There’s no place on Earth like the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Yellowstone National Park was the first place to be designated as such in history, and just one visit will show you why.
Visiting Yellowstone is like stepping onto another planet, and you’ll be fascinated with the sights around every turn. The landscape is absolutely breathtaking, with hot springs, geysers, mountains, lakes, travertine fountains, and so much more to discover.
Because the region is so unique, packing for a trip to Yellowstone presents certain challenges. After multiple visits during every season, I’ve perfected my packing list, and I’m here to share it with you. Take a look at what I bring to the National Park, and adjust your own list according to your plans.
After so many trips, I’ve created what I think is the ultimate Yellowstone packing list. This is my personal packing list, so you’ll notice the clothing listed is the women’s version. All of the outfitters featured below offer unisex and men’s versions as well, so you can absolutely find what you need to keep you comfortable when you visit Yellowstone.
Note: If you’re planning a winter visit, this Yellowstone packing list won’t be of much use. Winter access to the park is almost exclusively limited to concessionaire-led tours for a reason, and it’s best to consult your tour guide for a list of what to pack and see what they may provide.
If you’re one of the lucky few to get a permit to enter for over-snow travel without a commercial guide, you better know how to prepare for winter in one of the wildest places on the planet!
What To Pack For Yellowstone
The cheapest, and in my opinion, the best way to stay in Yellowstone is to camp. I love to stay in the Canyon area, because it’s centrally located and Canyon Village has all of the amenities I need for a trip, including a general store for last-minute essentials that I’ve forgotten.
In every season, I’ve encountered cold nights, so I always try to pack my sleep gear for the assumption that it’ll be freezing. You can always unzip your bag a little, but it’s much harder to warm up if you’re underprepared.
1. Big Agnes Anvil Horn 15° Sleeping Bag
Nothing is worse than sliding off your sleeping pad in the middle of the night, so the Avil Horn bag is my top pick overall. It has a sleeve for your sleeping pad, so you’ll stay put even if you’re a sleep-thrasher (guilty!). It does take a little to get used to being more “stuck”, and I felt a little claustrophobic on my first night with this setup, but the all-night comfort quickly won me over.
I tend to be a warm sleeper, so a 15-degree bag is more than enough for me well into the fall. If you tend to run cold, you might want to invest in a 0-degree bag.
See Related: How to Pack for a Month-Long Trip
2. Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated Sleeping Pad
Clearly, I’m a Big Agnes fan. The company makes high-quality gear and I’ve had my setup for years in all sorts of conditions. The Rapide SL insulated bag is one that I picked up before my most recent trip out west, and it was a huge upgrade from a cheaper, uninsulated bag that I had been lugging around previously.
It’s lightweight and perfect for backpacking, but wide enough and thick enough for stomach sleepers and side sleepers. I’ve only tested it down to the low 30s, but I didn’t feel the cold ground at all.
3. MIER Lanshan Ultralight Tent 3-Season Backpacking Tent for 1-Person or 2-Person
I’ve got two tents on my Yellowstone packing list, depending on my plans. If I’m hitting up a lot of hiking trails, trying to pack light, and heading out by myself, my Lanshan tent is the one I bring along.
This trekking pole tent was recommended by a couple of thru-hiker friends, and it’s a solid three-season option for me. Plus, you can’t beat how lightweight it is and how compact — even with a footprint, it takes up less space in my pack than my Nalgene. It’s also one of the cheapest lightweight options that doesn’t fall apart in the wind or rain.
Remember, though, I run warm, so if you’re a cold sleeper, you’ll want to account for the fact that the same lightweight fabric that makes it a favorite is also going to provide less insulation.
4. Copper Spur HV UL3 Long Tent: 3-Person 3-Season
The Copper Spur is a tent I’ve only slept in a couple of times, having I borrowed it from friends. It’s a more luxurious option for campers who want more room and more insulation from chilly temperatures.
It’s an expensive option, but Big Agnes gear lasts forever, and the Copper Spur can hold up to any weather you encounter. Since I have my compact tent (the Lanshan), I’ll end up getting this one in the 3-person size, so I have a comfortable and roomy option, too.
See Related: Best Travel Backpacks & Carry-On Options
5. Moji Lantern
These cheap, lightweight lanterns are worth their weight in gold. I don’t go anywhere without one or two of them, so add them to your Yellowstone packing list and pick up a few for your tent, car, picnic table, or pack.
They’re battery-powered and a little heavy, so if you’re a hardcore ultralight backpacker you might want to skip them, but for everyone else, the convenience of a compact hanging or standing lantern is worth it.
