Beginner’s Guide to Packing for Alaska

Visiting Alaska has been at the top of my bucket list for a long time, but as someone who gets cold easily and doesn’t *love* being wet, packing was giving me a little anxiety. If nothing else, the weather is consistent in the springtime (Billy and I visited at the end of May). Almost every day had highs in the mid 50s and lows in the upper 40s with a good chance of rain mixed in about half the time.

We also went on a lot of ~excursions~ for this trip, so I had to actually bring some gear instead of just things for lounging on the beach. This meant my normal quest to fit everything in one carry on was not gonna happen. Still, we were flying Delta and didn’t want to shell out a ton in baggage fees, so we managed to get all the gear and extra layers we both needed into one additional medium-sized duffle bag that we checked.

But we were gone for 11 days…how did I get most of that into one carry-on? AirBnb with laundry. I looked up doing laundry at our hotel and it was literally $4…per shirt. Instead, we just chipped in an extra $5 for utilities at our AirBnb that we stayed in a few days earlier, about halfway through the trip.

So, what did I actually pack? A lot of layers. Waterproof shoes and a jacket. Here’s the whole run-down:

Clothing

Shirts and Tops

  • Base Layers (brought 3 long-sleeve, 3 short-sleeve, used all of them): Staying dry and warm can be tough to do somewhere as wet as Alaska, so bringing moisture-wicking base layers that aren’t cotton is super important. I brought three thin long-sleeve shirts, including this wool one from Smartwool that’s my favorite. Wool doesn’t get as smelly as synthetic fabrics, but is also more expensive, so I also recommend REI’s base layers. I also brought three non-cotton t-shirts for warmer days.
  • Mid-Weight Layers (brought 4, used 2-3): A nice mid-weight top and a long-sleeved base layer was perfect for the sunnier days we hiked and for sightseeing days. A Patagonia top similar to the layers I brought is at REI here.
  • Fleece/Heavy Layers (brought 4, used 3): Nice warm fleeces were a must-have for chilly, windy rains and the only reason I ended up not using all four is because the second half of our trip ended up being much warmer. My go-to fleece for chilly days on the water is this one from Patagonia.
  • Versatile Sweater (1, used for dinner and travel): I never travel anywhere cool without a warm, versatile sweater I can throw on to look nicer for dinner or to warm up on the plane.

Pants and Bottoms

  • Long Underwear (1 pair, used multiple times): A VERY handy layer that’s warmer than regular leggings and easy to put on under hiking pants or rain pants. I waited for a nice wool pair to go on sale (which they currently are at REI for limited sizes!). I love how warm those Smartwools are, but I don’t love that there’s a lot of extra fabric in the crotch region. They’re not particularly flattering, but I only wore them under another pair of pants so I didn’t care.
  • Waterproof Rain Pants (1 pair, used only for kayaking): Either hiking pants OR waterproof pants are a must. The only time I absolutely HAD to have waterproof pants was for our kayaking trip, but the guide company offered them too. Call ahead to see if your guide service does! (PS, if you’re looking for a guide in Seward, go to Liquid Adventures!) If you’re looking to buy a pair, I like the basic REI ones.
  • Hiking Pants (1 pair, used multiple times): Hiking pants are stretchy like leggings but have pockets and are harder to tear like jeans. But also like jeans, finding a pair of hiking pants that fit and look good can be a journey. I tried on basically every pair at REI and ended up liking their Kornati pants, if you’re in the market.
  • Leggings (5 pairs, used all five pairs): I mostly used leggings as a base layer but also used them as my all-the-time pants because I was preggo on this trip and couldn’t button any of my pants (my hiking pants were hanging on by a thread). Alaska is super casual, so I was never under-dressed, but if you want to “dress up” a bit throw some jeans in your bag.
  • Shorts (1 pair, used only as PJs): I brought one pair of shorts and ended up only using them to sleep in. At least this trip I remembered pajamas!

Outerwear

  • Waterproof Winter Jacket (used every day): I finally got a new winter jacket this year after taking advantage of a good ski shop sale. I was initially hesitant to get one with an interior puffy jacket that zipped out, but it came in super handy on days that were warmer but wet or windy. I didn’t have to also pack a raincoat, which helped me save space. If you don’t have the option of unzipping the inner part of your winter jacket, pack a raincoat separately!
  • Beanie (used every day): Bring a beanie that you can fit your hood over – you’ll want that when it’s super windy or wet.
  • Gloves (used every day): Make sure to bring a light-weight pair to keep your fingers warm, particularly hiking or when you’re out on the water.
  • Buff (used nearly every day): Buffs are an easy and versatile way to add another layer of warmth. It’s basically a strechy tube of fabric you can wear a bunch of different ways. I used mine as a ear warmer for hikes and as a scarf/neck warmer/gaiter whenever we were out on the water. But, if you don’t already have one and tend to run cold, just pack a scarf!

