Spring camping offers incredible experiences—the fresh scent of new flowers blooming, more baby animals to admire (at a safe distance), and way fewer insects to worry about than your typical summer trip. However, spring camping isn’t always guaranteed to be a walk in the park, so you’ll still need to pack and prepare for your trip responsibly.
Below, we’ll cover the environmental conditions you should expect to face when camping in the spring and how to be ready for them. We’ll also include details about the best gear to take on a spring camping trip (and a few tips for setting up your campsite). Read on—adventure awaits!
Spring Camping Weather: What Should You Expect?
It’s tempting to pack for warm conditions when planning a spring camping excursion—after all, spring is when the snow starts melting, right? While that may be true in a general sense, it’s vital to remember that inclement weather still occurs in spring and pack accordingly.
Furthermore, spring is the least predictable season in Canada when it comes to weather, offering much more variety than the others. Our winters are typically harsh, our summers tend to be short and relatively hot, and even autumn is easier to prepare for since people tend to anticipate the gradual onset of cold conditions once summer ends.
What you don’t want to do is anticipate summer conditions while packing for a spring camping trip—or you can easily find yourself at the mercy of unexpected wind, rain, snow, and hail. All it takes is one look at Trip Advisor to find horror stories of underprepared spring campers who were forced to find motels when things got too cold and wet for their light clothing and thin sleeping bags.
See also: 12 Ways to Stay Warm While Camping.
Hot (But Not Too Hot) Weather Tips for Spring Campers
- The days might be getting warmer, but the nights can still get cold. Stay cozy by packing warm layers and a suitable sleeping bag (more on this later).
- Many mountain lakes will likely still be frozen until late April, so don’t plan on canoeing. However, you also shouldn’t plan on walking across the ice because it will be in the process of thawing and more likely to break.
- Canadian springs have more rain, wind, and temperature fluctuations than any other season (unless you happen to be camping in BC’s Lower Mainland during the winter, in which case we’ll just assume freezing rain is something you enjoy). You might be tempted to leave behind your windbreaker, raingear, or waterproof bags, but don’t.
What to Pack for Successful Spring Camping
While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about what to take if you want to make the most of your spring camping experience. The following is a list of items we consider essential for staying safe and comfortable throughout the season:
- A 3-season sleeping bag is designed to keep the average person warm in temperatures ranging from -15°C to -1°C. Don’t just look for this rating, though—you’ll want to consider other factors as well, including the bag’s fit, features, and insulation type.
Also, make sure to check the forecast for the area where you’ll be camping ahead of time so you can tell whether a 3-season sleeping bag will actually offer enough warmth. Certain regions can drop below -15°C even in the springtime, and it’s best to use a bag rated for a few degrees colder than the conditions in which you plan to sleep. If you’re camping in elevated or remote northern regions, you’ll probably want something warmer.
- Tents have similar ratings to sleeping bags. A 3-season tent will likely be adequate for spring camping in most regions, but it never hurts to take a 4-season tent just in case. For best results, take the 4-season tent as a backup (you should have a backup tent anyway, just in case the one you’re using becomes damaged during your trip).
- Appropriate layers are a must for springtime campers since the weather can be so mercurial. Pack moisture-wicking base layers with long sleeves and pant legs, an insulated hoodie or jacket for your mid-layer, and an outer shell that provides high resistance to both wind and rain. If you’re going somewhere colder, put an insulation layer made of down or synthetic material between the mid-layer and the shell as well.
Springtime Campsite Setup Tips
Finally, here are a few key considerations for setting up your campsite during a springtime trip to the woods or mountains:
- Bring a pad to go between your sleeping bag and the tent floor. The ground is still thawing during springtime, so it will be colder and harder than it would be during the summer.
- Take along a tarp to shield your tent from rain and provide a covered space for activities such as cooking. It can be hard enough to start a fire outdoors without rain falling on top of it.
- Consider bringing a portable propane or electric range as a backup cooking solution.
- Be extra careful when disposing of leftover food and garbage. Baby animals are more likely to be out and about in spring than any other season—and while they can be adorable, you probably don’t want them (or their parents) digging through your campsite for scraps while you sleep.
Master Your Next Spring Camping Trip
Spring can be fantastic for camping—as long as you prepare accordingly. Use what you’ve learned above to pack the right gear, plan for appropriate activities, and optimize your campsite so that you can enjoy all that nature has to offer on your camping trip this season.
Those who truly love camping love it year-round. Weathering the winter winds can be just as rewarding as sleeping under the summer stars. Of course, the keyword there is “weathering” — so if you’re going camping in the cold, make sure you pack the proper equipment!
The following items will help you stay prepared for the elements on your next winter camping adventure. Read on to discover what you’ll need, and how it will keep you and your party protected.
What Makes Winter Camping Different?
Camping in the winter will be colder than going during other seasons — but that’s not all that makes it different. In addition to planning for extreme temperatures, you’ll also need gear built for environmental conditions such as ice and snow. Winter campers in backcountry regions will also need protection from howling winds, freezing rain, and avalanches — you know, all the fun stuff!
