What to Wear in Southeast Alaska

Just another day in Ketchikan

Be like a local; don’t carry an umbrella.  We wear hoodies and beanies as the wind renders umbrellas relatively useless. Yes, it’s true, Southeast Alaska is a rainforest where we measure rain in feet not inches.  Typically, we enjoy approximately 235 days of rain and 16 feet annually.  However, when the sun peaks out to say hello, the day feels much warmer than registered temperature. It is important when planning your attire to…think layers. Layering your clothing is key in all seasons. It prepares you for any type of day we may be experiencing.  Sturdy waterproof footwear is essential. Keeping your feet dry may be the difference between enjoying all Alaska has to offer or hating every minute of it.  The following is a list of layers and must have ideas courtesy of Alaska.org:

Breakdown of Necessary Layers for Summer, Spring, & Fall

The Inner Layer

The inner layer is what we think of as long underwear, or any other thin material that absorbs moisture from your skin. On a hot day, you can also wear this alone instead of a cotton shirt—it’ll dry much more quickly. The only drawback is that some of these materials also absorb odor, so you might consider buying new stuff before coming up. If you’re just walking around town or enjoying the ship’s deck, there’s no need for specialized active wear. But you might be more comfortable if you pick up a few basics at a sporting goods store.  

The Insulating Layer

The middle insulating layer could be expedition-weight long underwear, a fleece jacket, or even a sweater. Synthetic materials usually have the edge over wool or cotton because of their lightness and warmth. This layer should be a bit looser than the inner layer, maybe a size or half-size larger, so that it fits comfortably and isn’t too tight.

The Outer Layer

The outer layer is the one you really need to get right. You want a shell that’s waterproof and breathable to stay warm when it’s windy and dry when it’s rainy. These thin, outer jackets can be tucked into in the outer compartments of your suitcase and should be fully waterproof. In our experience, water-resistant clothing only delays the inevitable (you’ll start to feel damp after a couple hours in pounding rain). Brand doesn’t matter much, but an outer shell made of Gore-Tex® material (including a hood) will keep a wet day from turning into a miserable one. If you’re going to be doing any hiking or kayaking, pick up a pair of nylon pants (some have zip-off legs to convert to shorts) so that your legs will dry faster if you get rained on or splashed. Synthetic fabrics have the added perk of being pretty wrinkle-proof, so you can roll them up tight in your bags.


Sun Protection

Bring a lightweight, brimmed hat for sun and rain, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Interestingly, the intensity of the sun in Alaska on a peak summer day is probably equivalent to a spring day in the Lower 48, because of the lower angle of the sun in the subarctic regions. But due to the long summer days, there are twice as many hours of daylight, so you definitely want to protect your skin. Remember your sun exposure will be significantly amplified when you spend time near snow or ice, or a boat deck overlooking the water. Glacier excursions on sunny days are notorious for causing sunburns.


Even on a warm summer day, it can get pretty chilly when your ship pulls up to a glacier. While you won’t need a parka or anything winter-weight, a cheap pair of thin gloves will be worthwhile. Synthetic liner gloves, often made from polypropylene, work great and dry fast if they get wet. If anything, you’ll be able to spend more time out on deck taking great photos.

Proper Footwear

Never bring new shoes to Alaska—you’ll be walking a lot, and don’t need blisters. We’d rather see you in old tennis shoes that are well-worn than fancy boots that have never been taken out of the box. If you want waterproofing, look for Gore-Tex socks that can slip over your regular, non-cotton socks. If you’re going to invest in hiking shoes, we advise against old-fashioned heavy hiking boots. They’re heavy, stiff, and can cause blisters. Instead, get yourself a comfortable pair of lightweight hikers with good traction—two pairs, actually, in case one gets wet. And break them in before you come!

Should you be prepared to dress up when going out?

Only if you want to. The state’s motto for attire might be—Come as you are! Alaskans almost always dress casually, especially during the summer outdoor season when the emphasis is on staying comfortable and dry. Most restaurants, museums and retailers’ welcome patrons in the same garb they used for that day’s afternoon hike or fishing outing or shopping excursion. Unless you’re attending a special event or visiting (the rare or non-existent) venue with a dress code, the same clothing you might wear to a movie theater or to a low-key social event back home will be fine for most indoor or evening activities.