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Winter Sports Gear Guide

Wondering what to wear and how to pack for an adventure outside? Scroll down to read our gear guide for our favorite Alaskan sports and how to dress for Alaskan winter weather.

Getting Dressed and Packing for a Winter day outside

Below is a general guide for what to wear and how to pack for a day outside in the winter in two sections: 1) what to wear and how to wear it and 2) putting it all together – packing the bag.

You may not need everything detailed below – but please use this as a guide based on weather conditions, activity, length of time outdoors, and season of the year. In addition to the layers you start out wearing, pack the rest in a duffel or big tote bag. 

Scroll to the bottom of the page to see more detailed gear list for specific types of sports.

Join us for an after school time spent outdoors at Westchester Lagoon!

1: What to Wear and How to Wear it

Base Layers are worn closest to the skin and tend to be thinner and lightweight. Wear wool, wool-blends, or synthetic polyesters. Getting these layers right can make your day!

  • Base Layer long-sleeve top
  • Base Layer full-length pants
  • Wool or wool-blend socks (thickness depends on temperature and activity)
  • synthetic/wool-blend underwear
  • wool, wool-blend or synthetic bra

Middle, or insulating, layers are thicker layers like softshell, fleece, microfleece, micro-puff down or wool sweaters and pants. Some days, based on your activity and conditions, this middle layer is all you’ll need to wear on top of your base layer.

  • Mid-Weight Jacket or sweater
  • Mid-Weight full-length pants

Outer Layers need to block wind, block wet, and insulate to keep cold from getting through to your body. Some products do all three in one, while others do just one or a combo.

  • Wind and Water-Proof, Insulating Coat
  • Wind and Water-Proof, Insulating Pants or Bib

Don’t underestimate how much the wind and cold together can damage the skin on your hands, ears, and face. If you are doing a sport where you are moving fast and creating a wind on your face or it is windy outside, keep you face covered as much as possible. 

  • Vaseline (petroleum jelly) for face protection from windburn and frostbite
  • cold-weather sunscreen for those sunny winter days on the snow
  • balaclava, wind stopping
  • goggles for eye protection
  • thin hat to wear under helmets
  • thick hat if not wearing helmets

We recommend packing a warm pair of liner gloves that can fit inside an insulating, wind-proof mitt that you can toss a hand-warmer into. Once your hands get cold it is really challenging to get them warm again.

  • fleece/wind-stopping liner gloves
  • insulated over mitts
  • hand-warmers 

You can lose a lot of body heat and suffer tissue damage on your feet, so make sure that you have wind and waterproof  snow boots or sport-specific boots that aren’t too loose or too tight.

  • appropriately insulated, waterproof boots for the activity
  • if using boots for a specialized sport like skiing or ice skating, pack insulated winter boots to change into when done
  • gaiters – waterproof coverings that prevents snow and water from getting into your specialized sporty boots (most good snow pants/bibs come with integrated gaiters that cover the tops of your boots.)

Wearing (and packing) layers, and other tips and tricks

Here are a few reasons why layers are important, and some extra tidbits that may be helpful for your outdoor adventures.

#1: Layering is a big deal

Even in summer, we still dress in layers in Alaska. In winter, it is even more important. Wearing layers allows us to maintain our bodies at the same relative temperature to stay comfortable regardless of our activity level. If you are active and creating a lot of sweat, you’ll want to be at your lowest layer. However, when you stop moving you’ll want to pile up all the layers on again to keep from getting cold. 

#2: Sweat is the enemy! 

When you’re working hard in the cold, your body wants to steam off all the excess heat. If you aren’t wearing layers and your sweat gets trapped inside your outer layers and stuck on your body, your skin will get wet. When you stop moving, you’ll get cold…fast. If it is too cold or windy to take outer layers off, choose outer layers that have zip vents in strategic sweaty spots and prevent your base layers from getting wet.

If you’re getting hot and sweaty, you’ll want to be able to take off your outer layers so that your middle layers or base layers can vent off the sweat, getting the moisture out and keeping your skin and clothes relatively dry.

#3: Be ready to reorganize your outfit multiple times!

Listen to your body-how is your activity and conditions affecting your temperature? Be ready to adjust your layers as needed!

#4: Vests are your friend

Wearing a vest protects your core from both getting wet and swampy AND from cold wind. A vest is like a good hug and will keep your core nice and cozy!

#5: Wool/Synthetic vs. Cotton

  • Wear clothes that wick moisture and are made from wool or synthetic fibers, avoid cotton.
  • Sometimes, you can wear a pair of soft-shell pants and coat over your base layers without needing the extra outer-layers.

