What To Pack for an Alaska Vacation

Published: May 2, 2016

An Alaska vacation is unlike any other for many reasons. Alaska treats all visitors to unique landscapes and communities, cultures and cuisines, people, history, wildlife and, well, wacky weather! In Alaska, it can hit the sweltering ‘90s and then snow in the same summer month. It can dump a foot of snow and blanket of rain in the same winter day. Fall days often start cool, warm up quickly and then get dark and cold. Even a bright, warm summer afternoon can turn breezy and chilly in a heartbeat.

So while it’s important to pack the usual travel trappings – identification, money and credit cards, a comfortable daypack, your phone, and camera – it’s equally important to pack a collection of clothing that will keep you comfortable no matter where you travel around Alaska.

Here’s an Alaskan vacation packing list and packing tips that will help you weather Alaska’s weather:

  • Pack layers – This is the best Alaska apparel advice. Layers of tops, bottoms and socks allow you to remain flexible and comfortable no matter what Alaska throws at you. A warm day? Get down to the basics – jeans and a shirt. A sudden breeze? Pull over a windbreaker and wind pants. A drizzle? Raincoat, check! A cold day? Add a sweatshirt, hoodie or coat on top, some long underwear or wind-blocking bottoms, and an extra pair of socks. The best part of layering is that it’s easy to quickly add, subtract and adapt to changing conditions.
  • Bring a variety of footwear – You’ve got a lot of miles to cover in Alaska, so you want your feet to be comfortable, dry and warm. This means multiple pairs of footwear – your favorite pair of walking shoes, a reliable pair of water-resistant or water-proof rain shoes, and possibly a pair of insulated boots depending on what season you’re traveling in. (Oh, and a sturdy pair of hiking shoes/boots if you plan on taking trails and a pair of fancy shoes if you want to hit the town in style). Also, socks. Lots of socks, with lots of thicknesses. Sure, all these shoes take up valuable luggage space, but you’ll be thankful to have the options.
  • Pack a pair of gloves – Yes, gloves are important, even in the summer. It’s tough to unzip your jacket pocket, turn on your camera, adjust the focus and capture a killer whale photo if your fingers aren’t functioning properly. And cold hands can happen even on a warm day if a breeze is coming through. Pack even warmer gloves for winter weather or if you have sensitive hands.
  • Wear hats – A traditional baseball cap is great for bright and/or breezy days. And even in summer, a warm winter cap is a nice option to have in your bag. Even the hottest Alaska day can feel cool if you spend it on a boat, in the mountains or on a glacier.
  • Bring sunglasses – Nothing against the midnight sun, but sometimes it can be pretty darn bright in Alaska. Good, polarized sunglasses will help you enjoy Alaska’s vistas unfolding before you and also protect your eyes when fishing or during hikes through brush areas.

This Alaska packing checklist should be a good basic foundation for a comfortable vacation, but also consider the season you’re traveling in and pack accordingly – more warmth in the winter, spring and fall, less heavy outer gear in the summer. And if you forget something, don’t fret. Alaska’s urban areas and tourism hubs have plenty of shopping options to outfit you in style!