What to Wear in Alaska: Complete Packing List

Riley hiking in Denali National Park, Alaska
Hiking in Denali National Park, Alaska

So, you’re planning a trip to Alaska? Congratulations! You’re about to lay eyes on some of the most beautiful scenery you’ve ever seen. But you already knew that. What you’re struggling with is what to pack, and it’s understandable. The weather in Alaska can change in a heartbeat. Plus, you can expect snow any month of the year. Yes, even July! As someone who once flew to Alaska for four months with three huge suitcases because I didn’t know what I needed, I feel your pain. Now, I’m here to help. From hiking to going on an Alaskan cruise, here’s everything you need to know about what to wear in Alaska.

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A collection of Riley's gear from Alaska, including pants, sweaters, coats, rain gear, and electronics.
Pictured above: prAna Fleece-lined Halle Pants, Patagonia Arbor Pack, Moleskine Journal, Instax Camera, REI Co-Op Vest, Patagonia Fleece Pullover, Helly Hansen Seven J Rain Jacket, The North Face Short Sleeve Shirt, Canon Rebel T5i, Cuddl Duds Fleece Warm Underwear, Patagonia Nano Puff Hoodie

1. Layers

Layers are critical. Bring a few tank tops, short-sleeve, and long-sleeve shirts or base layers. Polyester is also much better than cotton. It rains a lot in Alaska, and cotton won’t dry nearly as quickly as polyester will.

2. Rain Gear

Like I said, it rains a ton. I recommend a thick, heavy rain jacket if you don’t want to pack a lot of layers because the rain is also very cold, and usually comes with wind. You’ll want to make sure it won’t leak (the Helly Hansen and Patagonia jackets above are my favorites). Also, a hood is very helpful. Lastly, I prefer those with pockets on the inside where I can store my cell phone, camera, or other electronics so they’ll remain dry. Remember, you may want a larger size so you can wear layers underneath.

I’m throwing in the rain pants I use for hiking as well. If you plan on going for a walk at any point on your trip, I would bring rain pants. Kayaking? Bring rain pants, especially if dry suits are not provided. Even if they are, what if the suit leaks? Talk about a cold, wet, miserable nightmare. Rain pants are a godsend. Invest in them sooner rather than later.

3. Warm Coat

A packable down coat is your best bet. It’ll be easiest to squeeze into your suitcase. As with the rain jacket, I strongly recommend getting one with a hood. Additionally, I would get it one size larger than you need so you can wear layers underneath. You’ll want your rain jacket to fit on top of this as well – down can be ruined if it gets wet.

4. Knit Cap and Scarf

A knit cap or ear warmer/headband is also very important. I use ear muffs, too. When the wind starts blowing you’ll be glad you have one. It’s also good to bring a scarf along. I threw a balaclava up there just for kicks, too. Remember, I grew up in Florida.

5. Mittens or Gloves

You may not use these, but I’d bring them just in case. It’s always good to have a pair since you never know what the weather will do. The North Face even makes gloves called Denali – it’s like they’re made for Alaska!

6. Boots

Yes, I’m only recommended three pairs of boots and that’s because they’re the only three you’ll ever need. I’ve had my pair of Keen hiking boots for nearly four years now, and they’ve just started to lose their waterproof lining. That’s extremely impressive. The first pair of boots I ever purchased were destroyed after one summer in Alaska. My Keens have survived two and are still going strong. I will never buy another brand. The other pair is my winter boot, which is insulated and taller to keep the snow out of my shoe. Lastly, the XtraTufs. You can’t call yourself an Alaskan if you don’t own a pair of these, and you will see them everywhere. If you want dry, warm feet and you have a desire to fit in, these are the boots for you. They’ll be great if you’re going fishing as well.

THE BOTTOM LINE: If you don’t like the three boots above, just make sure the ones you get are waterproof. Trust me, you’ll be miserable otherwise, and no one wants to be miserable on vacation!

7. Hiking Pants

Hiking pants are really important, and pretty much all locals wear. You won’t see many of us in jeans. I wouldn’t bother bringing shorts with you, but you can get the zip-off convertible hiking pants if you want. I may wear shorts one or two days throughout the entire summer, so it’s safe to say yours can stay at home. My favorite hiking pants are my prAna fleece-lined pants. They keep me toasty warm but not uncomfortable. Most of my pants are Columbia brand because I’m tall and they have long sizes. Do everything in your power to find water-resistant hiking pants!

8. Wool Socks

If you want your feet to stay dry and warm, invest in wool socks. You’ll thank me later.

9. Vest

My boss in Delaware always said I would be fine as long as my core was warm. This isn’t necessarily true, but I do find vests very helpful. I have everything from down to fleece in a variety of colors to keep me comfortable and stylish.

10. Leggings

Leggings and base layers are great for keeping your legs warm. I wear them underneath my pants every time I go out on a trail. Recently, I’ve fallen in love with Cuddlduds, which are essentially long underwear made of fleece. They’re very warm and comfy. For hiking and backpacking, I prefer Patagonia’s base layers.

11. Record Your Memories!

Once you conquer the clothing part of packing, don’t forget everything you’ll need to make memories last. Trust me, you’ll want to take a photo every minute. Remember to bring a versatile backpack to put it all in, too.



Have you been to Alaska? Was there anything you wish you’d had with you? Share in the comments!