1. Juno H20 24L Daypack – Women’s
Chances are, if you’re already packing for Yellowstone, you’ve got a good day pack. If not, though, I can’t recommend Gregory packs enough! They’re my favorite in terms of comfort, style, and space, and mine have held up to just about any weather or situation you can think of.
Be warned, though, not even a high-quality backpack can protect you from marmots, so if you bring along a day pack like this 24L one, look out for the gear-stealing rodents when you set your stuff down to rest.
2. Facet 45L Backpack – Women’s
For longer treks or if you’re trying to pack all of your gear in one carry-on bag, the Facet pack is a great choice. It’s lightweight and comfortable even when it’s totally full, and there’s plenty of room for most of what you’ll need to pack for Yellowstone.
I also love how this bag can compress down once it’s more empty and work as an easy day pack, too. Unpack it a bit in your car, pull some straps, and you’ve got a comfortable bag to bring on your hike to Fairy Falls or the Boiling River.
1. SPRK Camp Grill
I’m a pretty minimalist packer, but I don’t skimp on camp kitchen gear. Last year, I bought one of these Eureka! stoves and it really improved my camping game.
I’m done dealing with tiny Jetboil or folding stoves and building my food list around things I can boil. Any ultralight backpackers reading this are probably long gone by now…
… but for those sticking around, here’s a tip: If you’re flying into Jackson Hole for your trip to Yellowstone, stop by Sweet Cheeks Meats or Aspen Market and pick up a couple of juicy steaks to grill on your first night. The Eureka! grill does a fantastic job cooking them, and grilling your own steak to perfection is the best way to kick off the trip of a lifetime.
2. Trail Lite 1.3L Pot
Really, any pot will do, but I’ve had great luck with this folding-handle lightweight pot from MSR. It’s big enough for one or two servings of whatever you usually make, and I tend to make instant potatoes, ramen, or frozen veggies.
It’s not the smallest (1.3 liters) or lightest (7.1 ounces) way to boil water, but I find the trade-off worth it, and it’s easy enough to leave in your campsite bear box or car while you’re out hiking.
3. Infinity Deluxe Tableset – 4 Person
Most of my “tableware” consists of stuff from GSR, and this table set has stood the test of time. You can buy each piece individually, but I keep the whole kit around and mix and match based on the trip and the company I’m traveling with.
Some other camp kitchen accessories you won’t catch me traveling without:
Stop by grocery stores in the gateway towns (Jackson, Cody, West Yellowstone, and Gardiner) before coming into the park – the park concessionaires have little more than the essentials.
1. Patagonia Pack Out Tights
I love my pack-out tights because they’re comfortable enough for long days of walking and driving, breathable, and they’ve got pockets. A pair of hiking tights with pockets?! Sign me up!
These tights are super stretchy, which is nice for hikes with some elevation changes or scrambling, like Avalanche Peak or Bunsen Peak, and they don’t snag easily, so feel free to do some backcountry bushwhacking.
2. Patagonia Quandary Shorts
I like the Quandary shorts because they’re the perfect mid-length, they don’t ride up, and they’re really comfortable. Gotta love water-resistant fabric, which also makes it pretty stain resistant.
I’m short, so the 5″ inseam works well for me, but the Patagonia Quandary Shorts come in a 7″ inseam, too. I really like how these shorts have belt loops, so you can wear a comfortable hiking belt and easily attach your bear spray for shorter walks when you don’t carry a bag.
See Related: Best Travel Shorts for Warm Weather Destinations
3. Smartwool Classic Thermal Merino Crew Baselayer
Not everyone loves wool, but I’m convinced that anyone who dismisses it as “itchy” hasn’t tried Merino. All of my base layers are made from Merino wool, and they’re so comfortable! The material wicks away sweat and neutralizes any odors, which makes it perfect for a long trip in nature when showers and laundry are hard to come by.
Unless I’m visiting during Wyoming’s three weeks of summer (mid-July to early August), I pack a couple of base layers in varying weights. Smartwool’s midweight one is my favorite, but if you run warm, you’ll likely only need it early in the day or late at night.
4. Smartwool All-Season Merino Baselayer Bottom
I’ll be honest, I only bring base layer bottoms when I know it’s going to be very cold at night. During the day, I warm up really quickly, so I never need more than my trail pants or hiking leggings.
If you do run colder, though, it’s a good idea to bring a pair of baselayer pants, and again, I recommend something made out of Merino wool. All of my Smartwool gear has lasted years, so I really stand behind the brand.
