This Alaska Cruise Packing List Is Expert-approved


Travel + Leisure / Reese Herrington

Over the last decade of my career as a cruise journalist, I’ve set sail on more than 50 cruises — so you could say I know how to pack a suitcase for any voyage. But of all those sailings, one destination stands out among the rest: Alaska.

I’ve cruised to the Last Frontier multiple times, including on big ships like Norwegian Encore. It’s one of my favorite destinations in the world and one of the top cruise itinerary recommendations I make when people ask me where to sail. There’s a freshness in the air, a staggering amount of wildlife to watch, and as for the beer and seafood… let’s just say it’s worth making the journey. But with an Alaska cruise comes unique packing challenges. While Alaska cruise season is primarily during the summer months (from late May through early September), visions of glaciers and icebergs might have you wondering how to make sense of the weather — which can range from an average of 55 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit in summer, with temps dipping into the 40s at night.

Wondering what on Earth to pack? There are just two things you must keep in mind to succeed: Waterproof. Layers. Repeat after me. The common thread in this packing list is staying dry no matter the forecast, and layering up or down depending on how many seasons the 49th State will try to squeeze into a single day. Of course, you might want to toss in a few nicer things for dinner onboard, but casual cruisers will luxuriate in the laidback atmosphere of an Alaska voyage, where it’s not unusual to wear casual pants, your Merrell hiking boots, and a fleece to the dining room. 

I’m positive that the majestic, untamed beauty of Alaska will fill you with wonder and awe quite unlike any place you’ve been before. Here is a list of how to fill your suitcase so you can spend every last moment soaking up the memories — and not the weather — of your Alaska cruise. 

Travel + Leisure / Brittany Chrusciel

I’ve Been on 50+ Cruises, and These Are the 15 Things I Never Sail Without

REI Co-op Rainier Long Line Rain Jacket


It might seem instinctive to pack a big winter coat to bring to Alaska but don’t — beware of bulky, overly warm outer layers. A much better plan of attack is to layer a shirt with a fleece and throw a light, waterproof layer like this over top so you can be prepared for any weather. Case in point: this rain jacket from REI employs a recycled nylon shell to keep you dry, while also remaining breathable — handy if you’re hiking through the forested trails or kayaking out near some glaciers and work up a sweat. 

What I like about this design in particular is its length. Coverage past your hips keeps more of you protected from the elements, including up to 60 mph winds. I also like all the customizable details put into this jacket, from an adjustable waist and vented hem to zippered pockets and a stowable, three-piece hood. Beyond black and beige, this women’s rain jacket comes in pretty shades of light blue, pink, and purple. Best of all, these light layers fold down to almost nothing when you pack them or roll them into a backpack.

To buy:, $129

NOCS Provisions 8×25 Waterproof Binoculars


Is that a bear or a blob? If you’re interested in seeing elusive Alaskan animals with any clarity, having a pair of binoculars on hand will greatly assist. And oh the animals you’ll see: puffins, eagles, whales… it’s an animal lover’s dream trip. Sure, some cruise lines offer the use of binoculars in your room or around the ship, but rarely are you allowed to take them with you in port. These binocs from NOCS are reasonably priced, waterproof, and best of all, they come in five bright shades that are hard to miss — and to misplace. 

The numbers (8×25) refer to the field of view, which for this pair is about 357 feet away. There are binoculars with a much farther range, but they begin to double in price. For less than $100, I like that this pair is not only weather-resistant but entirely waterproof (in about three feet of water for 30 minutes); fog-proof; has a grippy, rubber coating; and compact so they’re easy to carry around. The lenses are fully multicoated which protects them from glare, and a cool feature is that the eyepieces are designed to be used in tandem with a phone camera so you can “hack” that faraway photo. 

To buy:, $95

Travel + Leisure / Brittany Chrusciel

Merrell Moab 3 Midi Waterproof Hiking Boot


Years ago, on my first trip to Alaska, I remember visiting a sporting goods store and being shocked to find that the selection of women’s hiking boots was a sad fraction of the men’s — and most of them were pink. Then I found Merrell, and I never looked back. I’m not alone in swearing by the brand. The comfort, support, and weatherproofing of these boots are hard to match. Merrell is so confident in this design that they named them the “mother of all boots” (Moab). 

Even if you’re not an avid hiker, having grippy and waterproof footwear in Alaska will come in handy. An over-the-ankle fit provides more overall support to your foot and soles are designed with advanced materials for shock absorption and stability. A sturdy pair of hiking boots typically does not come cheap, but they make up for it with durability and reliability. And praise be, they come in more color combinations than pink.

To buy:, $145

Smartwool Classic Full Cushion Crew Socks


Wool is the preferred fabric of choice for Alaskans, known for its insulating and moisture-wicking properties. (Pro tip: Cotton actually retains water, so don’t pack your average socks!) Spending more than $20 for a pair of socks might seem steep, but this integral layer will keep your feet warm and dry when it matters. With cushioned bottoms, these socks are ideal for all-day wear whether you’re circling the shops of Ketchikan or cycling down the White Pass Summit of Skagway. 