 

 

 

A Note on Hypothermia

Did you know it only takes a few minutes in the right conditions to become severely hypothermic? If your body temperature lowers by only ~3 degrees Fahrenheit, your body is entering stage 1 hypothermia and your brain will start triggering symptoms that should clue you in that it is time to start warming up – either get out of the conditions if you can, and/or make a change to your clothing.

We’ll go into the full details, including signs and symptoms, of hypothermia in a later post, but the important take away here is that we should always be aware of what our bodies are telling us and ready with layers of clothes and/or emergency shelters (if we’ve no abiility to remove ourselves from current conditions) when we start to get too cold.

We are pretty good at listening to our own bodies, but what about others in your group who may not understand what their bodies are telling them about temperature?

Before you set out, it is important to understand a child’s baseline behavior and comfort level in the cold so that you can recognize when symptoms of hypothermia, or other medical issues, may occur.

Regarding layering, hypothermia, and reading your body.

If you are doing a high-heart rate activity, your brain turns your circulatory system into a high-efficiency cooling system for your body; in addition to sweating, your blood is pumping fast and your vessels are dilated, releasing your heat through the multitudinous veins close to the skin.

Once you stop moving, however, your cooling system becomes a runaway freight train and your body cools down too fast. As soon as you’re done working hard and you’ve stopped to rest, especially if it is windy, put on your thick outer layers to prevent hypothermia from setting in.

2: Putting it all together

Top five tips for packing your bag

#1: Compartmentalize your duffel

Make it easy to find things by compartmentalizing the extra-gear/after-activity duffel, either by dividing it into sections or by grouping up different types of gear into separate bags or packing cubes. 

#2: Keep things you don’t want to get wet in watertight bags.

You may need to change into dry clothes, but your duffel also stores the clothes you’ve been using – so put all the clothes you want to stay dry into a watertight bag. Dry bags, garbage sacks, or gallon ziplocs all work well. 

#3: Pack a black garbage sack to toss wet clothes & boots into.

When you clothes and boots are wet you gotta toss ’em into the bag with everything else – keep your other items dry and toss your wet ones into a garbage sack

#4: Pack emergency supplies

Handwarmers and an SOL bivy bag, and a emergency shelter are great to have if you’ve gotten too cold and need to hunker down for a bit or until help comes. A Garmin InReach or some kind of SOS emergency beacon is also a good idea if you are outside of cell phone range and/or need to alert authorities as to your exact location.

#5: Pack extra plastic bags/turkey bags for wearing wet boots

Pack extra plastic turkey bags – if your boots get wet, you can put dry socks on, put your feet into the turkey bag, and then put your wet boots back on.

The Full Duffel List: 

  • The layers you may need later but aren’t currently wearing
  • extra pair of base layers
  • a few extra pairs of thick wool socks
  • extra liner gloves, thick hat, balaclava
  • extra fleecy mid-weight top and bottoms
  • a garbage bag for your wet clothes
  • plastic bags, like turkey bags that go up to mid-calf/are the size of your boots
  • insulated, water-proof winter boots if you’re doing a specialized sport activity like ice skating or skiing
  • thick outer layers if you are doing an activity where you aren’t wearing them, to put on after
  • hand-warmers
  • SOL bivy bag
  • emergency shelter
  • SOL Beacon device like Garmin InReach (you’ll wear this on you and not leave it in duffel)
  • BIG lunch plus extra snacks
  • water bottle (we carry extra water to refill)
  • thermos of hot tea or cocoa

Get your kiddo outside during winter and spring breaks 2022/23!

Getting out in Alaska over the seasons

Seasonal Sports - Your Guide to Getting Geared up!

Nordic Skiing is a great way to explore your local parks in their winter coat. The sport has it’s origins from Norway, hence the label “Nordic”; but the Norwegian term for Skiing literally translates to “walking on skis”. This is how we will nordic ski on our break days – walking on skis as a means to exercise, learn an amazing seasonal sport, play games, and explore our how winter weather changes our local ecosystems.

You will need:

  • classic ski boots (preferably NNN boots and bindings)
  • classic skis. In our program we prefer kids to use “wax-less” classic skis with scales so that it is easier for them. If they are already familiar with skiing, then they can bring wax-able classic skis and we can help them apply kick-wax.
  • If you child loves skate-skiing and they are familiar with the technique they may bring them, unless we are going into deeper powder up in the Chugach State Park, in which case they should stick to Classic/Scaled Skis.
  • Where to buy skis:
    • Hoarding Marmot, Play it Again Sports, REI, Barney’s Sports Chalet, AMH
    • Or, rent: Alaska Outdoor Gear Rental, REI, AMH

Where We’ll go ski: 

  • Westchester/Coastal trail (after school program)
  • kincaid park
  • glen alps/prospect heights
  • hillside trails
  • hatcher pass
  • Chugiak/Eagle River

Other things to note/gear needs: 

