The Complete Packing Guide for Alaska Winter Trip
Packing for your Alaska winter trip is not difficult. It largely depends on where and when you are going. Alaska is the largest state in the USA and the climate varies from the east to the north.
There is almost a 10-degree difference between Anchorage and Fairbanks, despite an hour air travel between these two cities. In the southeast, the weather tends to be warm and humid. In the central area and up north, it is cold, windy, and dry. If you plan an Alaska winter trip, do read on to find out what you need to wear and bring.
How cold is Alaska in the Winter?
Fairbanks: generally winter starts in October and temperature can be anywhere between -32 and 6 Celsius (-25 – 44 F). If you are lucky, you will experience extreme temperatures below -51 Celsius (-60 F). From late October to the end of December, Fairbanks experiences shortening daylights, and you will not see too much sunshine.
If you are visiting during the winter months, know that the snowfalls and whiteouts are frequent. January and February are the coldest months to visit, please cover yourself from head to toe. The countryside is colder than the city, and these are places like highways, Chena Hot Spring Resort, and anywhere on the mountains.
Anchorage: compared to Fairbanks, the city has a moderate winter climate, with average temperatures from -11.6 – 4.7 Celsius (11 – 40 F). Although Anchorage has subarctic temperatures, it has maritime influence so it can be unexpectedly warm in winter. It was almost above zero for three days when I was there in December.
Barrow: Barrow is located 320 miles north of the Arctic and the temperature can be as low as -49 Celsius (-56 F). Barrow is dangerous in winter because of the combination of the extremely low temperatures and the strong wind. Unlike Fairbanks, there are no wind barriers and protected valleys like Brooks Range to block out and settle the cold air.
Every year around November 18 or 19, when the sun sets, it remains below the horizon for 65 days. During those 65 days, Barrow experiences the decreased amount of twilight everyday till December 21, when the twilight lasts for only two hours around noon.
What to Wear in Alaska in the Winter?
This packing list will help you to prepare a winter trip to the central and northern parts of Alaska (Anchorage and northwards). It also helps if you plan to venture outdoors and experience winter activities like ice-fishing, dog sledding and walking around the cities.
– Knee high winter boots so you can keep your lower body warm outdoors. You can also get a pair of bunny boots to keep your feet warm for a few hours in the extremely cold weather. I wore bunny boots when I went for ice-fishing and dog-sledding.
– Wear wool and valley socks to prevent wet and cold feet. If possible, wear two or more pairs of socks. One of my friends wore four pairs of socks on our trip to Barrow.
– 1 bathing suit if you visit Fairbanks so you can dip yourself in the outdoor heating pool at Chena Hot Spring Resort.
– At least one pair of mittens and gloves; park heavyweight protective mittens if you plan to go ice fishing, dog sledding, or cross-country skiing.
–Thermal underwear to keep you warm if you plan to stay outdoors and doing winter activities.
– Snow pants: good for outdoor activities like hiking and ski. If you wear jeans, I highly recommend that you wear long underwear inside to prevent frostbite.
– A fleece jacket or a sweater as an inner layer.
-A windproof ski mask to keep your face warm during the outdoor activities like ski, removing snow from your car, walking, ice-fishing, dog-sledging and photographing Aurora Borealis.
-A scarf and winter hats or toques to keep your head protected. If you do not like to wear winter hats, you can get earmuffs that allows you to protect your ear and part of your head.
-Sunglasses to prevent snow blindness.
Final note: if you plan to visit Barrow in the winter, just wear all the clothes you have.
Related Posts on Traveling in Alaska:
- Road Trip on All American Road – Alaska’s Seward Highway
- Around Central Alaska by Rail – Fairbanks to Anchorage (Winter Edition)
- Arriving in Barrow, Alaska – The Northernmost City in the World
- Six Unique Winter Experiences in Central Alaska
– Camera, preferably a DSLR camera to take high-quality images of the Aurora Borealis.
– Bring spare batteries for your camera, as the cold weather reduces the longevity of your batteries. Read my Northern Lights Photography Guides for photography equipment and tips.
– A laptop, IPad, or phone (with data) to check the weather and Aurora forecast.
Other things to pack:
– Insulate mug with lid. Before venture outside, fill your insulated mug with hot water, tea, and hot chocolate. You can drink the warm fluid when you feel cold.
– Maps and Google Maps (print outs) with detailed directions (your GPS will not work in certain areas).
Food – find accommodation with a kitchen so you can make hot dishes, such as stews, soup, and noodles, to keep your body warm. If you prefer Asian food, bring your own ingredients. Inclement weather and cold meals do not coexist well.
Gas: Fill the gas tank for your car when it is half-empty. It is highly recommended that you do not skip gas stations on the road, as the next service station will probably be hundreds of miles away.
Booking: book your airline tickets in advance. Winter is low season to travel in Alaska and you will find accommodations on a walk-in basis. Most hotels in Fairbanks and Anchorage offer airport pick-ups and drop-offs. Chena Hot Spring Resort offers a 50% discount during the Christmas holidays.
Is an Alaska winter trip totally worth it?
A winter trip to Alaska is a once-in-a-lifetime experience you will never forget. Many have a perceived notion of the Alaskan winter as cold, dark, and windy. In reality, it is the cold and lengthy winter that makes Alaska standout from the rest of the states. I have experienced Alaska in winter three times, and I loved the winter activities like dogsledding, ice-fishing, cross-country skiing and the late-night dips in the outdoor pools at the Chena Hot Spring Resort.
The pure white snow transformed Fairbanks into a winter wonderland. The Aurora Borealis illuminates the night sky as a magic gift to those tough enough to embrace the inclement weather in the far north. Do not just visit in the summer, because your Alaskan experience will never be complete until you visit in the winter.
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