If you are traveling to Alaska for your locum tenens assignment, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the often-ever-changing weather conditions, rugged terrain, and varied methods of travel, knowing what to pack can be a great first step to making sure you can hit the ground running when you arrive. In this article, we’ll give you the ultimate Alaska packing list for locum tenens healthcare providers.
The weather in Alaska varies greatly. It’s a huge state with beautiful natural scenery, and five distinct climate zones, depending on where you are in the state. Add the four seasons into the mix and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by what to pack to ensure you have a successful assignment.
Before you begin any assignment in Alaska, be sure you talk to your account executive to get any information you need about the location you’ll be visiting. Each facility has different considerations when it comes to clothing and food. Speaking to your WMS account executive is the best way to make sure you’re ready for your assignment!
Before we get into our Alaska packing list, you need to be familiar with Alaska’s weather. Alaska is a big state, stretching from east to west as wide as the continental U.S., and almost as far from north to south. Consequently, there is not one “Alaskan climate”. Weather patterns and climate vary widely depending on where you are going and what time of year it is.
- Southeast Alaska (Inside Passage), Kodiak Island, and the majority of the Aleutian Islands tend to be very wet throughout the year (especially from September through January) but not especially cold. Average lows through the winter are in the ’20s-’30s, not unlike a coastal town in Washington State or New England.
- In the Interior of Alaska and on the North Slope (Arctic), temperatures will be much colder in the winter. Average low temperatures through the winter range from -20 to -50 Fahrenheit. The further north you go, the longer it stays dark in the winter months.
- Along the west coast of Alaska (Southwest), fog commonly rolls in throughout the year, and some areas can get very windy. These locations are also very wet, so pack good waterproof boots.
The best way to know what to expect is to study the area before you pack for the trip. Go online and look up the weather forecasts and climate history of the specific location you will be working.
We also recommend checking out this handy weather planner to get an idea of what the weather in Alaska is like compared to where you live. Pay attention to precipitation, wind, and temperature ranges. If you want some more information or advice before your assignment, we are always here to help.
Clothes for Your Alaska Packing List
How much you pack will depend on the length of your assignment, but most of our locum tenens Alaska assignments are longer than a few weeks. Your living arrangement should have facilities available to do laundry, so we’ve given examples of what to pack while on assignment for at least one week.
While much of your time on assignment will likely be spent in-clinic or in a healthcare facility, our providers often are exposed to Alaska’s austere weather conditions during travel, time off, or when healthcare emergencies arise away from the job site. It’s good to be prepared for a multitude of situations. Again, consider the weather for the region you’ll be staying before putting together your suitcases. If you’re unsure, reach out to your WMS account executive to get additional information.
During the fall, winter, or spring in almost any location, you must pack to stay warm, dry, and comfortable. During summer months, it’s a good idea to still bring plenty of layering clothing, but you will also want to bring typical summer clothes, as well.
The below Alaska packing list is a great starting point:
You’ll want to start packing with moisture-wicking base layers. These often include synthetic fabrics (polyester and polyester blends) and merino wool. Avoid cotton if you may be getting wet. Merino wool can be warmer than synthetic fabrics, so you may choose to use a short sleeve polyester base layer in warmer months and long-sleeve merino wool if you’ll be working in colder conditions. Your base layer should be skin-hugging or snug to fit.
- 🗸 2-3 full sets of base layers (a top and bottom). During colder months, you may wish to bring more.
🗸 2-3 sets of shorts/t-shirts (for summer assignments)
While many of our Alaska positions are in-clinic, we have plenty that are solo-provider capable or can require providers to meet patients in the Alaskan terrain to treat them in emergency situations. It’s better to be prepared if the need arises and having base layers can allow you to focus on your patient and not on your lack of clothing.
