what should one wear while traveling in Alaska and Western Canada?
Assuming you intend to come to Alaska or the Canadian Rockies in the summertime, there’s no need to prepare for sub-zero temperatures and extremely harsh weather. Worst case, you’ll get rained on a bit. These are usually light rains, and not downpours like you often see in warmer regions. However, you’re likely to encounter relatively cold weather in at least a few spots along the trip, especially if you intend to travel around glaciers.
The onion way
The weather in many areas of Alaska is not to steady and can change completely within minutes, so the main challenge isn’t preparing for extremely low temperatures or heavy rain, it’s wearing clothes that can be easily adapted to a wide range of situations.
The most common solution is layers – add one when it’s cold, lose one when it’s warm. If you don’t intend to walk around much, you’ll be fine with simple clothes: T-shirt, sweatshirt and a coat (a fleece coat would be great). If you’re very sensitive to cold, or if you’re going trekking, consider adding layers of thermal clothing – a thermal shirt for quickly evaporating sweat as a base layer, and thermal underpants as another layer for nighttime.
Whether you intent to hike or not, you’ll probably have at least a few days of rainy weather, so rain coats are highly recommended, and maybe even rain pants. You should also bring light mittens and a wool or fleece hat to warm your ears. Additional recommended equipment: binoculars for animal watching, small day bag for short trips, adapter for American electric plugs (the one with the two vertical slits) and comfortable hiking shoes.
Better watch than read
Here’s an excellent video by Uncruise, demonstrating the layer method. Not everything you see in the video is critical equipment, and you don’t have to bring it all (especially not the colorful rubber boots), but the demonstration is nice and the model is likable:
A few extra tips for all you trekkers
- A high-quality tent, completely water proof, preferably one that doesn’t weigh too much. Don’t be tempted to get one of those Chinese tents sold for $15 at gas stations, it won’t work (trust me on this one).
- A sleeping bag for minus 7-6° C (19-21° F) if you’re not sensitive to cold, or for minus 10° C (14° F) if you are. Summer temperatures in Alaska do not tend to drop that low, but it’s better to be on the safe side – a lot of manufacturers tend to define the temperature range of the sleeping bags inaccurately, not to say flexibly.
- Comfortable hiking shoes, not necessarily Gore-Tex. Depends on your personal preference. Gore-Tex shoes (or other water-proofing methods) will keep your leg dry, but the shoe will take longer to dry if water does get in.
- If you’re planning long treks, a mosquito head net is a great idea.
- There’s no need for a liquid-fuel stove, a canister stove will do just fine (it’s simpler, lighter and cheaper). Canisters can be found almost everywhere, especially the screw-thread kind (pierceable ones are far less common).