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Essential Gear for your Alaska Winter Excursion

Alaska winter excursions can offer an even more unique experience than visiting during the spring or summer. Even the colors you’ll experience are different. Winter months offer the best opportunity to see the northern lights displaying various shades of purple, pink, green and blue. All of these things make Alaska winter trips more dramatic, more intense and so worth it!

However, winter months can be harder to prepare for since they are much colder. Gear that keeps you both warm and dry is absolutely essential. We’ve outlined some of the most important elements to keep in mind when you’re packing for your winter escape.

Always dress in layers

Layering is the key to winning winter packing.

You’ll want to start with a lightweight, wool base layer on top and bottom, otherwise known as long underwear. On top of that, depending on the temperature of your destination, make sure you have one or two long-sleeve thermal shirts that will retain heat and shed moisture.

Then you’ll want a vest, jacket (not to be confused with an outer shell), or heavy sweater. Vests and jackets are usually categorized as either down or synthetic. Down tends to be warmer, but takes longer to dry if it gets wet, so consider what kind of activities you’re likely to go on.

The final key layer is an outer shell made of Gore-Tex or a similarly waterproof material. Don’t skimp on a water-resistant shell. With all the snow, it is worthwhile to purchase a waterproof, but breathable outer shell.

Boots made for walking and warmth

Whatever you do, don’t bring new boots on an excursion. Buy them in advance and, leading up to your trip, spend time in them walking around your house, neighborhood, or favorite trails. Winter in Alaska means you need waterproof boots to keep snow off your toes. Know that in less cold environments, waterproof boots won’t breathe as well as non-waterproof boots and they’ll make your feet warm and sweaty.

When you’re shopping for boots, the most important factor to keep in mind is how rugged the excursion is that you’re considering. If it’s steep, on rough terrain, and you expect to be carrying a pack, you’ll need a stiff, well-made sole with a high ankle; a low-cut hiking shoe will endanger your ankles. It’s worth remembering that bulkier boots prepare you for bulkier excursions, and they’re worth the heft.

Covering your extremities

Be sure to take good care of your extremities. Heat escapes fastest from hands, toes, and fingers. Covering them well will make your excursion much more enjoyable.

Make an investment in a warm hat, preferably one with a wool-lined elastic band that completely covers your ears. This can be waterproof or not, with a rim or without. If your hat is not waterproof and doesn’t have a rim, you’ll want your Gore-Tex outer shell to have a waterproof hood that you can pull over your head if it starts to precipitate.

For socks, wool is ideal. Wool retains heat better than cotton. It’s also lighter, more breathable, and dries faster. There are multiple weights of wool socks. Be sure to try on different weights with your hiking boots before your excursion to make sure they still fit. Fleece-lined gloves or mittens are also important. Mittens are warmer because your fingers radiate and receive warmth from other fingers, but they also obviously limit your dexterity.

Last, but not least: accessorize

Bring a good camera and a decent foldable walking stick. The walking stick may sound excessive, but it really will come in handy and reduce strain on your knees and ankles in tough terrain. A good headlamp will help you navigate in the dark and winter in Alaska has a lot of dark. A waterproof daypack is also essential. It doesn’t have to be huge, but large enough to carry your wallet, camera, walking stick, and extra layers.

Now that you’re prepared, all that is left is to book your trip for the winter excursion of a lifetime.

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