Alaska Packing List: How To Avoid Freezing To Death In The Winter

January 10, 2022   5 Comments »

I went to Fairbanks Alaska in the heart of winter and lived to tell the tale.

Ok, so maybe it’s not quite that dramatic, but the fact is most people are scared of Alaska in the winter; especially the interior where the temperatures dip below 0 most nights and you have to plug in your car (Yup, that’s really a thing).

During my 10 days in Fairbanks the coldest it dropped to was -25 F and that happened to be one of the nights when we were out aurora chasing – brrrrr. During our time in the interior we also had about 20 inches of snow in total! So we really had to be prepared for anything!

However, you can beat the scary Alaska cold by simply being prepared with this winter packing list.

alaska packing list

In the 10 days I traveled around Fairbanks, there were only a few times where I was truly cold…the kind of cold where it was hard to ignore. And yes, I did spend the majority of my time doing outdoor activities – because it’s Alaska and you are meant to be outside in Alaska having adventures! Most of the time it was simply about making sure you had the right gear on so that you weren’t too cold, or too hot.

Before I took off for Alaska I did get a few new items to test out to see if they could survive the Alaska cold. Some were great, and some not so great.

Here’s what I took with me and what I suggest you put on your winter packing list if you have a similar winter trip.

Winter Gear Essentials to Pack for Alaska

This isn’t a checklist of everything you need to bring. It’s a list of essential winter gear that you’ll want to bring in addition to all of the normal stuff you’d pack. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to remind you to bring underwear, shirts, jeans, and toiletries!

Suitcases and Packing Accessories for Winter Climates

It has to start with the vehicle – the suitcase. Winter gear is inevitably bulkier and I always find that I have to use my biggest suitcase for winter packing. For this trip I rolled out and tried a brand new suitcase from my favorite brand, Eagle Creek.

I used the Expanse Flatbed 32 which was perfect for carrying a lot of winter gear. Unfortunately, they don’t make this bag anymore, but this Gear Warrior 90L seems to be their current closest equivalent.

I don’t like or need many bells and whistles in a bag; bells and whistles just add weight and take up space. I just want a big open compartment I can organize with packing cubes and keep things light. I was even able to fit my tripod in this monster bag on wheels!

Gear Warrior™ Wheeled Duffel 95L / 30" | EagleCreek United States
$299.00
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And the Eagle Creek love didn’t stop there. I used Eagle Creek compression sacks and packing cubes to help manage my suitcase organization and space even further. Compression sacks are essential for winter gear. I was able to put my bulky NorthFace Parka (which is totally essential in Alaska) and my ski pants in compression bags and get them down to small, dense little bricks that easily fit in my suitcase!

Travel Essential
Eagle Creek Packing Organizers
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I also brought along my great photography backpack by Peak Design. The Everyday Backpack from Peak is a great multi-use photo backpack that can be organized in SO MANY different ways. Plus – even after putting my camera, lenses, and laptop in it – there’s plenty of room for extra layers for the cold weather. Plus – it’s weatherproof – let it snow and know that your gear is protected!

Peak Design Everyday Backpack
$259.95
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In addition, I always had my Peak Design Sling with me for the many times when I didn’t want to carry my larger backpack and only wanted to take my camera and lens – plus a few essentials like batteries, money, etc. You can easily adjust the strap to be any length and even use it as a fanny pack! I basically use the Sling as an unassuming purse and a camera bag. I love both of these Peak bags and take them on every trip!

Peak Design Sling Camera Bag
$149.95
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Cold Weather Clothing Essentials – Layering

For any kind of cold weather travel, layers are key on any winter packing list.

  1. Base layer (underwear layer): wicks sweat off your skin
  2. Middle layer (insulating layer): retains body heat to protect you from the cold
  3. Outer layer (shell layer): shields you from wind and rain

You don’t have to wear all three layers all the time – but you better bring them all with you so you can be prepared for anything.

Winter packing list

Winter Base Layer

Keeping your skin (base layer) warm and dry is the main goal when dressing for extreme winter travel. For this trip I took Krimson & Klover long underwear for my base layers. Their job is to keep the sweat off of my skin – and they are awesome at their job! Krimson Klover is a Boulder Colorado company focusing on women’s outdoor clothing. Their products come from a ski background, but they work for any winter activity!

If it’s not extremely cold – you might want to use a short sleeve shirt instead for your base layer. I normally use an old running shirt synthetic if I want something short sleeve.

