Reader Comments

ALASKA WEAR: The Visitor’s Guide to Clothing & Gear

Required Reading Before Visiting Alaska, November 20, 2002


Kay Stevens(Dexter, MI)

Since I’m planning on volunteering to work on the Iditarod Sled Dog Race in Alaska and also hope to take a side trip to Nome, the Alaska Wear book has become an extremely important resource. I find it packed with valuable information, both about weather and geographic conditions that you can expect in the varied locations in Alaska. I especially appreciate the reference to brand names to help in selection of the different items that I need to purchase to make my visit a comfortable one. Tony mentioned things that I would have never thought about, such as the luggage section. Since I’m planning on a short side trip to Nome I realize now that I need to take some type of smaller bag (soft side) to accomodate the baggage situation in smaller planes. I found the book easy to read and was very impressed with the quality and depth of information. I would think that this book be ‘required’ reading for all preparing for a visit to our 49th state.

Covers the climate of twenty-two favorite Alaskan cities, May 21, 2001


Midwest Book Review (Oregon, WI USA)

In Alaska Wear: The Visitor’s Guide To Clothing & Gear, 45-year Alaskan resident Tony Russ covers the climate of twenty-two favorite Alaskan cities, including a map of the climate patterns for the state during each month of the year. Russ provides practical, “user friendly” information on securing the best clothing, footwear, luggage, camping gear, and other necessities required to insure a successful, safe, and enjoyable visit. If you are planning a visit to the 49th state, first begin with a careful reading of Tony Russ’ Alaska Wear!

And an Expert Shall Guide You, May 9, 2001


Tom O’loughlin(Wasilla, Alaska USA)

As a lifelong Alaskan with my own fair share of experience in the Alaskan wild, and a bit more biasedly, as Tony’s editor and friend, I can assure you this book offers you more information from an authority than you ever bargained for. Tony is a consummate outdoorsman and a fanatical detail man. The combination of these two qualities have enabled him to write this informative, practical book on travel to Alaska that is the only one of its kind. With a top quality travel agent and this book in hand, a trip to Alaska will be of your life’s highlights. Tony covers every article of clothing you will need along with every item of gear needed for any situation. He is an expert in the outdoor life of Alaska. Buy this book and be assured an expert shall guide you!

Editorial Reviews

Anchorage Daily News,
April 15, 2001

Everything you need to know about Alaska’s weather, along with how to choose the right clothing

Anchorage Daily News, 
April 29, 2001

The book has a city by village breakdown on clothing suggestions and also covers what you need to know

Kay Stevens November 18, 2002

When I first read it, I found it very informative but that was AFTER my previous trip to Alaska. Now since I’m planning a second trip and plan on volunteering to work at the Iditarod and also hope to take a trip to Nome, the Alaska Wear book has become an extremely important resource. I find it packed with valuable information, both about weather and geographic conditions that you can expect in the varied locations in Alaska. I especially appreciate the reference to brand names to help in selection of the different items that I need to purchase to make my visit a comfortable one. Tony mentioned things that I would have never thought about, such as the luggage section. Since I’m planning on a short side trip to Nome I realize now that I need to take some type of smaller bag (soft side) to accommodate the baggage situation in smaller planes. I found the book easy to read and was very impressed with the quality and depth of the information. I would think that this book be ‘required’ reading for all preparing for a visit to our 49th state.

Thanks for everything Tony…..and I mean every word I say here……I’ve already bought my Cabela boots very similar to the ones on page 182 rated for minus 100 degrees. And my Cabela’s parka very much like the one on page 189 except with coyote fur on the hood also rated for minus 100 degrees. Also these are men’s clothes that I buy, because they are made stronger, and much more durable. Now I just need to find some gloves….I’m wondering if maybe I should wait and buy some things up there? What’s your opinion?