Recycled nylon is added into the blend for stretch, while Smartwool ensures that its wool content is certified to environmental, social, and economic sustainability standards as well as protecting the welfare of the Merino sheep providing the wool. What’s so special about these sheep? Their wool is softer and thinner, making it easier to regulate body temperature and keep your tootsies warm. The fibers also magically wick away sweat and moisture, keeping your feet not only dry but less likely to smell like you were walking around all day. Trust me, these socks are a worthy investment.  

To buy:, $22

SealLine Skylake Dry Pack Backpack


I highly recommend carrying a daypack with you when you disembark the ship and venture into Alaska’s ports. Whether you signed up for a hiking, kayaking, or walking tour excursion, you’ll need to carry your extra layers, water bottles, cameras, and gear with you — and keep it dry. With a roomy 18 liters of storage, this dry bag backpack hybrid has enough space for all that and more without needing a secondary dry bag. And it’s a relief when it starts to drizzle, and you know everything in your bag will stay completely dry. 

If you already have a trusty backpack on hand but want to make sure it doesn’t get soaked through on your various Alaskan adventures, consider a rain cover like this one from Osprey. For $45, this large cover will seal over your backpack (from 50 to 75 L). When you’re not using it, the rain cover packs into itself and weighs 4.4 ounces. 

To buy:, $125

Coal Yukon Brim Beanie


Why choose between a warm hat and a cap with a visor, when you can have both? This beanie will not only keep your ears toasty on chilly days, but the brim is helpful to shield you from the elements and your eyes from the sun. Alaska can be both cold and sunny on any given day, so this fleece-lined brimmed beanie in a wool knit will certainly see some action on your cruise.

One consideration is this hat is a unisex, one-size-fits-all design, so make sure to try it on before you sail away if you have a particularly small or large head. It also only comes in coal black. But when packing for a cruise, you’ll find that less is more; if you can get away with one item pulling double-duty, it leaves more room for souvenirs. With an 88 percent five-star rating, this is an easy “go-to beanie” for a reason. 

To buy:, $40

Travel + Leisure / Brittany Chrusciel

REI Co-op Merino Wool Liner Gloves


On brisk, cool days, especially out on the water when kayaking, you might be surprised to find your hands snug in your pockets. However, if you’re committed to taking photos with your giant camera, a warm and functional pair of gloves is probably a worthwhile item to have. These wool-lined gloves are touchscreen compatible, meaning you should still be able to tap away at your phone or other smart devices without having to expose your mitts. 

The gloves have a small loop for hanging to dry or attaching to a belt or pack. A convenient little clip keeps the pair together when not in use. These gloves are only available in unisex sizing but feature spandex at the wrist for an improved fit. As we’ve learned, Merino wool will wick away any moisture from your digits, keeping them warm and dry — two all-important things during a day in port. 

To buy:, $30

Maui Jim Kanaio Coast Polarized Sunglasses


Guess what? Ice is especially reflective. If you’re planning to stare down some glaciers, you’ll be glad to have these polarized sunglasses in your possession. While a brand like Maui Jim might be more likely to conjure visions of Hawaii or Key West, the quality of their lenses applies to any place with sun. Long a Ray-Bans type of girl, I wouldn’t have normally considered these sportier frames, but my dad was so obsessed with them that I had to see what the hype was about — and they delivered. 

Style preferences aside, the lenses stand out for their clarity, detail, and of course UV protection. Polarization cuts glare from the water and the ice in addition to pavement, reducing eye strain. These Maui Jims are considered unisex, but you can choose your lens tint in bronze or blue. 

To buy:, $279

Hydro Flask All Around Tumbler 


Bring a steaming cup of coffee with you while you head out on deck during a scenic sail day, or keep your water frosty during a warm, afternoon tour in port: This 28-ounce tumbler from Hydro Flask keeps hot liquids hot and cold drinks cold. With so many water bottle brands floating around these days (and of course we stan reusable drink vessels), it can be hard to narrow down the differences in each. This is especially true when some bottles retail for $50 to $100.

Keep it simple with this $24 BPA-free tumbler, available in five shades and featuring a snug sipping lid that will keep sloshing at bay. The lid can also fit a reusable straw if desired. Hydro Flask guarantees that with its double-wall vacuum insulation, cold liquids will stay cold for up to 24 hours, while your hot chocolate will stay hot for up to six hours. The powder coat exterior is dishwasher safe and promises to remain grippy without chipping. Once you’re back home and dreaming about that time you went dogsledding in Alaska, the tapered tumbler should fit into the cup holder in your car. 

To buy:, $24 (originally $33)

REI Co-op Sahara Convertible Pants


Speaking from experience, you’re going to need some functional, hiking-type all-terrain pants and shorts for an Alaska cruise. Better yet is one pair that can be both. Go from pants to shorts to pants again with these convertible, quick-drying bottoms (and take up less room in your suitcase, too). Taking a page from our “less is more” cruise packing manual, these pants pull double wardrobe duty. The zip-off bottoms might seem a bit dorky at first, but function over fashion is where it’s at when you’re gallivanting around the Great Outdoors.

