These Alaska clothing packing guidelines tell you how to select Alaska clothing and gear for your Alaska adventure vacation. Since weather is always unpredictable in Fairbanks, Alaska, you need to come prepared with the proper clothing and gear to be safe and comfortable. That doesn't mean you need to bring a bunch of stuff. You just need to pack smart! And keep our 3 clothing mantras for Alaska travel in mind ...
"There Is No Such Thing as Bad Weather in Fairbanks, Just Improper Clothing"
"Layers, Layers, Layers!"
When we say to bring clothing layers of warm (wool or polar fleece) jackets, sweaters, hat, socks, gloves — pay attention! You can always strip off your clothes and put them in your day pack if you get too warm. On the other hand, if there is a sudden change of weather ... you'll not only be miserable, you can get hypothermia and end up in an emergency situation if you've perspired heavily. When you plan your Alaska clothing, you want to think seriously about safety.
Boot Gators: If you plan some serious hiking, berry picking, or ski trips, gators are a great item for your Alaska clothing and gear! Gators protect your legs and pants from water, insects, and brush when you hike on the tundra. Several local outfitters in Fairbanks carry them.
Dressy Items for more "Formal" Events I understand that you may want to pack dress ups, especially if you enjoy dancing or elegant dining and events. But realize that "Fairbanks Formal" really is an oxymoron, so don't worry about wearing the same thing twice.
Ladies, layers are good for dressy occasions too. A pair of "soft wear," "slinky" dark slacks and or a skirt are indispensable! The kind of that never wrinkles, that dresses up or dresses down for almost any occasion; it is great for Alaska clothing and for anywhere else you travel. Choose a couple of synthetic knit tank tops with wide shoulder straps (maybe a pretty camisole too). Then you can either pack a jacket of the same slinky fabric, or get a dressy PolarFeece cardigan from TravelSmith or Nordstrom for your Alaska clothing selection. It will do double duty as a jacket and a middle layer! Or you can buy yourself a wonderful handwoven shawl at one of our shops. Just don't bring a bunch of stuff!
Guys, for these occasions when you feel like dressing up, a sport coat or blazer and maybe a tie would be fine over a pair of dark slacks if you want to wear one.
If you plan to attend a truly formal event like the Symphony Ball or the UAF Museum's Annual Chocolat Bash, and want to achieve sartorial splendor in your own mind while you are here, bring your formal attire. But do visit Packing Tip # 5, Fairbanks Formal for more ideas.
Gloves and/or Mittens If you are coming in summer, bring a lightweight pair of gloves to keep your fingers warm while you hike, bike, boat, or take photos outside. You probably won’t need them, but if you do, you’ll be glad they were in your day pack! I like to keep wind resistant gloves for when cycling in the evening. If you are coming in winter, you'll want heavy mittens, and you can get lightweight liner gloves to put inside them.
Hats: Wool or synthetic hat is an essential item of Alaska clothing: You won't be sorry you brought (or bought) this piece of clothing gear! Hats are lots of fun to pick out and wear. If I were you, I’d save this one for your shopping trip in Fairbanks.
A hat with a brim is not absolutely necessary, but I like a brim to keep the sun out my face. Lots of folks wear a cap with a visor under their winter hats for that very reason. I don’t like to wear hooded rain gear because it messes with my peripheral vision, so I wear a hat with a brim in the rain too.
Heavy Winter Coat: Not really necessary for most visitors, even in the coldest of winter (you are going to layer, remember?) If you are coming in winter, and are visiting friends ... you might ask if they have extra coats and/or boots that will fit you. If you are planning an Alaska adventure with a mushers' school, or want to take snow machine tours, the small business owners will have great gear for you. So you don’t have to pack something big and bulky!
Jacket, and Sweater Your Alaska clothing must include a synthetic fleece or a wool jacket and a sweater. They make great layers for warmth in summer and winter. Plus, fleece is a lighter and smaller clothing fabric for packing space and weight. A fleece or wool vest helps take the early morning or late night chill off when you plan a whole day of adventure. In winter you'll want to bring a heavier fleece liner for your outer, wind and water resistant shell (or buy it when you get here!)
