Updated: Feb 22
When you think of Alaska, especially in the winter, it can seem intimidating and that you will be permanently cold. With this post, we are going to offer you local knowledge, provide tips and tricks along with the ultimate packing list.
Be prepared to learn everything you need to know to stay warm, dry, and comfortable on your dog sledding trip! Let’s get into it.
Is Fairbanks, Alaska really as cold as we think?
Yes! In Fairbanks, we are fortunate enough to experience some of the hottest temperatures but we always like to be the best at everything we do so we also experience some of the coldest temperatures in Alaska. The summers can have temperatures reaching into the 90s °F while in the winter, the temperature can fall below −50 °F and in rare cases, below −60 °F. It’s important to be correctly dressed when you are partaking in our dog sledding tours, not only for your safety but for your enjoyment. The quickest way to ruin your experience is to be cold the whole time.
What suggestions do you have for keeping warm?
The first thing to do is HYDRATE! Water = Warmth. I cannot stress how important this is. Dehydration is a constant threat in our cold, Arctic desert climate. Don’t rely on thirst to tell you when you need to drink. You may not feel thirsty because cold-weather body chemistry can affect your brain’s ability to tell you when you need liquid. The human body is 70% water. When you are dehydrated, the heart is deprived of fluids and it has to pump harder to circulate blood. In order to preserve itself, the body will constrict blood vessels to the extremities (hands and feet) in order to keep blood flowing to the heart and other core organs. This will cause your hands and feet to get cold. It will also trick your body into thinking it is hydrated, which is what diminishes your thirst response (sometimes by up to 40%, even when dehydrated). Drinking 1-2 L of water a day will meet your basic needs and help your extremities stay warm. Drink often and before you’re thirsty. (If you wait until you are thirsty, you are already slightly dehydrated). The warmest parka in the world will not keep you warm if you are dehydrated. Sometimes people (*cough* women) do not want to drink because they do not want to pee outside. You will have to pee outside, and we will teach you how!
Secondly, wear the correct clothing. If you follow our packing list below then you are sure to feel warm and comfortable when with us. We are in these areas and in these temperatures day in and day out and over time we have perfected the dress code.
Eat your snacks. It’s important to stay hydrated AND well-fed. In cold temperatures, it is ideal to eat some snacks high in fat and protein to keep your metabolism going.
Keep active and keep your body moving to keep the blood flowing and produce body heat.
Make sure your clothing isn’t too tight. When your layers are too snug it restricts your blood and heat flow.
How important is layering?
Besides hydration, layering is the most important thing that you can do. We always say learning how to dress for the cold is a skill. Every piece of clothing that you wear should be able to be layered. For example, a small t-shirt should go under a medium-sized sweater. This is something to think about when you are purchasing your clothes.
When you layer your clothes you are giving yourself options. If you start to feel warm you can remove one layer until you feel comfortable. Don’t wait until you are freezing to add more layers or vice versa. Speaking of comfort, it is extremely important for you to still be able to move freely when you have all your layers on. We don't want a group of robots on our trips who cant bend their arms and fully experience the magic of dogsledding!
What material should my clothes be?
Avoid cotton! If your clothes get wet and you are wearing cotton it takes a very long time to dry and wet cotton doesn’t hold in the heat AT ALL. We recommend you wear wool or polyester. Not only do these materials stick close to your body and preserve heat but they are ‘warm when wet’, flexible, and can be easily layered.
The most common question we are asked!
Can you guess it? The question we get asked the most by our clients is: how do they keep their toes warm?
The first thing to think about is keeping your legs warm. It’s simple, warm legs = warm feet. As mentioned before, staying hydrated has a direct correlation with keeping our legs and feet warm as well.
Dry socks are a must. One pair is a minimum but ideally, we prefer you to be wearing two, ideally the second pair being bama sokkets. We recommend your base pair be wool and not be so tight that you are restricting your blood flow. If it’s comfortable, wear two, if not wear one. Wearing two pairs that are too tight will serve no purpose. Socks need to be layered like clothing. Two pairs of the same size/weight will be too tight. You need a thin sock under a thick, loosely knit-over sock or Bama Sokket.
The sock setup we prefer is one pair of Darn Tough medium hiking socks inside moisture-wicking Bama sokkets or one pair of thick socks like darn tough expedition socks or woolpower 800 socks.
What are Bama Sokkets?
Bama Sokkets are ideal for winter boots. The material combination provides moisture and cold protection, with a smooth middle layer ensuring pleasant cushioning.
These popular sokkets insulate feet from the cold, whilst absorbing moisture away from the foot. Bama socks are thicker than the second pair of socks and can feel tight in the beginning. Over time they loosen and become more comfortable.
Bama sockets only come in men’s sizes so take that into consideration when purchasing. We recommend getting the same size as your usual shoe. You may consider getting one size up if you are going to wear thick socks inside of them.
What boots do you recommend and how do I size them?
This can be confusing for people. Most of the time we go into a store knowing our size ask for it and everything is perfect and away we go. In this situation, things are different because remember you need to fit them with two pairs of socks underneath!
