19 Top Alaska Packing List Items + What NOT to Bring (2018 Update)

To many people in the lower 48, Alaska is part of the unknown. So far removed from the rest of the country and with such extreme weather, anyone who plans to visit needs to put some thought into what to pack for Alaska. No matter what time of year you plan to visit or what you plan to do there, this Alaska packing list will have you covered.

I’ve also included a list of what NOT to bring when you’re packing for Alaska, so you only bring the things you actually need and don’t end up dealing with excessive luggage. At the bottom of the post are some tips on the best clothes to wear in Alaska, as well as some frequently asked questions about traveling there.

Remember, the conditions in Alaska can be harsh and will probably be different from what you’re used to. Approach your time there with an open mind and a sense of humor, and you’ll be on your way to having the trip of a lifetime.

What should I bring on my Alaska trip?

1) Fleece jacket: Women’s and Men’s – When it comes to clothes for Alaska, a fleece jacket is a good place to start. It may be the only jacket you need during the summer, and it also makes the perfect mid-layer during colder months.
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2) Waterproof jacket: Women’s and Men’s – It’s often best to dress in layers in Alaska, especially if you’re hiking or doing other physical activity outside. For your outer layer, a medium-weight waterproof and windproof jacket works best. These styles from North Face will keep your dry and should fit easily over your other layers.
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3) Rain pants: Women’s and Men’s – If you’re planning to spend serious time outdoors in Alaska’s rainy southeastern region, a pair of rain pants is ideal for keeping you warm and dry. If the weather is cold, you can also wear a base layer under these pants.
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4) Wool t-shirt: Women’s and Men’s – Wool is an ideal fabric for travel and outdoors recreation because it’s breathable and it dries quickly. With that in mind, a wool t-shirt should be a default item when you’re packing for Alaska. It’s all you need in the summer, and makes a good base layer in colder months.
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5) Hiking pants: Women’s and Men’s – A good pair of hiking pants will make your time out on Alaska’s trails much more comfortable. They’re so much more pleasant than jeans that it’s worth bringing a pair even if you’re just planning to do one day of hiking. Nylon-spandex blends are lightweight, quick-drying, and unrestrictive, making them perfect for traveling and spending time outdoors.
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6) Wool socks: Women’s and Men’s – For hiking, skiing, or just keeping warm on wintry Alaska days, nothing beats a pair of merino wool socks. During the winter, a pair of thick, tall socks like these are essential clothing for Alaska. And in case your trip is rough on them, Darn Tough socks are guaranteed for life.
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7) Hiking boots: Women’s and Men’s – For many visitors, hiking boots are the go-to footwear for Alaska. For shorter and less strenuous hikes, a pair of ankle-high hiking shoes is probably sufficient. But for tackling any of Alaska’s more difficult trails, you’ll want the ankle support of full boots like these.
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8) Sturdy sandals: Women’s and Men’s – For light hikes and water sports during the summer, a pair of sturdy sandals like Chacos will probably be the most convenient footwear. Just check the temperature (of the air and the water) before you set out to make sure you won’t need full shoes.
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9) Sunglasses: Women’s and Men’s – If you’re visiting between April and September, you’ll definitely want to put sunglasses on your list of things to take to Alaska. The extremely long daylight hours during the summer mean you’re likely to be out in the sun way more than usual – and that makes a pair of sunglasses extra important.
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10) Daypack – A daypack should also be on anyone’s list of things to take to Alaska. Whether you’re going on a short hike, taking a day trip, or chasing the Northern Lights, you’ll probably want to carry water, snacks, and sunscreen or hand warmers, depending on the season. A backpack like this one is sufficient for carrying a day’s essentials but won’t weigh you down on the road.
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11) Rain cover – Some parts of Alaska get heavy rain, so if you’re traveling with a backpack, putting a rain cover over it to keep your stuff dry is a good idea. As a bonus, a cover will also protect it from dust and dirt even if it’s not raining.
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12) First-Aid kit – If you plan to get outdoors during your trip – and you almost certainly do – a First-Aid kit is an Alaska packing essential. It’s pretty easy to get cuts or blisters if you’re out hiking, and you’ll want to be able to take care of it right away. If you’re planning to spend days on end in remote backcountry areas, it’s a good idea to bring more extensive First-Aid equipment, but for most travelers, a small kit like this one is more than sufficient.
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13) Water filter – While some of the water sources in Alaska’s backcountry are safe for drinking, many will require purification. While you could boil the water at your campsite or use iodine tablets, most campers prefer a water filter like this one. It’s much easier and quicker than boiling a pot of water over a campfire, and it won’t cause an unwanted taste.
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14) Pocket knife – A pocket knife is another essential item for going camping in Alaska. Whether you need tocut a piece of rope for hanging your bear bag, chop vegetables for an extravagant backcountry meal, or create a spark with a fire steel, a knife like this will have you covered. Just remember to pack it in your checked luggage.
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15) Hand warmers – Visiting Alaska during the winter will mean braving some seriously cold temperatures. Along with a good pair of gloves or mittens, some handwarmers will make your time outside much more comfortable.
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16) Sunscreen – When it’s sunny during the day, wearing sunscreen is a good idea. When it’s sunny all day and all night? It’s essential. Even people who aren’t prone to sunburns are much more likely to get them when there are so many hours of sunlight. If you’re traveling in the shoulder season when daylight hours are less extreme, a trip to Alaska normally means lots of time outside, meaning sunscreen is still a must. So unless you’re visiting in the dead of winter, consider sunscreen one of the essentials to take to Alaska.
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17) Insect repellent – While Alaska is famed for its 35 species of mosquitoes, that fact has fed some nasty myths about how bad the mosquitoes really are. They’re mainly a problem from late-June to late-July, and still aren’t bad in the towns, on the Kenai Peninsula, or anywhere above treeline. Still, for visiting other parts of the state, you’ll want to use repellent to protect against them, especially if you’re out hiking or spending time outdoors in the evening.
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18) Eye mask – Eye masks are always useful if you want to sleep on flights or long bus rides, but they’re also a key everyday item in the Land of the Midnight Sun. For people who aren’t used to it, the middle-of-the-night sunshine can make falling and staying asleep incredibly difficult, and not every hotel in Alaska has blackout curtains. If you’re visiting in the summer, make sure a comfortable eye mask is on your list of things to bring to Alaska.
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19) Map – In the era of iPhones, it’s rare for anyone to use a paper map when they travel. But Alaska might be the one place in the U.S. where carrying an old-school map is a good idea. Though the populated areas of the state have solid cell phone coverage, the remote areas do not, and you don’t want to get lost out there. If you’re planning on doing any independent driving, consider a map one of the essential things to take to Alaska.
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Other packing list items to consider bringing to Alaska:

