Staying Toasty

Essential gear to keep Alaska's winter weather out

By Arctic standards, Anchorage winters are relatively mild. Southwestern Alaska is warmed by the ocean currents, and temperatures are reminiscent of much of New England in winter. Inland and north, it gets quite a bit colder; in Fairbanks, temperatures sink far below zero and stay there for days. Lodges and outfitters specializing in cold-weather activities often provide extra gear, including Arctic jackets and boots, so ask what's provided before you pack or buy specialty gear. However, here are some essential items to get you safely through a winter Alaska visit.

Clothes: Bring layers. Traditional fleece and micro-fleece are good choices. A balaclava keeps your face warm; wear a hat on top of it. (These are especially important for downhill skiing and dogsledding, where the wind will be in your face.) You'll also want a couple of layers for your legs: think tights or fleece, topped by an outer layer to keep the wind out. If you have one, an oversized down jacket with a hood that fits loosely over everything is your best ticket to all-day comfort.

Chemical Toe and Hand Warmers: These slide into your gloves or stick on your socks and give heat for hours. Keep a few in your pocket and in your car.

Bunny Boots: Call these Alaskan military classics lifeboats for your feet. The Army uses these clunky-looking rubber boots for cold-weather exercises. There's nothing high-tech about them—they simply work by trapping and warming air—but you will feel the difference about five seconds after you put your feet inside. Bunny boots are used by people who work outdoors on the pipeline as well as dogsled mushers. If you'll be spending hours at a time outside in the cold—dogsledding, ice-fishing, or ice-sculpting—they may be the best investment you make. Available at military surplus stores. In Fairbanks, G.I. Joe's Surplus (2030 S. Cushman St., 907-452-6225) has a large selection, most in the $40 to $100 price range.

Car Rental: Be sure to rent a four- or all-wheel-drive vehicle. The roads aren't salted, so drive slowly.


Published: 3 Nov 2006 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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