“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear.” Alaskans love to say this, and while it’s not strictly true, the thought that a little inclement weather shouldn’t hold you back from your outdoor adventures is a concept most Alaskans try to live by.
Rain is common across much of Alaska in the summertime, as are windy days, cooler temps and lots of bugs. But if you bring the right gear, none of those conditions equals a day where you can’t spend your time outdoors.
Alaska is a very informal place, and practical as well. It’s not uncommon to see locals dressed as if they just got off the trail—which they may very well just have—even in a comparatively formal area like downtown Anchorage. That’s not to say you won’t ever see business suits, you just won’t see very many of them. So bringing along your hiking clothes and wearing them like they’re your regular wardrobe is not only acceptable up here, it’s encouraged. Don’t think you’ll be out of place—you’ll fit right in.
In light of all of that, here are a few things we recommend bringing (or purchasing, or renting) on your travel van trip:
You will need a rain jacket. A packable shell is usually sufficient—for cool days, you can add layers underneath, and on warmer wet days, just the shell itself provides enough protection. Bonus: most rain shells also protect from bugs and wind, so it’s like 3 jackets in one. You can bring rain pants, but I’ve found that travel or hiking pants that have a wicking feature are usually fine for day hikes, as they’ll wick water away from your skin and keep you a little warmer, even if they’re not completely dry.
On the cooler days, or on the days when you take a boat tour or glacier hike, these will come in handy. You won’t need to wear them every day, but on those cool, wet, windy days, you’ll be glad you have them: Paired with your rain shell, you’ll be warm enough to lounge comfortably around the campfire after a full day of Alaskan adventures.
Even if your feet don’t get cold easily, wool wicks water and sweat better than cotton, so your feet stay dryer and warmer. Different types of wool socks are designed for different activities, so bring along a reinforced pair for hiking, and a thick, cushy pair for sitting around in camp.
Long Pants (and Shorts!)
It is possible to wear shorts in Alaska! Especially in the Interior, on sunny clear days, the temps can climb into the 80s F. Bring a pair that you can hike and lounge in, but bring long pants for the rest of your bottoms. Bonus: Long pants are also better protection against bugs. Hiking or travel pants are probably better options than jeans: Jeans are heavy and cold when they get wet, and they dry very slowly, so if you plan on being active, wicking materials are a better bet.
Day hikes usually require little more than trail shoes. They’re lighter and pack easier than boots, and can be worn around the front country just as easily as the back country. One thing to keep in mind when you choose your footwear: It’s the custom here to remove your shoes when you enter a home. If you plan on staying at a B&B or vacation rental at any point during your trip, it’s nice to have a pair of slip-ons or easy to fasten shoes for coming and going.
Most of us have one of these that serves as our carry-on when we fly, and it’s no different when you’re traveling in a campervan. Because you’ll most likely be using the storage bin for the bulk of your luggage, it’s nice to have a smaller bag ready for when you decide to hike on the spur of the moment or find a fun little town to wander through. If you’ll be doing a lot of hiking, one that’s comfortable to carry for long periods will serve you well, as many trails can turn out to be more difficult than they first appear.
Reusable Water Bottle(s)
While Alaska’s landscape might appear totally pristine, that doesn’t mean you can drink the water. There’s plenty of it, but giardia is common, and you’ll need a filter if you’re going to drink straight from a stream. For a short day hike, though, bringing along a full water bottle or two is usually enough water for the day, and using your own bottle is much more environmentally friendly than purchasing disposable plastic ones.
While we always recommend you pack light, this one is more about what you put your luggage in, whether it’s a lot or a little. Duffel bags, backpacks, stuff sacks—all are appropriate because, while there’s plenty of room inside the storage bin in the van, it’s long and narrow, and large rigid suitcases aren’t pliable enough to fit into the specific shape of the bin.
Don’t have all of these specific items? No problem! There are a few things we can rent—like duffel bags if you don’t have soft luggage—and there are plenty of suppliers here in Alaska where you can stop before you head out on your road trip. To purchase gear, REI is just down the street from us, and has every camping item you never knew you needed. If you don’t need to take it all home with you, Alaska Outdoor Gear Rental offers individual items as well as camping and hiking gear packages.
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