  • dress for winter weather:
    • The goal is to maintain the same temperature and stay warm and dry. So…sweat is the enemy! dress in layers so that when you are sweating you can vent most of it out and away from your skin and clothes; when you stop for a break and are resting, replace your wind/heavy outer layers to keep the heat in. See more info on how to pack/what to wear in our gear list!
  • Protect the hands and face from wind! Either wear a balaclava or vaseline (petroleum jelly) on your face in order to protect nose, lips, and cheek from frostbite/frostnip/windburn. Even on a seemingly warm day, wind can cause skin damage, from mild to severe/permanent. 
  • Sunscreen: on sunny bright days, the sun and it’s reflection off of the white snow can cause skin damage and sunburn – there are some great winter weather sunscreens available at hoarding marmot and AMH. 

Ice Skating on local ponds and lakes offers youth and adults alike a great way to learn both a fun and engaging winter sport but also learn about wilderness safety. In our program, we teach wild ice skating wilderness safety skills – dangers to look out for, what they should carry with them, and understanding different types of ice and ice behavior. We will also take the opportunity to teach about ice anchors, snow anchors, self-rescue and team-rescue techniques. 

We also start from the basics and teach how to ice skate! We have a few tricks up our sleeve and tools to use to help people feel comfortable as they get out on the ice. 

You will need:

  • Helmet – MIPS, helmet, face guard optional;
  • Hockey skates recommended, but figure skates are fine as well. 
  • Where to buy skates:
    • Hoarding Marmot, Play it Again Sports, REI
    • Or, rent: Alaska Outdoor Gear Rental, REI

Where We’ll go skate: 

  • depends on where the ice is “in”;
  • potter’s marsh
  • westchester lagoon
  • taku lake and other local lakes in the Anchorage area

Other things to note/gear needs: 

  • dress for winter weather:
    • The goal is to maintain the same temperature and stay warm and dry. So…sweat is the enemy! dress in layers so that when you are sweating you can vent most of it out and away from your skin and clothes; when you stop for a break and are resting, replace your wind/heavy outer layers to keep the heat in. See more info on how to pack/what to wear in our gear list!
  • Protect the hands and face from wind! Either wear a balaclava or vaseline (petroleum jelly) on your face in order to protect nose, lips, and cheek from frostbite/frostnip/windburn. Even on a seemingly warm day, wind can cause skin damage, from mild to severe/permanent. 
  • Sunscreen: on sunny bright days, the sun and it’s reflection off of the white snow can cause skin damage and sunburn – there are some great winter weather sunscreens available at hoarding marmot and AMH. 

Sledding is one of the most iconic winter sports that anyone can do with limited equipment! It is an exhilarating activity that only requires a sled and a hill. However, sledding can also be one of the more dangerous winter sports; sleds move can travel at a high rate of speed and are relatively difficult to control. Head injuries and long-bone fractures are common occurrences in sledding. This is why sledding is the perfect seasonal sport context within which to both highlight the importance of safe practices and wilderness safety and first aid skills – head injuries, long-bone splinting, and other splinting techniques, treating for shock and knowing what to recognize as a serious situation to call for help. 

You will need:

  • helmet – MIPS, helmet, face guard optional;
  • a sled of any kind! (we have sleds for use as well)
  • you can buy sleds at most stores in Anchorage.

Where We’ll go sledding: 

  • anywhere with a hill! Typically, we will go sled in an area with a hill that highlights a particular wilderness skill or activity that we want to learn about. If we are teaching winter terrain navigation, for example, we will go sledding up at the prospect heights area or another area that is on the edge of our local backcountry. We will also to go to many of the in-town hills that are our favorites – it all depends on weather and where it is best at the moment! 

Other things to note/gear needs: 

  • dress for winter weather:
    • The goal is to maintain the same temperature and stay warm and dry. So…sweat is the enemy! dress in layers so that when you are sweating you can vent most of it out and away from your skin and clothes; when you stop for a break and are resting, replace your wind/heavy outer layers to keep the heat in. See more info on how to pack/what to wear in our gear list!
  • Protect the hands and face from wind! Either wear a balaclava or vaseline (petroleum jelly) on your face in order to protect nose, lips, and cheek from frostbite/frostnip/windburn. Even on a seemingly warm day, wind can cause skin damage, from mild to severe/permanent. 
  • Sunscreen: on sunny bright days, the sun and it’s reflection off of the white snow can cause skin damage and sunburn – there are some great winter weather sunscreens available at hoarding marmot and AMH. 

Snowshoeing is wonderful way to experience the backcountry setting and get exercise at a laid-back pace. At Into the Woods AK, we use snowshoeing typically when teaching winter terrain travel best practices, winter survival skills, and very specifically when teaching about the lynx/snowshoe hare cycle. 