What should I wear in Alaska?

To people in the lower 48, Alaska has a bit of a mystical feel: the long daylight hours in the summer, the notorious winter darkness, the massive untouched wilderness. Those heading to The Last Frontier will find themselves with lots of questions about what to wear in Alaska.

Of course, the right clothes for Alaska will depend on the season, and summer days can be in the 80s. Unless you’re heading to the far north, you can dress largely as you would in other northern states during the summer. But during Alaska’s cold winter months, you’ll want a good winter coat, plus snow boots, gloves, warm socks, and a hat.

No matter what time of year you’re in Alaska, quick-drying fabrics are always best, both for travel convenience and to prevent hypothermia if you get wet while hiking or doing other outdoor activities. While activewear made synthetic fabrics can work well, merino wool is also a good choice, as it will keep you warm in cold temperatures and cool in the heat. Since you’ll easily work up a sweat hiking or snowshoeing, and the weather can be unpredictable, it’s always a good idea to dress in layers as well. Lastly, a rain jacket or waterproof outer layer is an essential part of any Alaska wardrobe, especially if you’re visiting the state’s notoriously rainy southeastern region.

What NOT to take to Alaska

1) 🚫 DON’T TAKE gear you won’t use – Depending on what you have planned for your trip, you might need quite a bit of gear. So don’t overpack and get stuck lugging around even more stuff than you need.

2) 🚫 DON’T BRING lots of clothes – Most people bring too many clothes when they travel, and it will quickly weigh down your bag. Try to limit yourself to the amount of clothes you’ll actually have time to wear.

3) 🚫 DON’T PACK heavy books – While you might want to do some reading on your flights or during down time, avoid filling your bag with heavy books. Opt for a Kindle instead, which takes up less space than a single physical book.

4) 🚫 DON’T BRING excessive valuables – There’s always a chance that things can get lost or stolen on the road. If you have valuables that you won’t need to use on the trip, it’s best to leave them at home.

5) 🚫 DON’T TAKE gear you could rent – If you’re planning on camping, climbing, or other outdoors activities, you’ll need some gear. But check to see what gear could be rented (or provided by a tour company) before you check a massive suitcase full of equipment.

6) 🚫 DON’T PACK formal eveningwear – If you’re like most visitors to Alaska, you’re not going to have a need for lots of dressy clothes. Bring one nicer outfit, and leave the rest of your fancy clothes at home.

10 frequently asked questions about travel in Alaska

1) What kinds of wildlife will I see in Alaska?

Some of the larger animals in Alaska are numerous types of bears, including black bears, grizzly bears, and polar bears, as well as moose, bison, caribou, mountain goats, gray wolves, lynxes, musk oxen, and Dall sheep.Along the state’s coastline and off its shores are seals, sea lions, walruses, whales, dolphins, porpoises, and sea turtles. Finally, over 450 species of birds call Alaska home, with some of the most interesting being bald eagles, puffins, trumpeter swans, and ten different species of owls.

2) What time zone is Alaska in?

Alaska is in its own timezone, Alaska Time Zone (AKT), which is one hour behind U.S. Pacific time. The only exception is the Aleutian Islands in the western part of Alaska, which are on Hawaii-Aleutian Time and one hour behind the rest of the state. Both time zones observe daylight saving time.

3) What are the daylight hours in Alaska?