Alaska Wear:  The Visitor’s Guide to Clothing and Gear

By Tony Russ

 is an essential guide for travelers. The general climate for the entire state is first covered for each month, then the climate of 22 popular destinations is covered in detail. The second half of the book outlines how to choose the best clothing, footwear and camping gear for any Alaskan adventure. The final chapter identifies over fifty name brand items suitable for an Alaskan visit. Written by a 45-year Alaskan outdoorsman.  -200 pages, 101 photos, 44 charts, 27 maps. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR                                           



        Generalizations about Climate and Weather, Temper-

        ature and Precipitation Maps, Average Temperatures,

        Average Snowfall, Total Precipitation, Statewide



        Arctic, Interior, Western/Bering Sea Coast, South-

        western/Alaska Peninsula, Southcentral/Gulf Coast,

        Southeast; cities’ climate descriptions, Normal

        Maximum/Minimum Temperature, Precipitation Days

        & Total Precipitation, Monthly Snowfall, Humidity,

        Average Wind Speed, Daylight on 15th, Aurora Index,

        Bug index; cities’ climate tables


        Heat Transfer & Retention, Hypothermia, Clothing

        Features, Fabrics, Waterproof Fabrics, Layering,

        Clothing Selection

CHAPTER FOUR – FOOTWEAR EVALUATION                   ….101

      Selection of Footwear, The Right Fit, Break-in Process

      Waterproofing, Field Care of Footwear, Socks, An

       Effective Sock Strategy, Foot Medicine


        Subjects to Photograph, Composition, Traveling

       Cameras and Film, Binoculars


      Hard-sided Luggage, Soft Duffel


        Tough Fabrics for Gear, Tents, Sleeping Bags, Pads

       & Cots, Stoves & Cooking Gear, Map & Compass,

        Packs, Miscellaneous Gear, Backpackers’ Check List


        Bears, Wolves & Other Canines, In General Firearms


        Our Water Needs, Water Quality, First Aid


        Base Layer, Second/Insulating Layer, Protective/Outer

        Layer, Footwear, Luggage and Duffel, Camping/Back-

        packing and Miscellaneous Gear, Sources of

        Clothing and Gear

CONCLUSION                                           ….191





Photographic reminders of our past travels are what keep the memories alive in our minds to enjoy for the rest of our lives. When we begin to forget the details that made a vacation memorable, photos can bring back all the sights, moods, feelings and companionship that made it a great experience.

Those who routinely take a good variety of quality photos will maximize their enjoyment of their traveling (and life) experiences. The scenery, weather patterns, companions, etc. are all part of a trip and should be recorded on film. The best strategy is to take numerous photos of a variety of subjects. After the trip is over, photos can be sifted through and just the best ones retained for a photo library of memories.

The subjects you choose to photograph on a trip vary with each experience, but the following list is a good starting point.

  • MODES OF TRANSPORTATION – cruise ships, airplanes, railroads, automobiles, taxis, off-road vehicles, small boats, pack animals, walking, hiking, climbing, etc.
  • ROOM/LODGING – arriving, sleeping quarters, lodge vistas, lodge setting, lodge personnel, mealtime, etc.
  • WILDLIFE – animals, birds, marine life, pets, etc.
  • TOUR PERSONNEL – boat captains, tour directors, bus drivers, taxi drivers, outfitters, locals, etc.
  • SCENIC SHOTS – from planes or boats, local history, sunrise, sunset, weather extremes, terrain extremes, etc.
  • MOOD SHOTS- weary travelers, relaxing in evening; –remember to take unposed shots to get the sincere mood of the traveling experience.

After learning what to photograph, all travelers need to know how to take good photos. Everyone should be able to take photos of others so memorable photos of all traveling companions are taken.

One key to taking good photos is thinking about what the final photo will look like. Think about professional photos and what makes them pleasing to the eye. You must consider positioning, viewpoint, shape, color, scale and focus. There are some guidelines for good photography, but no absolute rules. Variety and experimentation will often produce some great shots that break one or more of the guidelines of good photography.

