In the second half of June I’m running four 7-day guided trips in Gates of the Arctic National Park, split between two guide teams. Gates encompass the western half of the famed Brooks Range, which spans 1,000 miles across Alaska and which arguably offers the greatest wilderness trekking in North America. The terrain and conditions in the range’s eastern half, which is managed as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, are very comparable.
What’s in my pack for these trips?
Objectives + conditions
There is a right way to backpack: prepare yourself with the gear, supplies, and skills that are appropriate for your trip objectives and the conditions.
If your trip to the Brooks Range adheres to a different backpacking style, or if you are visiting during another season, deviations from my gear list are warranted and recommended.
These are hiking-oriented trips. We enjoy camp, but see it mostly as an opportunity to recharge for more hiking. A typical day runs from 8 AM to 5 PM, with breaks for lunch and instructional tutorials, and when we simply want to take it all in. (With 24 hours of daylight, we may adjust our schedules to take advantage of good weather windows.)
If our clients were cut loose on a rolling section of the Appalachian Trail, their mileage would range from 15-20 or 20-25 miles per day (“High” and “Very High” on my intensity scale). On the John Muir Trail, it’d be more like 15 and 20 miles per day.
As part of the Planning Curriculum, we researched the likely environmental and route conditions. We consulted government data, backcountry rangers, bush pilots, and trip reports and guide books.
Temperatures and precipitation. Monthly climate normals are available from two nearby NOAA weather stations. During the second half of June at:
- Chandalar Shelf (3,250 feet near the Continental Divide), average high temperatures are in the high-50’s, and average low temperatures are in the low-40’s. Average monthly rainfall is 1.8 inches.
- Wiseman (1,200 feet along the Koyukuk River), average high temperatures are around 70 degrees, and average low temperatures are in the low-40’s. Average monthly rainfall is 1.9 inches.
Daylight. In the town of Bettles, our launch point into the park, the sun sets for just two hours in late-June; there is 24 hours of daylight. Along our route further north, the sun will not set. Bring a sleep mask, not a headlamp.
Footing. Not a single mile of man-made hiking trail exists in the Brooks Range. These trips are 100 percent off-trail. The travel can be joyous, like across firm alpine tundra or on open gravel bars; but it an also suck, with ankle-twisting tussocks, energy-sapping “sponga,” and water-logged muskeg.
Vegetation. The lower elevations on the south side of the range, including near a likely drop-off/pick-up point at Circle Lake along the Alatna River, are covered in spruce. The forest transitions to a “brush zone” before alpine tundra takes over. On the north side of the range, there are no trees. The hardiest plant is willow, which can be found at high elevations in wet areas like creek bottoms.
Navigational aids. The park has no trails or signage, so we will be navigating entirely with map, compass, altimeter watches, and GPS. The topography is distinct, but the huge landscape and 1:62,500 maps with 100-foot contour lines will take some getting used to. The weather is generally stable, but storms can obscure visibility.
Sun exposure. The sun will never go below the horizon, but it’s never particularly strong — it’s low in the sky, and we’re at low elevations. However, the cumulative solar exposure can add up, especially for those who are fair-skinned.
Water availability. There is no shortage of high quality water, due to melting snowpack, recent rainfall, and groundwater aquifers.
Problematic wildlife. The park is inhabited by grizzly and black bears, as well as wolverines and wolves. Attacks are rare, especially in groups of four or more. With such light recreational traffic, rodents have not become fearless around humans.
Biting insects. The peak mosquito season is in July, coinciding with summer’s greenery and warm temperatures. Normally early-June is reliably bug-free; in late-June, pockets of bugs should be expected. But this year, we are prepared for an early hatch due to a scarily warm and dry winter throughout Alaska.
Remoteness. There are no towns, roads, or hiking trails nearby. We must get dropped off and picked up by bush planes, and can communicate with the outside world only with satellite phones and messengers. It’s unlikely that we will see other people.
Natural hazards. Without packrafts, major rivers cannot be crossed safely. And after heavy rains, tributary streams rise quickly due to the relative dearth of top soil, almost akin to the Four Corners region.
Gear List: Gates of the Arctic National Park, Brooks Range, Alaska in early-summer
This gear list is specifically applicable to the Brooks Range in early-summer, roughly late-June to mid-August, when temperatures are relatively mild and bug pressure is expected. It would also be a good template for other seasons in the Brooks Range, and for similar Arctic environments like northern Canada, Iceland, Scandinavia, and northern Russia.
My pack weight is virtually unchanged from my last trip in the Brooks in 2010, when I traversed the range with a 15-pound base weight (sometimes plus seven pounds of packrafting gear).
The total cost is completely inflated. Shop the holiday sales (usually 20 percent off a full-price item), and find similar items on clearance that are even more steeply discounted.
To make this list more viewing-friendly, open it in a new window or download it.
If you like the look and organization of my gear list, consider using my 3-season gear list template.
Questions about my selections, or what you should bring? Leave a comment.
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That bug shirt is quite heavy at 70 ounces!
It’s made out of a revolutionary new fabric, titanium chainmail.
Good catch, thanks.
Thanks for the Gear Lists. I find them very helpful and use your template for all of my trip planning now. Awesome info and has really helped me dial in my kit!
Do you have any gaiter recommendations since Slimblissity hasn’t been making them for a while now?
