What to Pack for an Alaskan Winter Adventure
Alaska – Part 0

Where one can let the spirit go with joyous abandon, to sense the freedome of the wilderness.
-Olaus Murie

The first time I remember camping and absolutely loving it, I was twenty-one years old. My significant other and I had scored a great deal on tickets to Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula from Minneapolis. As we landed and walked off the tarmac in Anchorage, I swore I could smell the ice and pristine air wafting in from the mountains of “the Last Frontier.”

Some memorable highlights:

  • Happily freezing in a sleeping bag while wondering at how the sun was still up at 10pm.
  • The breath-taking beauty of vast mountains and roaring rivers.
  • Arriving at a river where salmon were spawning so thickly you could walk across the water. We held fishing poles and snagged salmon with bare fish hooks until we started feeling sorry for pestering them (had to throw them back per law). Also: seeing a bear lumber over to graze on salmon by the shore.
  • It did not rain (on this brief weekend) – an experience that figures widely in my childhood memories of Minnesota camping. Also: not being surrounded by a swarm of mosquitos.
  • Eating quite a bit of bacon cooked with a borrowed cast iron skillet, fireside.

More than a decade later, I found myself with tickets to Fairbanks, to hunt the Northern Lights. This time it was in Winter, and in the Interior, rather than Summer on the coast. We started with Anchorage, as tickets started at prices less than it would cost you to fly to many of the lower 48 states, but chose Fairbanks for its better chances of catching the Aurora Borealis. The next few blog posts will offer some samplings of the experience, with suggestions on things I learned, so you didn’t have to.

Things to pack for Alaska:
Your thickest knee-high socks (think: what you’d use for snowshoeing, snowboarding, skiing or hiking)
Proper snow boots*
Hats & mitts
Swimsuit (or trunks)**
Winter coat
Waterproof snowshoe gear
More layers
A few of your favorite snacks, because food is kind of expensive there.***
Hand and toe warmers (or pick some up when you get there)

Hurriedly-assembled DIY oatmeal: sans status quo blog staging

This is the go-to starting point on Aurora viewing, to maximize your chances: U of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute: Traveler’s Guide to Aurora Borealis

Packing pro-tip: When you are packing for cold weather: just imagine wearing all the clothes you brought, all at the same time, and if that is significantly warmer than you’d like to be, you’ll probably be okay. I even tried wearing two of my coats at once – a puffy coat under a snowboarding shell- but decided against packing it. Instead I layered a puffy vest with faux-fur hood under same snowboarding shell. Remember you can always try to layer ALL the clothes you brought. Also keep in mind: if there are other people who live where you are going, they’ll probably have stores where you can get any last minute supplies.

Other ways to get ready and excited for Alaska:

*According to High Latitude Style‘s blog, there is something called bunny boots, military-grade footwear to keep you warm in sub-zero weather, also you can get “alaska jeans” lined with flannel.

**Stay tuned for more related posts!

***My flight was scheduled to get in about midnight, so I packed some DIY oatmeal my friend Jenni got me hooked on for breakfast so we could get out early the next day to explore.

Full disclosure: they did not pay for this blog post, but I am very grateful to Alaska Airlines, which delighted me by upgrading our seats to first class, and provided a tasty chicken skewer and couscous meal that was not overly heavy. Yum. Great service, swift delivery to destination.

Fairbanks greeted our midnight arrival with a snowy welcome, complete with engine bloc-warming electrical plugs in rental cars! Also: quite tasty chicken skewers with Israeli couscous on Alaskan Air.

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