What to Wear in Alaska
Whenever and wherever you travel in "The Last Frontier," clothing is always a primary consideration. Emphasis should be based on comfort because the dress code is informal and casual. A layered technique is extremely good here.
Is Alaska cool or warm in the summer? Rainy or dry? Chances are, it will be a little bit of everything during your visit. Temperatures in Alaska during the summer range from 60°F - 80°F. Nighttime and early mornings are cooler, from the 40's - 50's. Late August and September departures could encounter cooler temperatures and slightly fewer hours of sunlight, as fall arrives early at these latitudes. An August bus ride into Denali National Park, for example, can start out in warm sunshine and reach Eielson Visitor Center in a driving snowstorm. The suitcase of a well-packed summer traveler will include items to cover most situations.
Summer Travel . . .
The Base Layer
This is your next-to-skin layer. It helps regulate your body temperature by moving perspiration away from your skin. Keeping dry helps you maintain a cool body temperature in the summer and avoid hypothermia in the winter. If you've ever worn a cotton T-shirt under your raincoat while you hiked, you probably remember feeling wet and clammy, even though you weren't getting wet from the rain itself. Cotton is a fabric that retains perspiration and can leave you chilled.
Long-sleeve shirts and pants
LONG UNDERWEAR: Bring at least two sets of polypropylene, capilene or thermal tops and bottoms are recommended. These should be light-weight or mid-weight. Synthetic fabrics are designed to keep you warm even when wet, wicking moisture away from the skin. Do not bring cotton long underwear; if it becomes wet it fails to insulate.
SHIRTS: We recommend two or three long-sleeved shirts. Long-sleeved, light colored, tightly woven shirt is helpful for bug/mosquito and also for sun protection.
PANTS: You should plant to bring two to three pairs. Preferably one pair made of quick-drying, synthetic material. You may also want to include a pair of shorts/convertible pants, just in case!
Having these provide warmth during the Alaskan summer months and general protection against mosquitoes. The convertible type pants are nice to have but not necessary.
The Insulating Layer
The insulating layer helps you retain heat by trapping air close to your body. Natural fibers such as wool and goose down are excellent insulators. Merino wool sweaters and shirts offer soft, reliable warmth and keep on insulating even when wet. For very cold and dry conditions, goose down is best. It offers an unbeatable warmth-to-weight ratio and is highly compressible. Down's main drawback is that it must be kept dry to maintain its insulating ability.
Fleece jacket and gloves
This is a versatile item for layering your clothing during early morning or late night chills. Even during Alaskan summer days, it can get pretty chilly when your ship pulls up to a glacier. While you won’t need a parka or anything winter-weight, a synthetic fleece or wool jacket and a sweater make great layers for warmth. A fleece or wool vest helps take the early morning or late night chill off. Also bring a cheap pair of thin gloves will be worth while to keep your fingers warm while hiking, boating or photographing outside. anything, you’ll be able to spend more time out on deck taking great photos.
The Outer Layer
The shell or outer layer protects you from wind, rain or snow. Shells range from pricey mountaineering jackets to simple windproof jackets. Most allow at least some perspiration to escape; virtually all are treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) finish to make water bead up and roll off the fabric. An outer shell is an important piece in bad weather, because if wind and water are allowed to penetrate to your inner layers, you begin to feel cold. Furthermore, without proper ventilation, perspiration can't evaporate but instead condenses on the inside of your shell.
Types of Waterproof shells that are available:
- Waterproof/breathable shells: The most functional (and expensive) choices, these are best for wet, cool conditions and alpine activities. Shells using laminated membranes such as Gore-Tex offer top performance.
- Water-resistant/breathable shells: These are best for light precipitation and high activity levels. Less expensive than waterproof/breathable shells, they're usually made of tightly woven fabrics (such as mini-ripstop nylon) to block wind and light rain.
- Soft shells: These emphasize breathability. Most feature stretch fabric or fabric panels for added comfort during aerobic activities. Many offer both shell and insulative properties, so they in effect combine 2 layers into 1. Soft shells include cold- and mild-weather options.