To better insulate from the cold, you’ll want to pack comfortable mid-layers. Your mid-layers will go between your base layer and an outer layer (which is typically a jacket of some sort). We recommend bringing multiple mid-layer options. These can be fleece, slight to heavy down, or synthetic insulated jackets. These types of jackets often can fold up small but aren’t typically waterproof or windproof like your outer layer will be.
- 🗸 5-7 options for each mid-layer tops and bottoms.
You will likely wear mid-layers daily, so having some options to layer and switch between is useful. Since they are mid-layers, you can likely get a few days of wear out of them. For instance, you may want to bring three fleece shirts/jackets to rotate between, and two different weights of insulated jackets.
Since your pants are likely to be worn daily, 5-7 pairs of comfortable hiking or fleece pants to rotate between or layer should get you easily through a week.
For mid-layer pants, you may also consider waterproof pants since your mid-layer is often your outer layer if you’ll be outside. Dependent upon your assignment, you may be able to wear your mid-layer pants as your everyday work attire while on assignment, as well.
Since you’ll be working in remote conditions, your base and mid-layers may serve as your day clothes while on the job. Your account executive can help to clarify what work-appropriate clothing is best, but typically, in Alaska, your work clothes are the same as what you’d wear for daywear clothing.
Sometimes referred to as a shell layer, this is your wind and rain protection. You’ll want something breathable and waterproof or water-resistant. As with base layers and mid-layers, you have many options for weight and warmth with your outer layer. What you bring will be dependent upon the time of year and the location of your assignment.
For cold weather, especially in the Arctic, this will be a parka or warm winter jacket. Be sure check temperature ratings on your layers, to make sure you’re bringing weather-appropriate gear.
- 🗸 1-2 outer layer jackets (wind and waterproof)
Essentials for Your Alaska Packing List
You also need to be prepared to keep your head, feet, and hands warm. Wool socks, a warm hat, good winter gloves, and waterproof insulated boots are a must. Footwear can come with a temperature rating, as well, so plan to get the right boots for where you’ll be located. You may also want to pack a scarf or neck gator to keep the wind off your neck.
- 🗸 Additional shoes for work or recreation
🗸 Waterproof insulated boots (based on temperature rating)
🗸 Winter gloves (waterproof)
🗸 Warm hat
🗸 Warm socks (Wool or synthetic to wick moisture. Do not wear cotton socks.)
Additionally, you’ll want to add general essentials as well, such as undergarments, sleepwear, and toiletries to your Alaska packing list.
- 🗸 Undergarments to get you through one week, plus a few extras to have on hand
🗸 Toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, soap, makeup, hair products, razors, shaving cream, glasses/contacts, medications, hairbrush, bandages, etc.)
🗸 2-3 sets of sleepwear
Some coastal or island locations are so windy that people will bring ski goggles for when they walk outside in the winter.
- 🗸 Optional: Ski goggles
Depending on where your assignment will be in Alaska, we’d recommend packing bear spray, as well. You can confirm with your WMS account executive to see if bears are native to the location where you’ll be on assignment.
- 🗸 Bear spray
Professional Attire for Your Alaska List
When you are at work, dress codes vary but tend to be business casual. Scrubs are acceptable, but not often worn in remote areas of Alaska. In many locations, jeans or khakis are appropriate. Many types of hiking pants are available in a “dressier/khaki” look, as well, so your mid-layer pants may prove to be useful to wear as your professional attire. Some providers keep their clothing casual and pair it with a lab coat.
Prioritize practicality and comfort when you pack for work. If you are unsure, feel free to ask the account executive who helped place you in the assignment.
- 🗸 3-4 pairs of scrubs or dress clothes (based on facility requirements)
🗸 Lab coat optional unless the facility requires it
Technology Considerations When Packing for Alaska
If you are working anywhere in Alaska outside the major cities (Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Sitka), likely, your cell phone will not have service. Major cell service providers do not have good service in remote Alaska.
