I arrived in Anchorage during August. My body was well-adjusted to the hot, humid days of summer in Ohio, and the 50-60 degree days were a slight shock to my system. Even though I thought I thoroughly researched what to pack for my Alaskan vacation, one of my first thoughts when beginning to explore was “Wow, I didn’t pack very well.” The most troublesome problem I experienced was a lack of warm layers because most of the articles I read on the subject of packing instructed me to only pack a couple of long sleeved shirts. I ended up wearing the same couple nearly every day. Seriously. In 75% of my pictures I’m wearing the same thing.
As for the articles I read on packing for Alaska, I determined the only logical explanation is that they were written by Alaskans, not someone traveling from a much warmer location. Case and point – while I was bundled up like Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story (I can’t feel my arms!), the locals were wearing t-shirts and in some instances, shorts. So, if you plan on traveling to Alaska from a location that’s not quite so cool, take the advice from a non-Alaskan on what to pack. In addition to proper clothing to keep you warm and dry, you will also need some other goodies that are slightly out of the ordinary.
Dress in layers. Pretty generic, but useful advice. Also, Alaska is pretty casual, so unless you plan on going to a specific event where there is a dress code, don’t bother packing anything fancy.
- T-shirts – These will come in handy for layering during a cool day or wearing on their own when Mother Nature provides one of those beautifully sunny, 70 degree days.
- Long sleeve shirts – Bring one or two of these for layering or wearing on their own. Think long-sleeved t-shirts, nothing bulky like sweaters.
- Moisture wicking shirt – Definitely pack at least one of these shirts. They can help insulate you during cool temperatures but also keep you dry if you work up a sweat.
- Fleece top – A fleece top can be easily worn and then tied around your waist when the sun comes out. It’s also a great layer to keep you toasty warm for those wet days.
- Socks – Alaskan summers are rainy, so unless you want to wash your dirty, wet socks in the hotel sink, pack plenty extra pairs.
- Jeans – Again, Alaska is pretty casual, so jeans work pretty much everywhere.
Alaska is a nature lover’s paradise. Even if you don’t love the outdoors, chances are that you will still find yourself enjoying the fresh air and gorgeous scenery more often than not. The weather can be temperamental, so quality outerwear is essential.
- Athletic shoes and/or hiking boots – Bring two pairs of active shoes, one being hiking boots if you have them. If one pair gets wet then you can wear the other the following day.
- Gore-tex jacket with hood – This material is wind and rain-proof, and it’s not bulky. My jacket was the most useful item I packed on my trip.
- Rain pants – If you expect to be outdoors extensively for a few days, I recommend rain pants. These would have been useful for my trip since it rained most days, but they’re not a necessity if you don’t mind damp jeans.
- Hat/Gloves – The wind whipping off a glacier is cold, so a hat is definitely recommended. Gloves are optional since you can just stick your hands in your jacket pockets if they get cold.
How are you supposed to prove you went to Alaska if you don’t bring your gadgets with you? Beyond the normal, everyday electronics like cell phones and tablets, there are a few other things you don’t want to forget.
- Camera – Because there is so much amazing wildlife here you will want to capture as much as possible on film. A camera with good zoom capability is a must because not all of the wildlife will come right up to you to say “hi”.
- Binoculars – Great for getting up close and personal with the Dall Sheep that just won’t come off the mountain side to greet you or the bald eagle that soars majestically over your head but refuses to land anywhere near you.
- Phone charger for car – If you’ve rented a car and are driving a decent amount, a charger for the car is a great way to ensure your phone that is constantly roaming for a signal is ready to go when you need it.
- GPS/Map – Don’t rely on your phone’s GPS. Cell phone towers are few and far between, and I was in roaming for my entire trip. Either use a stand-alone GPS that works in Alaska, have an idea what mile markers your destinations are by, use paper maps, or get pre-printed directions off Google Maps.
- Reservations – For your activity, hotel and flight reservations, don’t keep the confirmations in your email inbox. You might not have cell phone signal when you need it, so print off your confirmations or use an app that doesn’t require cell service like Kayak or Tripit.
This isn’t literally everything else you should pack. It’s everything else that’s out of your ordinary packing repertoire.
- Medicine for motion sickness – If you’re taking a boat tour don’t forget the medicine for motion sickness. The water can be pretty choppy and you’ll be thankful you planned ahead.
- Bug spray – The mosquitos can be pretty bad depending on where you are, so whether you pack some spray or purchase it once you arrive, it’s not a bad “just-in-case” investment for a couple of dollars.
- Water bottle – You will most likely be pretty active on your Alaska vacation, and a refillable water bottle can keep a parched mouth at bay all day. It’s free to refill and keeps extra bottles out of the landfills.
- Coupon book – If you plan on doing some excursions or activities on your own while near Anchorage, check out the Northern Lights Entertainment Coupon Book or Alaska Tour Saver book for great coupons. I saved $150 over the cost of the Northern Lights Book on my one week trip. The best part is that the coupons are listed online, so you can add up what you think you might save before purchasing the book.
When your visit to Alaska involves a dramatic change in temperature, dress even more warmly than you initially think. A wet, 55 degree day can feel like winter to those who are used to melting in the sun during summer. This isn’t a complete list of what to pack, but a reference on where to start as well as some items that are out of the ordinary packing list. If you need a more complete list of what to pack in general on your vacations, use my Packing Checklist. Don’t let a lack of proper packing prevent you from having a freaking awesome Alaska vacation!
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