Also, do you typically bring back up water filtration solo or with your wife? Figured for group trips wasn’t as critical since others would have it, but wondered about when that wasn’t the case.
Thanks for all the information you put out! Really appreciate it!
I don’t have any gaiter recommendations, sorry. It seems like Simblissity’s production and my rate of burn-through is about the same, so I’ve always been able to use them.
Water purification entirely depends on the location. On my guided trips, we use Aquamira, and we recommend that clients treat everything. On personal trips, I typically don’t treat, but I’m normally high in the headwaters of the Rockies and High Sierra, and I’m always careful about the sources. Reading for you, https://andrewskurka.com/backcountry-water-unpurified-safety-questions/
Thanks Andrew! I’ve been using your Aquamira premix system recently and am a convert. I suppose I’ll just take some tabs as a backup in case I lose it. Minor weight penalty for some insurance.
I use the Aquamira and gravity filter when I’m with my wife. I don’t mind the extra weight between two of us and it’s nice to have a lot of water for camps at night.
Keep up the good work!
are you considering yourself to be the guide even though only hiked it once in 2010 or will there be actual guides from the area?
How about Melatonin for promoting sleep along with the eyeshades for when there is 24 hours of light?
That always helps. Ditto for Benedryl, which is the exact same active ingredient in OTC sleep aids.
Personally, I sometimes feel more groggy in the morning after taking these meds. So I use them as a last resort.
The key with Benadryl or other sleep aids is using them early on. If you put more hours between dosing and wake up you’re less likely to be groggy. I e don’t use them at 0300.
How is the shirt fit on the Royal Robbins Bug Barrier Ultra Light Shirt? I am of very slim/Asian build and tried several Insect Shield branded shirts (Bugsaway, etc.), that do not fit well at all w/o tailoring.
Thanks for the great content, as always.
I would say that it’s a normal fit, perhaps slightly slim. When available, I always go with an extra slim fit shirt, such as my dress shirts, 39-in chest, normal sizes can look ridiculous on me. This one is a little baggie but I think it’s pretty good. And you actually want some slack in the shirt in order to keep it off your skin and to help air flow through the shirt.
Do you do post-hike comments for your gear lists for trips like this? If so, that’s something I and I’m sure others would be interested in seeing.
I might, although I have spent enough time in AK and have used so much of this gear before that I think you can be reasonably confident in the selections. There is only one completely new item, the bug shirt, and then a handful of new (condition) items that I have used before. The plan is for most of them to be reviews.
That all said, I will try.
Thanks for the excellent reviews Andrew. You have removed the lining from your Showa 282 gloves and wear PL 400 Sensor Gloves inside. I think you wear the XL size of 282 glove with the lining removed. Is that correct ?
Can’t recall off hand, but that sounds right. It’d be included in my review of the 282.
What you are using for a group shelter? Last year we had a small group trip down the Kobuk river and my DIY group shelter made of polycro and tent poles failed miserably. It was impossible to stabilize in the wind. Any readers have any suggestions?
Why did you think that a polycryo tarp would withstand any wind?
I don’t bother packing a group tarp for 7-day Gates trips in June. I’ll take the weight-savings; everyone has good shelters; we have 24 hours of daylight so we can wait out crappy weather; it doesn’t tend to rain much in June; and most of the areas along our route had no trees.
A Kobuk river trip is different, since you have trees and the boat can carry the weight. I would bring along the same large sil-nylon, sil-poly, or Dyneema Composite flat tarp that I bring with me on shorter group trips in the lower 48. Mine is a 9×9 DCF, but anything about that size or a little bit larger will work. I talk about it a little more here, https://andrewskurka.com/cold-and-wet-standouts-appalachians/
Any reason you went for the Julbo Shield for this trip? What lense type did you get? Do you use/like the detachable “shield”?
Eyeing a pair of Julbos in my near future as my current ones are getting scratched up…
I have worn them for a few weeks now and really like them. I had to get a new pair — my Dirt 2.0 had become overly scratched after three years.
I narrowed down my search based based on a few factors. First, Julbo said these would fit similarly to the Dirt and Run that I have used previously. Second, I wanted the REACTIV 2-4 lens, which seems to match my activities best: usable for runs and bike rides, as well as early-season backpacking on snow.
I did not use the optional sides in Alaska, where I just spent two weeks. But I expect to be using them later this month in Yosemite, where there will be even more sun exposure.
Still dreaming about AK and hope the trips went well. How is early to mid June in the Brooks Range in a typical year? Seems like weather could be stable, and bug pressure low. Would you use different gear and choose different routes in late spring?
You say bear spray is unnecessary for a group, would you say that for solo travel as well?
Good catch, because that’d be an error.
Bear spray is “critical” for every soloist and for members of small groups. For bigger groups, 4+, you might be able to get by with fewer cans, but the group would have to be very intentional about how they travel. On our guided trips, I give every client a can, so that they can more safely hike out in front or wander off for a poop or a photo without needing to get a buddy and a can.
Hi Andrew – thanks for the amazing resources. I bought a set of these plastic 1oz bottles, and I love them in theory, but I’m worried about some of the reviews I’m reading (in:re durability, leaking). amazon.com/gp/product/B008IRW77G/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o05_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1
Have you had any leak issues with sunscreen/sanitizer/cooking oil using these bottles? Any tips in general?
I don’t think I’ve used those models. We buy the HDPE nalgene bottles, a little bit more expensive but they work for the long term.