Our advice is to go at least two sizes bigger than your regular size if not three. When fitting your boots try them on with your socks and wiggle those toes of yours. It’s important your toes can move freely and don't feel suffocated. This will restrict the blood flow and become very dangerous very quickly.
More often than not these boots are expensive and unfortunately not fitted correctly. That’s why we provide boots to sizes 5-14.
We don't recommend rubber boots and strongly advise against them. Your socks will eventually become damp and make you cold plus they aren’t as breathable for your feet.
Is it necessary to wear gloves?
We provide outer mittens, insulated mittens, and one pair of insulated fleece gloves when you are with our dogs for a reason. Not only for comfort but you need to keep your hands warm for safety and to stop them from freezing. Your gloves or mittens need to be windproof and EXTREMELY warm. The ideal setup is an insulated glove inside a windproof outer mitt.
What should I wear for my thermal/base layer?
Always bring two pairs of tops and bottoms to be safe. If they do get wet you can wear your second pair while one is drying. Mid- or expedition-weight synthetic or performance wool is best. Our biggest takeaway is to avoid cotton!
What we recommend: Merino wool long underwear that wicks moisture away from your skin to keep you dry.
What don’t recommend: Cotton long-johns that absorb moisture and keep you damp.
What underwear do you recommend?
Ok, this will be the only time we advise you to wear cotton! Cotton helps avoid chaffing but that being said we can’t promote wearing wool enough for underwear too!
Ladies if you are on your period (or are a mom) we highly recommend Knix or Thinx leakproof panties for extra security and protection. These panties are game-changers and will keep you dry and comfortable if you leak a little during the trip.
How many tops should I bring?
It is ideal to bring one to wear and one spare. Of course, it’s ideal for them to be lightweight and quick-drying.
What we recommend: Wool, wool, wool, and long sleeves.
What we don't recommend: Surprise, cotton!
How do I know what Ski/Snow pants to choose?
You don’t! Do not bring snow pants. Ski/snow pants will not keep you warm while dog sledding. We provide insulated outer pants that will go on top of your mid layers.
How do I choose a hat?
It’s important to wear a warm hat that covers your ears. It doesn’t need to be wind proof but that is always a nice feature. You will need to wear a headlight, so we recommend having a fleece-lined hat, especially if your hat is wool. Your hat also needs to layer well and allow you to zip up your parka all the way (Enormous stylish faux fur hats usually end up living in the sled bag for the duration of the trip). We recommend a “cabin hat“ as well, to sleep and relax in. After a few days on the trail we like to hide trail hair under a Skida hat.
What other things do I need to think about except clothing?
Below is a list of things you need that are just as essential as your clothing.
Headlamp with minimum 200 lumens and lithium battery/batteries. Regular batteries do not work in these cold conditions.
If your headlamp comes with rechargeable batteries, be sure to bring a power bank and charger cord.
Extra set of lithium batteries (4) for a headlamp.
Insulated water bottle or personal thermos or insulated water bottle, minimum of 32 oz.
Sunglasses (may not be needed December - January).
Personal medications (divide out per day instead of bringing the entire bottle).
Toothbrush + toothpaste
Tampons, panty liners, period panties, etc.
Personal hand sanitizer.
Is it true my phone battery will run out quicker in the cold?
It sure is! When lithium-ion batteries are exposed to cold temperatures, their performance suffers. When cold, a phone battery can drain faster than normal, or it might say it has ample power remaining and then suddenly go dead! We recommend keeping a hand warmer in the pocket with your phone.
In late March & April we like to use a solar-powered battery pack so you can charge from the sun when out on your dog sledding adventure.
What should my biggest takeaway be from this post?
Follow the packing list and you will be warm!
And avoid cotton. Cotton clothing is not good for cold weather at all. It absorbs moisture and traps it next to your skin. It is especially important to avoid cotton socks or cotton base layers when dog sledding. Don’t think you can sneak your cotton jeans on the trip either (it has happene). Your guide will go over the packing list with you on orientation day and check to make sure you are properly prepared.
Do you have any top tips or recommendations for us?
If you follow everything we have suggested in this post you will be well on your way to success.
Lead Guide Lisbe’s top three suggestions and tips:
Buy a pair of Bama sokkets.
Keep things that need to stay warm in the pockets underneath your outer layer.
It’s nice to have an extra, lightweight, hat for sleeping/cabin lounging.
Do you have a checklist available that we can refer back to?
We sure do! You can either download this as a PDF or click the file and save it. This checklist that we created recommends brands we love, a simple checklist to follow, and a full list of things we provide if you choose to join us on an adventure one day. Click here.
Lisbet provided a completely thorough packing list and supplied us with high-quality essential items (arctic parka, overmits, down-over pants, northern boots) that it wouldn't make sense to own unless you'll be doing this regularly. Despite some pretty extreme cold temperatures (-25F at least), I always felt safe and comfortable. - Michael W
We hope this post has been informative and helpful. Our aim is to show you that Alaska in the winter doesn’t have to be scary and if you follow the correct procedures you will be warm and cozy on your dog sledding adventur!
Please read through the list, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us. We want you to feel prepared and excited about your upcoming or future dog sledding trip.