The Ultimate Alaska Packing List
Few places capture the imagination quite like Alaska. The largest state in the country by a lot (it's twice the size of Texas, people!), Alaska is home to more than 57 million acres of designated wilderness, including places only accessible by boat or seaplane. Grizzlies and brown bears roam, glaciers shatter into the sea, and nearly two million visitors a year flock to see the last of America’s truly rugged nature. Just as it's not an easy place to get to, it's not an easy place to pack for. We spoke with an expert Alaska guide to find out how to dress for every season, whether you’re seeking the summer’s midnight sun or the winter’s 100 (well, 67 if we’re being technical) days of night. Want to know what kind of shoes to wear for gravel and snow? How to prepare for a storm cloud of mosquitos? It’s all here. Grab your hiking shoes—we’re going way, way north.
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THE PERFECT LUGGAGE
“People go to Alaska for the nature experience,” says Wendy Redal, editorial director for Natural Habitat Adventures, who has been guiding groups in Alaska for 30 years. “It’s not going to be all paved roads, depending on where you’re going.” That means, unless you’re sticking entirely to Alaska’s cities, you’re going to need to be smart about your bag picks. Redal recommends a duffel bag, which can handle getting thrown around tour buses or plunked on gravel surfaces. At 90 liters, the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel is super spacious. It’s also weather-resistant, in case it gets caught in Alaska’s drizzle. If you’re going to be spending an extended amount of time on foot, Osprey’s Atmos AG 65 backpack is lauded by reviewers for its comfort, manageable weight, and versatility for both city and outdoor travel. If you’d rather stick with a traditional suitcase, the G-RO smart bag can handle troublesome surfaces, no problem. Its large wheels are designed for going up stairs, over cobblestones, and yes, even over sand and gravel (no word on how the wheels perform on glaciers).
THE THREE PAIRS OF SHOES YOU’LL NEED FOR EXPLORING ALASKA
If our shoe picks seem a bit utilitarian, there’s a good reason for that: Alaska is extremely casual. “Even the ‘nicer’ restaurants tend to be pretty casual,” Redal says. “If you’re walking around Anchorage or Juneau, the hiking shoes that you wore on the trail will be just fine in town. You won’t be the least bit out of place.”
You’ll want waterproof shoes, since Alaska tends to be damp. The Merrel Moab 2 Hiking Shoes are a favorite among hikers for their comfortable fit, good ventilation, and grippy soles. Salomon’s X Ultra 3 GTX hikers have similar features, plus an easy-to-tighten lacing system that stays in place all day. Salomon’s boot version is the same but provides extra ankle support for when you’re carrying heavy loads or trekking especially uneven terrain. The women’s pick, the Arc’teryx Bora GTX Mid Backpacking Boot, has a separate liner that hugs the ankle to really keep water out, no matter what. But hopefully you’ll get good enough weather to let your feet breathe on your summer trip, and Chaco sandals are beloved by both men and women for their no-slip tread, comfy fit, and hiker-chic vibe that pairs well with casual outfits.
DRESSING LIKE AN ALASKAN
Think flannels, casual work-ready pants, and whatever level of layering the weather calls for. If you spent your whole trip in hiking gear, no one would bat an eye, says Redal. The only exception is for folks who have specifically planned for less nature, more luxury, like upscale cruisers. (Take a look at our ideas for Alaskan cruise outfits here.)
If you really want to blend in, be sure to pack a few pieces of Carhartt clothing and accessories. You’ll notice a few Carhartt recommendations throughout this guide—that’s because the brand has achieved near-mythical status for some Alaskans. Outside Magazine did a deep-dive on the many legends surrounding Carhartt pants, including that they’ve saved locals from walruses, grizzly bears, and chainsaws. (Not theories we recommend testing, for the record.)