Available in shades like army green, asphalt, and farro (khaki), these pants pull out all the stops with UPF 50 rating, breathable recycled nylon, vents, six functional pockets, and an elastic drawstring waistband. I like that they come in a variety of women’s sizes from petite and long to wide. (The men’s version is sized by waist and inseam.) No matter the size, the fabric is thin, so it packs down to nothing in your suitcase. If only they gave out prizes for the most efficient packer.

To buy:, $80

Travel + Leisure / Brittany Chrusciel

Vissla Twisted Long-Sleeved Hoodie, UPF 50


This stylish hoodie is not only handy as an underlayer but will also protect you from unsuspecting sunburn under those sneaky Alaskan rays. Standup paddleboarders swear by these light and long-sleeved shirts with high UV protection. And I think you will too when you’re sightseeing for hours under the Midnight Sun. 

Available for men in sizes small through XXL, each colorway has its own logo so you can buy all three without looking like you’re repeating styles. Similar for the ladies are these tees from Columbia (but alas, no hood). 

To buy:, $65

Canon EF 75-300 mm Telephoto Zoom Lens


Smartphone cameras are astonishingly advanced these days. However, when it comes to capturing faraway images — say, that bald eagle in the tree — your phone won’t do it justice. The only realistic way to catch that whale breaching on digital film is a DSLR camera with a zoom lens. 

Camera lenses are historically expensive, which is why this refurbished Canon telephoto lens for $175 is a great price. Of course, if you already own a camera from another company, like Sony, you might have to find one of their lenses, depending on what’s compatible. But if this Canon EF lens is the right fit — literally — you can expect it to be in excellent condition, boasting a smooth zoom and a way better shot of those eagles.

Alaska is the kind of place you’ll want to photograph, or document, endlessly. If you’re in the market for some gadgetry, you might also want to consider a GoPro, which is essentially a mini waterproof video camera. Plan on ziplining? Some operators (not all) allow you to strap a GoPro to yourself if it does not interfere with your harness and you remain hands-free. Talk about a vacation video!

To buy:, $175 (originally $199)

Travel + Leisure / Brittany Chrusciel

Sawyer Products Picaridin Insect Repellent


Mosquitos aren’t colloquially known as Alaska’s state bird for nothing. I’ve been to parts of Alaska where the mosquitos were nowhere to be found, and others where they swarm and poke you through your pants. Don’t risk it; buy the bug repellent. To me, there is almost nothing worse than being itchy.

The major ingredient in this, Picaridin, is considered much safer than DEET and is a synthetic compound derived from the same plant genus that produces table pepper. Unlike DEET, picaridin is also odorless and non-greasy. Australians have sworn by this insect repellent for years before it came on the market in the U.S. — and that country knows its insects. This 4-ounce bottle is just over the TSA liquid limit if you’re packing carry-on only (and bravo for that), but you can transfer it to a smaller bottle.

To buy:, $19 for a two-pack (originally $30)

Columbia Steens Mountain Full-Zip Fleece Jacket


A surefire way to keep your core warm without overheating is a classic fleece jacket. This fitted, hip-length jacket is made of a polyester filament fleece that hits our two Alaska-packing keywords of “warm” and “dry” (a.k.a. “water-resistant” and a “layer). I like the two-tone color scheme of these men’s fleece jackets, as well as zippered pockets that ensure your phone won’t fall overboard. 

Another way to achieve the same effect with less material is a vest. If you’re more of a vest person and are already thinking of all the outfits you can layer with it, then consider purchasing a style like this sweater-knot Patagonia fleece vest. Fairtrade certified and no doubt a high-quality item, this vest is still more than double the price of the full fleece jacket. Make sure to choose something you know you’ll wear throughout your cruise and not just for one day. 

To buy:, $45

Travel + Leisure / Brittany Chrusciel

Dramamine Ginger Chews


Up-close glacier-viewing cruises, whale-watching boats, fishing trips… with so much time out on the water, motion sickness is a lurking liability. While the waters in the Gulf of Alaska are fairly calm during the summer cruise season, a smaller boat won’t absorb choppy waters as well. During one recent day cruise on the stunning Kenai Fjords from Seward, I popped a Bonine before departing, and I was among the only passengers who could enjoy the complimentary chocolate chip cookies without hurling. 

While Bonine is a considerably less drowsy formula than traditional Dramamine, it’s still not recommended for children under 12 — and it can still make you sleepy. An all-natural alternative that we always have in our bag is ginger. Ginger lozenges and tea can all help reduce nausea, but the chews and pills sold by Dramamine contain medicinal-strength levels of ginger to knock it out. Clinically tested, these ginger chews should not only save you from seasickness, but with a lemon-honey flavor, you also might be able to convince gullible kiddos it’s only candy. 

To buy:, $19 for 40 chews

Travel + Leisure / Brittany Chrusciel

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