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Yellowstone in Winter
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Tyler Craft
(tylerc083) - F
Yellowstone in Winter on 10/08/2010 12:20:22 MDT Print View


I am a newbie here. So, while I have been reading these forums and researching them, I thought I'd post in hopes of getting some solid detailed responses.

My wife and I love to travel and hike. Earlier this year we were in RMNP, this November we'll be in Big Sur. For 30+ degree hikes, we are set.

This January though, we are going to go to Yellowstone. We are staying at the old faithful snow lodge, and plan on doing some snow shoeing (maybe some cross country skiing, too). We've never hiked in cold snowy weather before. So, we are unprepared as far as clothing - and while we have read a ton of information online, it can be sort of confusing. At this point I think I'm at information overload.

So, long story short, I'm here to get advice on what to hike/wear in yellowstone in the winter. We won't be camping, we'll be coming back to a cabin each night.

I will be carrying a camera (a Mamiya 7 medium format, i've read some reviews of people having success with that camera in yellowstone in the winter, just have to get an external battery holder), but other than that we'll just have what people here recommend.

Also, while hiking in cooler weather I layer up under a The North Face Hooded Venture Jacket while my wife has a Patagonia Women's Torrentshell Jacket.

Not sure if the last two paragraphs were necessary, but I'd rather give you too much info than not enough.

If anyone has any recommendations, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Thanks in advance!

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Yellowstone in Winter on 10/08/2010 13:32:14 MDT Print View

There are a few points on which everyone will agree.

1. Try not to wear any cotton. Cotton absorbs sweat or snow melt and then stays a problem.
2. Layers! Make your whole clothing system into a number of layers, starting from a synthetic base layer to top shell layers. Part of that is because while you are moving on snowshoes, you will generate a lot of heat, and you need to be able to shed some layers. Then when you stop, you will get cold quickly, so you need to put the layers back on. That will probably require a day pack to carry clothing.
3. Protect for sun and wind.


Tyler Craft
(tylerc083) - F
re: Yellowstone in Winter on 10/08/2010 13:45:06 MDT Print View


Thanks for the reply!

I'd love to hear more detail in what people would recommend.

I understand the synthetic base and layering up. Are there any best practices as to how to layer? It's the fine balance of not being too cold or too hot that you start sweating.

Also, any recommendations on pants and/or outer layer? I don't have a coat that would work for this.

Again, I know these are vague questions, so I really appreciate your patience and help.


Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: re: Yellowstone in Winter on 10/08/2010 13:57:12 MDT Print View

I've seen some people go cross country skiing, and they carry the long johns inside their pack. Their intention was to put them on if it got cold. That's crazy. You don't want to have to strip off your existing layers to put something on underneath. You have to start each day with the thinnest layers next to your skin, and then simply change or add top layers to get your temperature regulation right for the amount of exercise heat you generate.

I've mentioned this before, but I can mention it again. For decades, I have skied wearing wool trousers. These are US Army issue worsted wool and are very tough. If you live around any Army base, you might find these in a surplus store. You can get them in any color you want, as long as it is green. Army field trousers tend to be a softer wool, but these are part of a Class A dress uniform, so they are a smoother wool.


Andy F
(AndyF) - F

Locale: Ohio
Re: Yellowstone in Winter on 10/08/2010 13:58:15 MDT Print View

Don't wear the waterproof jackets unless it's raining or you're getting wet from snow. They'll wet your insulation faster from sweat. Get a windshell jacket, and maybe pants. Most tight-weave nylon clothing shells will work. Tight weave cotton is an excellent wind shell if temps are 20F and colder, but it's also heavier (the only exception to the "cotton kills" guideline).

Underneath the shell, layer up with:
1. base layer: wool, polypropylene, or polyester shirt and pants

2. insulation layers: wool or fleece

An insulated synthetic or down jacket, and probably a parka in Yellowstone, would be important if you ever stop, such as when taking photos. You'll get cold fast. Remove wet clothing and shake it out if necessary--just that makes a huge difference.

At around 20F with little wind (EDIT: when actively snowshoeing or xc skiing), I'm comfortable in only my base layer and a wool sweater and polypro liner gloves and maybe a fleece or wool hat.

Make sure you have a pair or two of dry socks and gloves to change into. These get wet and cold quickly.

Wool is best for socks, with a nylon or polyester or polypro liner sock. Your socks and footwear shouldn't be too tight, as your circulation is what keeps your feet warm.

Some type of gaiters would be good too.

Edited by AndyF on 10/08/2010 14:02:11 MDT.

Brian Barnes
(brianjbarnes) - M

Locale: Midwest
"Yellowstone in Winter" on 10/08/2010 14:05:39 MDT Print View

I like to wear a softshell pant while snowshowing. If its really cold I add a thin merino wool long underwear layer under the soft shell. My softshells have side zips (Mountain Hardware Synchro's) that are great for venting when you are pushing hard.

What the temps are will significantly change what you wear on your torso, as well as how hard you are working and how windy it is. My guess is the daytime temps could be between 0 and 25F. Many, including myself love Patagonia's R1 hoody plus a windshirt. I'd put a thin baselayer under this, and also bring a rainjacket and a synthetic puffy layer (Micropuff).

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Yellowstone in Winter on 10/08/2010 14:06:23 MDT Print View

Specific clothing to accommodate a medium format camera might be an extra problem. A camera like that is going to have a big problem with fogging, and that is mostly a result of being inside a warm room, taking it out into the cold air, back into the warm room, etc. What you will need to do is to store the camera at the cold temperature and use it that way, or else find some intermediate temperature and try to hold it constant there. Some photographers find the intermediate temperature by carrying the camera inside their outer wind shell layer of coat. It is also handy there. The problem comes from the size of the camera and trying to manage the temperature. What others have done is try to hold the camera temperature constant at room temperature by the use of heat packs. In general, that is difficult.


Steofan The Apostate
(simaulius) - F

Locale: Bohemian Alps
Colder than you think! on 10/08/2010 15:09:48 MDT Print View

Plan on daytime air temps of 0 to -10 F. Nighttime should be -10 to -40 F.
Ask for the owner of your local camera shop and you will most likely get the best info on how to best protect and use your equipment.
Make sure that you get to the Lamar Valley. Several groups run tours that get out there very early in the morning - best for wolf watching.
Look up Buffalo Gold Gloves & Socks on line. They may be hard to find but I love mine!
Everyone says that the Old Faithful area is at its best in the winter with animals, geysers, ski trails and a nice warm room at Snow Lodge.
Keep a warm, dry base layer on at all times and have a great time!

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
yellowstone in Jan. on 10/08/2010 19:40:04 MDT Print View

Steve has the temps about right, January is the coldest month in Yellowstone. Might get a bit warmer during the day, maybe.

At those temps do not wear anything that is waterproof, other than boots and mittens. Sweat will condense and freeze inside your shell layers. For day trips around zero, with nothing more than moderate winds (no more than 20 mph gusts) I'd bring:

Thin wool t-shirt
Powerstretch hooded shirt
Windshirt w/ hood
Wind briefs (absolutely vital!)
Powerstretch tights
Soft shell (stretch woven nylon or poly) pants
Tight, lighter wool hat
Heavyweight fleece liner gloves
Goretex mitten shells

I'd carry a big synthetic or down insulated coat, an extra pair of liner gloves, and a pair of fleece mittens (make sure they fit over the liners and inside the shells with no binding). I'd also carry a synthetic headband to use as a nose cover if it got windy. I'd be wearing plastic telemark boots with foam liners that are very warm, and have a full beard (thus obviating the need for much chin protection).

Skiing or snowshoing is hard work. I aim to be right on the edge of cold while moving, and can unzip my windshirt and take off the hood of my midlayer when going up hills so as to minimize sweat (which is absolutely vital). The instant I stop I throw on the big coat to trap heat, and wait until the last second to put it back in the pack before moving.

If you're packing a view camera make sure your big coat is very warm indeed, and pack some chemical handwarmers to keep inside your mitts. It'd suck to miss shots because you were too cold to hang around.

Yellowstone winter is serious stuff, with little margin for error. At the same time, it's totally magical. Watching Old Faithful erupt at 11pm when its 30 below and no one else is around is pretty hard to beat. The Obsidian dining room at the Snow Lodge is expensive, but serves the best food I've ever had in a national park (better than the Ahwanhee). And they have an outdoor ice rink with free skates!


David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
glasses on 10/08/2010 19:43:37 MDT Print View

Make sure you have some good shades that are pretty dark, somewhere in the 5% transmission range. Snowblindness is not cool. Ski goggles with yellow lenses for blowing snow (yellow enhances contrast) are also a very good idea.

David Lutz

Locale: Bay Area
"Yellowstone in Winter" on 10/08/2010 22:23:56 MDT Print View

What are "wind briefs"?

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
wind briefs on 10/09/2010 08:49:34 MDT Print View

Undies with a patch of windproof fabric on the front. Extra protection for those cold gusts. Primarily used by XC ski racers.

Matt Sanger
(IPARider) - MLife
cold on 10/09/2010 13:38:55 MDT Print View

Yep, Yellowstone is a really cold place in Jan., but unless you are going out for a really long time, I wouldn't get too worked up about it.

Flexibility in layering is a good thing, and I definitely like having a down layer to put on when stopping. Like others suggest, breathability is a good thing - if you are really exerting yourself. Most waterproof breathable shells should be just fine unless you are working up a sweat for an extended period of time, and then a softshell with decent wind protection will help.

Big thing - hands and feet. I take two pairs of gloves for aerobic stuff - something with moderate insulation and breathability for exertion, and then superinsulated ones for standing still. - BD Mercury Mitts are the bomb (and I generally hate mits). If it is really cold, you'll really benefit from decent insulation in your footwear, and if out for extended periods of exertion and sweat alot, some antiperspirant on your feet before you go will help out.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
cold on 10/09/2010 14:08:59 MDT Print View

havent gone to yellowstove ... but ive dealt with those conditions in the rockies

basically in -20 C day temps your worst enemy will be sweat ... the cold you can deal with as long as you stay dry

i recommend you use what others alluded to on this thread with the Belay Jacket or Action Layer concept

on contrast to the normal layering system where you take off a layer here and there at a time ... in the action layer ... youre all set to go off the bat and put on a super warm "belay" jacket when stopping

i start off with in a light fleece and windshort (or just a soft shell) ... and have a big puffay jacket at the top of the pack (or strapped to the outside) which i put on the moment i stop for any amount of time

the idea is to

- minimize sweat .... sweat kills in winter ... itll make you hypothermic .. youll see animals in the arctic that will outrun a predator yet die of hypothermia a bit later because they sweated too much

- minimize the time it takesto swap layers .. the longer u stop and swap layers ... the faster you cool down and lose the heat u generated ... a big jacket on and off is the fastest

- KISS ... in winter simple and stupid is best

so in short dress fairly light ... and when stopped put on yr belay jacket, belay mitts and belay pants ...

jacket should be oversized enough to go over all yr other layers

mitts can go over yr light active gloves if you want ... or you can just swap the gloves and mits ...wear liners

pants should be fully seperating so you can put it on without having to take off crampons, snowshoes, skis

also bring a spare base top, spare liners, and spare socks in case u get soaked ... at worst if you lose a mitt the socks can be used as a substitute

(dixon2mk) - F
More winter info........ on 10/10/2010 12:16:53 MDT Print View

I spent many winters working at OF Snowlodge. The temperatures can vary greatly. During a particularly cold spell the temperatures can get as low as the range posted previously, but most of the time it is a bit warmer than that. If you want to get a little ways away from the geyser basin area around Old Faithful you'll be skiing or snowshoeing. If you want to do some of the longer tours you'll need to use ski gear, and need some experience in their use since all the trails out of the valley have some steep/icy sections.

You can bring regular winter wear, nothing too warm though since you'll be working up a sweat. Multiple thin layers with an insulation layer and a light waterproof parka to top things off. Just like everywhere else, when it snows there the temperatures are usually in the upper 20's or low 30's.

You'll probably be using your medium format camera gear around the geyser basin while hiking around the boardwalks on foot. Bring a pair of warm insulated pack boots for that activity. You'll also want to bring most of your cold weather layers for standing around with other photographers while the steam and lighting gets "just right".