5. Columbia Sun Trek Hooded Pullover
A sun hoodie is an underrated piece of clothing that I bring with me to just about every destination. Yellowstone’s weather is unpredictable, so you can go from enjoying a hike in the clouds to sweating under the blazing sun in the blink of an eye.
A lightweight sun hoodie like this one from Columbia provides breathable physical protection from UV rays, so it keeps you cool and helps prevent sunburn without having to apply sunscreen continuously throughout the day.
6. Patagonia R1® Fleece Pullover
No matter what season you’re visiting Yellowstone, you’ll want to bring plenty of warm clothing along. It’s smart to bring a fleece jacket to wear over your base layers, and the grid fleece of this R1 pullover is comfortable, compact, and warm.
I love how this comes in bright colors because too much hiking clothing is made in drab neutrals that don’t showcase anyone’s personal style. I’ve also had a couple of my Patagonia micro-grid fleece pullovers for years, and they’ve stood the test of time.
See Related: Best Winter Travel Clothes for Cold Weather
7. Patagonia Houdini® Air Jacket
Yellowstone National Park doesn’t get a ton of rain – the annual average is between 14-20 inches, which is similar to the average of Orange County, California. That being said, afternoon thunderstorms roll in and roll out quickly, and it’s smart to have some sort of rain jacket on hand.
I like the Patagonia Houdini Air jacket for light precipitation. It’s not going to keep your fleece jacket dry in a downpour, but it does a great job of blocking wind and drizzle from getting through. It’s so lightweight and compact that you can keep it in a pocket so there’s no excuse to be caught without it.
If you’re planning overnight hikes in the summer or fall, you may want to bring a sturdier waterproof rain jacket, like the longer Hikebound Jacket from Columbia.
8. Patagonia Nano Puff® Hoody
The Patagonia Nano Puff or Micro Puff jacket is a must-have for anyone who spends time outdoors. Puffy hoodies are perfect for layering and keep you warm without sacrificing comfort or packability.
Weather in Yellowstone National Park can change on a whim, and it may be 80 degrees one day in August, and 30 the next.
9. Quandary Brimmer
A sun hat is a must-have item when you’re out hiking. Not only do they protect you from the harsh UV rays, but they’ll help protect you from any sudden rain squall that could pop up.
Be aware, though, that Wyoming is windy. I always bring my favorite baseball cap, but for longer hikes or windy days, a hat that has a chin strap, like the Patagonia Quandary Brimmer, or you’ll be chasing your hat as it blows away. You’ll see that often on the boardwalks, particularly in the windy Midway Geyser Basin area.
If your hat does get away from you and flies off the boardwalk, don’t chase it and put yourself at risk. Let a ranger know and they may be able to retrieve it safely. If you’re visiting in early spring or fall, you’ll want to pack a winter hat, too, to keep you warm at night and in the early mornings.
See Related: Best Vacation Dresses for Summer & Beach Trips
10. Hiker Micro Crew Cushion Sock – Women’s
I have strong opinions on hiking socks – but to keep from boring you, let’s just say you’ll be way better off if you grab a few pairs of Smartwool or Darn Tough Merino wool socks. They’re so much better than regular cotton socks, and they’ll help your feet stay warm and dry. Plus, they don’t stink like cotton socks do, and even if you get your feet soaking wet, they’ll dry quickly.
11. Peregrine 13 Trail Runners
Trail runners vs. hiking boots is a huge debate, and chances are you already know where you fall in terms of preferred hiking shoes. If you have strong ankles and prefer to move fast and carry light, trail runners are the way to go.
If you’re newer to hiking, worried about stability, and want to keep your feet nice and toasty even on mellow hikes, you’re going to want to hit the trails in hiking boots.
Regardless of which option you choose, be sure to do a few test hikes at home to break in your hiking shoes.
I hike in Saucony Peregrines for a few reasons: there aren’t many wide trail runners to choose from, they’re not zero-drop (sorry, internet, but zero-drop doesn’t work for everyone), and they’re incredibly grippy. I’m clumsy and have terrible depth perception, so the gripper, the better for me. I’m on my second pair of Peregrines and I’ve been impressed with the tread even on wet rocks, so I’m sticking with them as my primary hiking shoes.
If you’re looking for a recommendation for hiking boots, a lot of people I know swear by the Columbia Newton Ridge hikers. They’re waterproof and warm, but lightweight and comfortable enough for casual hikers who don’t put a ton of mileage on their footwear.