You will need:

  • snowshoes – there are many good brands out there. You will want a pair that fit your weight and feet and are easier for you and your kiddo to put on/take off. Some snowshoes, like the MSR brand, have the option to adjust your heel as your walk up steeper inclines to make it easier going. If you are walking in icier areas, snowshoes with good teeth that won’t degrade easily with time are also a good investment.
  • Trekking poles with winter baskets are helpful in stabilizing as you walk over the snow. 

Where We’ll Go: 

  • we will go anywhere that is off-piste from the groomed nordic ski trails in town. The many swamps that freeze over in winter are a wonderful place to snowshoe, along with the Chugach State Park, because you can suddenly walk over areas completely inaccessible in the summer and shoulder seasons. 

Other things to note/gear needs: 

  • dress for winter weather:
    • The goal is to maintain the same temperature and stay warm and dry. So…sweat is the enemy! dress in layers so that when you are sweating you can vent most of it out and away from your skin and clothes; when you stop for a break and are resting, replace your wind/heavy outer layers to keep the heat in. See more info on how to pack/what to wear in our gear list!
  • Protect the hands and face from wind! Either wear a balaclava or vaseline (petroleum jelly) on your face in order to protect nose, lips, and cheek from frostbite/frostnip/windburn. Even on a seemingly warm day, wind can cause skin damage, from mild to severe/permanent. 
  • Sunscreen: on sunny bright days, the sun and it’s reflection off of the white snow can cause skin damage and sunburn – there are some great winter weather sunscreens available at hoarding marmot and AMH. 

Into the Woods Alaska does not offer ice climbing programs…yet. 

Ice Climbing is an exhilarating, powerful, empowering…awesome sport to do. It is also inherently more risky than other winter sports like sledding, skiing, and ice skating, because the consequences are much higher. We do not yet do outdoor climbing, however we may team up in the future with ice climbing festivals where we offer a program for youth whose parents want to climb and/or we transport youth to and from the festival and manage the logistics of getting them to their program. 

You will need:

  • If you are interested in ice climbing, please check out AMH in town and ask about opportunities to learn more. Join the MCA – the mountaineering club of Alaska, a great community and place to meet other adults and families interested in these types of activities. 

Places to ice climb:

  • In the summer, check out tours that operate on glaciers;
  • In the winter, check out AMH for useful resources and to get connected with organizations teaching and leading guided experience for these skills. 

Other things to note/gear needs: 

  • dress for winter weather:
    • The goal is to maintain the same temperature and stay warm and dry. So…sweat is the enemy! dress in layers so that when you are sweating you can vent most of it out and away from your skin and clothes; when you stop for a break and are resting, replace your wind/heavy outer layers to keep the heat in. See more info on how to pack/what to wear in our gear list!
  • Protect the hands and face from wind! Either wear a balaclava or vaseline (petroleum jelly) on your face in order to protect nose, lips, and cheek from frostbite/frostnip/windburn. Even on a seemingly warm day, wind can cause skin damage, from mild to severe/permanent. 
  • Sunscreen: on sunny bright days, the sun and it’s reflection off of the white snow can cause skin damage and sunburn – there are some great winter weather sunscreens available at hoarding marmot and AMH. 
Downhill/Backcountry Snowboarding, AT Skiing

While we don’t currently offer this in our programs, we recommend you prepare in the same way you would for nordic skiing AND wear water/wind proof insulating snow pants or bib and coat over the nordic skiing layer. 

Wind is the key element you want to DEFY here – as you send it at high speeds down slope, it can chill you down and cause extensive dermal damage. Wear goggles and a balaclava to protect your face. Always wear a helmet of course – which also keeps your head nice and warm!

Check out nordic skiing gear guide above and then make sure to bring with you a backpack including appropriate avalanche safety equipment and go to avalanche safety courses if you are going into the backcountry.

Remember – you are responsible for your own safety in the backcountry. Avalanches CAN and DO happen and result in tragedy. Be prepared to listen to ALL voices in the group, review objective analysis of the conditions, and make a ‘NO-GO’ call. There are places for low-angle fun that are relatively safe to go with kids and teach them the fundamentals. Check out AMH and ask the friendly staff there for their recommendations, and join the mountaineering club of alaska to meet people who have knowledge to share. 

What We Do

Where Winter Sports meets Wilderness Education

Into the Woods Alaska is your local source for authentically Alaskan wilderness safety skills, seasonal sports, and their environmental science counterparts.

Our number one priority, in all of our programs, is to teach youth how to sustainably and safely use, enjoy, and share our wilderness spaces for the rest of their lives. We believe that if youth learn these skills from a young age, the exponential vector of others they will share their knowledge with over the course of their lives will not only add to our local culture of safety, saving lives, but will also bolster our community’s culture of sustainable and safe use of our wild spaces.

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