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How to Pack for Winter in Yellowstone


Winter in Yellowstone is another world! The "fire and ice" effect of the boiling thermal pools combined with a blanket of white makes for amazing snowscapes and natural beauty. But take it from our Yellowstone Winter Ecology instructors—the weather can be unpredictable and downright chilly in the winter months, and it helps to come prepared. As we look ahead to our Yellowstone Winter Ecology field season, our staff have put together an essential packing list—along with a few tips and tricks—that will help you stay comfortable and ready to get the most out of your Yellowstone winter adventure.


So just how cold is it really?

Before we dive into the packing list, let's get on the same page about what you can expect. Yellowstone's winters last longer than most places in the United States, so when we talk about winter, we're talking about mid-November through mid-April. Most of the park sits above an elevation of 7000 feet, so it really is true that winter clings on when much of the country is melting away into springtime.


During this time, you can expect average daily temperatures of 0°F to 45°F. The Lamar Valley—an easily accessed and popular Yellowstone winter destination—frequently drops below zero, especially in the early morning hours when wolf watching is at its peak. It's essential that you bring warm clothing and plenty of layers to adjust with changing conditions.


How to use this packing list

This packing list is designed for our program participants—who will be spending many hours in the elements assisting wildlife researchers with observation and data collection. However, even if you're not one of our students and plan to spend time outdoors wildlife watching, geyser gazing, skiing, or snowshoeing (or you just run cold!), this packing list will undoubtedly benefit you too.


Luggage

  • Daypack for day hikes, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing

  • Duffel bag, internal frame backpack, or soft luggage (easier to carry over snow than a wheeled luggage)

Clothing

  • Warm pajamas. Nights are cold and warm pajamas (such as fleece or flannel) are strongly advised

  • 3 insulating layers for the upper body

    • 1-2 lightweight wool or synthetic layers

    • 1 heavyweight wool or synthetic layer

  • 3 insulating layers for the lower body

    • 1-2 pairs of long underwear

    • 1 pair of fleece sweatpants

  • 1 fleece pullover or sweater

  • Waterproof winter coat

  • Fleece or wool hat

  • 2 pairs of fleece or wool gloves/mittens

  • 1 pair of liner gloves - thin enough to wear under your winter gloves/mittens

  • 2 t-shirts

  • Swimsuit (in case you plan to soak at one of the nearby commercial hot springs!)

  • Snow pants, in the event of extreme low temperatures

  • Waterproof pants to wear over bottom layers

  • Comfortable pants to wear in the evenings

  • 6-10 pairs of socks

    • You may find that you wear 2 pairs of socks per day!

    • We suggest 75% wool or synthetic

  • Underwear

Personal Care Items

  • 2 large garbage bags, for packing wet clothes or dirty shoes

  • Travel size toiletries

    • Toothbrush & toothpaste

    • Deodorant

    • Face/body wipes

    • Anti-bacterial hand gel

    • Lotion

    • Lip balm

    • Menstrual products

  • Sunglasses (the glare off the snow can be intense)

  • Sunscreen - Minimum SPF 30; water resistant; free of oxybenzone, octinoxate, or octocrylene if possible

  • Personal medications, including inhalers

  • Prescription glasses or contact lenses

  • Travel towel - quick-dry and body sized

  • Cash

Footwear

  • Winter boots - waterproof, insulated, and broken-in boots that provide ankle support

  • Comfortable shoes or slippers to wear indoors

  • Sandals to wear in the shower, depending on your accommodations

Daily Necessities

  • 2 water bottles

  • Watch with alarm or alarm clock with batteries (cell phone service and Wi-Fi can be limited!)

  • Headlamp or flashlight

  • Hand sanitizer and face mask

  • Travel mug for hot beverages

  • Tupperware: Help reduce waste by bringing reusable containers for lunches or leftovers. Example: 1 sandwich-sized and 2 snack-sized reusable containers.

Optional Items

  • Camera and extra batteries

  • Film or memory cards

  • Journal and writing utensil

  • Binoculars

  • Disposable hand & feet warmers

  • Deck of cards or other small games

  • Ear plugs for light sleepers

  • Gaiters (worn over your boots to keep your pants dry and snow out)

A few more handy tips

The Art of Layering

According to EPI's Yellowstone Program Manager Alexei Desmarais, the key to staying warm outdoors in the winter is layering well. "This gives you the flexibility to adjust your clothing in response to changing environmental conditions," he explains. "For example, you can remove bulkier outer layers when you're working hard, to limit heat loss through sweat and keep your clothes dry. But when a storm rolls in or you stop to eat lunch, you'll be able to throw on a few more layers and maintain your warmth."


Cotton Kills

When choosing clothing, it's best to avoid 100% cotton fabrics since they have very little insulating value when wet and don't dry quickly. "Preference wool or synthetic materials, which are going to be much better at wicking moisture away from your skin," Alexei recommends. "Cotton just holds onto moisture and wet clothing greatly increases heat loss."


Never Accept Numbness!

Alexei also recommends students and visitors keep close tabs on tingling toes and fingers. "When you're out for longer treks in snowy wilderness, numbness is the first sign your body is unable to effectively thermoregulate," he explains. "Once those tissues start to freeze, numbness can quickly escalate to something more dangerous, including permanent tissue damage from frostnip or frostbite. If you start to experience numbness, stop to reevaluate clothing and gear needs and re-layer if possible. Or make the decision to head back to where you can rewarm the numb parts."


Rent, Borrow, or Buy Used

If you live in a warmer climate and don't already own many of these items, EPI staff highly recommend purchasing from your local used clothing or gear shop, borrowing items from a friend, or renting gear from a sporting goods store. This will help reduce your carbon footprint and save you money. Plus, it's good to be aware that the nearest department store is two hours away from Yellowstone's North Entrance and at least an hour away from the West Entrance. Best to come prepared!


PMA: Positive Mental Attitude

Packing your best "PMA" or "positive mental attitude" didn't make our checklist above, but it might be the most important packing item of all! EPI's Yellowstone Program Coordinator Sarah Wood admits it's going to be cold out there, but it's going to be fun. "Yellowstone in the winter is beautiful, and not many people get to experience it," she says. "Embrace the opportunity to engage with the park without the crowds, and encourage yourself to see the beauty all around you."


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