Finally, make sure you carefully study the area you plan to camp in before leaving home. That’s common sense for campers at any time of year, but in winter, it’s especially crucial since emergency help will likely be harder to reach and will take longer to arrive if you need it.
The Winter Camping Gear You Can’t Go Without
This gear can be useful on any camping trip — in fact, we don’t even recommend that you go camping in the summer without it. However, winter camping trips usually require specific versions of the items listed below, or additional knowledge on using them. Read carefully, so that you’ll know the difference between a sleeping bag that will save your life and one that will just turn you into a frozen burrito for bears.
Layers are the law when it comes to camping — but in winter, you’ll need to choose them extra carefully. Just throwing a sweater and some wool socks over generic long underwear won’t necessarily be enough to stop a chill from seeping in through the fabric. We recommend the following three-layered approach:
- An inner layer of thermal underwear made from moisture-wicking merino wool or synthetics
- A mid-layer made from either flannel or fleece
- A top layer that offers strong protection against wind and moisture (such as a ski jacket with a GORE-TEX membrane)
As a general rule of thumb, winter campers should avoid clothing made from cotton. Cotton fabrics can absorb as much as 27 times their weight in water, and don’t hold body heat nearly as well as synthetic or merino wool products.
As we’ve mentioned in other posts, high-calorie food is your friend when you go camping in the wintertime. The more energy you consume, the more heat your body can produce while burning it, making fat- and protein-rich foods ideal. Stock up on bacon, pre-cook a pot of chilli, and pack a few frozen beef burritos — you’ll need to eat roughly double your regular daily caloric intake to keep your energy up. Yum!
What, did you think you could just melt snow to make water? Well, you can — but only if you have a way to purify that water before you drink it. Bringing water purification tablets and a portable stove will allow you to top up your supply if you’re camping in a snowy region. That said, it’s still a good idea to fill your canteens and hot water bottles before embarking.
Pay special attention to your tent and sleeping bag while packing for a winter campout. It’s vital to take a tent that is rated appropriately for the conditions you expect to face.
We strongly recommend taking a 4-season tent, as they are made from stiff materials and generally designed to be more compact. These qualities make them sturdier in high winds, less likely to collapse under snowfall, and better at insulating heat.
Mummy bags are generally better for cold-weather camping than standard rectangular sleeping bags. The extra room in a rectangular bag may seem more comfortable at first, but your body will have to produce more heat to warm the excess air between you and the bag as you sleep. Mummy bags are much more snug, meaning you’ll lose less heat at night.
Finally, make sure to carry an emergency shelter on your person to use if you get separated from your campsite and can’t find your way back. Tarps and spare blankets can serve this purpose in the spring or summer, but it’s a safer bet to carry a bivy sack in winter.
You always need a way to start a fire when you’re camping, but winter campers can’t always rely on finding firewood at their campsite. Snowy tinder will most likely be too wet to burn, so you’ll need to bring your supply or pack an artificial heat source. Portable stoves will also help you melt snow into water, as mentioned above.
There’s no such thing as a knife just for winter, but you’ll want any utility knife you bring on a winter camping trip to satisfy a few criteria. Firstly, you might want to bring a knife with a brightly-coloured handle so that it won’t get lost if you drop it in the snow. Secondly, consider bringing a knife with a padded grip so that you’ll be able to use it comfortably in the cold.
Winter first-aid kits should come with a few items not found amongst typical medical supplies. Most of these are for preventing hypothermia by raising a person’s body temperature. You’ll want:
- Hand warmers
- A mylar blanket
- Waterproof matches
- An instruction manual for dealing with hypothermia and frostbite
Finally, make sure you take along a safety whistle and a pack of flares. You’ll need them if you become separated from your party or need to be found by a search and rescue team.
Don’t count on electronic navigation tools when you’re camping in sub-zero temperatures. Battery-powered devices are notoriously unpredictable in the cold, so take a map and compass along — and make sure you know how to read both of them. Pace counting beads can also help you determine how far away you are from your campsite if a blizzard obscures your tracks or covers up landmarks.
Flashlights are great for lighting your way in the dark, but they’re not as good for helping you work in dim conditions — since you need an entire hand just to hold them. Lanterns are a great alternative when you can rest them on solid ground, but they’re more likely to sink or tip over when you put them in snow.
Headlamps provide reliable and controllable illumination while leaving your hands free. Just remember to take an external battery pack if you’re camping in the cold since these devices can be just as susceptible to battery problems as an electronic GPS.
We know — now that summer’s over, you’ve already stowed away the sunscreen. Well, you’d better dig it out of the closet and pack it into your winter camping supplies, because the sun still shines in the wintertime.
What’s more, snow and ice can reflect up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays into your eyes and skin from unexpected angles, causing damage and obscuring your vision during potentially dangerous activities. Besides sunscreen, always bring a pair of polarized sunglasses on a retainer leash, plus a sun-hat and SPF-rated lip balm.
With Winter Camping Gear, Details Make the Difference
While you might enjoy camping in any season, not all of your gear will serve you year-round. Learning how to augment your regular loadout will ensure that you stay protected from bad weather and ready for action — even in the harshest environments.