Positioning and viewpoint are the two ingredients of composition in good photography. The guideline for positioning is called the “rule of thirds” (see Diagram 5.1). If a photo is divided into thirds with four imaginary lines (the dotted lines), the four points where these lines intersect (the small circles) show the best locations to position the subject. Positioning a subject or the horizon in the center of a photo typically produces a dull picture; the exception is when the subject has strong geometric lines and is symmetrical–like a rectangular building. You should apply this “rule of thirds” to most photos. Experimenting with different positions in the frame will usually indicate where the best position is for a given subject and view.

Viewpoint refers to where the photographer is located when taking the photo. One good guideline is to get close when there is one main subject–like a shot of a person’s mood. Filling the frame with the subject provides emphasis to photos. When photos are taken from a distance the subject can be lost in the background, resulting in a dull photo. However, when the background is important to the composition of the photo, the photographer must back up a sufficient distance to properly frame all of the subject.

Trying all angles and distances will improve the variety and quality of your photos. Lie down, stand on top of something, get real close or step back and look through the viewfinder. This kind of experimentation with viewpoint can help any photographer improve his/her photo composition.

Viewpoint also changes the shape and relative size of your subject(s). One common technique is for the photographer to get very close to a person and position another subject several feet behind them. This helps emphasize the main subject (the person) while still making the secondary subject an important part of the photo. This is a useful technique to remember when a photographer wants to emphasize any subject in the foreground, not just people shots.

Lighting is another critical part of taking quality photos. There are several guidelines to remember. Don’t take photos directly into sunlight or artificial light–unless you are backlighting or silhouetting for emphasis and you adjust the exposure setting accordingly. On overcast days remove as much sky as possible from the photo to avoid underexposure of your subject. Use a flash or fill-flash in low light conditions. Have people remove or adjust hats to avoid shadowed faces, or use a fill-flash if you are within the flash’s range. Move around the subject as you look through the viewfinder to discover where the light best shows off your subject. Often just changing your position or having your subject move a few feet will make the difference between a discard and a great photo. Sometimes if you wait for clouds, fog, rain showers, or snow squalls to move in or out, they can provide better lighting, a dramatic background or affect the mood of the photo.

Additional guidelines for top quality photos include holding the camera as still as possible and gently squeezing the shutter to get sharp pictures. Only hand-hold a camera when using a short lens at fast shutter speeds; shots at less than 1/30th of a second need to be taken from a tripod or other stable platform. Use shutter speeds of at least 1/250th when shooting from moving vehicles. Use a high aperture setting for maximum depth of field when taking scenery photos. Don’t position your subject too close to the edges of the frame. This often results in part of it being cut out or so close to the edge that it distracts the viewer. Make a habit of using the center outlined area for both focusing and light meter adjustments and then adjust the framing of the subject. With auto-focusing cameras the typical procedure for this is to 1) hold the shutter release halfway down while the light meter makes the adjustments, 2) keep the release partially depressed while you frame your photo, 3) and then fully release the shutter.

One key to good photography is to take lots of shots. After all the time, effort and money that is spent on a once in a lifetime trip, it is a shame not to spend a few minutes per day and a few rolls of film to record the memories for future enjoyment. As an Alaskan who has entertained many visitors, I have taken many rolls of film of Alaskan experiences. I have never had a visitor complain about too many photos, and have gotten many heartfelt thanks after the photos came back.

One important thing to do in anticipation of a photo is to remove unwanted objects from the background. Carefully examining the scene through the viewfinder before taking photos will identify these distractions so they can be removed or the angle changed to exclude them. If a tree or another object in the background of a photo would appear to be growing out of someone’s head, change the angle or have the person move slightly. If extra clothing or gear is scattered in the background and detracts from the photo, move it. Don’t let scenery or background subjects detract from or ruin a photo. Look through the viewfinder with a critical eye when composing and the main subjects of your photos won’t be compromised. Good photography takes a little planning and attention to detail.