Worth mentioning: Our style picks are designed around summer in Alaska, which is really more like mid-May through July. Summer is the most popular season for visitors and typically provides the driest, clearest weather. The days are long, they occasionally (but rarely) get truly warm, and the only thing that isn’t ideal is the threat of relentless mosquitos.
Winter is another story altogether, and we’ve provided picks for must-haves for each month below. But essentially, the advice comes down to one thing: “Layers are going to be the name of the game,” says Redal.
Classic Women’s Outfit for Alaska
Classic Men’s Outfit for Alaska
FIVE FOOLPROOF OUTFITS FOR ALASKA
1. WHAT TO WEAR TO ALASKA’S NATIONAL PARKS
When you’re in Alaska, you might get to view awe-inspiring glaciers at Kenai Fjords National Park or drive deep into Denali National Park to camp at Wonder Lake Campground. There, you’ll get to see Denali, the largest mountain in North America and the showpiece of the stunning Alaska Range. Then, if you like, you can photograph Mount Saint Elias straddling the border of Canada and Alaska, the second-largest mountain in North America. Obviously, you’ll need clothes that can keep up with you. Summer in Alaska means battling aggressive mosquitos, so we recommend ExOfficio’s InsectShield-treated clothing to ward them off. Convertible pants from brands like Columbia and Mountain Hardware allow you to move into shorts when the weather—or your activity level—calls for it. Otherwise, simple waterproof hiking shoes, a hat, and a watch to track your adventures will do you well.
Women’s Outfit for Alaska’s National Parks
Men’s Outfit for Alaska’s National Parks
2. WHAT TO WEAR FOR OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES IN ALASKA
Getting off the beaten path? It’s hard not to when you’ve got activities like whale watching, dog sledding, walking with reindeer at Running Reindeer Ranch, or taking a restorative steam at Chena Hot Springs. Even if you’re keeping your outdoor activities urban (walking along the 11-mile urban Tony Knowles Coast Trail, exploring Pioneer Park), having clothes that breathe—and layers to keep you comfortable—is key. A breezy hiking shirt and pants cover your basics. We recommend a dependable fleece to keep you warm when temps drop. Meanwhile, waterproof hiking shoes keep your feet dry no matter the weather.
Women’s Outdoors Outfit for Alaska
Men’s Outdoors Outfit for Alaska
3. WHAT TO WEAR TO ALASKA’S MUSEUMS
Just because you can spend your whole trip in hiking gear doesn’t mean you’ll want to. Anchorage has some of the best museums around, like the Alaska Native Heritage Center, where you can learn about Alaska’s 11 major indigenous cultures, or there’s the uber-modern Anchorage Museum located in the city’s downtown area. In Fairbanks, the Museum of the North on the University of Alaska campus is a great trip, and there’s the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum for all you car geeks out there. If you find yourself in Juneau, the Alaska State Museum recently underwent a $136 million renovation. At all of these places, avoid overdoing it with your outfits and stay laid-back. We recommend a blouse or T-shirt with a nice layer on top, plus a pair of casual pants, and some simple sandals or sneaks. You’ll feel more dressed up without broadcasting “city kid’s first time in the country” vibes.
Women’s Museums Outfit for Alaska
Men’s Museums Outfit for Alaska
4. WHAT TO WEAR SHOPPING IN ANCHORAGE
Shopping is a great way to pass time on an unplanned afternoon and to search for gifts for folks back home. The place to go in Anchorage? Tikahtnu Commons. No need to get too fancy for your day out, though. A simple blouse or button-down, casual jacket, and comfortable shoes are perfect.
Women’s Shopping Outfit for Alaska
Men’s Shopping Outfit for Alaska
5. WHAT TO WEAR OUT TO RESTAURANTS AND BREWERIES
You’ll probably get your fill of on-trail jerky and power cookies and will really perk up at the thought of a sit-down restaurant. Alaska’s mouthwatering options include the sophisticated Kincaid Grill and Wine Bar, Hotel Alyeska’s destination restaurant Seven Glaciers, the chic-casual South Restaurant and Coffee House, and the world-renowned Midnight Sun Brewing Co. When you’re packing for your meals (and beers) out on the town, think smart-casual: a nice shirt with a blazer or cardigan, cute (and preferably stretchy) pants, and slip-on shoes are great. Heels and dress shoes definitely not required.