Shoes

  • Hiking Boots or Running Shoes (brought both and used one or the other every day): We planned a lot of hiking on my own, and as you may have figured out by now, Alaska is wet! I brought my waterproof hiking boots and *definitely* needed them for muddy hikes with water crossings. I had trail running shoes on hand for sightseeing or days I didn’t need something waterproof. If you’ll only be hitting the trail with a guide company, they may provide you with waterproof shoes (our kayaking guide and glacier trek guide companies both offered this option).
  • Casual Shoes (brought 1 pair, used for travel days): I also brought a pair of Toms for driving days or other times when it was dry out and I just wanted to let my tootsies breathe. It’s probably not going to be warm enough for you want anything open-toed.

Undergarments

  • Sports Bras (brought 4, used 4): I personally prefer getting sweaty in sports bras, so I recommend you bring one for each day you know you’ll be doing something sporty before being able to do laundry.
  • Regular Bras (brought 2, used 2): If I brought more sports bras, I could’ve done with just one regular bra, but that’s just who I am as a person. There were plenty of times where I didn’t feel like putting on a real bra, but was too low on sports bras to sacrifice one on a regular day.
  • Socks (brought 8 pairs of varying height, used most of them): I brought two pairs of knee-high super warm socks and only ended up using one pair on the day we went kayaking. Darn Tough’s calf-height hiker socks were my go-to for the entire trip (I brought three pairs). I also brought three pairs of ankle socks, just because I was wearing a lot of leggings and don’t like how high socks look with leggings.

Gear

  • Extra Traction: We brought microspikes but never ended up using them. The only time we needed spikes was on our glacier trek, and the guide company provided crampons (giant spikes) for that.
  • Backpack: I brought a regular-sized backpack that I normally use for hiking. I used it to store snacks, my Kindle, and my wallet on the plane and then for normal hiking things when we went out and about.
  • Reservoir: I wanted to have plenty of water on hand, particularly for hiking, so I brought a 1.5-liter reservoir. However you prefer to store it, just make sure you always have plenty of water to stay hydrated!
  • Hiking Poles: Being preggo also meant my cardio ain’t what it used to be, so hiking poles came in super handy for me. Billy ended up not using his much, but I took mine with me everywhere. We both recently got collapsible, lightweight ones, which made them super easy to travel with.
  • Binoculars! This made a HUGE difference for wildlife watching, and both of us having a pair also made a huge difference in us not fighting over them to see something cool. Let’s be real, there is no affordable way to visit Alaska, so just spend the money and get a pair.

The Other Stuff

  • Sunglasses: Don’t leave home without them!! Even on a cloudy day, being on the water or around a lot of ice/snow makes a huge amount of glare.
  • Hat: I just like wearing hats, particularly to shield my face from the sun or rain. If hats aren’t your thing, skip regular ones, but don’t forget to bring a beanie or other warm option.
  • Reusable Water Bottle or Coffee Mug: I brought a collapsible water bottle, which was super easy to stow in my backpack. I wish I had brought my travel coffee mug. Usually it’s too big of pain in the butt and I don’t end up using it much, but I drank a lot of coffee on this trip and was totally mortified at how much waste I produced in coffee mugs alone. Try to bring one or the other to reduce your waste!

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised that no matter where we were, there was always a Safeway or gas station or general store where we could get anything we forgot. I thought going to Alaska would be more remote, but it’s not much different than Colorado or any other large state. Stuff is a lot more expensive in Alaska, but if you forget something it’s certainly not the end of the world!

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Great tips!! Alaska is on my bucket list, not sure when, but now I know where to check when I’m ready to pack!!!

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    1. Laura Cardon says:

      Thank you!! If you need any help planning one day, let me know 🙂 This was definitely a bucket list trip for me as well!

      Like

  2. Curious about the trekking poles you used–we have a couple of active trips coming up and I’ve been thinking on investing in a collapsible pair. P.S. I love the idea of AK in the spring too and it’s the only state we haven’t visited, so I’m avidly following these AK posts!

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    1. Laura Cardon says:

      HI Lana! So sorry for the delay in responding to you, for some reason WordPress flagged your comment as spam – so rude! I use the Black Diamond Distance Z trekking poles. They are really fantastic and were easy to travel with since they’re collapsible. They held up to a lot of use in Alaska, plus I trail run with them as well. Let me know if you have any other questions!

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