Don’t forget that cameras malfunction and film processors make mistakes. For insurance against these and other hazards always use parts of two rolls of film (finish one roll and start the next) when important subjects are being photographed and even use two different cameras when possible. A disposable camera can be used for the extra camera in case of malfunction, and they actually take pretty good pictures. A few dollars spent ahead of time may save a lost photo opportunity of a lifetime. And make sure to carry extra batteries for your main camera. Give yourself every opportunity to get great photos of a trip. Few visitors make an Alaskan trip for less than $1,000, and for most it is many times this figure. I can’t imagine not taking every precaution to get good photos, since this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for many of these people. With this level of investment, a few additional dollars for an extra camera is certainly justified.

The camera you choose to take on your Alaskan trip can have a significant impact on the quantity and quality of your photos. For most purposes a small point-and-shoot 35mm is a fine choice. A traveling camera should be light and compact enough so it will always be available and not left back in your room or packed away somewhere. As the name implies, the point-and-shoot models do almost everything for the photographer. A full-size 35mm camera is capable of more and takes better photos in some conditions than the point-and-shoot models, but they are much bulkier, more expensive and require more expertise.

In addition to the auto-features commonly found on most point-and-shoot 35mm models, there are a few features which the optimal Alaskan camera (for nonprofessionals) should have. A waterproof model is essential for traveling in wet weather and is good insurance in case of accidental submersions in even the driest climates. Here in Alaska I have lost three cameras to moisture buildup which eventually led to malfunctions–usually during a trip. My current camera is waterproof to 10 feet underwater, and it has lasted much longer than the previous, non-waterproof models. However, I still carry my camera in a Zip-Loc to protect it from moisture, dirt and physical abuse.

A timer is also essential on a traveling camera to take pictures of everyone in the group. Other features like zoom lenses, an auto shutoff and a panoramic mode may improve your photos, but they are not really essentials. If you do want panoramic photos of Alaska’s great scenery, you can buy a disposable camera with this ability. Just remember they are very expensive to develop.

Once you buy a camera, the first thing to do is read the manual. This not only helps you avoid simple blunders, but you will know the capabilities of your camera, probably learn something about photography in general and take the best photos possible.

There are a few simple guidelines when choosing film for Alaskan photography. Color slides or black and white prints are best if you plan to sell them. Otherwise, most people choose color prints for personal use. However, one thing to consider is the current advances in home photo printing. My computer scanner has a slide/negative adapter which lets me make color prints directly from these sources. There are also stand-alone units for home use made for photo printing. In the past, it cost several dollars each to have prints made from slides at a photo shop. Not any more. I can make color prints from slides for less than 50 cents each. The advantages of taking slides are the color is much better, the developing is cheaper, they store easier and they maintain their color longer.

Any brand of photo film will suffice. The quality of the developing can significantly affect the quality of your photos, so if you have some one-of-a-kind photos on a roll of film, choose your developer carefully. The more expensive photo shops will usually do a much better developing job than you will get from a photo booth in your local variety store.

The film speed you should use depends on the amount of light available when the photos are taken. ASA100 is used for daytime shooting in bright light situations. ASA200 is used for conditions with less than bright light, like overcast days. ASA400 is used for low-light levels–like at dusk. Anything outside of this 100-400ASA range is generally used by professionals who know the specific applications. ASA200 is a good all-around film to have with you to cover most situations. I carry mostly 200ASA as my standard film and some 400ASA for lower light photos, or if I will be exposing an entire roll using a flash. Whatever film you choose, take twice what you think you will need. Film will keep until the next trip and it is cheap in relation to the price of most vacations. Don’t run out of film and “let the moment run away.”

Although the initial outlay of cash is daunting, purchasing high-quality binoculars is a good investment into improving your traveling experiences. Good binoculars will last for ten, twenty or even thirty years with a little care. Even a five-hundred dollar set of binoculars amortized over twenty years is only twenty-five dollars per year. That is a small cost to significantly improve your enjoyment of twenty years of traveling.