  1. Krimson Klover Ava Base Layer Black
  2. Krimson Klover Ava Base Layer Black

    This seamless top is a perfect high-performance base layer for your winter adventures from sunrise to sunset!

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  3. Krimson Klover Ava Legging Black
  4. Krimson Klover Ava Legging Black

    Krimson Klover has my favorite base layers! Not only are they warm and comfortable, but they have cute designs. Designed in Boulder, CO. For women, by women.

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Winter Middle Layer

Middle layers can be a variety of things as long as they help you trap the heat yet are breathable; fleece, down, synthetic. The flipside of breathability, though, is that wind blows right through, which can steal warmth. That’s why you need to have an outer layer with you if you’re going with a fleece middle layer.

I use my Marmot Hybrid jacket as a middle layer normally. I like that I can unzip it easily and let air in if I get hot – and it’s just a good durable product. Many times when I’m snow shoeing I wear my Marmot Hybrid jacket as my top layer because snowshoeing will keep you warm in general…so you normally don’t need a top layer! Some of my other midlayer favorites are my favorite Jack Wolfskin down pullover, or other half zips – I have a variety of them!

Jack Wolfskin Womens 365 Flash Overhead Jacket
$179.95
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10/03/2022 12:04 am GMT
Women's Variant Hybrid Jacket
$190
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Another alternative is the great new line of heated clothing…that’s right this is clothing that runs on batteries! Thanks to advances in conductive thread heating technology – we can now have a variety of heated clothing! I’ve been testing products out from Gobi Heat recently and I must say – they are great! Battery life is around 10 hours and you have various heat settings. The items are washable and the battery is easily rechargeable at night. This Gobi Heat Sahara Jacket would be a great mid layer for Alaska!

Sahara Women’s Heated Jacket
$199.00
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10/03/2022 02:32 am GMT

Winter Outer Layer

This is your first defense against the cold and can take many forms depending on just how cold it is. If it’s not extreme cold – maybe you just need a something that breaks the wind, or a lighter weight puffy jacket. However – if you are talking about Fairbanks in the winter or Antarctica – you’ll want a parka. Parkas are heavy jackets that provide extreme warmth and also wind protection. Plus parkas normally also have a pretty substantial hood.

All hoods are not the same – that fur lined hood isn’t for fashion – it has an important purpose! I actually like the hoods with fur as they keep your face so much warmer. Hoods with fur decrease the amount of heat lost, thus keeping your face and you warmer. Plus – when wearing a fur hood each time you exhale, the moisture in your breath forms ice on the fur. And since ice is a better conductor of heat than air, your fur trim, far from keeping you warm, becomes a very efficient conductor of heat away from your face. I can totally geek out about this stuff…and if you’d like to learn more – then why not learn from the experts – the Inuit. Learn why they have been using fur trim for years!

The North Face Women's Down Parka
$349.95
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10/03/2022 12:03 am GMT

For your bottom half, you will want something that protects you from the wind for sure. Of course, you can go in a traditional ski pant that is insulated. However, for me, I find that they are a bit too warm for things like snowshoeing. I love the Marmot screen pants – they are my favorite winter outdoor pants. They are heavier than hiking pants and are nice and stretchy so they feel comfortable over your base layer. They also have extreme water repellent material. I can watch as rain just bounces off of them! Plus…they have a zippered phone pocket!

A Personal Favorite
Marmot Scree Pants
$122
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The most important thing is making sure you don’t overheat when you are active in the winter.

Wicking, breathing fabric is essential, else you will end up very cold if your sweat is trapped next to your skin. That actually happened to me on one of our hikes and I was miserable. I just dressed too warm and ended up overheating, and I didn’t make that mistake again!


Layers for Keeping Your Hands and Feet Warm

Layers are also imperative for your fingers and toes.

I used a thin wicking base layer sock and then my Point6 merino wool socks.

Let me just pause here, I love my Point6 wool socks – they made a believer in me and I will never go back to the SmartWool brand again. I used to be a SmartWool sock advocate; however, over the past couple of years, I noticed that my Smartwool socks were actually getting holes in them. The quality had taken a nosedive.

Then I came across Point6 brand wool socks and learned that the founder of Point6 was actually the original founder of SmartWool. A few years ago he sold SmartWool and I’m guessing that’s when I started seeing the lapse in quality. He was so tired of hearing complaints from people after he sold the brand when his non-compete clause ran out he started the Point6 brand. I’m happy to report that on my inaugural trip with the Point6 brand – I’ve fallen in love all over again! And this sock is guaranteed for life!

