What to Wear in Alaska for Cruises and Adventures

Stacey Ebert, Laura Lopuch

When packing for Alaska, be prepared for weather to shift. Always have something for rain, pack layers for extra warmth and flexibility, expect everything in summer, and never go without sunscreen!

I looked down at my usual carry on bag — an open top duffel — and back to Frontier Airlines’ personal item dimensions.

The duffel was too big by several inches. If I took it, I’d be forced to pay $25 as a carry on fee. That seemed silly: paying to bring unneeded things on a trip, when I could save that money by simply bringing less.

The following night, my husband and I were booked on an 8:30 pm flight to Anchorage. Tickets had been redeemed with miles, saving us over $900. There I was wrestling with bags to save us a total of $50 in carry on fees, thanks to Frontier’s latest price ranking strategy to charge for carry ons, checked bags, seat selection, and pre-boarding.

But their weak spot was that one personal item per passenger was still free. And that’s exactly where I was aiming. My personal item would be my carry on.

My trusty Timbuk2 messenger bag (a.k.a. my weekender bag) would comply with the personal item size requirements. Yet I’d never packed for a five-plus day trip to a destination with notoriously fickle weather — like Alaska in the fall — in that bag before.

If I was packing for this trip now, I’d pack in either the Setout Divide with the nicely sized computer sleeve and exterior pockets to add just a little more flexibility, organized inside with the packing cubes. Of course, if I was willing to pay for that carry on, then the Outbreaker 35 would have felt as spacious as a steamer trunk!

I wondered if I could really pack for five-plus days and plan for unpredictable weather in a smaller-than-normal carry on bag.

Challenge accepted.

It’s Alaska… Expect Weather

In Alaska, you can bet on the freezing cold in winter, the ups and downs of wind and rain surrounding the equinoxes, and summer is often filled with a bit of sunshine and most-likely mosquitoes (although we didn’t encounter many). In the height of summer, you’re bound to have some days of sunshine and mostly mild temperatures in the 50s and 60s (we were even gifted a day in the low 70s).

The moral of your travel to Alaska story: be prepared for weather to shift. Always have something for rain, pack layers for extra warmth and flexibility, expect everything in summer, and never go without sunscreen!

What to Pack for Alaska: Clothing

While people do visit Alaska year ‘round, there are far more visitors in summer than in winter – if you’re planning a late June/July/early August visit, book as early as possible.

Even at the end of July, the weather shifted, the sun came out and the rain wasn’t far behind. Mornings and evening temperatures dropped to below 50 Fahrenheit while the middle of the day was quite pleasant. Depending on your journey – your packing list will shift.

Hiking more? Make sure those shoes can hack the terrain.
Don’t forget bug spray and sunscreen.

Taking a train trip? Pack layers for getting on and off the train.

Cruising the passage? Be sure to have a jacket handy to be able to get out on deck and enjoy those views at all hours of the day.

Packing for Alaska, think casual, practical and comfortable. Oh – and if you still forget something, there’s a giant REI (complete with outlet) in Anchorage – happy shopping.

Basic Alaska Packing List

  • 4-7 pair underwear & 1 bra/1 sports bra
  • 3-5 assorted tops for layering
  • Long underwear
  • 1-2 pair casual pants, capris (possibly), hiking pants (consider quick drying ones) 
  • 1 pair jeans
  • 1 pair of pajamas, which could double as a pair of leggings, shorts, tee, or sweats
  • 3-5 pair of socks
  • 1-2 cardigans/sweatshirt/fleece/middle-weight layers
  • Jackets: mid-weight in summer; parka level in winter and always include a breathable rain shell

Remember that you can do laundry while you’re there, so pack for fewer days than you are traveling.

Which Shoes to Pack for Alaska

If you’re on a cruise, you’ll probably want a fancy pair of shoes for dinners on the ship. Otherwise, what you really need are shoes with good traction (whether that’s for an urban wander, cruise outings or hitting the trails), comfort, and practicality.

Do your best to limit yourself to two pair of shoes Choose your shoes carefully to accommodate the expected weather and your activities. Be sure to break them in before your outdoor adventures.

And remember – if you want to participate in any extreme activities – you can always rent the full gear. 

