Packing for an Alaskan Cruise Adventure

Packing for an Alaskan Cruise Adventure

{Written by Summit Hut Gearhead Emma Harries}

At the beginning of May, my partner Chad and I went on our very first cruise! We visited three southeastern coastal Alaskan towns, sailed through a fjord, made one international stop in Victoria, British Columbia, and spent most of our time off the ship exploring hiking trails, eating locally caught fish, and sightseeing. 

For my convenience, I packed in a Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 55-liter bag meanwhile, Chad packed in two smaller 40-liter duffel bags. And yes, he learned a lesson, he needs one bigger bag rather than toting around with two overstuffed smaller bags. Thankfully, the airline we used provided free checked bags. Which literally lifted the weight off our shoulders. 

I comfortably fit all my necessities into my duffle and it was easy to get around with. Keep scrolling for tips on packing for an Alaskan cruise adventure, my packing list, and lessons learned along the way!

Tips for traveling when using only one bag

Packing for any trip can be daunting, especially with the worries of “What am I gonna wear?”, keeping me up at night. On longer trips, the weather can vary so dramatically that you might need a couple seasons worth of layers just to be comfortable. And what if everything you’ve decided on just won’t fit? 

No more worries, here are my tips below:

1. First things first, shoes:

The easiest way I’ve found to start packing is to decide which shoes to bring first. Then build a wardrobe around them. My sensitive feet have allowed me very few pairs of shoes that I can wear comfortably all day long so naturally those are the ones I am bringing: a sturdy boot, and a supportive sneaker. This decision eliminates choice fatigue for me, knowing that what I pack is either being worn with a boot or sneaker I am not going to pack frilly clothing that would look best with a stiletto, because shoe cares?

2. Pack versatile clothing:

I tried to pack clothing that could be mixed and matched to create multiple outfits. To start, I chose a color theme; since my jacket is orange and I knew I’d likely wear that every day, with the high barely reaching 60 degrees, I packed clothing that would look good paired with my orange jacket. Including complimentary colors of navy and turquoise, I packed yellow, brown, white, and more orange. 

3. Pack clothing that can be layered:

Going from the temperature-controlled cruise ship to the open-air deck in the southeastern Alaskan seaway, is like going from near tropical to freezing in a matter of steps. I cannot emphasize layering enough. In fact, when packing I used something I call the layout method. Step one, make your bed, it is now your workspace. Step two, fold and arrange all the clothes you plan to put in your bag. I’ll usually put all my t-shirts together, all my pants together, my outerwear together and so on so that I can… Step three, visualize each outfit or at least see that a top can match with multiple bottoms, over shirts, and jackets. If one thing in the mix doesn’t really match with others or can only be worn one way then exclude it from being packed or rework some variables for more versatility. Important layering must-haves: windbreaker – I use the Patagonia Houdini Jacket, beanie, gloves, leggings under pants, wool socks, long sleeves under t-shirts or oversized button-downs over jackets.

4. Utilize compression packing cubes:

I have heard over and over how packing cubes are a game-changing packing hack. Now, don’t come at me, but I actually have not tried them out yet. But, I am recommending it as a tip because of my failures. I went the cheap route and compartmentalized my packing using cloth tote bags I already owned. They did not compress and took up more weight and space. In the future I will try out the Pack-It Isolate Compression Cube Set by Eagle Creek because they are ultra-lightweight, 100% ripstop polyester, and highly compactable. 

5. Wear your bulkiest items on the plane:

This is a no-brainer but those bulky boots and oversized sweater are the fundamentals of my travel-day outfit so that I make the most of my packing space.

Packing for an Alaskan Cruise Adventure


Here’s my packing list for the 10-day trip:

55 liter duffel bag (Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 55L)

Backpack (The North Face Borealis 28L Backpack)


  • T-shirt x5
  • Long sleeve x3
  • Button-down shirt x2
  • Denim pants 
  • Cotton pull on pants x2
  • Leggings x2
  • Polyester pants 
  • Swimsuit
  • Fleece jacket x2
  • Puffy jacket
  • Windbreaker 
  • Rain jacket




  • Teeth: Toothbrush, paste and floss
  • Hair: Shampoo, conditioner, brush, hair ties and bobby pins
  • Razor
  • Cotton pads and cotton swabs
  • Deodorant 
  • Chapstick and lip stain
  • Solid perfume
  • Jojoba oil for makeup remover and moisturizer
  • Tinted sunscreen
  • Body lotion
  • Bug spray
  • Makeup (powder foundation, eyebrow gel, bronzer, highlighter, mascara)
  • Motion sickness medication

Keep scrolling for the details of my packing list and to see how I styled some looks!

