What to Wear on Your Alaskan Adventure

Doug and Jane posing in front of mountains in Alaska

Packing for a trip to Alaska can be daunting. Whether you’re heading out on a 10-day Alaskan cruise or visiting our state in the depths of winter, there is nothing more important than being prepared. The last thing you want to do is let clothing get in the way of your vacation! However, packing for a trip to the 49th state doesn’t have to be difficult. While known for its subzero temperatures and extremely short winter days, Alaska can reach up to 80°F in the summer. So, how should you prepare?

The first step is to figure out the average temperature for the time of year when you’ll be visiting. While that probably sounds obvious, it is important because it forces you to be realistic about what you need to pack. It’s far too easy to assume that visiting Alaska means wearing a parka 24/7, but that’s certainly not the case if you visit in the middle of July. Travelers coming to Fairbanks, for example, can expect average summer temperatures of 66-72°F, according to Explore Fairbanks.

The second step is to take into consideration what kind of activities you’ll be doing. If you’re going on an Alaskan cruise, keep in mind there’ll be hot tubs and heated pools — so you can’t forget your swimsuit! Planning to hike through the beautiful Alaskan Range? Make sure you follow the Alaska Channel’s advice and bring lots of layers, as well as suitable hiking boots and socks. Going dog mushing or walking with reindeer? You’ll want to pack your camera!

The third step is to take a deep breath and remember that you can buy or rent anything you forget to pack. Although Alaska is known for its beautiful wilderness, you’ll very rarely find yourself in the middle of nowhere. Being prepared is important, but it doesn’t have to end once you step off the plane at FAI!

If you’re still scratching your head on what to wear for each Alaskan season, check out our guidelines below. We’ve lived in Alaska for over 40 years, so we’ve got the low-down on how to make the most of your time here.

Alaska in the Summer

The biggest thing to take into consideration when deciding what to wear in Alaska during the summer are the mosquitoes. Alaskan mosquitoes can be ruthless, and they take no prisoners. If you stop to visit us at Running Reindeer Ranch, you’re more than likely to find yourself swatting away a few of these insects. What can you do to outsmart them?

First and foremost, you should always carry bug spray. Keep it handy. It’s easy to convince yourself that it’s too much weight, especially since mosquitoes are typically more active at dawn and dusk. Ignore the little voice inside your head that says, “Oh, they can’t be that bad.” Alaska Trekker jokingly calls the mosquito “Alaska’s Unofficial State Bird”, and that’s not far from the truth. The good news is that Alaska’s mosquitoes are disease free!

Secondly, make sure you wear long-sleeved shirts and pants. With the somewhat balmy weather, you may think you can get away with a T-shirt, but all this will do is make you more accessible to mosquitoes. In addition, don a pair of closed-toe shoes and thick socks to protect yourself from these annoying insects during our reindeer stroll. The only animals we want you to pay attention to are our reindeer!

Our last piece of advice on how to prepare for a summer trip to Alaska is to pack layers. The weather can be quite temperamental, so it helps to have a light sweater or jacket on hand at all times. Bring a good hat to protect yourself from the midnight sun, and don’t forget your sunglasses!

Alaska in the Winter

Winters in Alaska are legendary. Reaching temperatures as low as -60°F, they’re not to be taken lightly. However, this doesn’t mean that you should leave your Alaska trip for the summertime! The beautiful winter landscapes combined with fewer crowds make December, January, and February the perfect time to visit.

Five college students in dresses when it's -44 degrees Celsius
An example of how “real” Alaskans dress in the winter.

The most important thing to keep in mind are the varying degrees of cold. Hats, scarves, gloves, and a coat are great basics, but you’ll want to add or remove layers depending on the day’s weather. Explore Fairbanks offers a helpful video on what to wear in 40°F, 25°F, 12°F, and subzero weather that you can watch here.

Luggage weight limits may leave you wondering how you can pack all that and still make it on the plane. Not to worry: in Fairbanks, you can always rent gear from Alaska Element. They’ll deliver a package of boots, snow pants, and a jacket to your hotel or airport for only $30/day. And you can buy hand warmers at your nearest sporting store or Fred Meyer, so you’re never without options!

Lastly, for your feet, the most important thing is to stay dry. We recommend packing a pair of light boots or walking shoes that you can wear indoors and a pair of warmer boots that you will change into to go outside. If you wear your boots all the time, both indoors and outdoors, you run the risk of having sweaty feet, which will become wet and cold once you step outdoors. Not a combination for a winning vacation!

No matter what season you choose to visit Alaska, there are lots of ways to enjoy the area’s beauty. The state’s towering mountains, snowy forests, evergreen trees, and a whole host of wildlife are unlike anywhere else in the U.S., so you can’t let worries about what to pack steer you away! Follow our guidelines for what to wear in Alaska in the summer or winter, and you’ll always be prepared for a good time.

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