With the flowers budding and the grass growing, it’s the perfect time to get outside. There are warmer days than we’ve seen in months, and the sunshine is turning from a blue winter light to that golden summery gleam.
But the changing spring temps and the ever-present mud on the thawing ground can make planning a camping trip hard. Whether you’re backpacking, car-camping, or setting up a tent in your backyard, there’s some serious planning involved.
With these tips, you’ll be ready to gather your gear and hit the trails (or that grassy patch behind your house).
1. Check the weather
The first step seems simple – check the weather! But not every weather app was created equally. You’ll want to cross-check your weather predictions against multiple sources to get the most accurate look at what the conditions will be on your trip. You should be checking the weather all the way up to the date of your trip.
Probably the most popular weather website among the camping community, the National Weather Service provides prospective campers with accurate and up-to-date information.
2. Choose your location
Wherever you decide to go, make sure you pick a good spot to pitch your tent when you get there. Follow the rule of the 5 W’s: water, wind, widowmakers, wildlife, and my personal favorite, “wevelness.” Make sure that you are at least 200 feet from water to ensure that you don’t pollute the water (and that the water doesn’t pollute your tent!). Also, be aware that streams can rise quickly and without warning during the spring.
Pick a spot that’s protected from the wind, but don’t forget to look up! “Widowmakers,” or trees that have fallen and are now sitting precariously against other trees can fall at any time. Don’t pitch your tent under one. Don’t pick a spot that looks like it’s frequented by wildlife, and don’t put your tent on top of any wildflowers. With regards to “wevelness,” make sure your tent is on a spot that’s flat.
3. Spring-specific gear
With all the extra mud and moisture, gear like tarps and leg-gaiters have never been more important. Make sure that your tent and sleeping bag have some sort of water-resistance, and don’t forget to put a tarp down before you pitch your tent. There are different sprays and washes that you can use to add water-resistance to your hiking boots and even your sleeping bag!
4. Check your gear
You’ve probably had your tent and your other gear in storage for a few months. Instinct might tell you that since it hasn’t been used it’s fine. But make sure you check all your gear at least a few days before your trip. Don’t bank on your gear being good-to-go. You’ll need time to make repairs or do any maintenance.
You might also want to clean any camping dishes that have been stored in a box. Double and triple-check everything to make sure that you’re really ready to go.
You’ll need more layers than normal for your spring trip. Go with a classic layering system for maximum comfort and efficiency – a moisture-wicking base layer, warmth-trapping mid layers, and waterproof outer layers.
Pick a base layer made of wool or polyester to keep you warm and dry. Your mid layer (or layers) should be made of something like fleece that traps in heat. And make sure that your outer layer is truly waterproof not just water resistant. It’s a good idea to bring multiple pairs of wool socks to keep your feet warm and dry. And in the spring, you should bet on needing two mid layers, even in areas that tend to be warmer. Spring nights are unpredictable and can get chilly.
Colder temperatures mean that you’ll need more calories. If you’re worrying about gaining weight on your outdoor adventure, don’t. The cold will use up every calorie you eat. You’ll need to bring more warm drinks (hot cocoa, apple cider, coffee, and tea), and carb-heavy meals that are easy to digest and fill you up.
Mountainhouse meals are a good bet if you’re looking for quick and easy meals. Just add water to the bag and enjoy! Pasta, sauce, and pre-cooked frozen meat also makes a great meal. For snacks, bring some dense energy bars and consider making yourself some type of cookie.
There are many ways you can get water while camping. If you’re car-camping, you can bring a couple gallons with you. And if you are hiking out, check some maps to make sure you’ll be near a water source, but always bring an extra bottle of water just in case. You can use iodine tablets or a water pump to safely sterilize water that you get from a stream.
If you go with a water pump, make sure it doesn’t freeze overnight. The cold temperatures of spring nights can render your water pump unusable for a few hours. A good way to stop this from happening is to sleep with it in your tent.
8. Waterproof matches
Speaking of water, the spring, especially March and April, are known for being rainy. No matter where you are, you’re likely to experience a little more precipitation than you normally would.
Along with waterproofing your gear, make sure you pick up some waterproof matches. That way, even in the rainiest weather, you’ll still be able to light a warming fire. It can also be a good idea to pack in a bit of fire-starter like some dry paper or leaves. If you do this, then even if all the fire starter in your area is soaked through, you’ll be able to light a fire.
9. Don’t be too overzealous
The nature of the winter months can mean that when we finally do get to break free and spend some good time outside, we might be tempted to bite off a little more than we can chew. Make sure you are going someplace that you have researched and that matches your camping expertise.
It’s also a good idea to let people who are not part of your camping party know where you are going.
10. Think about the animals
If you are bringing your canine friend, think about the spring weather from his perspective, too. Muddy paws can be uncomfortable and cold. Consider bringing a towel that you can use to wipe off your dog’s feet. Dogs should sleep in your tent with you or in a crate to avoid altercations with wildlife, so you’ll want to bring a blanket for them to sleep on to give them a little more protection from the cold.
When thinking about the wildlife, remember that spring is a time when hungry animals restock their calories from the winter. Use bear bags for your food and watch out for hungry animals and protective mothers.
Think LNT – Leave No Trace. It’s always important to minimize your footprint in wild spaces, but it’s especially important in the spring. Tromping around on fresh shoots of grass or pitching your tent on top of flowers now will result in fewer plants all around because they won’t be able to go to seed later. And that means less food for the wildlife.
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