Tech Tip – Footwear for Alaska Hiking and Backpacking

Two pairs of legs with mismatched boots in AlaskaHiking and backpacking in Alaska, and in the Wrangells especially, is going to be rugged and footwear can make or break a trip. Over the last +40 years of guiding trips in the Wrangell – St. Elias National Park, we’ve figured out what works best out here and want to share the details with you so you’re fully prepared for your adventure!

Here’s our advice for what to wear on your feet for backpacking and hiking in the Wrangells:




Over-the-ankle, waterproof, hiking boots


This might be the most commonly argued-over item on the equipment list – pre-trip, that is! “But I usually just backpack in trail runners!” Yup, we’ve heard that before, and frankly so do we! When we’re in the lower 48, especially on trails, we love the lightness of a grippy running shoe or an approach shoe to get us around on our longer adventures. There won’t be any trails where you’re going in the Wrangells…in fact, most of the landscape is rough, unyielding, uneven, and sometimes even moving – classic ankle-twisting terrain. Add a 40-55 lb backpack to the mix and incredible scenery you can’t tear your eyes away from, and you’re going to want all the support you can get!

This concept of “uneven terrain” doesn’t sound like much, but it cannot be emphasized enough. Maybe you’ve gone off-trail before or even crossed sections of scree or talus. That’s a great taste of what Alaska has in store! We do our best to show and explain this concept before you get here, and even still, we often hear that the beat down of the constant ruggedness is the biggest challenge of the trip and what our clients wish they had been better prepared for!

The entire landscape is constantly undulating. We joke that the only flat spots you’ll encounter are where you’ll want to set up your tent! Some sections are just straight-up steep. The rest of the land mass is covered in round river rocks, jagged alpine talus, thick squishy tundra (akin to walking in deep sand), deep sand, suction-y mud, light-to-heavy brush, swamps, rivers, snow, and glacial ice. When walking out here with a heavy pack, and especially when we don our crampons to walk on the ice, we use our stabilizing muscles a lot. If you live in a world of paved sidewalks, and even floors, these muscles likely don’t get a lot of use. Without supportive footwear, the sudden use of these muscles can result in foot, ankle, knee, and/or hip pain in the backcountry. Training can help here too, so check out our advice on how to train for trips like these.

The mountains of Alaska are also known for their unpredictable weather. This means that moisture management is a key element of a good experience. Make sure that your boots are completely waterproof, and if they’re older, take the time to recondition them before the trip. We like Nikwax products for adding a protective layer to your boots, jackets, gloves, tent flies, etc.

Remember, that you’re going to be hundreds of miles away from civilization when you’re on an extended backpacking trip in Wrangell – St. Elias. Twisting or spraining an ankle or developing trench foot is never a fun experience, but can be compounded by the difficult logistics of this remote wilderness for an absolute trip-ruiner.

Make your backpacking trip an experience of a lifetime and don’t skimp out on a heavy-duty, waterproof, over-the-ankle, backpacking boot! Your feet, ankles, knees, and brain will thank you!

Three pictures of Alaska backpacking terrain

Here are some of our favorite boots for Alaska backpacking:

Scarpa Zodiac Tech GTX – These are the type of boots most of our guides wear in the backcountry. They are probably too much for most backpacking trips in the lower 48, but if you live in Alaska or want to continue to explore the backcountry out here, these provide a great balance of rugged toughness, support and comfort.

Salomon Quest Element Gore-Tex or Salomon Quest 4 Gore-Tex – Versions of these boots have been around for a while and have stood the test of time. They’re rugged and supportive and are popular options for backpacking outside of Alaska as well!

Protip: Make sure your footwear is worn in before you get to AK! Wear your boots/shoes around the house, on errands, to the grocery store, wear them everywhere for a while. Then, take them out on a long hike or even a multi-day trip to work out the kinks before your big Alaskan adventure.

Protip: Wear your boots on the plane to Alaska! If your luggage gets delayed or lost, we can outfit you with a spare jacket or sleeping bag, but we don’t have a fleet of rental hiking boots…wearing your boots on the flight will not only look cool and have everyone asking where you’re going but will also keep weight out of your luggage to make more room for other things you want to bring!


Hiking :


Comfortable, waterproof, hiking boots or shoes


If you’re joining us for an Alpine Hike, Glacier Hike, or Fly-in Hike, we recommend wearing hiking-specific boots or shoes that are waterproof, because there’s a solid chance you might get wet.

If you’re headed out on the glacier, you’ll be given a set of strap-on crampons. We use different styles that are highly compatible with most footwear. You’ll also have about 4mi of trail hiking on a moderate but uneven trail of which about 2mi are on rocky moraine. If you’re headed up to one of the mines, you’ll be on a rugged trail, likely encountering some muddy stretches and rocky sections up high. On a Fly-in Hike, you’ll likely find a little social trail near the airstrip, but pretty soon it will peeter off and you’ll be navigating undeveloped and untouched rocks, sand, and/or tundra. For all three hikes, we recommend supportive footwear like a higher top for ankle support or a stiffer sole to help with the rugged terrain. You likely don’t need to get special footwear just for this trip. A good hiking shoe or boot will be great for the rest of your Alaska trip as well, and most likely whatever you hike in elsewhere in the world will work just fine here too.

Avoid light canvas shoes with soft soles, sandals, and crocs. Non of this footwear is crampon-compatible, and not waterproof either. Adventure sandals may sound nice on a sunny day, but you’ll likely encounter cold water,

If you’re joining us for a multi-day basecamp hiking trip, you’ll encounter a variety of terrain ranging from soft and squishy tundra to rocky talus and tussocky slopes. Maybe even a little bushwhacking if you’re lucky! Although you can get away with low-top footwear, we highly recommend high-top footwear with ankle support. This will likely be the most consistently rugged terrain you’ve encountered with plentiful opportunities to get wet. You’ll feel more comfortable and have a better time if you don’t have to look down at your feet at every step, move slower to be more careful, and experience wet socks and joint pain after every hike. Waterproofing is a must, and breathable, transparent mesh is a no-go. Remember, the consequences of an ankle twist or sprain are magnified when you’re hundreds of miles away from civilization and proper medical care. Consider getting a sturdier boot for this trip than a simple trail running shoe – your ankles and knees will thank you for it!

We don’t have specific recommendations for basic hiking shoes and boots, since there are so many options out there and everyone’s feet are different. Check out your local outdoor gear store, like REI, to get a helpful recommendation from a pro to find what works best with your foot!

Three pictures of Alaska hiking

Was this info helpful? Let us know in an email! Check out our other Tech Tips to learn how to prepare for your Alaskan trip!

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