Women’s Restaurant/Brewery Outfit for Alaska
Men’s Restaurant/Brewery Outfit for Alaska
THE *ONE THING* WTP EDITORS ALWAYS PACK FOR ALASKAIf you’re off to the Last Frontier in the summer, don’t forget a sleep mask! The longer summer days in Alaska mean that it will still be light out when you’re trying to get some shut-eye, and you don’t want to miss a wink of sleep when your next day might involve taking in the incredible views of Hatcher Pass, flying over Misty Fjords National Monument in a vintage seaplane, or carving over the side of a mountain past glaciers and waterfalls on a Klondike Gold Rush-era train line. We love the appropriately-named Alaska Bears sleep mask for its ability to totally block out any lingering light and stay comfortable all night (or should we say, “night”). Need another reason? The blindfold-like eye mask, made of soft mulberry silk, has earned nearly 9,000 glowing five-star reviews on Amazon.—WTP Editors
ALASKA’S WEATHER AND SEASONS
Alaska is a massive place, and the southern parts of the state often have little in common with the interior or northern state when it comes to weather. The temperatures and recommendations below are based on Anchorage, a coastal town in southern Alaska. The coast is no stranger to rain, so it’s always good to have a rain jacket and/or umbrella on hand. It probably won’t surprise you that it gets really cold in Alaska during the winter, but you might be happy to hear that summer temperatures can be quite pleasant. Still, daytime and evening temperatures can be quite different, and you very well may want a sweater in the morning even if you’re planning to bask in the sun in the afternoon. Whatever the season, layers are your friend. Layering is what the locals do, and it’s what you should do, too. During the coldest months, you’ll want a medium-thick baselayer paired with a warm and waterproof outer layer. Don’t forget gloves. In the summer, you can get by with a T-shirt, but for evenings, it’s good to have a warmer jacket within reach. Oh, and keep bug spray on hand in the summer, and sunscreen year round.
Note: This data comes from our friends at Weather.com. We recommend using this together with a traditional forecast as you get closer to your departure date.
- Plan for day temps between 8 and 22
- Expect 0.70 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Alaska in January: If you’re going to Alaska in January, we salute you! Dress warm and ready for snow, and remember what we told you: layers are your friend. Make sure they’re thick and waterproof.
- Plan for day temps between 11 and 26
- Expect 0.68 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Alaska in February: Start with wool or synthetic baselayers to help keep you warm and dry. From there, pile on more and more warm layers.
- Plan for day temps between 17 and 34
- Expect 0.62 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Alaska in March: Nope, still not spring. Stay warm with a winter hat and an insulated jacket.
- Plan for day temps between 29 and 44
- Expect 0.41 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Alaska in April: It might be spring elsewhere, but Alaska’s still cold, and even worse, muddy. You won’t be shedding your jacket this month, but it could be worth bringing rubber boots.
- Plan for day temps between 39 and 56
- Expect 0.71 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Alaska in May: Finally, summer is on the horizon. You can probably let go of heavier jackets and opt for a fleece or sweater underneath a rain jacket. But the mosquitos are starting to buzz, so wear bug spray.
- Plan for day temps between 48 and 63
- Expect 1.04 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Alaska in June: Hallelujah, it’s finally summer! Still not exactly toasty, so shorts might be overly hopeful. But a light pair is nice to have in case the sun really does decide to shine.
- Plan for day temps between 53 and 65
- Expect 1.90 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Alaska in July: The sun is out, rain is common, and bugs are looking for a feast. Bug spray and a rain jacket are essential, but for once you don’t have to worry too much about bundling up.
