We get it — Alaska in the winter can seem intimidating. To help ensure your visit will be warm and comfortable, we are going to answer some common questions about dressing for dog sledding, offer you some local tips and tricks, along with our ultimate packing list for dog sledding in Alaska!
Is Fairbanks, Alaska really as cold as we think?
Yes! During the depths of winter, the temperature in Interior Alaska can fall below −50 °F and in rare cases, below −60 °F. That being said, average temperatures for winter hover around 0 °F to 10°F , with average lows from 0°F to -10°F. While our extremes are pretty extreme, the norms are not unlike temperatures seen in the Midwest or the Rocky Mountain states.
So, yes. Alaska really is as cold as you think, but the average temperatures during the winter are totally manageable with proper clothing. Visiting during this time offers a unique, beautiful and exhilarating experience for those adventurous enough to take on the frozen landscape.
What suggestions do you have for keeping warm?
Wear the correct clothing.
Follow our packing list below to be warm and comfortable when mushing your own team of huskies. We are out playing and working in these temperatures day in and day out, and over time, have perfected the dress code. That being said, Arctic Dog provides a lot of specialized outer wear for our clients. If you are extending your trip beyond your dog sledding adventure and do not want to pack (or purchase) bulky parkas and boots, consider renting from a local gear company like Alaska Element, who will even meet you at the airport with the cold weather outergear you will need to enjoy a winter visit to Fairbanks.
Drink your water and eat your snacks.
It’s extremely important to stay hydrated and well-fed. In cold temperatures, it is best to eat high fat snacks to keep your metabolism fired up, as well as drink at minimum 2 liters of water daily.
Keeping your body moving encourages blood flow and produces body heat.
Dress in Layers.
Wearing multiple layers of clothing allows for air to be trapped between layers, which helps insulate and keep you warm in very cold temperatures. Start with a base layer like a merino wool long sleeved shirt and leggings (long underwear), then add a mid-layer like a wool or fleece sweater and fleece pants. On top, add a wind-resistant expedition-weight parka and snow pants. These outer layers are often provided by the dog sledding company.
Hands and feet need layers too. Insulating layers + windproof layers. Such mittens are often Northern climate specific and are provided by the dog sledding outfitter. For example, we provide insulated mittens, and windproof over mitts to keep your hands toasty. We also provide double layered winter boots so all you need to bring are some hiking or skiing style wool socks.
How important is layering?
Besides drinking water, layering is the most important thing that you can do to stay warm. Make sure your layers aren’t too tight. For example, a small baselayer should go under a medium-sized sweater. Wearing tight-fitting layers restricts your blood flow, and your ability to move, which means you will be cold no matter how many layers you have on. Don’t wait until you are sweating and wet to take a layer off, similarly, don’t wait until you are freezing to add more layers.
What material should my clothes be?
We recommend you wear materials that breathe and insulate when wet, like wool or polyester fleece. Avoid cotton! If your clothes get wet and you are wearing cotton, it takes a very long time to dry and doesn’t hold in the heat at all.
The most common question we are asked!
The question we get asked the most by our clients is “how do I keep my feet warm while dog sledding?"
If Lisbet, company owner, has an obsession (besides sled dogs), it's definitely staying warm in extreme temperatures. Follow her tips and your toes will stay warm and toasty!
Note we said "STAY" warm and toasty. Preventative care is the best way to keep your toes warm. Feeling chilly? Take action immediately. Don't wait until your toes are actually freezing to make adjustments. It is much easier to keep your toes warm than to warm them back up again when they get really cold. Make sure you are drinking water, that your socks are dry, and/or go for a walk til your toes are warm again.
Keep your LEGS warm. Warm legs = warm feet. Wearing wool or fleece base layers plus insulated pants and snow pants will ensure feet stay warm.
As mentioned before, staying hydrated has a direct correlation with keeping toes warm due to the fact dehydration constricts the blood vessels in your hands and feet , which reduces blood flow and makes fingers and toes cold and unable to warm up again til hydrated.
Dry socks are a must. We recommend you bring 3 pairs on our trips so you can swap for a dry pair whenever needed. We recommend wool.
One pair of socks only, unless you have socks that are specifically made to go over others, like Bama Sokkets, Woolpower 800 or FoxRiver Extra Heavyweight socks. The idea is to not restrict your blood flow with two pairs of the same size socks. Hiking socks are not meant to be layered.The ideal 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. Super thick heavyweight socks will not fit inside of the Bama Sokkets and are best on their own.
What are Bama Sokkets?
Bama Sokkets are a game changer for keeping feet warm in cold weather. The cotton-acrylic material absorbs moisture away from the foot and sock, keeping feet dry and therefore warm. Bama socks can feel tight around the cuff in the beginning but with a few uses they loosen and become comfortable.
We recommend getting the same size as your usual shoe as they are meant to fit over socks.
What winter boots do you recommend and how do I size them?
