Packing list for an Alaska cruise in May – what you really need for the trip of lifetime

Are you a slow traveling cat that likes to travel in style? Then an Alaskan cruise in May is probably right up your alley! Like all cats, I appreciate the finer things in life. Lounging on a cruise ship, while watching Alaska transform from Spring to Summer is right at the top of my list! But how does one prepare for such a journey? I’m glad you asked! Read on to learn how to build your perfect packing list for Alaska cruise in May. 

Visiting Alaska in May is a truly memorable experience. As the last of the winter snow melts, waterfalls surge and brilliantly blue ice-cold rivers roar back to life. Alaska’s best-known fauna comes out of hibernation and everyone’s favorite birds return from their winter migration. May is one of the most vibrant times of year in Alaska. Congratulations on opting for an Alaska cruise in May. Now it’s time to start packing!

What you need to know to build your packing list for Alaska cruise in May:

Dressing in layers

Before jumping into the full packing list, any trip to Alaska requires a primer on layers. Using layers in your packing list for Alaska cruise in May is vitally important for a few reasons. 

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

First of all, the weather can change quickly in Alaska. This is especially true for the month of May, where you still may experience some lingering cold weather as summer starts to settle in.

Dressing in layers also helps you to stay dry when the inevitable rainy day intrudes on your vacation.

Finally, layering allows you to prepare for a variety of activities without having to change outfits in the middle of the day. 

The most important thing to know about dressing in layers is that there are three categories of clothing to consider: a base layer, a middle layer, and an outer layer. Depending on your planned activities for the day, the characteristics of these may vary. 

Base Layer

Generally speaking, your base layer should wick moister away from your skin. This layer is most important for active travelers as sweat can make you colder the longer it stays close to your skin. With temperatures hovering in the 40s and 50s Fahrenheit in May, you need to dress for warmth. A great option for your base layer is long underwear in wool or synthetic fabric

Pro Tip: Merino wool is a longtime favorite of adventure travelers due to its ability to help the body regulate its temperature. 

Middle Layer

The next layer to think about is your middle layer. Clothing for this layer should be designed to retain your body heat. Some good options to consider for this layer include a fleece jacket or a lightweight coat. For warm days you may want to consider a flannel shirt or lightweight sweater. I personally prefer flannels due to the extra flexibility of unbuttoning when temperatures rise.

For most of Alaska, your middle layer for your lower body in May can simply be a good pair of hiking pants or even a pair of jeans. If you are traveling in the coldest parts of the state, however, like the arctic circle, you may want to opt for fleece pants. If you are traveling in warmer regions like Southeast Alaska, quick dry hiking pants will be a better choice.

Outer Layer

The final layer to consider is the outer layer. These articles of clothing are meant to shield you from the elements. Generally speaking in May you will be dealing with a few rainy days. Given the chilly temperatures, especially at night, you should be extra careful to stay dry. A popular choice for the outer layer is a waterproof jacket. If you will be outdoors for an extended amount of time you should also consider rain pants as part of your outer layer. 

Packing list for Alaska cruise in May - view of the inner passage
The inner passage in May

Depending on your tolerance for the cold you may also consider a winter jacket for your outer layer. However, most travelers stay warm with a good middle layer paired with a light, waterproof raincoat. This combination is both flexible and extremely effective at retaining heat.

What to expect on a cruise ship

Taking a cruise line through Alaska in May is a highly sought-after travel experience for a good reason. The luxuries of a cruise ship like endless buffets of fine food, high caliber shows, and beautiful views of the famous inside passage combined with rugged shore excursions is a tempting combination for even the most jaded tourist. 

Given the unique accommodations of a cruise-based vacation, you’ll need to consider packing a few extra items. First of all, do not forget your bathing suit! There is nothing like lounging under the stars in a hot tub after an active day exploring Alaska’s great outdoors. Along with your bathing suit, you’ll also need flip flops and a cover up for walking around the ship. 

Additionally, almost all cruises will provide at least one formal dinner during your journey. This cruise ship tradition is a rare opportunity to dig out your finest formalwear. Don’t own anything formal? Well, now’s your chance to go buy something new! Dressing up for a nice dinner is an experience that you won’t want to miss. Aside from memorable photos, it also provides a great contrast to your outdoor adventures from the day. 

Aside from pool time and formal dining the only other consideration for traveling by ship is comfortable clothes for lounging during your days at sea. While cruise ships are one of the most highly sought-after modes of transportation for seeing Alaska, they still move slowly. Packing some comfortable clothes for exploring the ship will help ensure you are fully prepared for your Alaskan cruise experience.

