Most people look at Idaho’s location on the map and assume it’s going to be as cold and snowy as, say, Buffalo, New York or the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Now, I’m not denying that parts of Idaho do get a lot of snow and chilly temps in the winter, but parts of Idaho are in desert valleys and have fairly moderate climates. So the easy answer to the question “what to pack?” is “a little of everything.”
Your packing list will depend, obviously, on what you plan to do while you are here in the winter. If you anticipate spending most of your visit in the capital city of Boise, you can expect winter days to be around 35 degrees for the high and maybe down into the teens at night or single digits if it gets cold. So you’ll need:
- a winter coat
- maybe a scarf
- snowboots if you think you’ll be doing any amount of walking. Although snow doesn’t stick around much in the city, we do get some once in a while.
If winter sports are in your plans, you’ll definitely need a bigger suitcase. You’ll need:
- A base layer, like thermal underwear or spandex workout gear. Moisture wicking material is best, as you’ll likely get sweaty but then cool down quickly, and moisture is not your friend in those circumstances.
- On top of your base layer, you’ll need some sort of mid-weight layer. Fleece and wool are good options. A fleece vest and a sweater often might be all you need on a sunny day of fun in the snow.
- Your bottom half should be covered in waterproof snow/ski pants, or whatever you are comfortable in.
- Lots of folks will wear a windbreaker layer, also called a shell, which is especially good if you’re doing snowmobiling or downhill skiing, since the wind can whip right through other layers.
You may have picked up on the key to dressing for outdoor winter activity in Idaho: layering. You can go from cold to hot in a short time, and then back again. Several light layers work much better than a big bulky parka and a t-shirt underneath.
The most important parts to keep warm in winter are your extremities: feet, head, and hands.
As for footwear, layers are great here as well. A moisture wicking sock under a wool sock is a great option. Your shoes/boots will depend on your activity. If you’re skiing or snowboarding, you’ll need the correct footwear for that, which you can rent almost everywhere, so no need to pack it unless you want to. For snowshoeing or just romping around the woods, a high boot with plenty of insulation is your best bet. You need to protect your feet from both cold and wet/snow.
Heads need covering in winter to avoid hypothermia, a very real problem if you’re outside in the cold. A good wool hat with ear flaps might be the best bet, although almost any stocking cap will do as long as it is warm enough.
Last, but not least, you need to protect your hands. Nothing is worse than being out in the cold with cold fingers. You’ll most likely be using your hands a lot, which means they’ll get wet. So don’t skimp on the hand warmers. Skip the department store gloves or the mittens your aunt knit for you. Those will be wet and useless very quickly. Get really good insulated, waterproof gloves or mittens.
You don’t need to pack sporting gear if you don’t want to. You can rent skis, snowboards, snowshoes, and all the supplies you’ll need to enjoy those activities at hundreds of locations.