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Summer is by far the most popular time to visit Alaska. With warm (sometimes even ridiculously hot) temperatures, wildflowers blooming, and wildlife out and about, who can blame visitors for picking the summer months to visit? It’s a magnificent time!
If you’re planning a summer vacation in Alaska, you need to know what to pack. Here’s our top tips for your summer in Alaska vacation and a helpful Alaska packing list!
What The Weather Is Like In Alaska in The Summer
The number one question everyone asks us is what the weather is like here in Alaska in the summer. This is a difficult one to answer because the weather can change so drastically from week to week and from year to year!
Our first few months living here, the Alaska summer weather was absolutely gorgeous. Warm, sunny days with temperatures in the mid-70s let us have plenty of outdoor exploring time in shorts and t-shirts.
So when my family was planning their first trip, we had them come during what was a perfect week the year before. Unfortunately for them, the weather was horrible that week!
We had constant rain, temperatures ranging in the mid-50s, and even had freak hail storms during the afternoons. Of course, we made the best of it because you can’t let Alaska weather stop you from enjoying your trip.
Luckily, we had the opposite situation for our Alaska cruise last year. We booked it for September to save money. The reason September cruises tend to be a bit cheaper is because it’s considered the shoulder season where the weather is starting to change and get chillier.
We were prepared for that, but we were quite happy to have calm seas and warm days. We had the best weather I’ve ever seen.
That’s why every Alaska packing list tells you to pack layers. It’s not that we’re trying to hide what you should expect the weather to be like, it’s that Alaska weather has a mind of its own.
To make the most of your vacation, pack for the worst and hope for the best!
Get Sturdy Luggage That Fits Your Gear
Alaska is definitely not the kind of place to aim for carry-on travel for your first trip. While it’s certainly been done, it’s risky and involves fairly experienced packing skills.
Not to mention the impact to your vacation budget if you’re suddenly having to splurge on rain gear for the entire family midway through your trip!
Bringing a sturdy piece of luggage will help you fit your travel essentials and have an enjoyable trip!
Bring a Jacket or Sweater
Even though it’s summer, you still want to bring a light jacket or sweater. Sometimes the weather turns quickly and it can be pretty chilly.
If you’re hiking on a glacier, you’ll literally be walking on ice and it can be a bit cold in the shade. Bringing a windbreaker is essential on any Alaska trip. We live in Palmer, Alaska and wind is just a way of life around here.
If you live in the lower 48, you’re used to weather stations posting all kinds of weather alerts for storms with wind over 35 miles an hour. Here? That’s just a normal Monday – it always seems to happen on our trash pickup days!
A rain jacket is another important thing to pack for your Alaska vacation. Especially if you’re visiting Ketchikan, which receives 153 inches of rain annually. That’s over 12 FEET of rain a year!
Save space by bringing a waterproof windbreaker like this one to cover both weather situations.
Layers, Layers, and Layers
Even at times when we’ve had record heat, it can still get a little brisk in the mornings.
Some days I wake up at 6am to temperatures in the upper 50s, but then it warms up to over 80 degrees by 2pm.
his wide temperature swing calls for layers that can be removed as it heats up outside.
When the days get warm, stores and restaurants tend to blast the AC and it feels much stronger when coming in from the heat, so you may want to keep your sweater with you in case you get chilly while dining or shopping.
Stick with non-cotton blend shirts to whisk away sweat and keep you feeling more comfortable. Cotton doesn’t dry very quickly. If you get stuck in a sudden rain shower, synthetic fabrics will keep you warmer and dry quicker.
Stay Organized With Packing Cubes
An easy way to manage the various types of clothing you’ll be bringing is by using packing cubes. Put all your accessories like base layer shirts, hats, and gloves in one.
If you get to Alaska and the temperatures are in the 80s, you can set that aside and not worry about unpacking it unless needed. They’re perfect for keeping all like items together!
Bring Tide Pods and Dryer Sheets
To cut back on the amount of clothes you bring, why not plan to do laundry midway through your trip? Cruise ships, hotels, and most home rentals offer laundry facilities.
Save your bag space and your back by bringing a bit less and stashing some Tide Pods and dryer sheets.
Also, consider wearing them on the plane to save luggage space!
Pack Comfy, Casual Clothes
Alaska is definitely not the place for your fancy clothes. Everyone is all about comfortable and functional, and it shows when you’re out and about.
Leave the 4-inch heels home and save that space for comfortable sneakers or those hiking boots.
Bring Sun Protection
The longer days and midnight sun means there’s greater opportunity for bad sunburns. Bring plenty of sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat to keep from getting some seriously ouchie burns.
Don’t forget to bring sunglasses, too. You can literally wear your sunglasses at night up here with the 18+ hour days!
Be Prepared With a Small Emergency Kit
That brings me to my next tip. Bringing a small emergency kit will help you be prepared for anything. Make sure it has some bandaids, blister pads, neosporin, a whistle.
I also like to bring headache medicine, sinus medication, and pepto-bismol on all my trips so I’m not hunting for meds if someone starts feeling a bit off.
Bring an Eco-Friendly Water Bottle + Filter
If you’re spending lots of time hiking, bringing enough water with you is cumbersome. We carry our Lifestraw bottles with us every time we head out.
While water sources are often glacier-fed and ice cold, I can’t help but think of bears and moose pooping in it. The LifeStraw helps by removing bacteria, parasites, and other gross things you don’t want to be ingesting.
It also works great to keep you hydrated on your flight by stashing it in your carry-on and filling it up once you’re past security.
Bug Spray Is Vital
People joke that the mosquito is Alaska’s state bird, but with good reason. They’re huge and relentless! Bug spray is an absolute must for any trip to Alaska.
I hadn’t realized how bad they could be until the first time we visited Earthquake Park in Anchorage with my cousin, and they were so horribly thick we ended up turning around mid-adventure.
Now I’ve learned to keep a can of spray in each car, and a bottle of citronella essential oil in my purse just in case.
Bring A Good Quality Camera
This goes without saying, but the scenery in Alaska is incomparable! You’re going to want to have the best photographs to capture these priceless memories, so getting a quality camera is a must.
Cell phone photos have come a long way, and for our first few years here I said it was good enough.Then I got my Nikon D3500 and WOW. The quality of the pictures it takes are WAY better than any photos my iPhone was able to capture.
My favorite feature is the guide mode, which lets even non-photographers take amazing pictures without having to learn all about the technical aspects of f-stop, manual mode, ISO, and all that!
Binoculars are another must-have for scoping out the scenery and wildlife on your trip to Alaska. We brought them on our Alaskan cruise and were able to whale-watch from our balcony. These binoculars were perfect for our trip!
Now we keep them in our car because you just never know when we’ll be driving near cliffs with mountain goats or sheep on top.
If you’re visiting Anchorage and making the drive on the Seward Highway, bring your binoculars and stop by Beluga Point to watch for beluga whales. We haven’t gotten lucky with seeing them there yet, but many have seen quite a few pods swim by.
Don’t Forget Your Bathing Suit!
This one may be a bit surprising, but if you’re coming to Alaska on a cruise, the hot tubs are a great way to relax after a long day, so come prepared with a bathing suit.
Many hotels and home rentals also have hot tubs as well. And who knows, maybe it’ll be warm enough for you to take a dip in a lake.
Just be cautious if you’re aiming for a summer version of the polar plunge, though.
Even if the weather is nice and warm, many lakes are glacier-fed and can cause hypothermia if you’re in there too long.