Packing for a journey can be a joy or a major source of frustration for many Alaska visitors. Unsure about geography, weather patterns, or scheduled activities, people tend to pack for the season at home and not that of the Last Frontier, resulting in uncomfortable experiences at best, and dangerous scenarios at worst. Personally, I like packing so much I turned the activity into an entire chapter of my book Alaska on the Go: Exploring the 49th state with children. But then, I’m a list-maker, chronic over-packer, and shoe-lover, so any excuse to say “Oh, I need more boots!” brings me happiness.
On the homepage of this website, I provide a basic list of gear any family touring Alaska will need. However, it always seems when I meet AKontheGO readers during my travels, there are certain items that never make it into the suitcase. With a new season of Alaska family travel edging closer by the day, this is the perfect opportunity to share these most-frequently forgotten items. Not large, not necessarily expensive, the following pieces of gear may nonetheless save time, energy, safety, and above all, last-minute rushes to the gift shop.
1. Footwear. The most important element for any active family visiting Alaska, comfortable shoes will mean kids can travel farther, safer, and with less risk of stubbed toes or blisters. Leave at home the princess slippers or flip-flops. Bring instead a pair of sneakers or hiking shoes (low-cut are fine, just make sure they have adequate tread on the bottom), closed-toe sandles, and rubber boots (summer)/insulated boots (winter). Kids in Alaska wear boots all year, even with shorts, and no one gives it a thought, so why should you? They’re always in fashion, here.
2. Daypack. Everyone in our household carries his or her own stuff. Even preschoolers can manage a small water bottle and snack or two, along with a stuffed animal for good measure. Adults should always carry a small first-aid kit, extra clothing, food, water, and maps.
3. Gloves/mittens. Alaska’s temperatures can be chilly, especially during a rain squall or late-summer evening. Higher elevations mean colder temperatures, so kids and adults should pack a lightweight pair of gloves or mittens. Cruising? Consider a pair of waterproof gloves used by fishermen. Available at sporting goods stores, these neoprene gloves will keep hands warm and dry, no matter the deluge.
4. Rain gear. Notice I did not say “poncho.” A poncho is great for a squall at Disneyland, but will do nothing for the hardcore rainstorms of Southeast Alaska. Rain gear also adds a layer of protection from chilly wind, making it an essential part of the layering technique of dressing we recommend. Purchase rain gear that says “Waterproof” on the label. Plastic rain gear may stop the water outside, but will do nothing to protect from sweat that cools and chills, inside. Rain pants are also great for kids to wear while playing on the beach. Quick-drying, these are an excellent choice for overall cleanliness, especially on a long journey.
5. Hats. Brimmed hats will shed rain and protect eyes from sunlight. Knit hats or beanies will keep heads toasty warm and protect ears from sharp winds. Alaska visitors will require both at some point.
6. Sunglasses/sunscreen. “Sun? I thought Alaska rained and snowed all the time!” Alas, it does not, and some days are so toasty warm and bright that those without a bit of SPF 50 and shades will definitely be miserable. For kids (and many adults), add a strap to the glasses to prevent accidental loss into the depths of the Pacific ocean or local salmon stream. Fishing? Buy polarized glasses (available at any sports or outdoor store) that allow one to see fish beneath the water.
7. Swimsuit. Alaska lodgings, while spartan in many respects, do have pools in some locations, but – it’s the local community centers or high schools that offer hours of swimming fun. Don’t discount the idea of splishing and splashing a rainy day away along with other parents; it’s a way to meet people and break out of the Alaska vacation mold. Yes, people do swim in the lakes, streams, and oceans of Alaska, but with gritted teeth, so try if you must. Just watch for signs of hypothermia (shivering, confusion, sleepiness), and don’t stay in longer than 20 minutes or so without taking a warm-up break.
8. Water bottle. Alaska is slow on the recycling bandwagon, but it’s not for lack of trying. The state simply doesn’t have the storage or mechanisms in place for a cost-effective recycling program for every single Alaska tourism hub, especially in smaller towns. Bringing your own refillable water bottle just makes sense. Plus, parents should fill up a bottle per day, per kid, and make sure it’s consumed; staying hydrated in Alaska is as important as the Sahara Desert, and goes a long way toward healthy, happy kids, unfueled by sugary drinks.