- Waterproof/non-breathable shells: These economical shells are ideal for rainy days with light activity (e.g., fishing, sports viewing). They are typically made of a sturdy, polyurethane-coated nylon which is water- and windproof.
- Insulated shells: Some outer shells have a layer of insulation built in—such as fleece—making them convenient for cold, wet conditions, but not as versatile for layering in fluctuating temperatures.
Rain jacket and pants
Chances are good that it'll rain sometime during a week-long visit. A good quality rain suit (both top and bottom) is a must to keep you warm and dry. Rain suits should be made of coated nylon with factory-sealed seams. The expensive Gore-Tex variety is not really necessary but you may want to invest in one of these if you think you may have use for it again. Do not bring a plastic or vinyl rain suit or ponchos as these tend to tear easily and quickly become useless.
Footwear Hiking Boots/Shoes
Sturdy socks and good walking shoes
Many tourist area trails are covered in asphalt or are boardwalks. But adventurous travelers may want to head up a rocky or muddy trail, of which there are hundreds. Comfortable, lightweight and water repellent. Many companies make lightweight hiking boots that are moderately priced. If you prefer strenuous hiking, you may want to invest in rugged hiking boots. We recommend that you never bring a new pair of shoes to Alaska. Chances are that on one of our adventures, you’ll be walking a lot and don’t need blisters. If you're going to invest in hiking shoes, get yourself a comfortable pair of lightweight hikers with good traction. And one last thing . . . break-in your new shoes before you come!
Other items you should bring along:
- WATCH: During summer's long days, it's easy to lose track of time. Of course, that may be why you're coming to Alaska in the first place.
- BRIMMED HAT: For sun protection. Some who don't enjoy a hooded jacket prefer a rain hat.
- SUNGLASSES: The summer sun rises in the northeast and sets in the northwest, so no matter what you have planned it will involve facing the sun sometime. Passengers on cruise and tour boats will find sunglasses especially helpful.
- INSECT REPELLENT: Creams and pumps are more environmentally friendly than aerosols
- DAY PACK: This will come in handy for day hiking and van travel. This is not a frame pack, but a smaller day pack variety with two shoulder straps that you carry on your back. Large enough to hold rain gear, extra sweater, water bottle, lunch, binoculars and anything else you would take on a day hike.
- FIELD GUIDES: For local flora and fauna. See the recommended reading section for our recommendations.
- SPORT SANDALS: Comfortable for saunas, lake dips, and van travel.
- TRAVEL ALARM CLOCK: Battery operated.
- BINOCULARS: Highly recommended and some guests feel that these are mandatory!
- HIKING POLES: Wooden hiking sticks are available at most lodges. If you prefer to bring your own hiking poles, please bring ones that pack easily (telescoping).
- BOOT GAITERS: The Cordura variety made by Outdoor Research work well. Gaiters offer protection for your legs and pants from water, insects and brush while hiking on the tundra.
- LIGHT ROBE AND/OR SLIP-ON SHOES, BATHING SUITS: For your stay at the Lodges, where the hot tub is outside. Anything comfortable and packable works, these items will make your evenings in the lodges just a little more relaxing.
A Word About Luggage
Most travelers pack too much. Checking more than one bag generally incurs an additional charge with air carriers. We recommend contacting your airline directly or visiting their website for specific requirements and baggage allowance restrictions. Please remember that there is no luggage portage from the airport and transferring to the first hotel. Therefore, the more you pack, the more you have to carry around. You may also want to leave some room in your bag for souvenirs and gifts. We recommend you use duffel bags made of materials such as cordura, canvas or nylon. Duffel bags are not mandatory, but they do store easily in our vehicles. You can find some duffel bags with wheels for easy travel.
Please note that your luggage will not always be accessible during travel so bring a day pack for any items that you will want to have at hand at all times. Also keep in mind that our vehicles have limited luggage compartments and, for your convenience, our staff hand carry luggage to your accommodations. Therefore, we truly appreciate bags that are manageable sized.