Special considerations for traveling in May

The month of May is truly a great time for Alaska weather. The average temperature is mild, generally around 40-60 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, May is one of the driest months in the region. Statistically speaking, May is the best month for experiencing sunny days, though Alaska is naturally cloudy so don’t expect clear skies every day! 

With that said, there is one thing to look out for during the month of May and that is mud. All of that beautiful winter snow has to go somewhere, right? 

While May has some of the best weather of the entire year, the winter snowmelt can result in some pretty serious mud. This is a key factor to consider for avid hikers as you may need mud boots to explore certain areas. 

Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska
Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska

At the very least travelers in May should consider bringing waterproof shoes and waterproof pants. After all, getting down and dirty in the mud can be fun… as long as you have the right gear.

Clothing for your packing list for Alaska cruise in May

Now that you know how to dress in layers and what to expect on your adventure, you are officially ready to start your packing list for Alaska cruise in May! The list below is optimized for a 7-day cruise, however, you can adjust the quantity for each item to match your specific itinerary. Let’s start packing!

Lower body

  • 2 pairs of long underwear (both tops and bottoms) – This will be your base layer. Look for products that are lightweight and made of either wool or synthetic material. You will only need these for days when you will be outside for prolonged periods. An advantage of purchasing a high-quality, moisture-wicking material is that you can often reuse these items after letting them air out overnight. 
  • At least 4 pairs of comfortable pants – This will serve as your everyday wear, as well as your middle layer for extended outdoor adventures. Depending on how much time you’ll be spending outside, any kind of quick-dry, lightweight hiking pants should do the trick. We recommend pants made by Columbia 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, however, you may not need quick dry clothing. A more cost-effective option could be jeans or khakis. 

Upper body

  • 4 short-sleeve shirts – If it’s within your budget, I’d recommend bringing synthetic, quick-dry t-shirts to ensure comfort for any outdoor activity. You can supplement these with regular cotton shirts for the days when you expect to be less active. These can be used for lounging around the ship in addition to acting as a base layer for outdoor adventures. In this case, you should add an insulating, middle layer to stay warm when the weather inevitably shifts. 
  • 4 long-sleeved shirts (button-up preferred) – Welcome to your middle layer! Long-sleeve, button-up shirts are a must-have while traveling in Alaska. This article of clothing is so versatile, it fits almost any weather scenario. On warmer days, a lightweight flannel is a great choice to add some warmth to your outfit. Using button-up shirts (versus pullovers) has the added bonus of wearing them open or closed to get different levels of warmth. Also, since your base layer, is moisture-wicking, you can be a little less concerned with the material for your middle layer.


  • 1 lightweight fleece or down jacket – This is a great item to have for chilly evenings aboard the ship. A lot of travelers love 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 month of May). However, for itineraries that are lighter on prolonged outdoor activity, you could also use a basic down jacket from Amazon.
  • 1 waterproof rain jacket – If you do not already have a good rain jacket, this is a great item to invest in for your trip to Alaska in May. A great rain jacket not only keeps you dry but can be used for extra warmth throughout the day. This is particularly useful in May when the weather is not quite cold enough to justify a full winter parka. A lightweight rain jacket over a warm sweater is sure to keep you very warm in the month of May.  


  • 1 pair of comfortable walking shoes – These will be your footwear for day-to-day wear. Bring something comfortable, ideally a pair of shoes that you are already used to wearing. 
  • 1 pair of hiking boots – For active travelers, it’s always a great idea to bring a second pair of shoes, specific to trekking on rough terrain. Hiking boots for Alaska should have a thick sole, good traction and always be waterproof. In the month of May, you will be dealing with lots of mud and potential ice depending on your elevation.  
  • 10 pairs of socks – Bring at least 6 pairs of good quality, moisture-wicking socks for your outdoor adventures. We recommend wool socks, though any synthetic material will do. Just make sure to stay away from cotton when dressing for outdoor adventures in May. If needed you can supplement your sock supply with up to 4 pairs of regular socks for the days when you will not be outdoors for extended periods of time. You may also be interested in using 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. We recommend FoxRiver’s ultra-lightweight liners.


  • 1 warm hat – When choosing headwear for May, you’ll have two main considerations: staying warm and protecting yourself from the sun. First of all, you’ll need a good beanie to stay warm during the colder days. Look for ones that are lined and will be comfortable sitting against your skin for hours on end. 
  • 1 sun hat – Secondly, for warmer days make sure to bring a wide-brimmed hat or baseball cap for sun protection. This will be particularly useful for days on the deck of the cruise ship where you will have little access to the shade. May, on average, has the most sunny days in Alaska, so make sure to get outside as much as you can!

