Packing list for a cruise to Alaska – what you really need for the trip of lifetime

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The Last Frontier. The Land of the Midnight Sun. Alaska’s own name is derivative of the Aleutian word, “Aleyska” which means “Great Land” — and certainly a name well deserved. Alaska is a place of immense beauty; huge and seemingly unending. And one of the best ways to truly appreciate the wonder of the state is by a cruise. Every day you’ll wake up to new landscapes and opportunities! But as you plan for those gorgeous landscapes and port outings, it is important to also plan for what you’re going to wear and pack any other items you may need.

The importance of layering

The Alaska cruise season runs from May through September each year, making for no winter vacationing (at least not by boat). However, temperatures do get chilly even during the peak summer month of July, with daily lows around 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally light rain and fog are common throughout the summer, making it important to plan for layers when choosing your packing list for a cruise to Alaska.

Packing list for a cruise to Alaska - my favorite raincoat
A raincoat doubles as a windbreaker

Before jumping into the full packing list, a quick primer on layers. Any well designed adventure outfit contains a base layer, a middle layer and an outer layer. Depending on your activity and the weather the characteristics of these may vary. Generally speaking your base layer should wick moister away from your skin, your middle layer should retain heat and your outer layer should shield you from the elements. An example for a summer hike in Alaska may be: a long sleeve synthetic shirt, a lightweight fleece and rain jacket. This gives you the flexibility to strip down to your base layer if you get too hot, but also stay warm and dry as the weather inevitably shifts.

Now that you the basics of putting together adventure wear, let’s jump into your packing list!

Your packing list for a cruise to Alaska – what clothes to bring

1. At least two comfortable pairs of pants 

Depending on how much time you’ll be spending outside, any kind of quick dry, lightweight hiking pants should do the trick. I personally wear Columbia’s hiking pants, since they are lightweight and mid-range in price, however, North Face, Marmot and Patagonia are also well respected brands. Remember when dressing for outdoor activities in Alaska – staying dry is the name of the game! If your vacation plan is on the less active side, you may not need quick dry clothing. A more cost effective option could be jeans or khakis. These will double as your evening wear for less formal nights on your cruise ship.

2. Comfortable short sleeve shirts

The same philosophy applies here. If it’s in your budget, I’d recommend bringing 2-3 synthetic, quick dry t-shirts to ensure comfort for any outdoor activities. You can supplement these with regular cotton shirts for the days where you expect to be less active. These will serve as your base layer, so you can always add a middle layer for extra warmth, especially in the evenings.

3. Light, long-sleeve button-up shirts

Welcome to your middle layer! Long-sleeved button-up shirts are a must-have while traveling in Alaska. This article of clothing is so versatile, it fits almost any weather scenario. In the summer, a lightweight flannel is a great choice to add some warmth to your outfit. Using button-up shirts (versus pullovers) has the added bonus wearing them open or closed to get different levels of warmth. Also, since your base layer, is moister-wicking, you can be a little less concerned with the material for your middle layer.

Packing list for a cruise to Alaska - view of the inner passage
The inner passage in June

4. Lightweight jacket or sweater 

This is nice to have for chilly evenings on the boat. A lot of travelers love to use lightweight down jackets, since they are warm and easy to pack. Depending on the amount of activity you will do, you can look into some of the well known outdoor brands which rate their jackets by fill power (you’ll want to look at lower fill power for the summer months). However, for most cruise-based activities, you could also use a basic down jacket from Amazon.

5. Hiking or comfortable walking shoes 

Many outings in Alaska require considerable walking. Make sure to have a comfortable pair of shoes for those longer treks on shore.

6. Waterproof rain jacket 

This is by far my favorite item that I invested in during my time in the Alaskan summer. A great rain jacket not only keeps your dry, but can be used for extra warmth throughout the day. If you only decide to invest in one piece of clothing for your trip, I suggest this one. I personally use the Arctix River Rain Jacket because it’s a great value and comes in a variety of fun colors.

7. Hiking Boots

It’s always a good idea to have some thick soled boots for exploring the great outdoors. The main consideration for summer in Alaska is mud and rain. Make sure to find sturdy boots that are also waterproof.

8. Socks

Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska

Bring at least 3-4 pairs of good quality, moister wicking socks for your outdoor adventures. You may also be interested in trying sock liners, if you will be doing extensive hiking or walking that you are not used to. Sock liners can help with keeping moister away from your feet as well as preventing blisters. For my trip, I used FoxRiver’s ultra-lightweight liners.

9. Hat with a brim

Whether you prefer a baseball cap or a wide brim sun hat, your cheeks and ears will be grateful for the protection.

10. Swimwear

Many cruise ships feature an enclosed pool, offering comfortable swimming temperatures, and a spa.

10. Formal wear

Last, but not least, we need to talk about formal wear. Most Alaskan cruises will include two formal evening dinners. Quality, dark pants are considered acceptable, but you men might also prefer a more upscale look with a nice dinner jacket. Women might opt for a longer dress with nice boots or similar footwear.

Your packing list for a cruise to Alaska – beyond clothing

11. Waterproof, impact-proof cell phone case 

Splurge on that extra capable cell phone case to ensure your phone and all the memories you record are properly protected. Even if you plan on bringing your own fancy camera equipment, nothing beats the speed and convenience of your own phone. Imagine walking down the deck for breakfast and catching sight of humpback whales frolicking on port side. You’ll be happy your phone is handy. We recommend checking out all the available phone cases in the Lifeproof product line on Amazon.

12. Portable charger

Coming into port at Ketchikan, Alaska

A portable cell phone charger is a good idea if you are planning on being out all day away from the boat. You will be using your photo and video capabilities more often, both of which will quickly drain your phone’s battery.

13. A high quality camera with a telephoto lens

Wildlife sightings are a big draw for an Alaskan cruise, but most will be far away. Additionally the angle of the sun can make long distance shots even more blurry than usual. A quality camera and lens are a must for getting a good shot of those bears on the shoreline or the bald eagles perched in their nests. Pro Top: if you do not already own a telephoto lens, do a quick Google search for one to rent in your area.

14. Sunscreen 

Remember, all day and into the night sun. Protect yourself from excessive UV rays.

15. Bug spray 

Some locations in Alaska can get completely overrun with mosquitos in the summer. Make sure to bring your own bug spray to avoid having to buy some last minute on the ship.

16. Dramamine or motion sickness wristband 

Alaskan cruise ships are generally so big that only those very sensitive to motion sickness will feel it. However, there is always a chance of the ship encountering a storm or otherwise choppy weather, and it’s better to be ready than not.

Sunset from the ship

17. Thermos 

A sleek, easy-to-carry thermos offers an easy way to have water, tea, or whatever your preferred beverage is, wherever you explore off the ship.

18. Finally, don’t forget to bring a daypack

You are going to need something to carry around those extra layers as well as accessories like bug spray and sunscreen. The ideal choice here is a waterproof one to protect belongings from rain and ocean spray.

Conclusion on packing for a cruise to Alaska

Well, there you have it! Everything you need to know about packing for a cruise to Alaska. A little bit of planning can go a long way in making your trip of lifetime not only memorable but dry and comfortable too! Enjoy your cruise make sure to leave your must-have items in the comments below.

Read next: Alaska in Summer – 37 reasons to come here now

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