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My wife and I are trying to figure out if back country camping in Yellowstone is something we are prepared for. We've never done this before, so the planning is the hardest part for us right now. We would like to stay 3-4 days. I have a series of questions that are broken up individually.

  1. What type of supplies are needed (beyond tent, sleeping bag)?
  2. If we are going to do some day hikes, what should we realistically expect to take and leave behind? Food, water, tent, etc.
  3. Are any hikes &/ campsites recommended?
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A complete answer to this is a pretty tall order. Since I can't speak to Yellowstone in particular, I suggest looking up this excellent book: amazon.com/Allen-Mikes-Really-Cool-Backpackin/dp/1560449128 (Allen and Mike's Really Cool Backpackin Book). –  Greg.Ley May 7 '12 at 18:18
    
I thought about breaking it up into multiple questions, but I figured it would be too granular to be an acceptable question. –  motoxer4533 May 7 '12 at 18:52
    
Two relevant posts on here by myself: Thinking about a Road Trip Out West and What precautions should I take to protect myself and my camp from bears?. Any questions, just comment on the respective post! –  studiohack May 19 '12 at 16:03

3 Answers 3

It's unclear whether you are experienced in backpacking. Are you asking how is Yellowstone different compared to other locations, or are you asking how to prepare for backpacking in general?

In the first case, Yellowstone would be different than some other places due to:

  • geothermal activity. you can encounter hot waters and some of these may have chemicals that are toxic/harmful to your skin, so you wouldn't want to get in them, while other pools and sulfur springs are okay to bathe in. So you would either need to know how to recognize the difference, or stay out of all of them.
  • the presence of large animals: bears, wolves and moose. some general knowledge about how to deal with these animals is in order. For example, grizzlies cannot climb trees. Moose can be very volatile.

As for the second case, cannot be answered succinctly here, but I recommend a small book called "The Pocket Survival Guide" by J Wayne Fears (the one with the orange cover.) This is a brief discussion of what equipment and knowledge you need in the backcountry. Useful because it is small (can be taken with you), direct and to the point, and accurate, and of course what you need for survival is a subset of what you need to take with you backpacking.

There's also another small, slim book of similar disposition, aimed more towards backpacking, which I don't remember the name of, but I'll look it up when I get home. If I remember correctly, this one goes more into gear, clothing, etc. Ah! As luck would have it, I just remembered: "Backpacking Tips: Trail-Tested Wisdom From Falconguide Authors (Kestrel) by Bill Schneider, Russ Schneider and Laura Zorch". There are a lot of nuggets of wisdom here.

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  1. The supplies are pretty much the same for any trip. The leading difference, as Eyal points out, would be things like bear spray and a means to tie up food in bear bags at night. About bear bags, you want them high enough so you can't reach them and you want something on the line between the bag and the branch that will stop squirrels from climbing down the rope to the bag. We usually use an empty gallon milk jug for this (just cut a hole on opposite sides to put the rope through and wrap the rope around it once so it won't slide up and down under the weight of the squirrel).

  2. This depends entirely on your hiking ability. You say Day hikes so I usually take a Hydration pack with just essentials. Meaning a lunch, some snacks plenty of water. Depending on water availability I might take a water filter. A rain poncho, a map and compass, a pocket knife, a whistle and a small first aid kit always make it in though. This should all fit easily in a small hydration pack. Remember to secure what you leave behind and leaving it in your car is NOT secure. If you are going overnight then you could and would need to take considerably more.

  3. As far as day hikes go, again this depends on your ability as a hiker but I would look at Mount Washburn Trail which has a great view (and is the most popular hike in the park). Avalanche Peak is steep but only 4 miles round trip and again, amazing view. If you are going to be doing some overnights and you have been backpacking for a while, The Thorofare Trail IMO has no equal, easily one of my top 5 trips. Although, I was there before the fire last year, not sure what it looks like now.

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One important part of planning back country trips in the West revolves around bears.

I'm basing what I write on my trips to Sequoia and Yosemite (which only have black bears), but it should be relevant since Yellowstone has both black bears and grizzlies (which are more aggressive).

You'll need to prepare for them, and one thing that people do (and rangers tend to recommend) is use bear boxes. You can bring you own- usually they can be rented from ranger stations. Or you can plan your trip so that you sleep by "official" campsites that have permanent bear boxes already there. Of course, you can also bring rope or equipment to tie your food out of reach, too.

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Yes, Yellowstone has a lot of bears and other big game, a huge consideration to keep in mind. –  studiohack May 19 '12 at 16:02
    
It should be noted that even though the Sierras are known for bears, it's possible to backpack and not see any, even when in close proximity to Yosemite. Last year I went with my nephews up to Emigrant Wilderness for three days (about 10 miles north of Yosemite) and didn't see any wildlife whatsoever. Not even deer. –  Michael Martinez Aug 5 at 18:01
    
Even if you don't see the bears, preparing for them, and obeying the (sensible, IMO) rules and regulations about food-because-of-bears is something that west coast hikers should be aware of. –  Eyal Aug 6 at 13:15

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