Long Underwear Depending on if your trip to Fairbanks is summer or winter, and the kinds of activities you plan, bring one or two sets of long underwear. This piece of essential Alaska gear should be polypropylene, Capilene or Thermax tops and bottoms. Synthetic fabrics are designed to keep you warm even when they are wet; they wick moisture away from your skin. DO NOT BUY COTTON long underwear! If it becomes wet (perspiration? rain? melting snow?), you'll be uncomfortable at the least you risk hypothermia at the worst, because cotton sucks heat out of your body when it is wet!
Neck Gator: Great for protecting your neck from the breeze if you are cycling, skiing, paddling, or rafting. Fleece is best, and you can get this in Fairbanks!
Pants or trousers: Pack at least two, maybe 3 pair of pants ~ and jeans don't count. I know you love your jeans, so can bring them if you must ... everyone up here wears them too. But jeans take up a lot of packing space and are heavy (I think the weight limit for airline luggage is only 50 pounds these days, right?), and they can be really uncomfortable! AND they are usually made of cotton which is a bit of an Alaska clothing no-no for your Alaska adventure.
Instead, get some great 2-in-1 outdoor pants made of synthetic, quick drying fabric ... they turn into shorts with a quick un-zip at the knee! They come in great colors and cost anywhere from $35 to $125. The cost depends upon the fabric weight, styling, whether or not they are water resistant. These pants are a good item to buy in Fairbanks, and take home with you as a souvenir you wear at home or on your next vacation.
Also, you 'll want to get a good pair of fleece pants as a middle, insulating layer.They'll be good whether you are biking, paddling, hiking, camping, taking the riverboat.... or just lounging around. They are very comfortable and cozy in most weather.
The 3rd pair of pants may fall under the rain gear catagory... should be wind and water resistant.
Shirts: Plan for two or three shirts. At least one long-sleeved, light colored, tightly woven shirt will protect you from the sun and the bugs. Also, your Alaska clothing needs to include at least one non-cotton hiking shirt; two are best… one long and one short-sleeved. Please don’t bother to bring cotton t-shirts. You are going to find fun t-shirts in clothing stores and gift shops here in Fairbanks. You’ll want to take them home as souvenirs. So you may as well make use of them while you’re here and save the packing space!
Socks: Depending on how long you're packing for, and what kind of adventures you plan, you'll want to bring at least 6 pair of wool, synthetic, or combination socks for hiking, plus adequate lightweight socks to meet your personal Alaska clothing needs. Ladies, if you plan to dance, it is up to you whether you want to wear stocking or not. Some do ... some don't ...
Swimsuit: Bring one for Chena Hot Springs (get in the outdoor pool at 20 below zero and watch the northern lights!), for the sauna in you hotel, or a quick dip in the lake or creek! You may also want to sunbathe as you float or paddle down the river.
Underwear and Bras: I'm staying out of this one! You decide your own personal needs. Remember, we do have washers and dryers in Alaska ... and Coin Op laundry mats are a great place to meet Alaskans. Lots of Fairbanksans don’t have running water! So you might have fun listening to the stories of those who be the can tell you about seeing the Northern Lights on the way to their outhouses in the middle of winter. Regardless.... it is important to avoid cotton clothing! Even and maybe especially underwear!
Vests: Most Fairbanksans have a vest or two, in varied weights and fabrics, handy year-round. As with nearly everything else on this list, you can get it here in Fairbanks as a souvenir you can use and enjoy for life instead of buying back home. My favorite fleece vest is a clothing souvenir from the first time I attended the “Becoming an Outdoor Woman in Alaska” (BOW) weekend. And I always get complements on the hand-made wool sweater I bought at the Alaska Native Arts Crafts Fair in October about 10 years ago.