Beginner’s Guide to Packing for Alaska

Visiting Alaska was 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 gave me a little anxiety. The weather is consistently wet and cool 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.

Purchase a detailed 11-day itinerary with:

  • Guided excursions
  • Beginner-friendly trails
  • Dining and lodging options
  • Packing list and more!

We also did a lot of ~excursions~ for this trip, so I had to actually bring some gear instead of just things for lounging. My normal quest to fit everything in one carry on was not gonna happen. Billy and I still managed to get all the gear and extra layers we both needed into one carry-on bag each plus one medium-sized duffel bag that we checked.

We were gone for 11 days, so we made sure to book an 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 about halfway through the trip.

So, what did I actually pack? Here’s the whole run-down:


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 in Alaska, so it’s super important to bring 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. I could’ve packed fewer, since they didn’t get gross as easily with a base layer underneath. A top similar to the ones I brought is here.
  • Fleece/Heavy Layers (brought 4, used 3): Nice warm fleeces were a must-have for chilly, windy rains. The only reason I ended up not using all four is because the second half of our trip was 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. 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 that fit and look good can be a journey. I tried on basically every pair at REI and ended up liking their Kornati pants, but they’ve unfortunately been discontinued.
  • 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!


  • Waterproof Winter Jacket (used every day): I have a ski jacket with an interior puffy that zips out, so 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!


  • Hiking Boots or Running Shoes (brought both and used one or the other every day): I brought my waterproof hiking boots and definitely needed them on the many 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. In May, it was never warm enough to have something open-toed.


  • 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. 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.


  • 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 to store snacks, my Kindle, and my wallet on the plane and then used it for hiking.
  • Reservoir: I wanted to have plenty of water on hand, so I brought a 1.5-liter reservoir.
  • Hiking Poles: Hiking poles came in super handy for me since I was preggo. 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. Please note we did not try to carry these on.
  • 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 a 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 to-go cups. 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!

Purchase a detailed 11-day itinerary with:

  • Guided excursions
  • Beginner-friendly trails
  • Dining and lodging options
  • Packing list and more!

Once you purchase the guide through PayPal, you will immediately receive an email with a link to the pdf.

Published by Laura Cardon

Laura Cardon moved to Colorado as an adult and quickly realized how difficult it was to get started exploring the outdoors in a state full of experts. She founded Outdoor Beginner in 2014 to fill the gap in beginner-friendly content for camping, hiking, skiing, and other outdoor activities. In addition to Outdoor Beginner, she coaches beginner trail runners and works at Runners Roost in Golden, Colorado, where she lives with her spouse and toddler.

5 thoughts on “Beginner’s Guide to Packing for Alaska

  1. 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!

    1. 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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