Point6 Essential Crew Sock
$26.95
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10/03/2022 12:05 am GMT

If you have a bigger budget – then here’s the ultimate winter sock! That battery operated heated technology has made it’s way to socks too! I’ve been using the Gobi Heat heated socks and they are wonderful! No more using those foot warmers…now you just have a rechargable battery – that is about the same size as a foot warmer! These socks have three settings – and honestly if you are hiking or snow shoeing – I recommend the low setting else it’s too hot!

Gobi Heat - Heated Socks
$179.00
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10/03/2022 12:04 am GMT

Keeping my hands warm is always my biggest challenge because I so often work with my camera or phone and need my fingers out touching things!

I use the Heat Company system; liner gloves and their shell. I love the zipper access on the shell/outer glove so that I can easily get my fingers out to work with my camera without having to take off my whole mitten. Plus – the magnets to hold the unzipped gloves in place is ingenious! And…to top it off – the thumb even can fold back if you need to have more dexterity. The Heat Company liners also have a nice little pocket on them where you can slide in hand warmers and they will stay in place.

Once again, if you’d like to make an investment in warmth – Gobi Heat makes battery operated heated glove liners! The battery is pretty small on these liners – but they keep 3 different levels of heat for up to 6 hours at a time – and they are toasty! The liners are a bit bulky – but I doesn’t bother me too much because of the awesome warmth they provide!

  1. Heat Company Gloves - Warm Shell
  2. Heat Company Gloves - Warm Shell
    $183.00

    Mitten flap with magnetic closure; simply pull the flap back and use the liner instead for optimum dexterity. Great for winter photography and winter sports.

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    10/03/2022 12:06 am GMT
  3. THE HEAT COMPANY – MERINO LINER LIGHT
  4. THE HEAT COMPANY – MERINO LINER LIGHT
    $60.50

     Soft Merino Wool Gloves – Premium Quality – Touch Screen Gloves For Women & Men. Pocket to hold hand warmers in place.

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    10/03/2022 12:05 am GMT
  5. Gobi Heat Stealth Heated Glove Liners
  6. Gobi Heat Stealth Heated Glove Liners
    $179.00

    6 hours of Heat | Battery and Charger Included | Heat Up and Around Each Finger | Heated Gloves

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    10/03/2022 12:04 am GMT
Winter Packing List for Extreme Cold Weather

Winter Boots for Outdoor Adventures

One of the other big gear winners on my trip were my Oboz insulated boots.

This boot was my first experience with the Oboz brand and I was impressed. The insulation definitely kept me warm – and when I used them to snowshoe they were practically hot! What I loved about them is the high quality insole providing incredible support. The insole was even thermal. I’ve had enough foot and knee injuries to know it’s imperative to have good footbed support. I wore these boots non-stop in Alaska winter because they were as comfortable as my tennis shoes. I was happy to be introduced to the brand, they made a believer out of me!

By the way – I now own about 4 pairs of Oboz boots…that’s how much I love this brand!

Oboz Bridger 7" Insulated B-Dry Hiking Boot
$200.00
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10/03/2022 12:04 am GMT

I also used some new Stabilicers, ice crampons that easily fit onto any boot or shoe. These provided some great security when walking on icy sidewalks and lakes! I used them for ice fishing and they were perfect for ensuing I didn’t fall on my ass!

Winter Packing List Hats and Neck Gaiters

So much heat escapes from your head that it’s imperative to have a good winter hat when traveling to Alaska in the winter. I have a few different styles I use. For everyday stuff – I love my Turtlefur hats. They normally have soft fleece liners that are soft and warm against your ears. And if I’m preparing for the deep freeze my go-to hat is always my bullky hat form Nepal with earflaps. If they are good enough for the himalayas, they are good enough for Alaska in the winter!

Nepal Hand Knit Ear Flaps Beanie
$18.98
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10/03/2022 02:02 am GMT

My neck is always cold – but when you are doing active winter activities – a scarf is just too bulky. That’s where neck gaiters come in! These fleece-lined neck gaiters are a Godsend to keep you toasty warm. They are soft and can be used as a less bulky way to keep your neck warm than a scarf. Plus they can double as a mask if need be.


Extreme Cold Weather Gear Packing List Add Ons

There’s cold-weather gear and then there’s extreme cold-weather gear. When you are dealing with temperatures of -25 or days that don’t even go above 0, then you need another level of gear.

