16 Tips for Spring Camping
Spring is hands down one of the most beautiful times to get out hiking and camping-trees are beginning to bloom, there is new life everywhere you look, animals are starting to be active, and the trails are not overly crowded. You can find solitude in the forest more easily than during the summer, and enjoy the quiet awakening of the nature's transition to warm weather. Spring is also one of the trickiest, most challenging times to get out, with wet and unpredictable conditions requiring careful preparation and realistic expectations.
Before you grab your gear from the garage and dart out on the trails at the first sight of a daffodil, take a moment to review these tips on mastering the first spring trip out.
1. Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew.
You've been cooped up inside for months, and it's tempting to channel all that pent-up energy into planning an aggressive first trek out. Take your fitness level into account when planning your trip, and remember that you'll be carrying more gear than usual for the unpredictable spring conditions. You may be doing 20 mile days with ease, but for now, having some bail out options along the way is not a bad thing.
2. Trails Have Changed! Expect the Unexpected.
Trails can change dramatically over the winter due to erosion from melting snow, trees falling over, missing trail markers, and flooding. Even hikes you know well can take you much longer than typical due to the unpredictable conditions on trail.
3. Check the Conditions.
Spring is especially tricky for predicting conditions because even if your backyard is 70 degrees, in the mountains there can be snow pack twelve months a year and nights can drop far below freezing. The forecast in the valley can be drastically different than the forecast an hour away in the mountains, with even more extreme differences the higher the summit.A lot of trail condition reports are user-generated and can be spotty at the beginning of the season.
We recommend calling the state or national park office and asking about conditions.
4. Don’t Put Away That Winter Gear Just Yet.
If you’re hiking on snow, things like traction devices for your boots can make a big difference. And having a hat and light pair of gloves can go a long way to combat the winds you may get at higher elevations, which can be chilly even on warm days.
5. “Wet” is a Game Changer; Watch Out for Hypothermia.
Trees may be starting to bud and the sun may be shining, but there is snow pack and spring rain to contend with. Many people are surprised to find that hypothermia is often more of a problem in spring than it is in winter. Being 35-50 degrees (F) and wet lends itself to hypothermia even more than being dry at below-freezing temps because your body loses heat so much more quickly.
6. Give Your Gear a Test Run.
You get points if you can find your gear right away. What becomes a grab-and-go kit by mid-summer might right now be an unorganized pile of gear. Your tent, bag and pad should function as a system that-when used together-offers the most appropriate protection for the conditions. For example, a sleeping bag liner will increase the warmth of your bag, or a sleeping bag with Thermo GillsTM that allows excess heat to escape will provide more versatility for dealing with changing conditions. If your pad or bag have been compressed all winter, give them 24 hours rolled out to decompress (though we recommend storing these in a loose, uncompressed state). If your bag has a bit of a funk from last season's last trip, give it a wash to freshen it up.
7. Understand What “Three-Season Tent” Really Means.
If you're just gearing up and choosing a shelter, educate yourself about what tent will fit your needs. But in reality, the differences between a three- and four-season tent have more to do with how well the tent handles snow-loading and wind-loading, not how warm it is. We love tents like the DaggerTM 3P and LosiTM 3P for striking the right balance of being lightweight, having a durable pole structure that can handle a little snow load, and offering maximum interior livable space for hunkering down inside when the weather is not at its best.
8. Get Down With A Water-Resistant Bag.
In case we haven't said it enough, spring camping can be wet. A waterproof/breathable footbox on your bag protects against the condensation on the inside of the tent, and keeps your feet warm and dry. Depending on where you are going, 15 degree bags are a safe choice for spring camping. We recommend choosing a bag that's suitable or rated for slightly colder than the conditions you're expecting, and evaluating your gear as a system. For spring camping, we recommend an insulated pad such as the Tensor.
9. Don’t Wear Cotton. Just Don’t.
Cotton is much less forgiving when wet, and can exacerbate a wet situation. Layer on puffy or fleece insulating layers, and be sure to have a waterproof/windproof shell for your outer layer. So bring more layers than you think you need.
10. Remember the Forgettables.
You may be a little rusty on your first trip out, so make a detailed list ahead of time that includes the little things. A few things that top our list as most commonly forgotten on the first trip out: our headlamp, a component for our stove, eating utensils and our water purification system.
11. Speaking of Water Purification…
In spring’s cool weather, your typical water purification system might not be as effective as in the summer. Iodine tablets work, but take longer. Pumps are great, but be sure to prevent them from freezing at night (some people sleep with them in their bags to keep them warm). And beware of leaving your water bottle out overnight and letting it freeze…you’ll be thirsty ‘til it melts!
12. You Might Be Hungrier Than You Think.
Your body burns a lot of energy just keeping you warm, so if you’re facing cold temperatures, expect to be a lot hungrier than you might have anticipated, and plan for more calories. If you like a good camp meal as much as we do, you may be happy about this!
13. The Bugs are a Battle. Here’s How to Win.
There's a short sweet spot in the season before the insect world erupts (around in New Hampshire this is in April), but prepare for bugs. While use of bug spray is a personal choice, wearing long sleeves and tucking your pants into your socks/boots is a smart way to go, and you might even resort to a head net. If you're setting up camp and looking for a communal, bug-free area to gather and play cards, a screen room like the BugoutTM does the trick and can make your evening a lot more enjoyable. Citronella is a natural product that can also help keep the bugs away when you've set camp.
14. Watch Out for Your Best Friend … We Mean Your Dog.
Your pup is experiencing the same wet weather you are, and is even closer to the ground. Think about their insulation and comfort, especially if you’re going for a multi-day trip.And muddy paws can be a big mess. Bring a towel for cleaning mud before they get in the tent, and consider picking up a Pawprint for washable wall-to-wall protection inside your tent.
15. Respect the Trails. Minimize Your Impact.
Spring trails can be a mud fest. While staying on trail may not seem like the easiest option, it’s always the better option than going off trail and rerouting a new cut through the forest. While gaiters are typically thought of as great for snow, they can be very helpful for staying in the middle of a muddy trail rather than walking the edges.When finding a spot to pitch your tent, look for hard, durable surfaces. New growth in spring is particularly fragile since it’s not getting a lot of sunlight yet. Make all efforts to leave no trace.
16. Be Aware of Wildlife.
Moose and deer are stressed from a winter with scarce food. Don't handle the young, even if you find fawns or baby rabbits-in 99% of cases, the mother is nearby and the young animals are fine. If you are in bear country, it's a good time to start using bear bags and keeping food away from your camp site. If you see something amazing, take a picture or mentally log a memory, but always seek to minimize your impact.
There’s a lot to love about spring camping, and we’re as eager as you are for our first trip out. With the right gear and the right mindset, you can open the season with an exhilarating overnight that jumpstarts your season of outdoor adventures!See you on the trail!