirements are the same for all travelers. You can read them here: