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Yellowstone is a stunning national park with a wide variety of natural beauty including geothermal features, incredible waterfalls, amazing wildlife, great hiking trails, and world-class fishing.
In fact, the Park has more activities and things to see than you can imagine, but be prepared for rapidly changing weather, even in the summer. To fully enjoy Yellowstone, arrive prepared.
I have visited Yellowstone National Park 20 times as of this writing but still remember my first visit. Along with amazement at watching geysers erupt and the thrill of seeing my first grizzly bear, I also remember the shock of being freezing cold in July. Needless to say, I spent a bunch of money trying to keep warm.
It took 3 visits before I figured out everything to pack for Yellowstone and what things to leave home. Thankfully, you don’t have to make the mistakes I made. In this “Yellowstone Best Packing Guide For Summer” I list the major clothing pieces and supplies to pack to enjoy Yellowstone’s many activities while staying comfortable.
Not only does this Yellowstone Packing Guide included essential items such as comfortable hiking shoes, 1st aid kits and sunscreen, it includes many nice to have items such as binoculars and walkie talkies along with helpful links and tips.
Note: This guide is not designed to address the needs of those who will be backcountry camping in Yellowstone. I do not feel qualified to offer any advice on that subject.
To help navigate this guide and for a quick reference, please see the collapsable Table of Contents below.
What to Bring to Yellowstone
Clothes to Pack for Yellowstone
Layer, layer, and layer again. Yellowstone is all about the great outdoors and your clothes should be too. It is important to pack clothing that can be layered, accommodate multiple activities, and quickly be put on or removed depending on the outside temperature. Also the clothes should be compact enough to store in a backpack when not being worn.
For those unfamiliar with the Basics of Layering here is a quick overview:
Lightweight and breathable fabrics are ideal for a bottom layer in summer’s warmer weather. They should not require ironing, be dry quickly, moisture wicking, and washable in a sink if needed. For cool summer mornings, a light jacket for protection from rain or lightweight fleece for warmth should be all you need.
As mentioned above, expect wide temperature fluctuations during the day by as much as 40+ degrees as well as significant temperature changes between the different Park locations. It might be nice and warm at Mammoth Hot Springs, only to be shivering cold on top of Mt Washburn.
Don’t forget to pack comfortable walking shoes for exploring Yellowstone as well as a hat and sunglasses for protection from the sun’s strong rays.
Tip: Clothes that can be rinsed off easily will mean you can pack fewer cloths and have more room to pack fun items on this list.
Now let’s dig a bit deeper into exactly what clothing items you should pack.
Convertible Pants- Look for pants that are convertible, lightweight and quick to dry. Also check to see if the side pockets on the pants are deep enough to carry important items such as keys, and cell phones. I am a pocket hog so I also favor pants with that extra little side pocket just above the knee. As a photographer, I love the small side pocket for holding things like lens cloths, polarizers, etc.
During summer months in Yellowstone convertible pants are especially handy since it can be much cooler in the morning than in the afternoons. Note: If you don’t like convertible pants, the recommended pants are also available as regular hiking pants.
Here are two of my favorite convertible pants:
Similar pants are available for men: Columbia Silver Ridge Mens Pants
REI– I am putting these pants on the list because I owned them for many years and absolutely loved them. However the latest version of these pants come with some changes that I am not wild about such as front pockets instead of side pockets. Check the pants out and decide if this new design works for you: REI Sahara Convertible Hiking Pants.
Women’s Knee Length pants– Sorry men but I doubt these will interest you. For those of you who prefer to not deal with zipper pants or for those especially hot days and warmer climates, these Columbia Women’s Saturday Trail Knee Pants are great. I have 4 pairs, some 5 years old, and they have all held up very well.
Women’s Columbia Capri Trail Pants
These pants are fast drying, comfortable and offer UPF 50 yet can be quickly be pulled up over knees for those times you want to step into one of Yellowstone’s rivers.
Jeans– Bring one pair of blue jeans when you want to get dressed up for dinner! I’m not kidding.
Women’s Shorts– How many pairs of shorts you bring to Yellowstone will depend on your personal preference. For me, I only pack one pair of shorts for Yellowstone since I prefer to wear capri pants or convertible pants there. However, the REI Co-op Sahara Shorts are great for outdoor summer adventures. For a little looser fit and a shorter short, Columbia Women’s Sandy River Cargo Shorts are great and last for years.
Men’s Shorts– Again, my top recommendation is the REI Co-op Sahara Shorts.
For tops, keep with the theme of layers and pack moisture-wicking short sleeve t-shirts coupled with long sleeve roll-up sleeve shirts. Also be sure to pack a fleece jacket along with a light weight rain jacket and possibly an outer jacket for those cold days. Tip: When packing for hotter days, be sure to bring long sleeve shirts in light colors.
For long sleeve shirts in summer these are a few things you may want in this shirt:
Mens Tuna Long Sleeve Fishing Shirt
The men’s long sleeve fishing shirts comes in a wide variety of colors, offers UPF protection of 50, have some waterproofing and are a comfortable fit.
A lighter weight option for men with only UPF of 30 is : Columbia’s Men’s Bahama Long Sleeve Fishing Shirt.
Everyone should pack a fleece jacket for any trip to Yellowstone regardless if it is July or October. In fact I keep a medium weight fleece jacket in my car at all times when I am in Yellowstone even if it is 80 degrees when I leave in the morning. (Yes, that has not happened but it sounded good)
Fleece jackets range from lightweight to heavy but since this post is Best Yellowstone Summer Packing Guide, I will focus more on lightweight to medium weight jackets. For all other spring, summer (late August) and fall months, I would definitely pack a medium to heavy weight fleece jacket.
For a lightweight fleece jacket here is my pick for men: Patagonia RI Air with Hoodie
For a lightweight fleece jacket here is my pick for women: Patagonia RI Air with Hoodie
For a medium weight fleece jacket here is my pick for men: Arcterxy Kyanite Medium Weight Fleece Jacket
For a medium weight fleece jacket here is my pick for women: Arc’Teryx Jacket with Hoodie
For heavy weight fleece jackets:
Women- a similar version of the North Face Denali II jacket is available at REI in a variety of colors. Amazon’s selection was limited.
All outer jackets should be waterproof and breathable. In the warmer months which for Yellowstone consist of July and part of August, an outer jacket will primarily be used as protection from rain so a lightweight rain jacket should suffice. However, if you are visiting Yellowstone in late May to June and again in the fall months, consider bringing an outer jacket that also provides protection from wind and freezing temperatures.
Here are a few recommendations for your consideration:
Lightweight Rain Jacket: Lightweight, Breathable and Waterproof
For a great lightweight jacket that will keep the rain off you and add a light layer of protection when outdoors in Yellowstone this is my top choice for both men and women: Arc’eryx Beta LT Jacket
For those who are only outdoors on vacations or occasionally and looking for a more budget friendly option, the following are good options but may not hold up as long.
Men’s Columbia Watertight li Jacket
This economical jacket is waterproof and breathable yet light enough to pack tightly in a backpack. In fact it can be folded into it’s own handpocket.
Women’s Columbia Arcadia Jacket
This economical jacket is waterproof and breathable but is very lightweight so will not keep you warm on very cold days. However, It is perfect for rain protection in warmer months.
Cooler Months: Waterproof, Wind Protection and Breathable
Yellowstone can be cold, even in early June or late August/early September. So if you are planning to visit during those times, plan to bring a heavier outer jacket that not only keeps you dry but also adds warmth while blocking wind.
Here is my top choice for a jacket that comes in a version for both men and women: Patagonia Tortoiseshell Jacket.
Hiking shoes and hiking boots have a place in your Yellowstone bound suitcase but if you only have room for one, go with the hiking shoe. Hiking shoes have more flex than hiking boots and will make all those long geyser basin and waterfall hikes much more comfortable than a hiking boot. They will also work well on many of Yellowstone’s flat and level terrain hikes.
Since everyone’s foot is so different it is hard to say any one brand is the perfect choice. In fact I highly recommend visiting a sporting goods store to try on as many brands as possible until you find a good fit for your feet.
Women’s Merrill Moab III Waterproof Hiking Shoe
The Merrill Hiking Shoe offers good traction, lots of cushion along with a waterproof membrane to keep water out. I have found this shoe to be water resistant but not entirely waterproof in torrential downpours but who is going to keep walking around the geysers in a torrential downpour?
Sorry men but I am not able to make a recommendation for mens hiking shoes. My friend has such a wide foot that he is too limited in his choices to evaluate many of the shoe brands.
If you plan to do any hiking on rough terrain or long distance hikes, be sure to pack hiking boots in addition to hiking shoes. When looking for a good hiking boot, fit is most important since you will be spending a lot of time on your feet. Additionally decisions between a high top boot with great support or a mid top hiking boot that has a little less support but is lighter must be made.
Lastly, although waterproof boots due tend to get a bit warmer, I recommend buying waterproof boots. I once had a pair of boots come apart on a trail 3 miles from the trailhead due to standing water and quickly learned the value of paying for waterproof boots. Tip: Always carry gaffer tape in case you need to tape a boot together.
Both of the boots below I have owned or currently own and would buy again without hesitation.
Tip: Be sure to break in any hiking boots prior to undertaking any long hikes
Women’s Merrill Moab III Waterproof Mid Hiking Boot
These Merrill Moab III mid high hiking boots are made of waterproof leather with a breathable mesh lining and a Vibram sole for great traction on all surfaces. With an air cushion in the heel, not only will your feet be comfortable, but ready to tackle any of Yellowstone’s beautiful trails.
Women for those who prefer a high top boot, here is my recommendation: La Sportiva High II GTX Hiking Boot. It is breathable while still being waterproof and has great cushion for your feet.
Mens Salomon Quest GTX High Hiking Boot
The Salomon Quest boots are built for the toughest terrain and have an upper layer of waterproof nubuck leather and a GORE-TEX membrane that keeps your feet dry in wet conditions. The sole offers superior traction, even on slick surfaces. If you plan to do hikes on difficult terrain, make sure you pack a pair of these boots.
The choices for water shoes will vary greatly depending on how many water activities you plan to do. If you are planning to fish while in Yellowstone and spend a lot of time on your feet in water, I recommend purchasing a good quality shoe with arch support. If you simply need a shoe that allows you to wade in water briefly, you can look for more economical options. Keens are my favorite brand of water shoes due to their great traction and arch support; besides they are so comfortable. Keen Water Shoes
Pack smart wool hiking socks. Do not scrimp as there is nothing worse than blisters about 4 miles from the trailhead as I well know.
Everyone visiting Yellowstone should pack at least one good hat, possibly two. When deciding what hat to bring, here are a few guidelines to consider:
Beyond that, the choice is up to your personal preference. Personally, I am a fan of a straw hat with a 2 1/2 to 3 inch brim for everyday use, however, as a photographer, this hat does not always work as straw hat brims get in the way of the viewfinder. So when photographing, this is my go to hat since the front easily flips up and out of the way:
Compass Hat in Cream
This is a washable and compatible hat with brims of 3 inches on the sides, 3 3/4 inches in front and 4 inches in the back that blocks 98% of UV rays at a great price.
I hate wearing gloves but do find them essential in cold weather. Since this post is about packing for Yellowstone primarily in summertime, the focus here will be on gloves for cooler morning and evening outings and not all day cold weather protection.
Here are my two choices. Instead of bringing gloves, consider bringing a pair of glove liners. They provide some level of warmth without obstructing finger movement. In fact, I find glove liners work well on most summer days. Just be aware that they do not provide the level of weatherproofing or warmth needed on occasionally cold days. Who wants to come to Yellowstone and have your hands so cold it is painful to hold trekking poles?
As extra precaution, I recommend including one pair of fingerless gloves to your packing list. These gloves can be worn over the glove liners so that your fingers are still not obstructed yet your hands are warm. REI has my favorite paid of fingerless gloves
For most tourists glove liners should be adequate.
Just north of Mammoth Hot Springs is a very popular hot spring worth a visit if you have time so be sure to pack a bathing suit. Bathing suits are also great for kayaking and other water adventures.
Flip Flops for Showers
Yellowstone has a number of public shower facilities that receive a large number of users each day. Be sure to bring some type of waterproof shoes that you can wear when showering in these facilities. I keep a pair of cheap flip flops in my shower bag at all times.
Cooking and Food to Pack for Yellowstone
When visiting Yellowstone, I highly recommend bringing food and drinks with you in the Park. First of all, Yellowstone is massive and it can often be hours between grocery stores and restaurants or much longer if you encounter a traffic jam due to animals. Also the food is expensive, not great and selections are limited.
The most important reason to bring your own food, however, is to enjoy some of Yellowstone’s 52 scenic picnic areas. I once ate the most enjoyable peanut butter and jelly sandwich of my life while watching a herd of elk cross a beautiful river with trumpeter swans swimming nearby. Where else can you get that view?
Request: Please always pack out what you bring in, leave the area clean, and do not feed the wildlife. Many bears have been killed because of irresponsible picnic area behavior.
Things to Know When Cooking in Yellowstone:
The following cooking related items are designed for day trips and campground stay. For backpackers, some of these items will not work. Also, for those of you flying into the park, you many not have the ability to bring all these items on your flight but be sure to shop prior to arriving in the Park or it’s adjacent small towns.
An option for obtaining some of the items on this list, is to order from Amazon and have them shipped to one of Amazon box locations for pickup. In West Yellowstone, Quick Print accepted Amazon packages for pick up for a small fee up to a certain package size. I have not been to the Park in the last couple years so I recommend calling them to verify that is still the case.
1. Water Bottles- When selecting water bottles, I look for a product that is BPA free, environmentally friendly or neutral, well insulated, and has a good seal. This is one of my favorites: Hydro Flask Wide Mouth w Straw. Hydro Flask also comes in several sizes and different mouth opening all which are equally good depending on your personal preference.
2. Coolers– I strongly recommend everyone bring a good cooler whose size and shape will vary depending on your needs.
The choices for coolers requires an entire blog post beyond the scope of this post so for now, these are my favorite coolers.
Soft Sided: No it’s not a Yeti but a much cheaper alternative called the Titan Deep Freeze soft sided cooler. Well this is not entirely softsided. Although I love Yeti products, their soft sided coolers are known to have zipper issues which is a common problem with many soft sided coolers. This cooler does not have a zipper yet stays sealed.
Collapsable– If you are looking for a cooler to pack for Yellowstone picnics you may wish to consider: Collapsable Cooler Bag with Shoulder Strap that holds 30 drinks and packs tightly. This cooler is good, not perfect, but will likely beat anything you can buy around the park.
Hard Sided Cooler– For Hard Sided Coolers Yeti is my top choice.
3. Stoves and Grills- It is great to have some type of stove where you can make coffee, heat food or cook a meal. A grill is a luxury item that is also nice to bring if you have the space.
Let’s talk about stoves first. Unless you are planning to cook major meals at a campsite, I recommend bringing a one burner butane/ propane stove. It will take up less room than the larger but popular Coleman 2 burner propane stove.
For those of you flying, you may prefer to skip packing a stove and pack a Jetboil instead or pick one up where you land. Jetboils are expensive so let me suggest shopping at Walmart for an economical alternative. Besides you will need to shop for any fuel for your stove and grill at your destination anyway.
One Burner Stove– Here is my top pick: Gas One GS-3400P Propane or Butane Stove Dual Fuel Stove Portable Camping Stove .
Grills- Most of Yellowstone’s picnic areas do not have grills so I always bring a small portable grill on any trip longer than 3 days. Here is a link to which picnic areas offer grills.
For those of you who have the space and wish to bring a grill, this is the one I own in an older version: The Coleman Gas Grill for Camping and Tailgating. It is designed for 2 people but can cook for 4 and is very small and compact. By the way is there nothing better that fresh caught fish on a grill. Campgrounds have fire pits but most do not have grills.
4. Collapsable Sink- If you have never owned a collapsable sink you are missing out. These sinks are great for washing dishes, vegetables and produce, clothes, your face and so much more. I won’t make any particular recommendation other than to pack one for your trip as they can easily be bought at all Walmarts. You don’t need to buy a particular brand as my cheap Walmart sink has held up well for years.
5. Some type of Coffee Pot- I have not put this item in green since some of you will be staying in hotels with access to coffee or may not drink coffee. But for those of you who will be camping and/or want to drink coffee , this is my recommendation. Pack a pour over coffee filter such as this one: Pour Over Filter.
Not only will this save you money but you can drink the coffee of your choice anywhere you can heat water which you will be able to do with one of the recommended stoves listed above. For families, you may choose to bring an old fashioned drip coffee pot that can also be used on the above stoves. Oh, and don’t forget your favorite coffee.
6. Utensils: Pack forks, knives, spoons, spatulas, cutting knives, grilling utensils and other items based on your cooking plans. Specific recommendations are beyond the scope of this post.
7. Plates, bowls, etc. Try to find one multipurpose item if possible to save on space. I recommend plastic non breakable items. Supplement what you don’t bring with paper products you can easily pick up in the Park stores or nearby towns.
8. Other essential cooking and food items: Can opener, wine cork, pots and pans, dish towels, etc. (keep it simple)
9. Food Storage Containers– For space saving reasons, I try and store as much as possible in zip lock bags instead of tupperware or other bulky containers. I also remove items from boxes such as cereal, rice, crackers, etc.and place them in zip lock bags which take up less space. All individual bags are then placed in a secure bin with a lid or a bear canister to deter mice, bears and other animals from entering my vehicle or camper. I have been camping since 2003 and only had mice once and that was enough.
Tip For When Not in Yellowstone or Any Bear Country- I spray the outside of the above bin with a mixture of peppermint oil (not extract) and water along with the outside of my car to keep mice out.
10. Plastic Table Clothes, Napkins, and Paper Towels.– Yes, plastic table cloth. Do not bring cloth or anything that can’t be wiped down completely to remove all food odors.
11. Vinegar- Used for cleaning dishes and other areas.
12. Food– Food totally depends on your personal choice. I will only offer one piece of advice and that is to keep food you plan on taking on trails to items with little scent. I opt for individually packaged protein bars or nut and fruit snacks. Years ago I made a rookie mistake of eating a banana while sitting in my car watching a grizzly bear in the road. He quickly headed straight towards my car sniffing my windows (they were up) but fortunately he got spooked and left.
Stock up on food before you enter the park. Jackson, Wyoming has a great Smith Grocery Store that is reasonable priced. Bozeman, Montana also a number of good grocery stores including a WinCo and a Walmart. I don’t remember what is in Cody but know that Livingston also has a decent Albertsons. If you forget items at any of these locations then West Yellowstone and Gardiner along with the Park itself do offer small but expensive grocery stores.
Safety Items to Pack for Yellowstone
Visiting Yellowstone is all about being out in nature regardless if you are hiking to the bottom of a waterfall, watching one of Yellowstone’s many geyser’s erupt, viewing bears, fly fishing, photographing the elk rut, or swimming. With all these activities, accidents and animal encounters may happen and medical help can be hours away. Do as much as possible to keep yourself safe by packing the items on this list.
If you don’t pack anything else, pack bear spray and don’t go anywhere without it. Yellowstone is home to roughly 100+ grizzly bears and an unknown number of black bears. Although most bears will run from you, bears with cubs or on a food source may attack.
Simply bringing bear spray is not enough. You need to know what to look for in bear spray, understand how to use it, and the best way to carry it along with having an awareness of how wind direction and speed affect the spray.
First up, you can’t fly with bear spray and will need to buy it once you arrive. I suggest buying it wherever you fly into to as it will be much more expensive in the Park. You can also rent bear spray if you prefer. If you are driving you will be able to take bear spray with you.
Things to consider when buying bear spray:
I recommend buying or renting two cans of bear spray and not just one. If you are alone, keep one can within easy access on the front of your body and a second can where you can get to it as quick as possible if the first can fails to stop a bear. If you are with two or more people, make sure each adult has bear spray within easy access.
The brand I have always carried (never had to use) is Assault Guard but there are several other good brands. Above all else, make sure you know how to properly use it. Tip: Watching videos is a great idea.
1st Aid Kit
As mentioned, Yellowstone is a long way from a city so always be sure to pack a good 1st aid kit along with all medicines you take. In fact it is a good idea to always keep a first aid kit in your car along with a smaller kit in your backpack.
The items the 1st Aid Kit should contain will depend on what you do along with your location. For instance, earthquake survival items will be more important than snake bit items in Yellowstone while snake bit items are vitally important in Arizona.
Only you can decide what items are most important to have in your kit but at minimum be sure it includes something to stop bleeding, wraps for sprains, and other similar items. If you are allergic to bees, be sure to also bring an epinephrine auto-injector.
Here is a link to the top 1st Aid Kits on Amazon to help you get started shopping for a kit: 1st Aid Kits.
This is another item that I highly recommend having with you when visiting Yellowstone. Not only is this horn good for warding off animals but it is also great for general protection. I traveled solo both in a motorhome and travel trailer and now in a van (not always alone today) and keep a small fog horn on me at all times. I also keep a larger horn in my RV/van.
Other sizes are available depending on your needs.
A flashlight that has a long reach and a very bright light is extremely important In Yellowstone as bears in particular can be everywhere. Even if you plan to stay in a surrounding town and only visit the park during the day, there will still be times you will be going to your car, stores or restaurants in the dark. Make sure any flashlight you pack is up to the task such as this one.
ThruNite Led 1005 Meter Flashlight
This rechargeable 1900 lumen Led flashlight can light up subjects at 1200 feet away. It has 6 brightness modes making it a perfect choice for any Yellowstone trip.
One of my favorite pieces of outdoor gear is a headlamp which I consider an essential item to pack for any Yellowstone trip. It allows for hands free illumination which is especially helpful in the dark regardless if your are carrying groceries, setting up camp, or working a camera for a night shot. In fact I find headlamps so versatile that I keep my headlamp hanging from my gear shift on my car so that it is always within reach.
In addition to the hands free illumination, headlamps can provide better visibility than a flashlight and they are more energy efficient.
These are the things you should look for in any headlamp:
You can expect to pay anywhere from $40 to $200 for a good headlamp depending on how many lumens and other features it has, however, for basic walking around at night, a $40 headlamp should suffice. For all other uses, go with a more expensive headlamp. Tip: Do try to buy a head lamp with a red light option so it will not be blinding to others at night. Also bugs are not as drawn to red or orange light.
The headlamp I use for camping and night photography is a Petzl Actik Core Headlamp. It has a 600 lumen light, is rechargeable via a micro USB port and can also be operated with 3 AAA batteries. Note: Although this product is also available on Amazon, the rechargeable versions they offer only have 350 to 450 lumens max but are priced the same as this REI model so go with the REI lamp.
For those who will only be using a headlamp occasionally and prefer economical models, here is a link to all Amazon headlamps.
Photography Gear for Yellowstone
Cameras and Lens
Yes bring a camera and not just the camera on your phone. At this time, I will not recommend a particular camera or brand since that discussion is too extensive for this already long post. In the coming months I will be publishing two articles on camera choices and will update this post with links to those articles at that time.
For now, I simply recommend packing an interchangeable lens camera that fits your budget. Along with the camera, pack at minimum two lens. One lens should be in the range of 24-70mm and the other lens should be in the range of 100-400mm.
The 24-70mm lens will be used for general landscape photos along with photographs of Yellowstone’s geysers while the 100-400mm lens will come in handy for capturing wildlife. For those with the funds and are serious about photography, I also recommend packing an ultra-wide lens in the range of 16-35 mm and a fixed lens in the 500mm range. If I had to choose one, I would pick the 16-35mm lens to help capture some of the geyser features but that really depends on your photographic interests.
For those of you who are curious, I photograph with both Canon and Sony brands. Canon for wildlife and Sony for landscapes and my lens range from 16mm to 500mm. (Don’t ask, long story)
For video, a current model of an Iphone 13 and above will work just fine. Be sure you are up to date on National Public Land Rules for video.
I highly recommend bringing a tripod. Most people who come to Yellowstone want to capture at minimum these three images regardless of what else they photograph: a photograph of Old Faithful geyser erupting, a photo of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone Falls, and a photograph of a grizzly bear.
To create the best photos of the first two items, you will need to use a slow shutter speed to blur water which will not be possibly without a tripod. Also a tripod is important when photographing sunrises and sunsets. If you own a tripod, please pack it. If you don’t own a tripod and are in the market, please check out my Tripod Buying Guide.
Camera Bags and Backpacks
Bringing a camera bag is especially important in Yellowstone since some of the Yellowstone geysers spray substances that can damage cameras, cars and other items. Steamboat Geyser, in Norris Geyser Basin is especially known to cause problems to cars, cameras and phones to the extent warning signs are posted in its parking lot. To be on the safe side, always hike with your photography gear in a bag or backpack when not in use.
Now moving on the camera bags or backpacks. The type of bag and its size will vary greatly depending on how much gear you own and how far you plan to hike with that gear. There are many different opinions regarding the best bags but the right bag is what works for you, not anyone else.
Personally, I own a large number of camera bags and backpacks including two Think Tank backpacks, a Lowepro bag, two pelican cases and a Peak Design bag. When traveling by car I store my gear in two think tank bags/cases and use one of my smaller bags for hikes and walks depending on what I need to carry.
Since I RV, I do not need to worry about packing my gear for a flight so my recommendations may not work for you.
This first little camera backpack was a surprise find. It came as an add-on when I purchased a Sony AR7 model and I planned to sell it until I used it. Now it is my favorite bag when I go light, especially for travel photography.
Lowepro Tahoe BP 150
This is a great little backpack when you want to travel light with one camera and a couple lens yet be sure to gear is protected. Also the zippered outer pocket has space for essentials such as your phone, notepad, map, or other items.
My second recommendation is a slightly larger bag that can carry more gear yet still have a smaller profile than my large camera cases. Mindshift Gear Backlight 18L
Polarizer -First up be sure to bring circular polarizer filters for each of your lens. For wide angle lens, slim circular polarizers work best since they reduce any vignetting that occurs with a regular polarizer. In fact if you don’t already own polarizing filters, only buy the slimming filters if you can afford them.
UV Filter– Although I am someone who is opposed to adding any unneeded glass to a lens, in Yellowstone I break that rule. Due to the potential damage to lens and expensive filters from geyser spray, I encourage everyone to add a good but reasonably priced UV filter to the top of any polarizer or lens when photographing geysers. Do be sure, however, that any UV filter you purchase has no color cast.
Lens Cloths -In addition to the above items, be sure to bring lots of lens clothes as you will be wiping the front of your lens frequently, not only at the geyser basins but also at the waterfalls.
Liquid Lens Cleaner Spray– A discussed the spray from geysers contains a material that is abrasive and can quickly stick to the glass of your lens. Do not attempt to wipe it off until you almost soak the front of the lens then apply a very light pressure. This spray will also work on sunglasses, regular glasses and similar surfaces so bring several bottles. Do everything you can to avoid any spray from getting on your lens by using the above mentioned UV Filter along with a lens hood at all times. Also bring a lens cover for the lens itself
Extra batteries -Photographing wildlife you can quickly deplete a battery so be sure to bring at least three batteries or more for each of your cameras.
Lots of Memory Cards- You do not want to run out of memory cards when that perfect shot appears regardless if it is geyser going off or a grizzly bear.
Sensor cleaners– Sensors can get dirty quickly when changing lens, especially with all the dust in the air from the animals and terrain. Be sure you have your favorite sensor cleaning equipment with you in Yellowstone because you will need it.
General Items to Pack for Yellowstone
For some reason I have never had a problem with bugs on any of my 20 visits to the Park but know others that have experienced many issues with bitting bugs. Be sure to pack your favorite bug spray but keep it small enough to fix comfortably in a back pack.
The chairs I have included under this general section are chairs that can easily be carrying in a vehicle as well as on a hike. I also have a chair recommendation under camping that I believe may be a bit heavy to take hiking but is great for relaxing at the campsite.
My first recommendation below is the popular Helinox chair. This chair is wonderful but does tend to sink into softer soil due to the leg structure so keep this in mind when purchasing it. Also this chair will take a bit of time to put together initially until you get the hang of it. Otherwise it is a very comfortable lightweight and portable chair that is great to carry on hikes.
Helinox Sunset Chair High Back
The popular Helinox Sunset High Back Chair is the ultimate portable lightweight chair for enjoying the outdoors. It’s high back provides back support while still being very compact for hiking and lightweight at only 3.4 lbs. It can support individuals up to 320lbs.
The next recommendation is best for short hikes or walks as well as for picnicking. However I don’t recommend this chair for very long hikes where every ounce matters. That being said, this is my go to chair when I am sitting waiting to photograph certain animals.
Coleman Camp Chair w Cooler
Here is a budget friendly chair that is portable yet sits 18″ high making it a great choice for those with back or knee issues. It even has a cooler for your drinks. A cooler may sound unnecessary but can be a wonderful feature in Yellowstone if you are trying to stay still to watch an animal but thirsty.
Multipurpose Pocket Knife
A multipurpose tool/pocket knife is an essential item to pack when visiting Yellowstone. A tool that includes a knife, can opener, bottle opener, scissors, cork screw and pliers should be all you need for most Yellowstone adventures with the exclusion of extensive backpacking.
If you are planning to do any distance hikes in Yellowstone, I recommend bringing a pair of good trekking poles. For short distance hikes, one pole or hiking stick will work but one pole will not provide the symmetrical support needed over a distance or on difficult terrain and can actually lead to knee or back pain. A good source for choosing hiking poles is this article by: Switchback Travel.
It is difficult to recommend any specific backpack for a Yellowstone trip as people vary so much in how they spend time in Yellowstone. In fact, if your plan is to just tour the main attractions along the Loop Road, I doubt you need anything more than room in a camera bag for water and energy bars. On the other-hand, if your plan is to go on a few day hikes, bringing a daypack is a great idea. For day hikes where you don’t need to carry much gear, an Osprey Daylight Daypack should be all you need. As previously mentioned, gear for extended hiking is beyond the scope of this post.
Osprey Daylight Daypack
The Osprey Daylight Daypack is a lightweight and economical backpack great for short hikes that can hold a water bottle, snacks, keys, a cell phone other small device and a rain jacket. Additionally, the backpack comes with an insertable hydration sleeve.
Next to bear spray and clothes, make binoculars the very next thing you pack. Seriously, you will regret not bringing a good pair of binoculars to Yellowstone. However, choosing the right pair of binoculars can be a bit complicated so here is a link to a binocular buying guide. Using this guide along with recommendations from a photographer friend, here is my choice for binoculars, especially as a photographer looking for wildlife.
Vortex Optics Diamondback 10×42 Roof Prism Binocular
These Vortex Optic Diamondback Binoculars feature a roof prism design for durability, true to life views, and offer some fog and waterproofing protection. They are also light and compact making them easy to take on hikes along with being perfect for spotting wildlife and birds. For Yellowstone, they are especially great for spotting bears and wolves.
Walkie Talkies may be something you don’t think about when packing for Yellowstone but you should. Cell Service in Yellowstone is only available in a few areas and non existent in many areas of the park. If you are traveling in a caravan, hiking with others or camping as a group, walkie talkies may be your only way to stay in touch.
Be sure to consider walkie talkies that have a good range since Yellowstone is so large and distance between parties may be miles. Also be sure to check how well they work with any type of obstructions and if they require a license to operate.
I could name a few walkie talkies here but am not comfortable doing so due to the mountainous terrain in Yellowstone. Instead, I suggest calling the Bozeman REI store ( 406-587-1938) or other outdoor stores in the area for names of walkie talkies that will work in Yellowstone without having a license.
For many visiting Yellowstone, a good pair of binoculars will be enough. For wildlife enthusiasts however, this optional item is worth a consideration. Why? Although binoculars are great for scanning an area, they can’t offer the extreme close up view a spotting scope can provide due to a scope’s higher magnification in the range of 20 to 60x Of course that extra magnification comes at a price. Good spotting scopes are more expensive than good binoculars although scopes range in price from $30 to upwards of $15,000. Spotting scopes are also heavier than binoculars and should be used on a tripod which makes them less portable.
So for those of you who plan to visit Yellowstone in hopes of spending hours watching wildlife, I suggest you read Audubon’s post on spotting scopes to help you decide if a scope if right for you.
I doubt this needs an explanation- bring good quality sunglasses that have 100 percent protection from both UVB and UVA rays.
For those of you who love to fish, Yellowstone has some incredibly beautiful fly fishing rivers and streams. If you can’t bring your own gear, consider taking a guided trip or renting equipment.
Kayaking is another great way to see Yellowstone. If you own a kayak and have the room, consider bringing it along. If not, don’t worry as there are a number of canoe and kayaking tours without having to bring all the gear.
Portable Power Station
Access to electricity is very limited in Yellowstone. In fact the only place I have charged items from a power plug is at the Canyon Village Laundromat. Therefore bringing a portable power station such as a Bluetti or Jackery will keep your smaller devices charged and ready to go. Due to the amount of driving involved in touring Yellowstone, you may not need to bring a solar panel but instead keep a power station charged through the car. I will leave that up to you.
For charging camera batteries, cell phones and other small devices, a power station in the 200-600 watt range is perfect. It is small, compact and easy to carry and why I chose it for Yellowstone. Other models with more power are available but will not be as easy to move due to their weight.
Bluetti 268w Portable Power Station
The Bluetti 268 power station is perfect for outdoor adventures and can power your essential devices such as phones, laptops, camera batteries and more. It has a 250W pure sine wave inverter that provides safe power for your devices while being lightweight enough to move with ease.
Tote for Showers
As previously mentioned, many of you will be showering in one of Yellowstone’s public shower facilities so be sure to pack a tote large enough to hold toiletries, a towel, and a change of clothes.
Linens and Bedding
If you are camping, be sure to pack these items. For those staying in Yellowstone hotels or in your RV, the only extra item I would recommend packing is a quick dry towel for each person.
Personal Hygiene Items
Be sure to bring all personal items, especially toilet paper and keep a roll in the car. Yellowstone has a number of restroom facilities but they do get busy and can be out of toilet paper later in the day. Come prepared. Oh, also be sure to also keep hand sanitizer with you.
Camping in Yellowstone Campgrounds-What to Pack
All campsites have either flushable toilets or port-lets. Potable water is also available throughout every campground but not at every site. There are no hook ups at any campground besides Fishing Bridge RV Park.
For those without an RV or van, you will likely be camping in a tent and may already own one. However, prior to packing that tent for Yellowstone, here are a few things that are beneficial to consider:
Let me share a story from one of my camping experiences. It was late August and I had been camping at Bridge Bay Campground in very comfortable summer weather until an early cold front came through that was only forecast to bring a dusting of snow. I awoke the next morning to so much snow that my tent roof was sagging. It was then I knew then I needed to change tents if I continued to camp in Yellowstone. (By the way, I had a wonderful North Face tent, it was just not designed for camping in the snow.)
I can’t recommend the right tent for you without knowing your specific needs but I will direct you to a helpful tent shopping guide by REI: Choosing the Best Tent Guide. Personally, based on the places I camp and the comfort I look for at my campsite, I now prefer canvas tents like this one: Teton Canvas Tent. They are not for everyone and they are expensive but great for camping in Yellowstone and similar areas.
If you are planning to do any tent camping, a heater buddy will come in very handy but please do not ever use it without properly venting the tent. It is great for heating the tent up before you get out of bed in the morning or for warmth prior to bed at night but I don’t recommend sleeping all night with it on.
The Little Buddy Mr. Heater is a great size for most tents although larger heaters are available. Use it carefully and the heater buddy is a great addition to camping.
Little Mr. Heater Buddy
The Little Mr. Heater Buddy is a small propane heater that can heat up to 95 square feet and is safe for use in well ventilated rooms making it the perfect heater for tent campers on those cold summer nights in Yellowstone.
Sleeping Bags and Pads
Even in the summer, nights can turn cold in Yellowstone with some nights dipping below freezing depending on where you are camping in the Park. Pack a sleeping bag rated for the coldest nightly temperatures in your particular campground and remember to take the average rating for the sleeping bag and add 10-15 degrees. For instance a bag rated for 30 degrees will keep you comfortable at 45 degrees, not 30 degrees. Also consider packing a synthetic sleeping bag for summer as it will stay dry while keeping you warm.
Coleman Dunnock Cold Weather Sleeping Bag
The Coleman Dunnock Cold Weather Sleeping Bag is a spacious and warm bag designed to keep you comfortable in weather as low as 20 degrees and is a popular choice among campers.
Also be sure to bring a sleeping pad.
Pack at least one tarp larger enough to cover your tent on those raining nights. Even better, pack two tarps, one for the tent and one to cover the picnic table. Harbor Freight has a large selection of tarps at great prices.
Chairs are listed under General but also included here. The chairs I have listed under general are great of when you are out and about or hiking and also well around the campsite. But if you travel in an RV or have extra room in your car, consider packing this chair for an extra bit of campsite comfort.
Alps Mountaineering King Kong Chair
This chair is very sturdy with a design that will safely hold those who are also on the larger side. It lasts longer than similar models made by other brands and sits more comfortably.
Many campsites as well as some picnic areas in Yellowstone come with a picnic table but that table may not always be in the best location. Having a separate table for cooking also allows you to keep the picnic table top free for eating.
When shopping for a table, look for one with adjustable legs and one that comes with a carrying case. I did not buy one with a carrying case and still regret it. Walmart has a great selection of these tables at good prices and the table I bought has lasted for years.
When I am not using my collapsible table for cooking, I set it up in my Clam Outdoor Shelter as a work table.
I am biased and love having an outdoor shelter at my campsite, even when I camped in an RV. I have tried a cheap Walmart version before deciding to make the investment in a Clam Shell Outdoor Shelter and will never go back. The Clam is so well built and does such a great job of keeping bugs out that I can’t recommend any other outdoor shelter.
In fact I am now on my third Clam Shell Shelter and this is what I have learned.
I started out in a 12 foot Outdoor Escape which was wonderful for the amount of space it provided. However, it took up too much space at a campsite, was too long and heavy for me to handle easily and its roof would cave in whenever it rained or was windy. Many people love this model but is was not right for me.
So I went small. In fact I went too small with a 6 by 6 Traveler. Even though I was by myself, I used the shelter as an outdoor workspace and secure place for my cat. So again, I sold it and moved to a 9 by 9 Venture which is just right and why it is my recommended model.
Clam Outdoor Shelter Venture 9×9
The Clam Outdoor Shelter measures 9 feet across, is 6.8 feet tall in the center and packs to a portable size of 7.5 by 7.5 by 62 inches for transport. It is easy and quick to set up and take down and comes with a carry bag and stakes. Rain panels that are sold separately are available. This model can also be purchased in brown with 3 rain panels.
You will need more stakes that what comes with the tent and you will also need some type of string or rope. Be sure to tie down the top, sides and bottom of the tent for it to function properly in windy conditions.
If you are looking for a tent that will only cover your picnic table without being bug proof or wind resistant, Walmart tents are a budget friendly alternative.
Outdoors rugs increase living space, especially when camping in a tent or van but they also help keep dirt out. This is particularly true after it rains and the ground is muddy.
When shopping for a camping rug, look for a material that is easy to keep clean, lightweight and will fit into your vehicle. In fact, sometimes it is better to have two smaller rugs than one big one. For instance, two rugs pack easier, can be placed together to cover a big space but can also be used in two different areas. The following is a good example of a nice camping rug.
Camping lanterns are a necessity in Yellowstone if you do any camping at all. Although, there are a number of different outdoor lighting options to choose from, I recommend solar lanterns and string lights that can also charge a phone. Battery operated lights are great as a back up for cloudy days but they tend to dim very quickly. For the best set up, consider using string lights above with lanterns on tables.
For lanterns I have a combination of LuminAid lanterns, MPowered Luci Outdoor Lights and one Lumopal Collapsable Light. I do not favor one over the other and have been pleased with all three. The Lumopal is rechargeable with a USB port while the other lights are solely dependent on solar.
For string lights, I only have one brand to recommend as I haven’t been satisfied with any others I have tried: it is MPOWERD Luci Portable Solar String Lights There are cheaper alternatives that will work fine if you only plan to camp occasionally but the alternatives I have used never help up to extended use.
Final Thoughts on What to Pack for Yellowstone in Summer
I hope you find this Yellowstone Best Packing Guide For Summer helpful and that it saves you from having to run around buying essential items while in the Park. The Park is such an amazing place and time shopping in Yellowstone should be spent buying wonderful Park specific items, not basic household items.
Everything I have recommended comes from 20 trips to Yellowstone and has been carefully thought out to cover what the majority of visitors will likely do while in the Park. However, there are a few items that may pertain to your group that I have not included. For example I have not made recommendations specific to children because I have no experience with packing for children.
You most likely own many of the above items in this guide such as a hat, sunglasses, etc. However, if you do need to shop for additional items, purchasing through the above links at no additional cost to you will help support this blog so I can continue to generate guides like this one.
In addition to this Yellowstone summer packing guide, I also have written guides to the Upper Geyser Basin, Black Sands, Biscuit and Midway Basins, and Mammoth Hot Springs. As a photographer, the guides are tailored to helping other photographers capture the beauty of these basins but the guides are for everyone who wants to know what to see and how to photograph it.
As always thanks for checking out my blog and be sure to subscribe to get informed of my latest posts.