Wondering just how to pack for an Alaska cruise?
If you’re like me, you think of Alaska and instantly envision snow-capped mountain peaks, raincoats, and cozy boots. But packing for a cruise to Alaska is nuanced, and somewhat difficult to plan for. Why? Because the weather varies GREATLY from month to month, even hour to hour. So, it’s best to be prepared for the changing weather by packing a wide range of clothing and gear. But, don’t worry! This doesn’t have to mean packing HUGE suitcases full of boots, jackets & bulk! In fact, you CAN pack light to Alaska if you’d like.
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Let’s back up a bit…
Before we jump into the do’s and don’ts, we have a few other Alaska resources we suggest you check out to fully prepare you for your cruise to the Last Frontier!
This outfit of the day (OOTD) video shows my outfits (day & night) on a 10 night Alaska cruise that took place late August, early September.
This article explores the best time to cruise to Alaska based on 4 factors.
And this overview gives more depth on what to pack for your cruise to Alaska.
DO pack layers!
You’ve heard it before, layers are KING in Alaska. But, what the heck does that mean? Typically, a day in Alaska can go from drizzly and cool, to sunny for a few hours, then perhaps brisk & breezy.
So, it’s best to arm yourself with the following types of clothing layers for port days and days on the ship:
- Jeans or lightweight pants
- T-shirts or lightweight shirts (cotton is nice and breathable)
- Sweatshirts or sweaters to be worn over a T-shirt
- Warm socks (wool is nice)
- Sneakers (water resistant with a little traction) or broken in hiking boots.
- Baseball cap (for rainy days, sometimes a cap is all that’s needed). Don’t worry, you can buy a cool Alaska hat in port or on the ship!
- Light winter cap & gloves
- Light winter scarf
- A light rain layer with a hood
- A light but warm jacket (down or “puffer” jackets are great!)
- If you can find a water resistant, WARM and cozy jacket, that’s great too, but the LIGHTER jackets are so much easier to layer, and remove when you get warm.
- A lightweight backpack for shore days
DO pack a swimsuit and flip flops or sandals
Hot tubs are one of the best kept secrets in Alaska, and an incredible way to experience the fresh, unspoiled outdoors while staying warm. All too often, we hear cruisers say “I thought it would be too cold for my swimsuit!”, or “I left my sandals at home and had to wear my sneakers on the pool deck!”.
DO make room in your suitcase for these…
There are two “accessories” you won’t want to forget at home. We strongly suggest a travel size set of binoculars & a great camera for your cruise to Alaska. For us, a great camera can mean the latest version of our phone (truly- the cameras are amazing these days). But, if there were ever a time to bust out that fancy lens or DSLR camera, Alaska is that time. GoPro’s can be great too, if you’re willing to keep up with the firmware updates, and learn how to use them.
Wildlife spotting, distant waterfalls and glaciers also call for a nice, high quality set of binoculars. Travel size will do the trick, but if you’re not worried about weight or bulk in your luggage, pack whatever you have on hand.
DO pack sunscreen
The summer days in Alaska are LONG and the rays are no joke. A small bottle of sunscreen for face, neck & arms can be a skin-saver in Alaska, especially if you’re on the water, or a glacier where the sun’s reflection seems more powerful. We typically approach sunscreen packing for Alaska differently than we would for warm weather destinations like the Caribbean. Rather than waterproof, sand proof formula, we focus on a high quality, easy to apply formula to cover those exposed areas of skin.
DON’T overpack dressy clothes for dinner
Alaska is typically more casual, even at dinner. Formal nights ARE still a thing, so gown-up (or tux up!) if you’d like, but remember, on the mass market cruise lines in Alaska, jeans, nicer t-shirts, collared shirts, pants & sweaters are perfectly fine for dinner. In fact, on our last two cruises, I’d say MOST women didn’t wear dresses to dinner unless it was formal night. It was much more commonplace to see nice pans & jeans and sweaters. In fact, some folks came to dinner in their port-day clothes. It’s really okay!
DON’T overlook bug repellent
Mosquito repellant isn’t likely something you’ll need on the cruise ship, but if you’re planning on venturing out on a hike, bear walk, or any other nature-focused activity on our Alaska cruise, a small amount of bug repellant is highly recommended!
DON’T leave your shorts at home
On our first cruise to Alaska back in 2005, we arrived to a major heat wave in our embarkation port of Seattle. We’re talking 90+ degrees Fahrenheit, and NONE of us had packed the proper clothing for summer weather that you’d more typically find in Southern California. What did we do? Mom, myself, and my husband (this was pre-Junior) headed to the mall and we ALL bought a pair of shorts!
It was pretty hilarious, but since that little incident, we’ve NEVER left for an Alaska cruise without a single pair of shorts in our suitcase (just one). You never know when you’ll have an 80+ degree day, even in the Last Frontier!
DON’T pack poor quality sunglasses
The sun in Alaska can be bright & fierce, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money on sunglasses. Costco sells wonderful, high quality brands like Maui Jim (our fave and often polarized) and Amazon has a great selection too.
DON’T pack non water-resistant shoes
Rain, or well….”drizzle” is pretty common in Alaska, and that leads to mud, puddles & dirty, soggy shoes. Particularly if you’re planning an active day- like exploring the trails at Mendenhall Glacier, or taking the tram up to Mt. Roberts. It’s best to pack a comfortable outdoor shoe/sneaker that’s somewhat water resistant. We learned this the hard way when we all packed our favorite running shoes for our Alaska cruise, only to find out that those stylish air vents that make the shoes breathable on a run, also allow water in! Soggy socks are no fun.
Now, we’re NOT recommending you packing stiff, brand new hiking boots here. That can be an uncomfortable mistake, but consider the material your shoes are made from, and keep water resistance in mind. We like “duck boots” like those shown in the photo above.
NEED HELP PACKING FOR ALASKA? Visit our Amazon Alaska store for all the essentials!
What’s Alaska Like?
Pack with us for Alaska!
Our Alaska Packing Playlist features packing and planning videos for your cruise to Alaska. From clothing, outerwear, and gear, to packing carry-on only (GASP!), we’ve gotcha covered.
See more packing tips here.
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