Hikers are spoiled for choice in Alaska. From quick jaunts near city centers to multi-day hikes, there’s no shortage of trails. While some hikes require special gear, like crampons for a glacier hike or a tent for overnight treks, there are other things you’ll need every time. Here are some of the most important things.
Good shoes: If you’re walking a fairly flat or paved trail, you can probably get by with trail running shoes or a pair of hiking sandals. If you’re on a hike that involves multiple creek crossings, muddy trails, or scree, you may spend more time missing the ankle support and waterproof features of your hiking boots than you spend enjoying the great outdoors.
Layers: Even the best bluebird day can turn into a downpour. Be sure to bring moisture-wicking base layers, an insulating layer, and a waterproof outer layer to keep you dry and cozy. A good rule of thumb is to avoid cotton-based clothing as it doesn’t dry as quickly as others.
Bear protection: Did you know that an estimated 30,000 brown bears and 100,000 black bears live throughout Alaska? Although bear attacks are rare, it’s always a good idea to carry bear spray in an accessible place (and know how to use it).
Water: Staying hydrated while hiking is essential for both performance and overall survival. So if you can’t carry the amount you need for your trip, bring a filter or purification tablets to purify the water you find along the way. Clear flowing water like streams is usually a better and safer water source than stagnant water like lakes and ponds.
Map: Cell phone signal is a rare gift in upstate Alaska, so don’t plan on relying on your cell service to download maps along the way. Even busier city lanes can be out of reach. If you’re using your phone, download a topographical map to your device before heading out. Otherwise, print out maps of your desired route (plus a few more miles of the area in case you accidentally stray too far from the map) or buy one from stores like Alaska Geographic and REI.
Observe these traffic rules of nature.
• Do not cut switchbacks: Doing this repeatedly in high traffic areas can lead to erosion.
• If you want to stop for a water break or take a picture, walk to the side of the trail so others can easily pass.
• Give way to hikers going uphill: They work harder than those going downhill.
• Unpack what you pack: Don’t leave empty bottles, food wrappers or toilet paper in the woods. Why do you want to destroy the nature you want to see out here?
• Be aware of noise pollution: Many people go to the forest to escape the city noise and enjoy the sounds of nature, so don’t play music from speakers. However, consider wearing a bear bell to warn the other mammals in the park of your coming—you don’t want to surprise them.
Security around moose and bears
In general, neither bear nor moose want to have anything to do with you. Try to make noise when you’re out on the trails – talking, clapping, or singing are good signals that people are coming. If you make enough noise for animals to hear your approach and move slowly enough to give them time to move, you may not even see them.
Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game has some good information on what to do in the event of a close encounter. Here are some general tips.
bears: If you encounter a bear, give it plenty of space and remain calm. If it seems like the bear hasn’t seen you, move away slowly and never take your eyes off it. Once it sees you, face the bear, stop and speak to it in a normal voice so that it recognizes you as a human. Try to appear taller by standing next to others in your group or by draping your arms over your head. If the bear comes toward you, raise your voice, throw rocks or sticks, and use a deterrent like bear spray if you have it.
Don’t try to outrun the bear – you can’t, and running will trigger the animal’s prey drive, which will make it instinctively chase you. In the very unlikely event that you are attacked, either play dead or fight back. To play dead, lie on your stomach as still as possible and protect your neck with your hands. When the bear no longer sees you as a threat, it will most likely leave. Remain motionless for as long as you can. If the bear sees you moving again, it can renew its attack.
For more information on this subject, see the Alaska Department of Fish and Game guide: The Essentials for Traveling in Alaska’s Bear Country.
Moose: Like bears, moose are not typically aggressive unless provoked. Unlike bears, if you charge, you should run – a bull moose can weigh over 1,400 pounds, which can do serious damage. Get behind a tree, car, fence, or place a stable object or structure between you and the moose.