However – one great thing I’ve noticed with winter tour companies in places like Alaska – they are starting to provide the appropriate extreme weather gear for you because they understand that the normal person might not have the means to get all of this gear for just one trip. And they want to make sure you are warm because a warm person is a happy person. So be sure to always ask if they provide gear before you go out and buy yours!

winter essentials to pack for alaska
Balaclavas take you to another level of warmth

Balaclava

My favorite extreme winter weather item was my Seirus Magnemask Balaclava. This was more than a balaclava because it also had a full face mask (secured with magnets) with great ventilation for breathing and heavy activity.

You can easily pull down the mask part and tuck it away if you don’t want to use it. This mask kept me completely toasty warm but I could still easily talk and breathe.

Seirus Magnemask Combo Clava
$46.99
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10/03/2022 12:06 am GMT

Hand and Foot Warmers

And to bring one last level of warmth to my gear, I used hand and foot warmers religiously.

Hand warmers and foot warmers are an essential items in extreme winter weather (however more frequently they are now being replaced by battery-operated warmers). I would simply throw a hand warmer pack in the gloves and my fingers were never cold! Plus, hand warmers are also essential for keeping batteries (phone and camera) warm in cold environments.

northern lights photography tips batteries
Hand warmers are your battery’s best friends!

I used the foot warmers more sparingly, mainly for aurora watching. Actually, it was more like aurora waiting. Standing and waiting in the cold meant my toes would get cold even in my awesome Oboz boots.

However – all hand/foot warmers are not made equally. The easiest and cheapest to get your hands on are the standard one-time use warmers. Open them up from their packaging, and they stay warm for about 4 hours or so. But that’s it – you can’t reuse them.

I recently came across these sort of reusable ones from Ignik that are worth trying. Each warmer provides up to 10 hours of heat; a reusable AirBarrier Pouch minimizes air permeability and you can save unused warmer heat for up to 72 hours, for intermittent use! Plus – these warmers are 98 percent biodegradable (contents can be composted after use).

Ignik 10-Hour Compostable Hand Warmers with Resealable AirBarrier Pouch
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My other essential item for super cold weather and wind was a pair of goggles. I borrowed a friend’s old pair to see if I would like them and I loved them. I’ll be getting my own pair for future trips! When I used the goggles in combination with the Magnamask, my face never got cold, and I didn’t have to worry about my glasses fogging up!

Winter Packing List for Extreme Cold Weather

Extreme Cold Weather Gear for Photographers

When I go to Alaska in the winter, one of my main goals is to photograph the Northern Lights. However the coldest part of any day is the middle of the night – and that’s when you are out photographing aurora! I already told you about my photo backpack and sling that I use for pretty much any type of travel, but here are the items I specifically use to protect my photo equipment from the cold and my hands!

I used LensCoat Lenscovers for my lenses. Made of Neoprene, these innovative lens covers protect the lenses from the cold as well as make them easier to hold on to when it’s freezing! You can also get tripod leg covers which are recommended for cold weather; no one wants to grab onto a below-freezing tripod leg!


LensCoat LegCoat Tripod Leg Covers
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However – I think the best overall protection from snow for your gear is the LensCoat Raincoat. This waterproof fabric easily covers your entire camera and lens setup but leaves the back open so that you can get to all of the buttons, etc.

LensCoat Raincoats aren’t just for Rain

I also recommend using a Cotton Carrier harness to carry your gear so that you can remain hands-free. This is perfect for snowshoeing or snowmobiling.

I don't leave home without it!
Cotton Carrier G3 Camera Harness
$119.00
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Photography in cold weather is also hard because it requires the use of your hands…and we all know that hands are always the first to get cold in the winter! The best winter photography gloves I’ve found are the Heat Company warm shell gloves which are made for photographers. You can use a heated liner if you want or pop in a hand warmer packet into them. But they are great because you can unzip the glove and use your fingers to make camera changes and then easily zip them back up. They have magnets to hold the flap in place when unzipped AND, you even have a thumb flap too!


With this essential cold weather gear, you’ll keep warm and comfortable on your next winter trip, and even your next extreme winter trip. Don’t be afraid of winter, embrace it with the right gear!

dog sledding alaska
Holding on as I go around a corner!

To see all of these items in the same place, just visit the Ottsworld Amazon store! You’ll find these products as well as all of the gear I recommend and use for travel.


Disclosure:

This post contains some affiliate links. If you choose to purchase items through these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help reduce the costs of running this site


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