The best cell coverage by far is provided by GCI, a small cell provider based out of Alaska. If you must take a bush plane, ferry, or helicopter to get to your destination, it is a good sign you might want a GCI phone. You can purchase a GCI phone here and find a GCI location here. Feel free to ask your account executive for more information.
- 🗸 GCI mobile phone
Any clinic you work at will have Internet in the facility. However, in some of our more remote areas, the Internet in housing can be unreliable or absent altogether. If you are planning a long assignment in a remote part of Alaska, you may want to bring entertainment like a book you’ve been wanting to read or movies you like. Many housing options for Alaska assignments have TVs with DVD players or Internet in the room. If you get a GCI phone for your trip, there are many parts of Alaska where you can get data to your phone and have Internet anywhere through your phone’s mobile hotspot.
If you are traveling to a remote location, it’s also a good idea to come with your cell phone prepared for WiFi calling and texting. In many villages, you will have access to the Internet but may not have cell service.
- 🗸 Personal cell phone to access WiFi
Additionally, you’ll want to be sure to pack additional travel essentials.
- 🗸 Laptop/Tablet
🗸 Electronics Chargers
Packing Food for Alaska Assignments
Alaska truly is the “Last Frontier”, and on the frontier, well-stocked grocery stores are a rarity. There are three major cities in Alaska where you will find relatively inexpensive groceries: Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau.
If you are going to be flying into a remote village, you will most likely land in one of these hubs before departing. While you are in these cities, we highly recommend buying food and having it sent to your assignment. You do not need to bring food from home. Stock up when you’re in Alaska and get the food sent to your location. Depending on how much baggage you’ve already brought, the clinic may reimburse you for the food. Ask your account executive how many bags you will be reimbursed if you are unsure.
Most remote villages in Alaska will not have much more than an expensive convenience store to source food from, as everything must be flown in. You will save money and eat better if you stock up before departing. There is a Fred Meyer in both Fairbanks and Anchorage. You can have them pack a box for you to be shipped wherever you need to go. You will save money by purchasing supplies in a major city and shipping them to your work location even if you are not reimbursed for the baggage.
We would recommend the following stores to shop at before departing from the nearest major city.
Each village or town is different from what its local amenities are. Before you stock up, talk to your Wilderness Medical Staffing account executive to get additional information about the grocery situation for your assignment. Your WMS position description should also have the additional information from the facility you’ll be working at so you can fill in the blanks for food on your Alaska packing list. Some areas have additional small grocery stores or the option to ship in items from places like Amazon or Target, but it differs from one location to the next.
Depending on the length of your assignment, you may want to meal-plan ahead of time so you can be ready for several weeks’ worth of cooking. Most rural areas in Alaska do not have dining out options, so you will need to cook where you are staying.
Alcohol and Marijuana
Many tribal communities in Alaska have restrictions on alcohol sales. You may be working in a “dry” village, where there is a total prohibition on alcohol. You may be in a “damp” community where there are heavy restrictions on alcohol sales. In many cases, it will be illegal for you to bring alcohol with you into the village. Be mindful of this when you travel to Alaska. Look up the local laws before attempting to purchase or ship alcohol.
Marijuana is legal in the state of Alaska, but your assignment could still be compromised if THC is found in your drug test. Since most medical facilities in Alaska are at least partially federally funded, there are strict prohibitions against marijuana use for medical workers.
A locum can arrive on-site in Alaska for an assignment, take a drug test that indicates marijuana use, and it will result in your assignment being canceled on the spot. Since you may be subject to a random drug test at any time, it is a best practice to abstain from marijuana use for at least 21 days before your assignment, so any drug tests come back negative.
Once you are in Alaska, it is best to abstain from marijuana use until your assignment ends. If you have any questions about your specific assignment or have any questions or concerns about alcohol or marijuana, your account executive will be the best resource for answers.
Providing medical care to rural populations in Alaska can be a rewarding adventure. Arriving prepared will allow you to focus on your job at hand. If you have any questions about what to bring, we encourage you to reach out to your account executive.