My Travel Outfit

From starting the day in Tucson at 3 a.m. to fly from Phoenix to Seattle all before noon, I needed to be comfortable. I wore wide legged organic cotton pull on pants from Patagonia, a merino wool ¼ zip long sleeve from Smartwool, Darn Tough socks with my boots, and had my Houdini jacket in my bag for easy access. Once out of the airport and off the light rail, friends from Seattle picked us up and showed us around their neighborhood of Ballard, home of the National Nordic Museum.


Is that a troll? Yes, it is. Read more about it and the project here:

Ship is getting real!

The next day we were off to board the ship! It was still cold outside with big puffy clouds in the sky so I wore my comfy cotton pull on pants again with a brown turtle neck long sleeve, boots, and a fleece jacket by Patagonia: the R1 Air Full-Zip Hoody. Once the ship set sail the wind started ripping. I was happy to have this hooded fleece on because it made sitting on the top deck watching the islands of the Puget Sound pass by far more enjoyable with it — breathable yet warm.

Day three and sailing the sea! 

Motion sickness medicine came in handy as the ship rocketed up the Pacific Coast. But we saw our first whale sighting while sitting at the back of the ship enjoying the wake. I wore my La Sportiva Bushidos and Prana Railay Wide Leg Pants with another fleece jacket to keep warm. The rubbery traction on my bushidos were fantastic for crossing the slippery spots on the deck of the cruise ship. And while I am at, The Railay Wide Leg Pants are great for traveling; they have a convenient zippered pocket where I kept my room key secure, are quick drying, and are made of recycled polyester so they hardly wrinkle! 

Sightseeing in Tracy Arm Fjord 

The deep and narrow passageway carved by glaciers that the large barge called a cruise ship sailed through was astonishing. Massive cliffs with steep walls towered above. Looking up at them through our Nocs binoculars we saw Mountain Goats beside a waterfall. Definitely Nano Puff Jacket and beanie weather.

Exploring Skagway

We meandered across the two-mile town to hike to an epic waterfall, found a skatepark on the way, ate delicious curry, relaxed in the public library, then battled 40+ mile per hour wind while crossing the Skagway River to see Smuggler’s Cove.

Here’s where the importance of layering comes up again — In 40 degree weather with wind gusts up to 60 miles per hour yet planning on being outside the majority of the day. Wool socks kept my feet warm, leggings under my cotton pants kept my legs warm, a turtleneck under my jacket and an oversized shirt over my jacket kept my core warm, wool gloves kept my hands warm and a beanie kept my head warm. Plus I looked cute! One thing I’d add if I had it: a Buff merino wool neck gaiter.

Alaska Question, Juneau the Answer

Fun Juneau fact: it’s the only state capital in the US that you cannot drive to, you must come by sea or air. This hilly city instantly had me drawn up for the views found in the historic neighborhood called Chicken Ridge. From there it was a breeze to get to the Last Chance Mining Basin where we connected the Perseverance trail to Flume trail and did a nice loop hike. The La Sportiva Bushido III were excellent on the trail. I delayered quite a bit thanks to the sun being out all day. A local told us it was “sucker weather” because it sucks you right into thinking it will last all year!

Ketchikan: a Temperate Rainforest City 

When traveling to a city that is in a temperate rainforest, it is going to rain. Count on that! Once again shouting out the Prana Railay Wide Leg Pant because of its flash-dry performance! The Nano Puff Jacket by Patagonia also kept me very warm though it got wet because of its synthetic filling as opposed to down. Pro tip: if the rain is too much, just pop into the town’s local bookstore or library until it lightens up a bit.

Final Thoughts

In stride of my terrible habit of over-packing, I still managed to do so. A few things I never wore, and some things I wore nearly every day. Denim while traveling, for instance, not gonna happen again! Bulky sweaters that are hard to layer, got to go! Overall, I did a pretty good job.

Packing for a trip can be exhausting, but with a little planning and the right gear, it doesn’t have to be! I hope that this post has you feeling inspired to pack lightly and efficiently for your next adventure!

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