6 Winter Essentials

Alaska comes alive in the winter, so come on up and don’t be afraid to have a different type of experience.  Assuming you already have the proper clothing, here are a few more things you may want to consider for your travel pack:


Energizer Ultimate Lithium Batteries work in extreme temperatures (-40F to 140F/-40C to 60C).  They cost a bit more, but are perfect for winter and emergency gear because they weigh 40% less and have a shelf life up to 20 years.

Bear Spray

Even if it’s winter, bears can still be out and about.  It’s irresponsible to hike, kayak or hunt without bear spray.   It not only could save your life, but the bear’s.   A popular brand is Counter Assault.  Most people carry at least the 10 oz can for Alaska.  If you need instruction on how to use it properly, here are a couple video tutorials.

Hiking Crampons

For easier hikes on trails with packed snow/ice, I use the $25 Lite model made by Stabilicer (carried by B and J Sporting Goods).

For more advanced hiking, my friends swear by the Kahtoola brand.  Here’s a comparison chart of their 4 styles of hiking crampons.

For daily use, I love my Ice Bug boots with permanent spikes.  They’re a bit spendy, but I consider anything that that can prevent a fall is good insurance.

Disposable Hand Warmers

They are designed to heat up when they make contact with air, and can last for 5-10 hours. But what if you only use them for a couple hours?

There’s a trick to prolong their life. Simply double-bag them in zip lock baggies; they will deactivate from lack of oxygen until needed again.


A headlamp is the better option to a flashlight in cold weather, because it’s more versatile.  I like to have my hands free to avoid obstacles and prevent falls. It’s also handy to have free hands when rummaging through a backpack, checking camera settings or in a bear encounter.  For my purposes, I just use headlamps in the $20-25 range from REI or Cabela’s.

However, if you’re skiing or mushing at night, you’ll need to make an investment in a higher quality headlamp that is tolerant of moisture and temperature, probably with higher lumens.  I’ve heard of some people using caving headlamps because they’re waterproof.

A range of prices and brands can be found at Cabela’s, Petzel and Lupine.  Note: If light is mission-critical for your activity, this is one item where you should carry a backup.

Camera Equipment

Planning to shoot the Northern Lights? Most photographers agree essential items include:

  1. Full frame manual camera with high ISO
  2. Wide angle lens (14-24mm) with aperture range of f/2.8-f/4
  3. Extra batteries (they die fast in the cold)
  4. Sturdy tripod that can withstand wind (tripods usually fail before the camera)
  5. Cable for shutter release

Additional tips: Scope out good locations during the daytime; place a towel over the camera to prevent ice build-up; shoot in RAW format; avoid big temperature changes for camera …and watch out for wildlife, thin ice and signs of frostbite!

Photo: iStock

 Please post any other suggestions!

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