The Basic Gear
Even on bluebird sunny day, we never set off without rain gear, extra clothing, gloves, and a hat. Temps can drop fast. Here’s the complete rundown for how to pack for a day hike in Alaska:
- Don’t buy the classic, hard leather boots—too heavy for most day hikers, and hard to break in.
- Your best bet: lightweight boots with ankle support.
- Trail running shoes are fine if you’re used to them on uneven terrain.
Dress in Layers
- Inside layer: Moisture-wicking fabrics against the skin, such as Capilene (also called polypropylene) or light wool.
- Insulating layer: Expedition weight long underwear or light pile.
- Outside layer: breathable yet waterproof fabric such as Gore-tex
- Don’t bother with bells—your voice is just as much of a deterrent.
- Bear spray (pepper spray) has limited range, but is good to carry. Shoot downwind.
- Your best bet: Hike with a friend and keep the conversation, and moderate noise, going. Most bear attacks are on people going solo.
If you’re heading out for a long hike, you’re probably going to need more water than you want to carry with you. The good news: there are streams everywhere. We Alaskans tend to take a bottle for water when hiking, and then just refill it in a stream or river. If you don’t want to, here are your options:
- SteriPen. UV lights kill bacteria, giardia, but don’t get rid of silt or grittiness from stream water. About $90.
- Filter Pump. Low-tech, but your best bet for removing bacteria and bulk. $40 and up for portable models.
- Purifying tablets. Iodine or Chloride tablets are cheap and lightweight, and a great back-up plan. Downsides: They’re slow (half an hour to four hours). Iodine makes the water taste funny, too. A few dollars.
Bring a lightweight, brimmed hat for sun and rain, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Tighter weave hats offer more sun protection, but they don't breathe as well, so look for a vented wide brim hat. Because of its lower angle on the horizon, the intensity of the sun in Alaska on a peak summer day is equivalent to a spring day in the Lower 48. But there are twice as many hours of daylight per day, so you definitely want to protect your skin.
Change of Clothes
In case your clothes get wet:
- Extra pair of socks.
- Extra long undershirt or upper body inside layer.
Thinking about a more extended hike? Or going off-trail or across tundra? Here are some tricks of the trade we’ve learned through experience.
Zip-Off Leg Pants
- A huge convenience. If you get hot or cold, zip the lower pant legs on or off in a snap—no need to find a place to sit down and remove your whole pants.
- Pant legs also protect your calves when walking through brush.
Don’t think of them as canes—here’s how any hiker will benefit from them:
- Elevation. When heading down hills, shifting weight to the poles will protect your knees.
- Uneven terrain. Using them on side hills—sloping terrain—can protect your ankles.
- Whacking. Poles are great for helping whack brush aside.
- Water crossings. Probe the depth of a stream before you plant your foot (or whole leg) into it.
- An extra pair of feet. They offer stability so you can look up and watch scenery, rather than your feet for every step.
- Shopping for Poles. Aluminum is cheaper and heavier, but carbon might not be as durable. Shock-absorbing tips are great if you’re carrying a heavy load, but overkill for most day hikers. Look for something that can collapse and attach well to your pack. Cost: anywhere from $70 to $150.
Gaiters (more for the hard-core, off-trail hiker)
- These nylon coverings fit over your lower pant leg and strap around the bottom of your shoe or boot.
- Extra protection from water, scrapes and debris that can get into your boots.
- Great if it rains—ground brush and twigs can get mushy and messy fast.
- About $25 a pair.
If you’re planning on an extended hike into the wilderness (say a day or more), think about communications before you leave.
- Don’t count on your cell phone—coverage tends to be spotty.
- Call a friend or family member before you set off. Tell them your route, amount of food, and when you expect to be back.
- Bring a hand-held GPS ($120-200) or compass and map in case you get lost. USGS maps in Anchorage.
- A lot of Alaskans use Spot, a satellite transmitter that updates your coordinates online and lets you send for rescue. About $250.