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Alaska Packing List: How To Prepare For Your Cruise

Having embarked on my first Alaska cruise in 2009, my husband and I have made it an annual tradition. However, we’ve come to realize that the most challenging part of our preparations is always the packing list.

Packing for an Alaskan cruise itinerary can be challenging due to the state’s unique climate, terrain, and volatility in weather conditions.

It’s common to experience a week of cold rain followed by a week of scorching sun. We experienced 30F on glacier viewing day to 85F in Skagway the same week.

Radiance of the Seas cruising in Alaska

The key to an uneventful cruise is to pack strategically, focusing on layers and versatile pieces you can wear differently.

Checking the forecast before the cruise may provide some insight. However, experience has shown me that meteorologists aren’t always correct, or temperatures can feel much colder with wind chill.

Since I feel the cold, I like to pack lots of warm layers. Those who don’t might need fewer layers and less bulky clothing.

Clothing For An Alaska Cruise

While Alaska is known for its rugged wilderness and diverse wildlife, its extreme weather conditions should be considered. 

Our Alaska packing list includes items such as warm clothing, waterproof gear, sturdy footwear, and insect repellent. We’ve also included tips on packing efficiently and sustainably so you can travel with peace of mind.

Here are some clothing items we recommend bringing on your Alaska cruise. Cruising in the shoulder season (April to May and September to October) will require more layers since daytime temperatures are cool to cold.

Layering Basics

Layering is key when dressing for Alaska, whether cruising in May, July, or October. We recommend bringing lightweight, moisture-wicking base layers that can be worn under warmer layers. 

Brian in a long sleeve shirt in Alaska
Brian in a long sleeve shirt

Base layers used for winter sports are lightweight but provide warmth when needed. Tops are essential, but not necessarily bottoms, unless trekking on a glacier is planned. Long-sleeve shirts, fleece jackets, and vests are great options for layering. 

I prefer pieces with buttons and zippers over hoodies and pullovers. As the temperature rises, I can unbutton or unzip to provide ventilation.

Outerwear

Waterproofing properties are essential in outerwear. We have visited Alaska in different months and experienced rain no matter when we traveled.

On my first cruise to Alaska in the third week of July, it rained every day of that seven-day itinerary. Packing a waterproof and windproof jacket is vital, especially since shore excursions run, rain or shine.

Look for a jacket with a hood to prevent heat loss and pockets to carry a phone and gloves. Having a warm, insulated jacket is essential for glacier viewing days, dog sledding on a glacier, or helicopter tours to icefields. 

Puffy jackets or down coats are popular, and I have taken one on a cruise. While they provide warmth, are lightweight, and take little space, they aren’t waterproof. So, they shouldn’t be your go-to jacket.

Wearing my 3-in-1 Columbia jacket in Alaska
Wearing my 3-in-1 Columbia jacket on an Alaska cruise

We prefer 3-in-1 jackets, and both own ones made by Columbia, but any brand with waterproofing properties, not water resistant will work. 

The outer jacket on my Columbia set is waterproof, ideal for port days, and the inner coat adds warmth. Worn together, they provide the perfect combination for a day in Glacier Bay or Hubbard Glacier.

Wearing the inner layer on my Columbia jacket in Misty Fjords
Wearing the inner layer on my Columbia jacket in Misty Fjords

Rainproof pants aren’t needed in Alaska. Certain shore excursions, like dog sledding, provide glacier pants. However, avid hikers might benefit from gaiters in the shoulder seasons.

Cold Weather Essentials

Temperatures can drop quickly in Alaska, so packing cold-weather essentials is crucial. Mornings can start quite cold, especially in Tracy Arm, Endicott Arm, and at the face of Hubbard Glacier.

Bring a scarf and hat to protect your face and ears from the cold for glacier viewing day. Thermal tops and warm socks are also recommended. Remember to pack gloves!

On a July cruise, I didn’t think I needed gloves at Hubbard Glacier. Boy, was I wrong? My hands were so cold from taking photos and not keeping them in my pockets.

Cruise Attire

Alaska cruise itineraries tend to be quite casual compared to warmer destinations. So, we pack for comfort and warmth over style and trend. My husband and I like to dress for dinner in business casual clothing, but it isn’t the norm amongst most guests.

Dark jeans with nice sweatshirts, shirts, and blouses will suffice. Most cruise lines have gone to optional formal evenings, except Cunard, which enforces its gala evening dress code. 

During our Alaska cruise with Cunard, my husband wore a tuxedo, and I chose a white evening dress to conform to their “White Ice” gala night.

Dressed for "White Ice" Gala night on our Cunard Alaska cruise
“White Ice” Gala night on our Cunard Alaska cruise

On all other cruise lines, we found that the majority of people who liked to dress up did so for the late dinner seating. Again, dressing your best is a choice and not enforced.

Onboard, cruise attire is casual, so we recommend packing comfortable, casual clothing such as jeans, yoga pants, and shorts. T-shirts and polo shirts are great for daytime activities.

I often find specific areas of some vessels overly air-conditioned, like the dining room and theater. Having a sweater, cardigan, or fleece helped me stay cozy.

While an Alaska cruise focuses on the destination and ports, there will be one or two sea days. After a busy port day, pack a bathing suit to enjoy an indoor pool, hot tubs, and saunas.

For those who want to avoid breaking a fitness routine, gym clothes should be included too.

Footwear

When it comes to packing for Alaska, shoe choices are the most challenging decision. When needing shoes for the ship, formal nights, hiking, and excursions, how do you pack without having too many pairs?