Hotel employees are the best resource for information about conditions on trails and geyser basin. The ski shop people are very active and spend every day outside.

Tyler Craft
(tylerc083) - F
re: Yellowstone in Winter on 10/11/2010 11:50:08 MDT Print View

Wow, this is amazing. Thank you so much to everyone who responded. I really appreciate it.

I will be going through these in more detail this week to figure out a plan of attack.

Just two quick comments:

1. The camera is a mamiya 7, and is pretty small - larger than a point and shoot, but much smaller/lighter than my canon digital rebel. So, I'm hoping I can carry it under my coat for some of the time (i will have a pack to put it in other times). From talking with other photographers, I think I'll just carry a plastic freezer bag to put the camera in before I go indoors. Allowing it to warm up without getting moisture in it. I'm planning on trying it out before the trip once it gets cold here

2. This may sound silly, but I don't have a coat. I have a nice one I can wear to work, and some average jackets that get me through the missouri winters. I skiied a lot as a child and would like to ski more often (we may hit bridger bowl near Bozeman on this trip) in the future. Since I don't have any pants or coats, are there any specific coats that would be recommended? Since we don't often hike in this kind of temperature, it would be great if these could be functional for more than just extreme cold hiking.

Again, thank you for all the help. I will most likely be coming back to this during the week with a couple more questions.


eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
jacket on 10/11/2010 12:52:38 MDT Print View

do you already have a puffay down jacket? ... something like a ski jacket, etc ...

if not the first ascent makes very good jackets at reasonable prices ... peak jacekts with 13 oz down fill can be had for 225$ if you don't mind the RMI logo ... they use these jackets up rainier and denali

Tyler Craft
(tylerc083) - F
Jacket on 10/11/2010 12:56:24 MDT Print View

Thanks Eric! I'll take a look.

At the moment, I don't have a jacket that I'd wear to hike or ski in. I'm hoping to get a jacket that I can wear hiking and skiing if possible. I don't do enough of either to justify a couple hundred at this point in time.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
temps on 10/11/2010 13:14:05 MDT Print View

just keep in mind that if -10 F daytime temps that others mentioned here are accurate ... thats fairly serious (though not scary) stuff

as long as you keep moving youll stay warm ... the moment you stop you get cold especially with wind

youll need some light gloves, warm pair of mits, balclava (that covers ears), jacket must have a good hood, thick winter socks

i personally hike in base layer (good pair of long johns and long top), fleece and windshirt ... the moment i stop for any reason, the puffay goes on

whatever you do, dont sweat in yr down jacket as thats what will keep you warm on stops

that's also frosbite territory with wind chill ... so read up on frosbite and hypothermia to recognize the signs

cabela always has cheap down jackets ... course they weight a bit more than the UL ones

Edited by bearbreeder on 10/11/2010 13:29:52 MDT.

Tyler Craft
(tylerc083) - F
re: Yellowstone in Winter on 10/13/2010 15:48:37 MDT Print View

Thanks again to everyone for all the help. Here is a rough idea of what I think I'll be getting. I am literally starting with a blank slate.

So, please let me know your thoughts/recommendations. I'm just going off reviews on some websites. So if anyone has any recommendations, I'd really really love to hear. Especially on the gloves and boots.

Those are the two that I feel have less room for error. I'd love to get a liner glove to shoot the camera and a mitten to wear on top when I'm not shooting.

Also, being able to reuse these for regular winter tasks would be great as who knows when I'll be snow shoeing in such frigid temp's again

Montbell Alpine Light Down Jacket


First Ascent Men's Peak XV Down Jacket

M's Neoplume Pants

Middle top Layer:
First Ascent Men's Cloud Layer 1/4 Zip Top


Mountain Hardwear Microchill Fleece Zip T Pullover

Long Underwear:
The North Face Warm Crew Neck Top

Under Armour Base 3.0 Legging

Shoes (Would really love input on these, as I have no clue)
Sorel Caribou Boot

Smartwool Sock Liner


Smartwool PhD Outdoor Heavy Cushion Sock

SmartWool Balaclava

Red Ledge Pop Top Mitten

The North Face Etip Glove

Thanks again for all the help in advance!