With the holidays in the rear-view mirror and winter inching further along, spring is slowly starting to come into focus—and with it comes the increasing urge to get back outside and into a campground. During a time of seasonal flux, there are some tricks and tips to keep in mind when camping, though. Sure, the scenery can be lush and the trails tend to be far less crowded than summer and fall, but weather can be erratic (to put it mildly), and thorough preparation is paramount. Follow these pointers and you’ll be good to go.
More so than any other season, spring is the time when people are most likely to have new camping gear. Before diving in headfirst with an inaugural camping trip, however, it’s a good idea to make sure that it all works, it fits your needs and you know how to set it up, lest you wind up fumbling around with a faulty tent in the spring rain. Take some time to use your gear in a yard or state park close to home for a night, and get comfortable with it before embarking on your trip. Even if it’s not new gear, it’s likely equipment that’s been in storage for at least a few months, and could benefit from a test run to make sure it’s still up to snuff.
Before decamping for the campground, be prepared. It’s fine to pack up some stuff days in advance, but make sure and triple-check the forecast as close to your departure as possible so that weather conditions are as accurate as they’re going to be. Use more than one weather app or website, and consider ringing up the campground to see what conditions are like at your destination. Regardless, play it safe by packing more layers and dry equipment then you assume you may need.
You may be thinking spring, but winter has a knack for hanging on. Even if it’s sunny and warm where you live, this is the most fickle time of year, weather-wise, and things can get blustery quick. Depending where you’re heading (and what the elevation is), there’s also a good chance of snow and ice. Thus, augment your spring gear with wintry items just in case. Like water-proof coats, thermal wear, plenty of socks, gloves or mittens, hats and hiking boots that have sufficient traction for potentially slick trails.
Most people would be surprised to learn that hypothermia is more dangerous in the spring than winter. That’s because the season is so much wetter, thanks to both rain and snow, and temperatures fluctuate so drastically that it can be deceiving to properly contend with. No matter how sunny things may seem, be sure and stay dry by stocking up on water-proof everything and leaving the cotton at home. This means clothes, tent gear, bags and any items you may use for hiking.
Unfortunately, flowers aren’t the only things coming back to life this time of year. Mosquitos and flies are also starting to return post-winter, and as things warm up, they’re especially drawn to all the water that spring brings forth. Since early spring isn’t nearly as hot or humid as summer, many campers tend to overlook the bug spray and screens, thinking they’re safe from pests. Even if temperatures are still cold, play it safe by bringing repellent and Citronella. After you’ve gone hiking, also look for ticks.
All that rain and melting snow means trails and roads are highly likely to get muddy. This means it’s important to bring shoes and boots that are durable in the sense that they won’t slip and slide through soft ground, and also that they’re easy to wash and clean. Another good idea is to take a hiking stick along for added traction and balance. Back at camp, have plenty of towels and rags for cleaning mud and keeping the inside of the tent from getting dirty.
No matter how chilly things might get, camping in cool and/or wet weather is still totally doable—with the proper equipment, of course. Similar to your wardrobe, this means ensuring your tent is durable and warm, more suited for winter than summer. Double-layer doors are ideal, especially if they are water-proof. Spring rain is no joke, so look for a tent that’s shaped to deflect as much water and wind as possible, and bring a tarp to tie up over top. You don’t want to be woken in the middle of the night with rain dripping through the ceiling. Lastly, look for a spot or a campsite where you can add a little more protection from the elements, whether there’s an awning or some tree cover. Every little bit of layered protection helps.
Let’s face it. This day and age, we’d be lost without our electronics. That’s why keeping your phones and such safe and dry is equally as important as your tent and attire. At night (or whenever they’re not with you in your pockets), keep electronics safely stowed in sleeping bags or dry pockets, off the ground and away from the side of the tent. Make sure they are not exposed to cold air, either, as this can kill a battery. When you’re out and about, keep phones snug in base-layer pockets under any coats or jackets you may be wearing. This will shield them from any rain, snow or mist that might seep into exterior pockets.
While spring won’t get as cold as winter, chilly weather means your body will be working over-time to regulate inner temps. You’ll need more calories, carbs and fat to keep your energy levels up, so bring plenty of food and don’t shy away from the hearty stuff. Stews, oatmeal, sandwiches, chili and other warming, filling items are good bets, along with snacks to munch on throughout the day.
Born and raised in New Hampshire, Matt Kirouac grew up with a love for camping and the outdoors. Though he’s lived in Chicago since 2006, he’s always on the lookout for new adventures. He writes about travel and food for outlets like TripExpert, Money Inc, Upventur, DiningOut, Food Fanatics magazine, Plate Magazine and Zagat, and he currently serves as Chicago editor for What Should We Do?! He’s the author of The Hunt Guides: Chicago (2016) and Unique Eats & Eateries of Chicago (2017).