It’s not a bad idea to bring camp shoes or water shoes, too. Some places (like the Firehole River Swimming Area) are nice spots to dip your toes in, and if you’re planning a side trip to Grand Teton, you’ll certainly get your feet wet.
1. Toiletry Kit Daylite Hanging
A hanging toiletry kit is a must-have in Yellowstone because the bathrooms and showers don’t always have shelf space. I’ve never had a hard time finding a spot to hang my shower roll, but I do recommend bringing a carabiner in case you need a bigger clip. Osprey makes a good hanging toiletry roll, but I use this Sea to Summit bag if I’m packing light.
2. Sun Bum Moisturizing Sunscreen Sunscreen Lip Balm and Hydrating Cool Down Lotion
The high elevation in the park is easy to underestimate – until you come back in from a short day hike burnt to a crisp. Sun Bum makes my favorite sunscreen, and you can’t beat this travel pack with lip balm and cool down lotion for when your sun protection wears off a little too early.
3. DryLite Towel
Grab one or two microfiber quick dry towels – Sea to Summit Drylite towels are my go-to, but I have an REI towel that’s seen quite a bit of use, too. You won’t have a lot of room in your bag or in your shower stall, so a compact towel that dries you off quickly is a good call. This is one of those things that doesn’t seem like a must-have until you travel with one once, and then you’ll realize that Douglas Adams was right all along.
4. Wilderness Wipes – 36-Pack
Sea to Summit wipes always make my Yellowstone packing list. I usually bring at least two packs – a 36 count of their compact ones, and an 8-pack of the XL size. They’re sturdy, unscented, and gentle for sensitive skin.
If you’ll be out in the backcountry, these will help keep you fresh between showers, and they’re perfect for cleaning up after a meal or an untimely slip in the mud.
See Related: Best Personal Item Bags for Travelers
5. Wilderness Wash
I love the Sea to Summit wilderness wash for a lot of reasons – but the main reason is that it helps you save money and space in your pack. The same soap can be used to wash your hiking clothes, dishes, and your own skin.
Wilderness wash is made for these sorts of trips, and mine has never leaked. It’s also really concentrated, so the same small bottle has lasted me four trips now and still has about a quarter of the soap left.
1. Anker 533 Wireless Power Bank
Don’t worry, I’m not about to recommend a big slew of electronics to bring with you to Yellowstone National Park – after all, you’re in the park for a technology detox, right? If you do need to be connected to the outside world, though, it’s important to bring a few things along.
At the top of my packing list for any destination is my Anker power bank. It’s slim, offers wireless and wired charging, and holds a ton of juice. One fully charged Anker gets me through an entire week when I visit Yellowstone.
2. Anker 735 Charger (65W)
Outlets are few and far between in the park’s buildings and campgrounds, so if you need to charge up your phone or any devices quickly, this three-in-one charger from Anker is a lifesaver.
It’s got two USB-C ports and one USB port, which makes it compatible with most newer devices you’ll be carrying around. I got sick of juggling multiple power bricks and picked one of these up – it’s powerful enough to charge my MacBook Pro and phone at the same time, which is great.
3. Kindle Paperwhite
I’ve never regretted bringing my Kindle on a camping trip. If you find yourself waking up early or not being able to sleep, it’s a great way to keep quiet and just enjoy the sounds of nature while you read, without disturbing your tent mates.
See Related: Best Cameras for Travel Blogging
4. Garmin 010-01879-00 InReach Mini
It might seem like overkill to suggest a $300 gadget that requires a pricey subscription, but if you’re going to be hiking beyond the boardwalks, an InReach Mini is a great thing to have. You can even rent one from Teton Backcountry Rentals if you don’t want to make the full investment.
The InReach Mini is a GPS and Satellite communicator that allows you to check the weather, send messages, and most importantly call for help should you get into a situation where you’re at risk. If you spend any time hiking or camping in national parks, it’s a good call to pick up one of these.
Not convinced? Backpacker has a podcast called “Out Alive”. Listen to a few episodes about how routine trips through forests and parks have turned dangerous and you might change your mind.
5. First Aid kit
It’s a good idea to bring a basic first aid kit. Even a simple kit, like this Adventure Medical Ultralight first aid kit from REI, can stop a blister from ruining your trip, or get you out of a jam without derailing your day or causing you to track down a National Park ranger for a bandaid or some ibuprofen.
If you’re making your own first aid kit, check that medicines aren’t expired and that you have the ability to address blisters, burns, and simple injuries.
