I’ve just returned from Many of Alaska’s 2.07m visitors each year are there to explore the state's great outdoors, whether they are planning to hike through Denali National Park, kayak through Kachemak Bay or practice yoga on a glacier. And many, I’ve learned from local outdoors experts, come unprepared for the elements. I visited this past month to do all of the above activities, and learned some lessons on which gear was an absolute must and which just weighed me down and went totally unused.
While packing for my own visit to Denali National Park after winning the annual road lottery, I polled a number of Alaska residents and local guides to get some real advice on what to pack for an outdoor Alaskan adventure. Here is what they shared:
Lighter the better
Float planes might be required to reach destinations too remote for cars, and have a strict 50lb limit when it comes to luggage. Lighter weight duffels made from technical fabrics like those from Osprey or Baboon can shave off a bit of weight and be durable enough to withstand rain, ice and being tossed from truck to boat. Streamlining gear so that at least a few pieces can do double-duty is also helpful. For instance, hiking boot-sneaker hybrids like those from Forsake can be worn on the flight over to save luggage space, and cleverly disguised hiking pants like the cult-favorite Meme pant from PrAna are comfortable and polished enough to go from plane to trek to dinner. Lululemon’s technical-chic Swing Trench jacket is a city slicker-friendly top layer that transitions nicely to semi-chilly nights out in Alaska.
Outdoor enthusiasts anywhere will recommend this lowest fidelity of performance fabrics for base and mid-layers. The reason? It's hydrophilic so in the cold, it keeps heat close to the body, and in the heat it keeps cool air close to the body. Additionally, the fabric is said to have antimicrobial properties and subsequently does not smell. For this reason, it's been an outdoors person favorite for a very long time. Entire brands revolve around the fabric, like New Zealand-based Icebreaker whose finely crafted Merino wool gear is treasured by international hikers, skiiers and lodge loafers. Younger New Zealand brand Cotopaxi offers a similarly natural line of llama wool-based gear, including a gender-neutral and colorful Libre sweater that can do triple duty from trail to social gatherings to campfires.
Alaska has a seemingly large swing in weather patterns, especially in the summer. So if you have no idea if or when the morning rain and fog will clear, or how warm you might be at the end of a five mile trail, a packable vest can be a real savior. Down vests such as Mammut’s packable Alvra Light down vest can be stored into a pocket on the vest itself or a small bag and easily tossed in to a daypack. And at the end of a day of chilly trekking, if you don’t want to wear a stiff, crunchy-sounding rain jacket to dinner at the lodge, this same vest can act as a sort of Alaskan dinner jacket.
The outdoor experts I’ve spoken with who take tourists out on active excursions on a daily basis all insisted on one key piece of advice, to bring waterproof gear. They all advised inbound Alaska visitors to bring with a waterproof jacket, waterproof pants and waterproof shoes. Jeans, I learned, and any other garments made from hard-to-dry cotton, are the single worst item to wear in the often wet Alaskan outdoor. Waterproof gear by California-based Marmot is favorite of Karyn Murphy, scientist-in-residence and naturalist guide at Kachemak Bay luxury lodge Tutka Bay Lodge. Their new EVODry rain jacket line is waterproof for up to 24 hours and highly breathable. Mammut’s waterproof Runje hiking pants are a nicely tailored take on traditional hiking pants, and North Face’s fleece-lined Impendor Warm Hybrid tights are a nice choice for those preferring a slim leg look and a touch more warmth. For more playful patterns, Backcountry’s splashy Trail Weight jacket is a long-cut and lightweight jacket with a paint splash pattern. And when combining a trek with a cold plunge, I found that my surf-inspired swimsuit from Sensi Graves was a godsend at being movement-friendly and quick-drying.
As important as gear is, for any dietary restrictions - packing some shelf-stable sustenance can be the difference between a pleasurable and a painful road trip between outdoor destinations. Due to Alaska’s scale, it is twice the size of Texas, many stops are four hours or more from one another with no eateries in between. Easy, lightweight healthy snacks might include the new mug muffins from Health Warrior, clean protein bars like those made by Navitas Organics or Tone It Up and oatmeal packets for when it’s cool outside.