The Whale’s Tale

Posted 4-28-2015

What to Wear: Head, shoulders, knees and toes…


One of the biggest concerns visitors to Alaska have is how to prepare for the wide range of weather conditions they may encounter as they travel across our very large state. While some visit only a small region or single destination, others will cover as many a thousand miles. Being prepared for whatever Mother Nature may throw at you can be a daunting task.

In the paragraphs below I will share my suggestions based on a lifetime spent in Alaska and what I have learned from our guests over the previous twenty years.

Head:

Two hats are of primary importance if you will spend time out in the elements. First a fleece or wool cap that covers your ears, second a baseball cap or other hat with a brim. The stocking cap will keep you warm when you venture out on the days where exposure across the water, in open areas or at higher elevations can result in temperatures ten to twenty degrees below the temps in an urban setting. Having one of these tucked into your bag or pocket can mean the difference between blissful comfort and downright misery. A hat with a brim is invaluable when the sun is beating down on you while you hike the glaciers or when on the water, it is also extremely useful to keep the mist and rain from splattering your glasses or eyelashes while you trek, boat or simply stand and enjoy your surroundings.

Shoulders:

While a good deal of body heat escapes through your head, even more can find its way out through your shoulders and upper body. For that reason a well-planned system of layers is desirable.  Unless the weather forecast is for sunny and seventy with light winds and you will be doing a brewery tour, I suggest you start with a base layer of either long sleeved polypropylene or Merino wool. The poly is just fine and is a more affordable option. Merino wool is excellent but a fair sight more expensive.

A second layer, generally a long-sleeved cotton tee shirt is a fine choice. If it does happen to warm up beyond your wildest expectations, either of these two layers will be adequate to keep you comfortable. The long sleeves will also help you to keep your Alaska Tan.

If the weather is cool and dry, a layer of fleece, wind-block is preferred, can be worn over the bottom two layers.

If you are out in dry weather with wind, it is essential to have a layer that can block the wind from penetrating your dry layers to keep the chill out. The same layer that you choose to keep the wind at bay can also be relied upon to keep out the rain. The durability of your outer layer is of great importance. You can spend as little as five dollars and as much as five hundred dollars on a shell. A cheap, simple plastic poncho will keep the rain off and some of the wind out but will leave you exposed around the waist, limit your mobility and can be a source of annoyance to your fellow travelers when it whips up in their face. A plastic or rubberized raincoat is adequate for activities in which mobility is not a priority, for example standing on the deck of a whale watching boat or walking from a tour bus or car to the edge of the road to look over the scenic viewpoints. If you plan to exert yourself at all, a poly raincoat will keep your body heat and moisture in and after a time you will be wet under the raincoat.

If you will be walking and hiking it is desirable to allow the heat and moisture (sweat) to escape while you are exerting yourself and then button up the shell when you need wind protection or during periods of heavy rain. For these activities it is suggested that you consider a product made from GoreTex or a similar breathable material that sheds water and blocks the wind. These products are more expensive but can make your time spent outdoors much more enjoyable. Many of these shells have zipper vents that allow extra heat to escape or air to enter the shell, affording you greater control over your comfort.

 

Knees:

For the lower half of your body you can get by with one to three layers.

If you will be strolling the shops along the cruise port on a sunny day, a pair of jeans or slacks will be adequate.

If you plan to venture out on a day that is less than perfect weather, a base layer of polypropylene or Merino Wool worn under your jeans will keep you comfortable for those periods when you are out in the elements.

If wind and rain are in your forecast, a shell layer to match the jacket described above will suffice. If hiking and climbing where you will be on your knees scrabbling up a hill, a pair of rain pants with reinforced knee pads will save you finding replacements while on the trip. Also worth consideration is the fact that while a rainproof shell will keep your upper body dry, if you don’t wear the pants to go with it, most of the water shed will end up on your pants…

Toes:

Your choice of footwear is a very important consideration and can greatly impact your ability to enjoy your outdoor experience. If you will be hiking or walking off-road which covers a good deal of Alaska, a good pair of water resistant or waterproof hiking boots should be part of your gear. Again, the price of a pair of boots ranges from twenty dollars to five hundred dollars. Choose a pair that are comfortable for you, try them out for a while before you come. If your boots don’t fit well they will make your outdoor activities less enjoyable.

If your travels will be more urban than bush, you can get by with a good pair of tennis shoes in most places. While comfort is a primary consideration you should also look for a sole that offers good traction. You will be crossing surfaces that are wet. Metal walkways, wooden boardwalks etc. all pose a significant slipping hazard if your shoes have a smooth sole.

For those who will be walking on the beach, into the swampy forest areas or will do a lot of boating, a pair of rubber boots will be a necessity. Choose a pair commensurate with the amount of time you will spend in them. Extra-toughs are the pinnacle of comfort, traction and durability and are worn by most every working Alaskan when conditions require them. There are many other more fashionable and less expensive choices, just make sure they fit with a good thick pair of socks and aren’t so stiff that they are unpleasant to walk in.

While your footwear will protect your feet the elements and from slipping, your socks will protect your feet from your footwear. A pair of thin nylon socks worn under a second pair of cotton or blended socks will go a long way to keeping your feet warm in all conditions and are an excellent preventative measure against blistering for those who will be walking a lot or hiking, perhaps for the first time in a while. Having extra socks at all times can greatly improve your outdoor experience should you go over your boots in water or work up a healthy sweat while hiking.

Many will have some or perhaps all of the above described items in their daily wear wardrobe, but for others, gearing up for a trip to Alaska will require a significant investment. For those who will lay out a good deal of their hard-earned money for their trip to Alaska, consider returning on a regular basis to get the most value out of your investment.

 

 

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