6. Yellowstone National Park Map
I don’t care how many AllTrails maps you have saved on your phone, or that you made sure to download the Offline Maps from Google before heading out – you need to be carrying physical maps anytime you wander more than a of couple feet from the boardwalks!
Even if you aren’t planning on much hiking, having a detailed paper map is useful when your phone has no service and you’re not sure just how far the next junction is, what rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone you want to see, or where you should head next. Physical paper maps are one thing that many travelers leave off their packing list, but you’ll never regret bringing one along.
Other Yellowstone Packing List Essentials
There is a handful of other items that I bring along, but I don’t have specific product recommendations for them. Beyond all of the above, you’ll want to make sure you throw the following things in your bag:
- An easy to fill and reusable water bottle. Disposable water bottles are discouraged.
- Bug spray or insect repellent that’s effective against ticks.
- A bathing suit – but be sure to only swim where it’s allowed! In the park itself, only a short stretch of the Firehole River is safe to swim. Take a day trip to Astoria Springs south of Jackson if you want to soak
A Note About Bear Spray And Bear Cans
Anytime you’re out of your car in Yellowstone, you’ll want to carry bear spray. You can’t fly with it, so rent a can when you get to the park.
Teton Backcountry Rentals is the place to go – you can pick up your cans at the airport and drop them off on your way out. They also have kiosks within the park.
If you plan to drive into Yellowstone, rather than fly, you can save some money by picking up bear spray at REI or Costco locally. Be absolutely sure you know how to use it, and when to use it, though. Grizzly bears are common throughout the park, and you don’t want to be reading the instructions on your can the first time you stumble upon a bear.
Black bears, while also common, aren’t as likely to be aggressive. Know how to tell the difference between the two before you lose cell service and the ability to google photos for reference.
Be sure to keep your bear spray within reach. It’s not going to be any help if it’s at the bottom of your pack, or in the car when you’re hiking through Lamar Valley.
Bear Cans approved by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) are required for food storage for anyone hiking through the Yellowstone backcountry. IGBC cans or coolers must be properly closed and left on the ground at the campsite food pole, or in the cooking area if there isn’t a food pole installed. Any food, trash, or other attractantS that don’t fit in the container needs to be hanged from the pole, or stored in the campsite’s bear locker.
In frontcountry campgrounds, IGBC cans or coolers aren’t sufficient for storage, and you must use the campsite bear boxes or your car to store food or anything with a scent.
Essential Yellowstone National Park Tips
- Stay hydrated! If you’re coming from sea level, the high altitude of northwest Wyoming can throw you for a loop, and some people are more affected by altitude sickness than others. There’s no surefire way to avoid it beyond gradually acclimating, but drinking water helps. I fill up my backpack’s water bladder before every hike, and keep a full lightweight Nalgene bottle in reach at all times. Plastic water bottles can be refilled throughout the park, too.
- If you’re hiking solo, be sure that someone knows your plans. While it would be ideal to hike through Yellowstone’s grueling backcountry in pairs or a group, it’s not always possible, and the next best thing is to be prepared for whatever you may encounter. Part of hiking solo is hiking responsibly, so check in with the rangers, check condition reports in the visitor centers, and make sure someone at home knows your plans before heading out.
- Stay out of the thermal features. These are not hot springs where you can go for a dip and relax – you’ll quite literally be boiled alive. There are very few waterways suitable for wading in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, so don’t chance it unless you truly know where you are, and what the spring may be.
- Stay on the boardwalks! Again, the boiled alive thing. Every year, people wander off the boardwalks and put themselves at risk of falling through the very thin crust that covers incendiary hot springs and thermal features.
What’s the best way to see wildlife in Yellowstone?
One of the best ways to see the abundant wildlife up close without putting yourself in danger is to rent a spotting scope. While this isn’t something most people pack for Yellowstone, it’s a great idea to rent a scope for the duration of your trip.
How much does it cost to visit Yellowstone?
Pick up a National Parks annual pass before your trip and you’ll have easy access to both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. There are multiple pass options, including free passes for disabled Americans, 4th grade students, certain Federal volunteers, and active duty military. Discounted passes are available for seniors as well.
When is the best time to see Yellowstone National Park?
I prefer Yellowstone in the late summer – end of August, early September. I recommend first time visitors come in late August, when crowds are thinning out but most amenities are still open.
Wildlife enthusiasts will appreciate the late spring season, but access is limited depending on the weather. Winter visits to Yellowstone should be reserved for those looking for an extreme cold-weather adventure involving oversnow travel.