Compared to anywhere else in the U.S., Alaska has by far the longest days in the summer and the shortest days in the winter. But daylight hours vary considerably throughout the state. At the most extreme point, in the northernmost town of Barrow, there’s no complete darkness from mid-April to mid-August – and no actual sunrise from late-November to late-January.

While the parts of Alaska frequented by visitors are milder, daylight hours in Anchorage still get as short as about 10:00am-3:30pm in the winter and as long as 4:30am-11:30pm in the summer. During much of the summer in Anchorage and elsewhere in the state, though, it never gets completely dark during the few hours between sunset and sunrise.

4) What is the weather like?

In a state as huge as Alaska, the weather varies dramatically by region. In Anchorage and throughout much of the state, average highs in summer months are in the 60s, but temperatures sometimes climb into the 80s in the warmest areas. Northern Alaska is much colder, with average summer highs in the 40s.

Alaskan winters, true to stereotype, are a force to be reckoned with. For about four months during the winter, average highs stay below freezing in Anchorage and below zero in northern towns like Barrow. Many of Alaska’s major towns receive around 70 inches of snow per year on average (about the same as Burlington, VT),but some areas can get up to 500 inches.

5) What are the options for getting to Alaska?

Most people arrive in Anchorage, where the state’s largest airport serves flights from several cities in the lower 48, as well as a few in Asia and (surprisingly) Reykjavik. For adventurous travelers with time to spare, the drive to Alaska is a major bucket list item. There are a few different routes, but the most popular follows the Alaska Highway for almost 1,500 miles from Dawson Creek, BC, through the Yukon to Delta Junction, AK. The other way to get to Alaska is on a cruise, with cruise season lasting from May to September.

6) What is the best way to get around?

Though Alaska is massive and large parts of it are inaccessible by road, there are plenty of options for getting around the areas frequented by visitors. Flights connect Anchorage with several other towns around the state, and bush planes fly to hundreds of more remote communities. For many coastal towns, ferries and water taxis are the main source of connection, and the state-owned Alaska Marine Highway runs ferries along the state’s entire southern coast.

Alaska also has two railroads covering different parts of the state: the Alaska Railroad runs from Seward to Fairbanks, and the White Pass & Yukon Route runs from Skagway and Fraser. If you prefer to drive yourself, highways connect the main towns in central and south-central Alaska, and are generally in very good shape despite the harsh conditions.

7) How can I see the Northern Lights?

Fairbanks is often cited as the best place in Alaska (and the U.S.) to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, though they can be spotted throughout the state. The Northern Lights can be visible in Alaska anytime between September and April. Dozens of companies offer Northern Lights tours, or you can rent a car and chase them on your own. They’ll be more visible if you get away from city lights, but if you’re in a small enough town, you may not need to go anywhere. Many hotels in Alaska will even give you a wake-up call if the lights become visible during the night.

8) How much does it cost to travel in Alaska?

Alaska is, unfortunately, not a great budget travel destination, although there are ways to cut costs. One website that broke down the full cost of a one-week trip for two people estimated the total cost (including flights) at $2,000 on a shoestring and $9,000 for luxury travel.

Depending on where you’re coming from, the flight to Anchorage alone will be several hundred dollars, and most flights within the state will be a few hundred more. Rental cars can cost around $100 per day, not including insurance, and train tickets can be over $100 one-way, depending on the route. Food also tends to be costly in Alaska, both at restaurants and grocery stores. Still, as in most places, favoring local diners and picking up groceries for some of your meals will cut your food cost considerably. Accommodations are another place where you can save some money in Alaska, as there are a number of hostels in Anchorage and Fairbanks and affordable campgrounds throughout the state. In many areas, Airbnb rentals are also cheaper than hotels.

Beyond these basic expenses, the cost of traveling in Alaska really depends on how much sightseeing you do, and what type. Hiking independently in Denali National Park or elsewhere won’t cost much; scenic bush plane flights, on the other hand, run a few hundred dollars per person. In general, the more activities you do on your own, as opposed to on package tours, the more money you’ll save.

9) Are there any safety concerns?

Travel is Alaska is not inherently more dangerous than in the lower 48, but there are a few unique risks to be aware of. If you visit in the winter, it’s important to be prepared for the weather. Road safety is also a concern in parts of Alaska, so drive carefully. Though the main highways are in excellent condition, many of the smaller roads are unpaved, and all of them can get extremely icy in the winter.

If you go into the backcountry, make sure you have the appropriate gear, including a water filter, First-Aid kit, hiking boots with good ankle support, bear spray, and sufficiently warm clothing and sleeping gear. Lastly, Alaska ranks among the worst states in terms of violent crime, so use common sense while you’re traveling.

10) What are the top places to visit in Alaska?

In a state that has a lot to offer, Denali National Park tops the listfor most people. Alaska also has seven other national parks, with Klondike Gold Rush, Glacier Bay, and Kenai Fjords being among the most visited. The 127-mile Seward Highway across the Kenai Peninsula is the state’s most scenic drive, and is a must for anyone with access to their own wheels. For getting out on the water, the glaciers of Tracy Arm Fjord make for a stunning boat tour, while kayaking tours through Glacier Bay guarantee wildlife sightings.