Comfortable shoes are necessary for shore excursions and exploring ports of call. Vessi makes our go-to shoes. They are 100% waterproof, lightweight, vegan, and available in many styles and colors.

Wearing my Vessi runners at Mendenhall Glacier
Wearing my Vessi runners at Mendenhall Glacier

We’ve worn our shoes during a downpour in Sitka and on a wet outdoor tour in Juneau and always returned to the ship with dry feet. We wear the same shoes for easy hikes, but they don’t provide ankle support.

For the various activities on the ship, my husband packs strategically. He takes a pair of black business shoes that serve for both formal and casual dinners, and a pair of good runners for the gym. This three-pair strategy covers all his needs for an Alaska itinerary.

As for me, I opt for practicality. I pack a pair of Vessi runners for comfort and versatility, evening heels for formal nights, and flats for casual dinners. We skip sandals or flip-flops because they’re rarely worn, allowing us to free up space for other essential items in our luggage.

Doing Laundry Onboard

Princess, Cunard, and Carnival Cruises have self-serve laundry facilities onboard. By planning to do laundry, guests can pack half as much. 

Cunard Queen Elizabeth and the Discovery Princess ships provide complimentary laundry, including soap and fabric softener!

Other cruise lines offer laundry services for a fee, which also helps prevent overpacking. So, if you pack for three seasons and only use certain items, washing provides clean clothes for the balance of the itinerary.

Hiking Gear

Hiking in Alaska is a popular activity that allows cruise guests to enjoy the state’s natural beauty. Cargo pants that convert to shorts are ideal for changing weather conditions.

Here are some of the must-have items for your Alaska hiking packing list.

Hiking Boots And Poles

Wearing my hiking boots and wool socks
Wearing my hiking boots and wool socks

Sturdy and supportive hiking boots are a must for anyone planning a moderate to challenging trail or two. Look for boots with good ankle support and waterproofing. Pair them with wool socks for warmth and moisture-wicking properties.

We recommend bringing a pair of lightweight, collapsible hiking poles to add stability and help with balance and on steep or uneven terrain. I hiked a section of the Chilkoot Trail in Skagway and the West Glacier Trail in Juneau, which both require hiking poles.

Daypacks

An excellent waterproof daypack is essential for hiking and days in port. Look for a lightweight pack with plenty of pockets for organization. 

We have one with movable dividers, which work well for camera gear, chargers, and snacks. Outer pockets provide a place to carry water and a compact umbrella.

Hiking in Alaska with our daypack
Hiking in Alaska with our daypack

Snacks And Drinks

During a hike, staying hydrated and fueled is essential, especially in Alaska’s rugged terrain. We suggest packing a reusable water bottle, which can be filled on the ship.

Not only is it better for the environment, but it can also save you money by avoiding the need to purchase bottled water.

We recommend bringing high-energy snacks like trail mix, protein bars, and jerky. Since I have celiac disease, I purchase gluten-free snacks before my travels since finding them in ports is difficult.

Other Essentials

Along with our clothes and footwear, we fid the following essential for a trip to Alaska.

Compact Umbrella

Rain is always a possibility in Alaska, and we’ve experienced it more times than we care to count. So, having a compact umbrella is essential. We use a small umbrella that fits a purse or backpack pocket.

While super compact umbrellas aren’t wind-proof, wind is rarely an issue in Alaska.

Compact Binoculars

Using binoculars in Glacier Bay National Park
Using binoculars in Glacier Bay National Park

Binoculars are a must-have for any Alaska trip because they increase the chances of spotting whales, harbor seals, and bears.

We recommend a magnification of at least 12x. Binoculars don’t need to be expensive, and while some guests prefer a more powerful pair, I prefer lightweight, affordable ones that take up less space.

Photography Equipment

Alaska is a photographer’s paradise, and most travelers bring just a smartphone; I prefer a DSLR camera, too. A DSLR camera with zoom gets close shots of humpback whales, harbor seals, bears, and other wildlife.

Pack extra batteries, chargers, and memory cards whether you prefer a DSLR or a smartphone camera. 

Motion Sickness Medication

On a cruise to Alaska, guests can experience rough waters in the Gulf of Alaska, Queen Charlotte Sound, and en route to Sitka in the Alexander Archipelago. 

Pack motion sickness patches, sea bands, Bonine or whatever works to prevent seasickness. While choppy seas don’t generally affect me, I always carry Bonine and patches.

Motion sickness patches
Motion sickness patches

One time, it was so rough that the cruise staff hung barf bags from the ship’s staircase railings. That was a first!

Mosquito Repellent

Mosquitoes are rampant from late May to the beginning of August, especially near water and Denali. I found out the hard way hiking the Chilkoot Trail in Skagway.

Be prepared by packing mosquito repellent or insect wipes. I like the wipes because they are easy to carry, take up little space, and do the trick.

Wrap It Up

While packing for Alaska can be challenging, it doesn’t have to be. By creating a list that works for your needs, you’ll avoid the common mistakes made by Alaska travelers of not having the correct clothing.

Over the years, we have tweaked our list to include things we use and eliminate unnecessary items. As working nomads, we pack a lot of electronics, including laptops, cameras, power packs, and chargers, that others don’t need.

Families with children will have very different packing lists from ours. So, adapt our list to meet your needs. 

We always carry Ziploc bags in a variety of sizes for snacks, wet bathing suits, and to prevent liquid spillage. Heavy-duty magnetic hooks also provide more hanging space on magnetic cabin walls.

Lastly, wear your bulkiest items on flight day to create more space in the luggage.

This downloadable packing list for Alaska covers a 7-day cruise. Expand on it when traveling fo more than seven days.