First off, Arctic Dog provides winter boots in sizes 5-14 for our clients. We use a two part system of insulated Neos Overshoes for water and wind protection with thick wool liners from Steger Mukluks for warmth. In our experience this is the best shoe system for warmth, mobility, and ability to dry out overnight.
If purchasing or renting a pair of winter boots, our advice is to get at minimum two sizes bigger than your regular shoe size, if not three. When fitting your boots, try them with your winter socks on and make sure you can wiggle your toes and not feel the boots pressing down on any part of your toe box. It’s important your toes can move freely and don't feel squished. Too tight boots will restrict your blood flow and your toes will become very cold very quickly.
For example, Lisbet wears a women's US size 7.5-8. She has a pair of Steger Mukluks in women's size 9, which she can fit one pair of socks inside. She gets cold in these very quickly if not actively walking. She has another pair of Mukluks for cold temperatures. These are women's size 11. Lisbet can fit her preferred medium weight sock plus Bama Sokkets inside these boots comfortably and can stand around in temperatures down to -25 below. For even colder weather, the Mukluks go inside of Neos. Lisbet's favorite boot is the size 9 mukluks because they are the most comfortable and easy to walk in. Sadly, they are not a great option for keeping warm. Actual cold weather gear is often not the easiest to run around in as the bulky layers needed to insulate from the cold restrict movement.
We do not recommend Gore-tex hiking boots or rubber boots for a winter visit to Alaska. These non-breathable shoes will quickly cause your socks to become damp and make you cold. Rubber boots get hard and slippery in the cold as well.
We recommend boots that come with a liner that can be taken out and dried at the end of the day. Steger Mukluks, Sorel Glacier XT boots, or Baffin Boots are both good options.
On a trip with Arctic Dog Adventure Co you do not need to worry about what boots to bring as we provide boots in adult sizes 5-14.
Is it necessary to wear gloves?
Yes. We provide outer mittens, insulated mittens, and one pair of insulated fleece liner gloves when you are with our dogs for a reason. Alaska is cold and even colder with the wind chill to be found on the back of a dog sled. Gloves keep your hands from getting frost nip, which can happen very quickly in below zero temperatures.
While we provide the necessary gloves for our trips, when planning the rest of your Alaskan adventure, keep in mind the gloves or mittens you bring need to be both wind resistant and warm. The ideal setup is an insulated wool or fleece glove/mitten inside a windproof outer mitt. Gloves do not need to be waterproof due to the cold, dry temperatures of Interior Alaska (we do not often get wet snowman-making snow).
What should I wear for my thermal/base layer?
Mid- or expedition-weight wool, or another natural fiber like silk or alpaca is best. Always bring two pairs of tops and bottoms so if you spill cocoa on yourself or get sweaty and wet you can wear your second pair while one is drying. Avoid cotton as it does not insulate when wet.
What we recommend: Natural fibers such as merino wool, alpaca or silk, as these wick moisture away from your skin to keep you dry. Synthetic polyester blends made for wicking are also good options but tend to get stinky if worn multiple days in a row (unlike wool).
What we don’t recommend: Cotton long-johns, bamboo leggings or jeans that absorb moisture and keep you damp.
How do I know what Ski/Snow pants to choose?
Ski and snow pants are usually not warm enough for our climate, which is why we provide you with insulated over pants. That being said, in some instances, it is nice to have a pair of wind and water-resistant ski/snow pants to act as your outer layer to protect you against the wind.
What we recommend: Ski/snow pants that are big enough to be layered over your base and mid layers.
What we don't recommend: Ski/snow pants that are so tight you can’t fit your layers inside them.
Should I wear a hat?
It's a must. Humans lose the majority of our heat from our heads. It’s important to wear a warm hat that covers your ears all the way. On our trips you will most likely need to wear a headlight, so we recommend a fleece-lined hat as this is most comfortable with the band of a headlight.
What we recommend: Fleece-lined lambswool beanies.
Is it true my phone battery will run out quicker in the cold?
Yes! 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! On very cold days we recommend keeping your batteries and phone inside your parka with a hand warmer.
What should my biggest takeaway be from this post?
Drink water, dress in loose layers, and avoid cotton.
Do you have any top tips or recommendations?
Lead Guide Lisbet’s top three tips:
Drink your water. And wear clothes that allow you to pee easily.
Use the tops of old wool socks as wrist warmers to help keep your fingers warm.
Always have a dry hat, dry neck gaiter, and dry pair of gloves handy.
Do you have a winter packing list you can share?
We sure do! Sign up in our pop up and get a copy for yourself. It recommends brands we love (no affiliate links), and includes a full list of things we provide if you choose to join us on an adventure one day.
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
Our goal is to show you that with the proper preparation and gear, Alaska in the winter is accessible, warm, and friendly - much like the people who live here! We hope this post has been informative and helpful.
Drop your questions in the comments below. We are total gearheads and love to talk & share about what it takes to stay warm dog sledding in Alaska!