Things work a little differently in Alaska—and moving freight is no exception. In a state where more than 80% of communities are not accessible by road, it’s quickly clear why logistics are more complex in Alaska than in the lower 48. Add in the extreme winter weather and the rugged terrain, and you’ll start to understand the unique challenges of moving freight around Alaska.

If you’re considering a freight project to, from, or around Alaska, understanding the key factors at play will help you plan for a smooth shipment from the start. You’ll also want to make sure you ask the right questions so you (and your shipment!) don’t get unexpectedly left out in the cold.

We’ll show you exactly what you need to know so you can execute your next Alaska freight shipment with ease.

1. Your Project Will Involve Multiple Modes

One of the major factors that adds complexity to Alaska freight shipments is the need to leverage multiple modes of transportation to get freight to its final destination. In other words, it’s not always as simple as putting it on a truck and declaring the job done.

A majority of freight arrives in Alaska via ocean freight or air freight—but that’s just the start of its journey. Goods that move through the Port of Anchorage get dispatched all over the state, where they’re consumed by 90% of Alaska’s population.

The percentage of Alaska’s population that consumes goods moved through the Port of Anchorage.

In other words, once freight arrives in Alaska, that’s only half the battle. It still needs to be routed to the right location.

If the intended destination is accessible by road, that can make things simpler. However, what roads there are in Alaska aren’t always the easiest to navigate:

  • Of the 5,609 miles of road maintained by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, only 3,737 of those roads are paved, or about 67%.
  • Municipal and borough roads are a mixture of paved and unpaved, and the village and rural roadways of Alaska are mostly unpaved.
  • In fact, in a study of U.S. highways, Alaska ranked dead last in terms of the conditions of rural interstate highway pavement.
Percentage of rural interstate pavement in poor condition in Alaska. The national average is 2%. Alaska ranked last among U.S. states in this category.

For destinations inaccessible by road—a pretty common occurrence in Alaska—freight will need to travel by barge or plane to its final destination.

This brings up the next challenge: Someone needs to coordinate all of these modes to ensure that the freight shipment keeps moving.

You could attempt to manage these pieces yourself. Or, you could hire a freight forwarder to be your one-stop shop for getting all your freight from origin to destination. Rather than dealing with individual carriers, coordinating handoffs, or juggling multiple points of contact, a freight forwarder can handle all of these items for you. You’d have a single point of contact, and your forwarder would track your shipment throughout.

For Alaska freight projects, it pays to choose an Alaska-based freight forwarder. We’ve given you a taste of how complex logistics can be in Alaska, and that’s a lesson that an established Alaska-based freight forwarder has already learned many times over. In short, going with an Alaska-based forwarder will save you a ton of time and stress.

To give you another concrete example of local Alaska knowledge at work, let’s take a look at one of the major factors impacting Alaska freight: the winter.

2. Don’t Underestimate the Alaska Winter

Winter happens every year, without fail. So, surely, the logistics and transportation industry in Alaska knows how to move freight even in the harshest conditions.

Since the days of deliveries by dogsled, residents in Alaska have figured out ways to keep things moving year-round.

However, you might still be surprised to know that barge service to western and arctic Alaska simply isn’t available mid-September through early March. In fact, not everyone believes us when they call in October and ask for the next barge to Dutch Harbor, and we tell them it’s in mid-April.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t move freight to those areas, but it does mean that you’ll have to use another mode—likely air. (And that can be considerably more expensive!)

That’s simply the nature of moving freight in Alaska—which is why it pays to work with someone who knows their stuff.

And further along the lines of “things work a little differently in Alaska…”

3. Door-to-Door Service Isn’t a Given

When you’re shipping freight to Alaska, it’s important to start your project with full clarity around the freight services you’re looking for. Not every provider does it all, and you don’t want to get locked in with someone who can’t offer what you need.

For example, don’t assume that every provider can provide door-to-door service with both pick-up on the front end and delivery on the back end. Some providers may only be able to handle door-to-port or port-to-port freight. Before you go down the road with any provider, make sure you get clear on your own expectations. Otherwise, you may find yourself needing to hire some last-minute help to fill the gaps.

To help you get that clarity, consider the following freight services, which can add significant ease to your next project.

4. The “Where” Matters

If you’re new to moving freight in Alaska, you might not realize how dramatically different all of its destinations can be. A delivery to Anchorage is a whole different animal than a delivery to Nome or Bethel or Juneau or Prudhoe Bay. As we mentioned earlier, moving freight in Alaska isn’t as simple as loading it onto a truck and sending it on its way. Some destinations in Alaska involve a barge—or even a C-130 Herc. (Trust us, we’ve been there, and we’ve handled those projects!)

When choosing freight providers, look for someone with experience in the “where” of your freight. They’ll have the the expertise, the connections, and the know-how to get it done right the first time.

One of Alaska’s most endearing qualities is the “can do” attitude of its residents. As a result, you might encounter a freight provider who doesn’t have experience in the origin or destination point you’re working in—but they’re willing to give it a try.

As much as we love Alaska’s “can do” spirit, you don’t want to be someone’s learning experience. Instead, look for someone who can leverage their existing expertise to create a smooth and stress-free freight project.

5. The Right Equipment Makes All the Difference

Finally, along these same lines, it’s important to look for someone who’s got the right equipment to get your specific job done. This is especially true if you’re sending specialized freight, including medical equipment like MRI machines, X-ray machines, or CT systems. This delicate—and expensive—machinery requires specialized equipment, some of which is manufacturer-specific.

Again, although there are plenty of go-getters in Alaska who might be willing to give it a try, we recommend working with the providers who have the right dollies, skates, jacks, J-bars, etc. They’ll arrive with the right tools for the job, reducing the possibility of damage to expensive or sensitive freight.

The best way to know? Ask a potential provider to share their past experience with similar freight projects. You’ll know pretty quickly whether they’ve got the equipment—and the expertise—to do it right.

Choosing the Right Alaska Freight Provider

Moving freight in Alaska isn’t like moving freight almost anywhere else in the world. That’s why you don’t want to trust just anyone for your freight projects. Now that you understand a little more about the lay of the land in Alaska, what to look for, and what questions to ask, you’re ready to find the right freight provider for you—one who will deliver a smooth, stress-free experience from origin to destination.

Moving freight in, out, or around Alaska? Our team has decades of experience in shipping all types of freight all over Alaska and all over the world, including specialized medical equipment, heavy freight, specialty freight, and more. We’d love to assist you with your next Alaska freight project. Just reach out to one of our experts for a complimentary quote.

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