Like cameras, binoculars for an Alaskan visit should be waterproof. I always recommend bringing only waterproof optics to Alaska. I have discarded my share of binoculars and cameras over the years which weren’t waterproof and learned the hard way. Alaskan weather can be wet almost anytime of the year, and in many locations, you can count on wet weather during any two-week visit. Binoculars which aren’t waterproof will often fog up overnight if they are put away just a little wet. And the changes in pressure due to elevation changes, so common to Alaskan travel, will force moisture inside even the most expensive binoculars in a few hours if they aren’t waterproof.

There are some characteristics to look for when shopping for any type of optic (binoculars included). Look through the optic to check for clarity of the image. The quality of the lens helps determine this as does the anti-reflective coatings on them. The best optics are multi-coated on every lens surface to reduce reflections and improve light transmission. Single-coated lenses should be avoided by those who want the most from their optics–regardless of cost. A thorough in-store comparison of optics will show you which ones are brighter and clearer. Brightness is important for those who want to see in low light conditions. Brightness is also affected by the size of the objective lens, which is the one farthest away from the viewer. The trade-off for larger lenses is increased bulk, weight and cost.

The size of binoculars you buy depends on the intended use. Magnification of seven to ten power and objective lenses of from 25 to 50mm are the ranges for most brands. If you will only buy one pair, 8 X 42mm’s are a good all-around choice. In binocular descriptions, the first number indicates the magnification and the second number is the size of the objective lenses. For most uses, 8 X 42’s aren’t too large to carry all day, but have enough magnification and brightness to be used for hours of glassing without eye strain. Binos with over ten-power magnification can be hard to hold still enough to get a clear view. Several hours of looking in this manner will tire out the user’s eyes and diminish his or her ability to see clearly. Binoculars with objective lenses above 50mm may bring in more light, but they can be bulky. Size does not necessarily mean more brightness, so don’t buy on this criterion alone. Quality is always the most important thing to consider.

Compact binoculars may be the most useful for most travelers. Sizes of 8 X 25mm or 10 X 30mm are common compact sizes. Ten-power compacts may have too much magnification for some users, but others like them. Brightness is often reduced in the compacts, but good glasses will still gather a lot of light and brighten the view. Compacts’ biggest selling feature is their small size and weight–often less than 10 ounces and small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. As with compact 35mm cameras, because of their small size and ease of carrying, compact binoculars will more likely be available when you need them.

All binoculars should have a center focus ring. It is quicker and just as reliable as individually focusing rings on each barrel. A strong, wide carrying strap is mandatory for binos which are often carried for hours every day. Rubber armored binos are a little heavier, but warmer on the hands and more durable for those willing to carry the extra weight. Binos should also have eyecups for keeping your eyes the correct distance from the lenses and to reduce glare in bright sunshine. I’ll never forget one bespectacled visitor I met who didn’t know what these were for. He complained that during his twenty-odd years of binocular ownership he never had much use for binoculars because the aperture was so tiny. He had never pushed in the eyecups, so his eyeglasses kept his eyes too far away from the lenses to see well. When I pushed them in for him, he was flabbergasted at how well he could see.

Cleaning optics correctly can preserve their usefulness for a full twenty or more years. Any dust or grit will scratch a lens surface if it is rubbed. To avoid scratching lens coatings or even the glass itself and damaging your optics, treat them as carefully as an expensive camera. The first step is to blow off dust with an air brush like those used for cameras or by lightly blowing on the lens. The next thing to do in optimal conditions is to flood the lens with distilled water, roll it around a little, pour it off and air dry. If this doesn’t remove all the smudges, use lens tissue with a small drop of lens cleaning fluid on it. Rub gently in a circular motion with as little pressure as possible to clean the lens. One option for field cleaning is to carry a lens-cleaning pen made specifically for hunters to clean their optics. Since these pens place a solid surface on the lens, be as gentle with these as possible to avoid damage.

If you have nothing else when you need to clean a lens, a soft, clean tissue or soft, clean piece of fabric will do. First blow on the lens to remove dust or water. Then gently brush the lens surface with the clean material using as little pressure as possible. This is the most common way lenses are scratched, so keep this practice to a minimum. Proper cleaning products and gentle handling will keep your optics in top condition and provide you with bright, clear images for many years.