- Written by Michelle Theall
An insulating midlayer is one of the most often used pieces of apparel in any Alaskan's closet, year-round. Especially come October. As snow begins to fall higher in the mountains, and daylight wanes, Alaskans (and visitors) need a warm jacket to take them through the next seven months—even in Southeast. The good news is you won't need a heavy down parka most of that time (unless you're on the North Slope). Pack some layers, along with one of these midweight insulating jackets, and you'll cut the wind and keep warm (without roasting) while you work and play outside through the fall, winter, and spring.
Our team of Alaskan testers spent several months trying out the best midweight insulating jackets on the market by hiking and climbing in the Chugach and Alaska ranges, fishing on the Gulf of Alaska, cross-country skiing, and mountain biking, and doing just about everything else we could think of with 'em. These five came out on top.
EDITOR'S CHOICE: Helly Hansen Odin Insulator
The warmest of the midweight insulating jackets we tested, the light (14 oz.) Odin Insulator proved to be the most versatile in a variety of weather conditions. Its dense, ripstop nylon shell effectively blocked all but the strongest glacial winds, so our testers typically only needed to don a shell over the jacket in heavy rain and wet snow. Our testers also enjoyed its high, wind-blocking collar, cinchable hem, and fleece-lined hand warming pockets. Bonus: It compresses down to the size of a cantaloupe. $300, hellyhansen.com
Icebreaker Helix LS Zip
Constructed with MerinoLOFT, a new lightweight insulation made with Merino Wool fibers, the Helix LS Zip brings together the tried-and-true reliability of wool and the convenient packability of puffy-style insulation. Unlike most "puffy coats," however, the new Helix LS Zip will keep you warm even when wet. Our testers particularly enjoyed its stretchy side panels when climbing and skiing, noting its breathability and light (16 oz.) weight. Bonus: Ten percent of the loft comes from recycled wool salvaged from Icebreaker's factory floor, and the shell is made from recycled polyester. $285, icebreaker.com
The North Face ThermoBall Hybrid
If you like the maneuverability (read: stretchiness) of soft shells, but want a little more insulation, you'll love The North Face ThermoBall Hybrid jacket. Designed specifically for the rigors of technical, cold weather rock and ice climbing, the soft shell sleeves aren't insulated (on purpose) for increased mobility, but the body is made with ultrafine synthetic fibers that compress easily, and are extremely water-resistant and insulating. Our testers found that the jacket worked best as a midlayer, working in conjunction with a hard shell in high winds or rain, or with another warmer jacket in below freezing temps. Bonus: It's only 14 oz. $179, thenorthface.com
Arc'Teryx Atom LT
Extremely light (13 oz.) and ostensibly made for abuse, the Atom LT kept our testers warm in chilly temps and took a beating on their adventures. The ripstop nylon shell proved to be the most durable out of the jackets tested, and its highly compressible insulation kept our testers warm (without additional layers) into the single digits. Bonus: The jacket is made completely of hydrophobic synthetic materials that resist absorbing moisture. $199, arcteryx.com
BEST BARGAIN: Montbell U.L. Down
Weighing less than most cotton t-shirts (7.6 oz.), the U.L. Down jacket's warmth to weight ratio, along with its low price tag, impressed our testers. The jacket kept them warm down into the single digits, without layering, and also repelled water (and coffee...) effectively. Bonus: the U.L. Down jacket is also surprisingly windproof. $155, montbell.us.
- Written by Michelle Theall
Any Alaskan will tell you: If you're going to invest in one piece of outdoor gear, get a solid pair of boots, because if your feet aren't comfortable here, you won't be either. The trick is keeping your toes content while bumbling through uneven tundra, up and down steep scree slopes, or slogging through the rainforest, usually carrying a pack. You simply need a quality, well-designed pair of hiking boots to explore all of what Alaska has to offer—most of which is off-trail. The good news is you have plenty of great options.
Our local experts put some of the best all-around hiking boots on the market to the test for three months hiking in the Chugach and Kenai Mountains—looking for which boots kept their feet the most comfortable (and dry) from the day they took them out of the box. These five came out on top.