Choose two:

  • 1 pair sandals in summer
  • 1 pair comfortable walking shoes year ’round
  • 1 pair comfortable flats or casual shoes to dress up or down
  • In winter consider adding boots

Adventure Accessories

Whether you’re cruising or outdoor adventuring, there are a few accessories that you’ll want to add to your packing list to make your outings more fun.

How to Pack Toiletries for Alaska

Go light when packing toiletries for Alaska. Everything you need can be purchased when you get there. Pack only what you need or are brand specific on. For those cruising Alaska, check with your cruise line; they may provide more than you need and allowing you to pack even lighter.

Consider packing

  • Bug spray – with deet; especially in June/July
  • Tissues
  • Baby wipes
  • Soap
  • Shampoo & conditioner 
  • Toothpaste & toothbrush (think eco-friendly)
  • Hair products & accessories (rubber bands have various uses)
  • Shaving kit
  • Sanitary products of choice
  • Makeup
  • Travel laundry detergent (Dr. Bronner’s is a great multi-use option)
  • Chapstick/some form of lip balm (dry temps and wind affect that face of yours)
  • Unscented lotion
  • Travel towel
  • Sunscreen (buy locally unless you’re brand specific)
  • Deodorant or antiperspirant
  • Hand, feet, or back warmers (especially in winter)

First Aid Kit for Alaska

Each traveler’s medical needs are different. If you’re heading off the grid (spending some time in those national parks) you might carry a few more items than if you’re spending your visit in urban centers (like Anchorage or Fairbanks) or aboard a large cruise ship complete with infirmary.

Consider packing a little first-aid kit to handle minor emergencies.

  • Prescription meds, plus epi pen if necessary (carry copies of your prescriptions)
  • Extra contact lenses & solution
  • Bandaids (for hiking blisters!)
  • Over the counter pain reliever and allergy meds
  • First aid kit, the smallest you can manage 

What to Pack for an Alaskan Cruise

For Alaska, many guests choose to couple a cruise with some sort of land trip (destination or train). It is possible to pack for a cruise in a carry on bag. If you’re cruising Alaska be sure you add:

  • Jacket for on deck and excursions
  • Comfortable walking/hiking shoes
  • Gloves – smartphone gloves (if you’re taking most of your photos on your smart phone and don’t want your fingers to get chilled while capturing the moment)
  • One formal outfit
  • Ginger tablets, sea sickness medicine or bands/patches
  • Rain gear
  • Binoculars (for sighting whales and sea life from the deck!)

Travel Tech

Whatever your chosen Alaska travel method – the tech that travels with you will need to be able to be charged, carried, stored, utilized and perhaps even worked on along your journey. Remember, less is more!

  • Tablet, e-reader, or computer, & necessary chargers
  • Portable charger & cords
  • Camera (and bag to protect from weather), lens, batteries, memory cards, & chargers
  • External hard drive to back-up your memories
  • Smartphone with headphones & chargers

Places to Visit

Alaska is as diverse as it is vast. You could hit the bars in Anchorage, attend the Symphony of the Sky in Fairbanks, or learn the life story of the puffins of the fjords in Seward. Whether you’re adding on a day trip to a national park, seeing the state on a waterfront journey or extending a city visit for a weekend of camping and wildlife searching – Alaska has something for everyone. What was mine, you ask? I got to hand feed a rescued puffin at the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward – the semi-private experience was definitely one for my memory bank.

Alaskan Experiences:

Alaskan Cities to Visit:

Alaskan National Parks Not to Miss:

TL;DR

While you’re exploring the land that gave us The Deadliest Catch, Mount Denali and all the excitement of running salmon – be sure to get your craft beer on (hit up 49th State Brewing Company), stay up till the summer light goes to sleep, or watch the Aurora Borealis dance amidst a starry night sky.

Alaska in summer is for wanderers and explorers while Alaska in winter is certainly not for the faint of heart.

Pack layers, be prepared for weather that changes quickly. In Alaska, the destination is always worth the journey.

 

Want more like this?

Get weekly gear reviews, travel hacks, and packing tips sent straight to your inbox. As an added bonus, we’ll send you a carry on packing list right away.