The magical summer months are the best time to visit Alaska. From June through August, you’ll get the longest days, warmer temperatures, and plenty of sunshine. But whether you’re going on an Alaska cruise, exploring the coast and its harbor towns, or going inland for further adventures, you’ll want to have everything you need carefully packed before you go.
“How hard can it be to pack for Alaska?” you may ask, and fortunately, the answer is, “Not very!” However, it can be all to easy to leave something out and overlook and essential item. So here are a few things that may have slipped your mind when you pack for Alaska!
This may sound like the last thing you’re likely to forget – you may even wear some of it when you leave home! But do you have your tubular scarf and sun hat? There, you see, a gentle reminder never goes amiss!
These versatile and elasticated neck scarves are classic hiking hear and genuinely multi-purpose. Around your neck, they’ll keep cold winds from getting down your collar. Used as a bandana, they’ll keep your head warm and the hair out of your eyes on the windy deck of a cruise ship. You can also pull them over your mouth and nose if you get caught in a swarm of mosquitoes! Or fold them in two, and use them as a hat! Any way you use them, you won’t regret bringing this item. Tubular scarves are light, dry quickly, fold up very small and aren’t expensive – there’s no reason not to have one!
Duh! You may say! Well, absolutely, but do you have a rain trench? Or have you packed a proper two-piece rain suit with a hood? Quality rain suits are made of Gore-Tex or other breathable fabrics, weigh little and are compact when folded. In heavy rain, they’ll keep you nice and dry, including round your ankles, preventing rain from getting into your shoes. In exposed places, or out at sea, a rain suit doubles as a wind breaker too. And if you go trekking inland, you’ll be glad of your rain pants – your legs will often brush against damp undergrowth, and without protective gear you’d be soaked within minutes. And unlike many raincoats, a rain suit won’t snag against branches or rocks so easily.
A tubular scarf doubles as a hat, but unless you have two, a nice, warm, woolly hat can be a great friend in the early morning or in arctic gusts. A sun hat with a wide brim can be a useful ally too. With almost 24-hour sunlight in many parts of Alaska, you’ll be exposed to the sun for longer, and risk getting sunburn. And if you’ve never had the tops of your ears or the tip of your nose burned, it’s not recommended! A sun hat will also shield your face. In Alaska, the sun shines from a low angle on the horizon, and a hat will keep its rays out your eyes. You’ll appreciate this particularly if you’re already looking at something bright, such as snow, ice, or water.
Now you really think I’m dumb! You may object – but not at all! One thing people easily overlook is the soles on their shoes. Strong and robust is good, but how about traction? For trekking, ankle high boots with a good grip are best because they protect your ankle bone from rocks, and will help you stay upright on slippery screes or steep slopes. But even the deck of a cruise ship can get pretty slippery in wet weather – make sure you have a pair of shoes you won’t be skidding and sliding around in!
Last but not least when it comes to clothing, be sure to have several layers. How many you need will depend on how much you plan to exert yourself. A thick, warm sweater plus a down anorak may be fine for just sitting on the deck of a boat, but as soon as you start moving around, you’ll start perspiring. If you’re planning to go hiking, a set of thermal underwear is wise for higher altitudes such as in Denali National Park. Light weight shirts are good anywhere for sunny weather, as is a thin jacket for mornings and evenings.
You may think sunglasses would be more useful in a tropical destination, or on a Californian beach. But a good pair is essential on an Alaska trip! Because Alaska is so far north, the sun shines at a lower angle than in most places, and gets in your eyes more easily. Sunlight also reflects off the surface of rives, lakes and the sea, and of course off glaciers, making them too bright to look at comfortably. Protecting your eyes will allow you to enjoy the views of scintillating Alaskan landscapes to the full.
Sunscreen and Lip Balm
Your skin, particularly the exposed parts of your body such as (in warm weather) your face, neck and throat, hands and forearms, will get their fair share of sunshine. And as mentioned above, when the sun hardly sets, you’ll be getting that much more sun on your skin. When hiking on glaciers, or even just by the water’s edge, or out on the sea, you’ll also be getting the sun from above and below, since bright, reflective surfaces will direct its rays back to you. Pay special attention to your nose and cheeks.
If you have sensitive skin, it’s easy to get dry or chapped lips, from the salt in the sea air, diurnal temperature variations, and constant sunlight. A tube of lip balm is easy to slip into your pocket or purse, to ensure cracked lips don’t make you lose your smile!
Some people can doze off anywhere, and in any conditions – but not most of us! Daylight is a natural sleep inhibitor, and nighttime is the friend of peaceful slumbers. When it gets dark, the pineal gland in the brain starts to produce melatonin, a precious sleep hormone. Even with curtains or blinds, you’re unlikely to keep all daylight out of your room – and if there are 23 hours of it every day, you might end up short of sleep – and cranky as a result! A sleep mask solves this problem, and means you can literally just ‘turn off the light’ whenever you want!
June and July are the worst months for mosquitoes, especially away from the coast. If you’re planning to trek in Denali, be warned – the national park is notorious as a favorite spot for these irritating intruders! Insect repellant is an essential item for all summer travelers to Alaska. Repellants containing DEET are guaranteed effective, and keep biting flies and other insects away too. However, repellants containing citronella may be gentler for some people’s skin. Also, aerosols are the least eco-friendly form of insect repellant.
While Alaska can offer multiple opportunities to get near wild animals and other wildlife, this is not always safe – or even possible. However, a nice, light and compact pair of binoculars can get you instantly close to any creature, in the sea, on land, or in the air. What’s more, the animals, birds or marine life you’re watching won’t even know you’re there, and will continue going about their business undisturbed. Binoculars are a must for inveterate nature lovers. Wildlife is all around in Alaska, with rare and precious glimpses of Alaskan species possible at any time, if you know how to keep your eyes peeled – so always have your lenses close at hand!
A small day pack always comes in handy, and will hold all the items you need for a day trip, including any of the above you require! Add a bottle of drinking water and an energy snack or two, and you’re good to go. A day pack will also hold any small purchases you may make, if you get tempted by local souvenirs.
A Good Book
When you first get to Alaska, you may find it difficult to fall asleep at your usual time. You may also have to sit out the rain for a few hours now and again. At such times, a good book is always a good idea. You may even want to read up about Alaska in real time, as you explore its wonders!
Packing for a trip is exciting. And researching what to pack is part of the job! A trip to Alaska is always unforgettable, especially if it’s your first! And knowing you have everything you’ll need in your luggage means you can set out with peace of mind!
If you’d like information on planning your trip to Alaska, or help in organizing it, please get in touch – we’ll be glad to put our travel expertise at your service! Book a free consultation to get started today.