- Plan for day temps between 50 and 64
- Expect 2.89 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Alaska in August: It’s rainy but still warm in August, so keep your feet dry and your layers light.
- Plan for day temps between 42 and 55
- Expect 2.56 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Alaska in September: September is one of the best months to spot wildlife, so bring binoculars—and warm clothing!—for some of the best views you’ve ever seen.
- Plan for day temps between 28 and 40
- Expect 1.98 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Alaska in October: As the temperature dips toward brisk again, bundle up with warm clothes and the occasional hand-warmer.
- Plan for day temps between 15 and 27
- Expect 1.03 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Alaska in November: If you’re planning to go hunting for the Northern Lights, you’ll need to make sure your winter wardrobe is locked down. A strong base layer and a waterproof insulated jacket are must-haves.
- Plan for day temps between 12 and 24
- Expect 1.23 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Alaska in December: Hello, snow season. If you’re traveling to Anchorage during December, be ready to swaddle yourself in snow-proof layers.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT ALASKA
What is the best time of year to visit Alaska?
The most popular time is mid-May through late July when the weather is at its finest. April and August tend to be rainy and muddy, making it rough to explore outside the cities. “Wildlife viewing can be excellent in September,” Redal says. Elk and moose are mating in Denali National Park, and it’s a good time to spot them. The fall colors can also be spectacular. December can be a great time to see the Northern Lights, but you’ll want to move away from the coast and into Alaska’s interior, Redal says, since the skies tend to be clearer. March can be a good time for dog sledding, as it’s still cold enough for snow, but the temperatures are warming so you won’t freeze as quickly.
What are the top places to visit in Alaska?
The national parks in Alaska are some of the finest and most wild in the country. Glacier Bay National Park and Kenai Fjords National Park let you witness the glacial remnants of the last ice age. Denali National Park has a scenic road that bisects six million acres of wild land. If you’re eager to see bears, there’s no finer place than Katmai National Park and Preserve. When it comes to cities, Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau all have their own charm.
Is it easy to get around Alaska? What should I know before renting a car?
Compared to most places in the U.S., Alaska doesn’t have a particularly big road network connecting distant places, Redal says. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get around. Renting a car should be relatively easy from major cities like Anchorage, and in the summer months you can still travel far and wide. Denali National Park, for example, is about a four-hour drive from Anchorage. The state’s ferry system can also transport you to places like Sitka, Kodiak Island, or Ketchikan. Commercial buses are also available for transport, and if you want to get somewhere really remote, you can hire a small plane.
What should I make sure to see in Anchorage? What is there to do in Anchorage at night?
Chugach State Park is just outside Anchorage and gives you near-instant access to hiking and other outdoor recreation. Splurge on a flightseeing tour from town to get unparalleled views of Alaska’s glaciers and wildlife. The museums, like the Alaska Native Heritage Center and Anchorage Museum, are an excellent way to spend an afternoon. Otherwise, take a bike ride around the city or visit the Alaska Botanical Gardens. Midsummer, you have nearly 22 hours of daylight, so “night” is relative. Most local breweries, like Odd Man Rush Brewing and Midnight Sun Brewing Co., shut down around 8 p.m., so hit one up before heading to one of Anchorage’s excellent restaurants. For live music and a rowdy good time, try Chilkoot Charlie’s.
What do I need to know about buying marijuana in Alaska?
According to Anchorage Daily News, anyone over the age of 21 can buy marijuana. There are limits on the amount you can buy and carry at a single time—an ounce—and it’s banned at national parks and on some private property. You’ll need your ID and cash, as cards aren’t accepted. Whether you can travel in-state with marijuana is tricky—it could be fine, or you could be asked to leave it behind. It’s illegal to have marijuana on Alaska’s ferries, but they’re not actively seeking it out on passengers. You’re not allowed to smoke marijuana in public in Alaska.