EDITOR'S CHOICE: Danner Crater Rim
Hand-made in Portland, Ore., and worn by the American Special Forces in Afghanistan, Danner's Crater Rim boots were exactly what our testers expected—tough as a bull's horn. Weighing in at an, admittedly, hefty 3.6 lbs., they're ostensibly designed to take a beating, fit comfortably, and—most importantly— protect your feet; all key attributes when hiking anywhere in Alaska. Along with being 100% waterproof, the boots have a high-cut, full rubber "rand" that wraps the boot's leather upper (protecting it) and is stitched and glued on
(not just glued). Meaning: You can stub your toes on as many rocks as you like and it won't peel off. Bonus: The Crater Rim's simple construction lends itself to being easily repaired by any cobbler, and comes in half sizes and a range of widths, so you can ensure a proper fit. $300, danner.com
Lowa Renegade GTX
Comfortable right out of the box, the Renegade GTX is a perfect mix between form and function: easy on the feet, confidence-inspiring on uneven terrain, and hard to bust. The sides of this burly, waterproof boot are injected with polyurethane, which, in effect, wraps the wearer's foot in a lightweight, supportive, semi-rigid frame. Pefect, our testers found, when negotiating the otherwise ankle-twisting tundra and loose rock of Alaska. Bonus: Perforations in the Renegade's footbed along with the breathable GORE-TEX membrane helped keep our testers feet slightly less sweaty when wandering the wilderness. $225, lowaboots.com
One of the lightest boots we tested (1.25 lbs.), the Durand proved more than capable of handling Alaska's terrain without breaking the bank, or our testers stride. Made with a new direct-injection construction technique that fuses waterproof leather and a breathable mesh liner directly into the extra tough polyurethane midsole, this waterproof GORE-TEX boot kept our testers' toes from being stubbed or crushed by rocks. Bonus: The boot is made entirely in Keen's Portland, Ore., factory. $180, keenfootwear.com
BEST BARGAIN: Ahnu Coburn
Bang for your buck, it's hard to beat the Coburn. The lightest boot we tested at 1.13 lbs., the Coburn is simple (read: classic-looking), but effective: completely waterproof, exceedingly comfortable, and rigid enough to handle carrying a medium-sized load over uneven terrain without weighing you down or decimating your wallet. Made with tried-and-true durable leather and a snug, low profile fit, these "light hikers" worked well for our testers in all conditions, climbing or descending. Bonus: The non-mark lugged sole works well on wet and snow-covered terrain. $175, ahnu.com
- Written by Michelle Theall
Rain and sun are both certainties in Alaska. The 49th state is home to the world's largest temperate rain forest and the midnight sun. You're likely to experience both; occasionally, several times in the same day. A good hardshell (read: rain jacket)—one that will keep the water out no matter what, while not making you feel like you're wearing a plastic bag—comes highly recommended in Alaska, winter or summer. And good news: You don't have to wear (or carry around) heavy waxed canvas anymore. Modern, lightweight synthetic materials are waterproof, breathable, and pack-friendly.
Our local experts put some of the best rainwear available to the test for two months, hiking, camping, skiing, and fishing—rain, snow, or sun—looking for what kept them driest when it was raining (or snowing), and packed the easiest when the sun was shining. These five came out on top.
EDITOR'S CHOICE: The North Face Kichatna
Named after an Alaska mountain range known for its terrible weather, the Kichatna Jacket kept our testers completely dry in heavy rain and wet snow, no matter what. With fully taped seams, burly two-layer Gore-Tex, and polyurethane-coated zippers, this jacket is built for years of abuse. Our testers particularly liked the smartly designed helmet-compatible hood and removable powder skirt, making it a great option for backcountry skiing. It's a true four-season shell without the bulk. Bonus: It comes
with a lifetime warranty.
$600, 1 lb. 4 oz.; thenorthface.com
- To Preserve and Protect
- September issue cover
- Wildlife Wednesday: Encounter on the Savage River
- Aerial view on Solstice
- Wildlife Wednesday: Dall sheep at Savage River
- Exclusive Excerpt: Dead Reckoning
- The 2014 World Eskimo-Indian Olympics
- Seaplane Almost Lands on Whale
- Wildlife Wednesday: Grizzly in the Neighborhood
- Alaska interview: Rachel Weaver