Deciding what to pack and how to dress when traveling to a new place is always tough. Here are some essentials and extras to make your trip more comfortable.
Synthetic Layered Clothing
Weather in Alaska can be unpredictable even in the summer months so dressing in layers is key. Synthetic materials are better than natural fibers (like cotton) as they dry faster and wick away moisture. You can sometimes get away with jeans if you have good rain pants over the top or if your plans can keep you out of the weather.
Consider packing a pair of shorts or hiking pants that convert to shorts. There have only been a couple of times it was warm enough to wear shorts and only once when I really wished I had them. That was July in Ketchikan. It was 90 degrees and the local kids were jumping off the fishing bridge into the water to cool off!
Don’t forget layers for warmth. A light down or fleece jacket may come in handy, especially on those chilly sightseeing cruises. I usually throw in a warm hat and a light pair of gloves too.
If you are packing for a winter trip you’ll need even more layers. A good base layer of thermal underwear with more layers on top. You’ll also need a heavier coat, winter hat, balaclava, and gloves.
Good shoes are the most important thing you’ll pack. Chances are good that you’ll be doing a lot of walking. Waterproof hiking shoes or boots are best if you have them. Make sure your shoes are broken in before your trip; there is nothing worse than blisters on day 2! I always pack an extra pair of shoes just in case the waterproofing fails me. Walking around in wet, soggy shoes will quickly ruin a fun day. And don’t forget the good socks–again, synthetic or wool is better than cotton.
I never owned rain gear before traveling to Alaska. Where I grew up everyone used umbrellas. An umbrella just will not cut it in Alaska—it’ll be inside out and useless in no time. A good rain jacket and a pair of pullover rain pants make a huge difference in how comfortable you’ll feel. Hey, maybe you’ll get lucky and never unpack them but that’s only happened for us once in 9 trips.
Yep, I’m calling this an essential. The Milepost is a yearly publication that covers all the roadways in the Yukon Territory of Canada and Alaska. Each section covers a different road with mile-by-mile information. In today’s digital world, paper maps have gone by the wayside for the GPS and digital maps on our phones but the milepost offers so much more than maps. It’s a little tricky to use at first but once you get the hang of it, it’s a great resource. It can be a lifesaver in remote areas without cell service with information on where to get gas and food. It also has fun information like trailheads, nearby fishing holes, and even points out spots you might see wildlife. My husband usually drives and I will sit with the milepost open on my lap looking for anything interesting along the way.
The mosquito is the unofficial Alaska state bird. Think they are bad where you live in summer? In Alaska, they are worse—especially in June and July. If you’re backcountry camping or very sensitive to bites consider getting a headnet. Otherwise, a good repellent like DEET with long pants and sleeves will be fine.
Binoculars are great to use on cruise ships or sightseeing cruises to get a closer look at faraway animals like puffins and whales. Also great for backcountry hiking to see what that moving brown spot is in the distance.
You will definitely want a camera for this trip! A lot of people wonder if they should buy a new camera for their trip but I don’t think that is necessary unless you are a serious photographer. Even the cameras on our phones are great these days so bring what you are comfortable using.
Long car rides equal bathroom stops. In Alaska gas stations and rest areas are few and far between. If you’re lucky you’ll have a pit toilet available. If you’re even luckier there will be toilet paper and hand sanitizer in the pit toilet.
Soft Sided Cooler
On our second trip, we bought a soft-sided cooler that we pack with us every time we travel. It’s handy to bring drinks and snacks and to transfer perishable items on the long car rides between bases during a trip.
Refillable Water Bottles
If you’re planning on doing any hiking, you’ll need these. Make sure to get bottles that are at least a liter in capacity.
Handheld Luggage Scale
Years ago I was in the checkout line at TJ Maxx when on impulse I bought a digital luggage scale. I didn’t really think I would use it but now we don’t travel without it. No more stressing about overweight luggage fees or the shame of repacking in the check-in line at the airport. It comes with us on every trip.
If you’re traveling in the summer you might want a sleep mask. A lot of lodging will have good blinds or blackout curtains but don’t count on it. If you have trouble sleeping when it’s not completely dark you may want to pack a sleep mask.
If you’re going to be on the water and you’re prone to seasickness you may want to bring along some prevention. For many people, over-the-counter medications work just fine but we always get a prescription for scopolamine patches. Some people swear by those acupressure wristbands or use ginger candies but I have never tried those. The most important thing to remember is to take the medication or place the patches before you get on the water. Once you start to feel sick, medication may not be effective.
Leave it at Home…
Unless you’re on a cruise with a fancy dinner night leave your dress-up clothes at home. You can go to the nicest restaurant in Anchorage with your hiking pants and boots and never get a second glance. The same goes for the cute shoes…if you can’t hike in them, you don’t need them!