Clothes for the ship

  • 2-3 swimsuits – Many cruise ships feature an indoor pool, offering comfortable swimming temperatures, and a spa. Depending on how often you plan on swimming, it’s a good idea to have at least 2 different suits that way at least one will always be dry. 
  • 1-2 outfits for formal nights – Last, but not least, we need to talk about formal wear. Most Alaskan cruises will include two formal evening dinners. Quality, dress pants are considered acceptable, but you can always create a more upscale look with a nice dinner jacket. For dresses, you may want to opt for a longer dress. While it’s acceptable to wear the same outfit to both dinners, you may want to change them up a little bit with a different dress shirt or a different color wrap for your dress.

Your packing list for Alaska cruise in May – going beyond clothing

Protecting electronics

Packing list for Alaska cruise in May - port of Ketchikan in Southeast Alaska
Coming into port at Ketchikan, Alaska
  • Waterproof, impact-proof cell phone case – This is easily one of the best things you can purchase to ensure your phone and all the memories you record are protected. Even if you plan on bringing your own camera equipment, nothing beats the speed and convenience of your 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 the Lifeproof product line
  • Portable cell phone charger – A portable charger is a good idea for any vacation packing list. However, it is extra important for your packing list for Alaska cruise in May! Not only will you be spending extended time away from electrical outlets, but you’re also sure to see more beautiful sights than you ever imagined. A portable cell phone charger, especially the kind that is built into your phone case, is a great investment to make sure that you capture all of your best vacation memories. 
  • Waterproof backpack – Don’t forget your waterproof daypack in which you’ll carry all of your extra items. To save space, make sure to use your backpack as your carry-on item for the plane ride over.

Staying comfortable

  • Sunscreen – Often forgotten on trips to Alaska, sunscreen is one of the most important items to bring. With an average of 17.5 hours of daylight, do not mistake cool temperatures for a lack of UV rays. 
  • Insect repellent – While you will likely not deal with too many bugs on the cruise ship or even close to the coast, certain areas of the state can get completely overrun with mosquitos in May. Make sure to bring your own bug spray to avoid having to buy some last minute on the ship.
  • Dramamine or motion sickness wristband – Alaskan cruise ships are generally big, however, the sea can become quite rough this time of year. If you have ever experienced motion sickness in the past, you may want to come prepared with a solution. Remember if you are experiencing motion sickness on a cruise ship, go outside. Getting fresh air and looking at the horizon will help steady your sense of balance. It may not feel intuitive, but this really is the best treatment. 
  • Thermos – During those chilly May mornings, having a thermos to carry around your favorite hot drink can bring extra joy to your experience. A good thermos with an airtight lid will also allow you to throw your favorite drink into your backpack for an extra special treat during your shore excursions. 
  • Reusable water bottle – Along these same lines, you should add a reusable water bottle to your packing list for Alaska cruise in May. This amazing item offers an easy way to stay hydrated throughout the day without creating any extra waste. 

Specialized gear

  • A good camera with a zoom lens – Wildlife sightings are a big draw for an Alaskan cruise, but most of the time they will be far away. Additionally, the angle of the sun in May can make long-distance shots even more blurry than usual. A quality camera and lens are a must-have for getting a good shot of those grizzly bears on the shoreline or the bald eagles perched in their nests.

Pro Tip: if you do not already own a telephoto lens, do a quick Google search for one to rent in your area.

Sunset from an Alaskan cruise ship
Sunset from the ship

Conclusion on your packing list for a cruise to Alaska

Well, there you have it! Everything you need to know about building your perfect packing list for Alaska cruise in May. Always remember to plan your outfits in layers. Bring multiple options for your base and middle layers and a good waterproof rain jacket for your outer layer. When planning what to wear, don’t forget your head and feet!

Additionally, take time to think through the activities in which you plan to engage. Make sure that you have specialized gear like camera equipment, hiking boots, and waterproof gear for long outdoor excursions.

Since you’ll be enjoying Alaska from the luxury of a cruise, don’t forget about your swimsuit and formalwear for the cruise ship dining room. Lounging on the cruise ship while taking in views of the famous inner passage is a unique experience in its own right.

While packing for such a big adventure can feel overwhelming at first, a little bit of thought and planning can go a long way. With a great packing list, you are sure to be warm, dry, and comfortable throughout your entire Alaskan vacation. This will free up your time and energy to focus on what really matters: making memories that will last a lifetime!

Read next: Alaskan Adventures – how to become your own cruise director

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