Even though we just had a blast of snow over the weekend here in Colorado, and it’s snowing a little bit tonight, it’s still starting to feel like spring, especially with the time change (if you were constantly an hour late to everything today, you were supposed to set your clocks forward on Saturday night). Spring is my second favorite season of the year, with fall being the first. But spring has a different feel to it than fall; it is a time of emergence and new life, not just in the wild, but also in me. There are so many things I want to get out and do, and I’m looking forward to the warmer and longer days.
Depending on my son’s lacrosse schedule, we are going to get out for a spring camping trip soon; this has been sort of a ritual for us for many years. Sure, it can still get pretty cold at night, and in the mountains there may still be snow on the ground, and there’s always a chance of snow even into late April, but if you prepare properly, spring camping is a great time to get out of the house you’ve been cooped up in all winter. There are a lot of people who don’t hunt or fish, so for them, it’s been a long winter with little or no outdoor activity.
Spring time camping usually means no fire bans, so you can have a roaring fire to sit by at night and roast marshmallows. There are several meteor showers visible to earth during the spring because of where we are at with the earth’s tilt, and I love watching falling stars. There are generally less campers out in the spring too, so you have more space to yourself. The spring is a great time to get out and see wildlife emerging (be careful of bears though, as I talked about in a post the other night), and if you are careful and observant you can see the babies of wildlife acquainting themselves to their new world.
There really isn’t too much preparation that is different than camping in other seasons, but that preparation is crucial to an enjoyable spring camping trip. The first thing is to make sure you have a four season tent, one that is rated for colder weather, but it isn’t a deal-breaker if you don’t have one. If you are primarily a summer camper, the tent you have will suffice as long as you have a good sleeping bag and adequate clothes. You can improve a tent’s capabilities by putting a tarp underneath the tent, and one over the top of it, even if you have a rain fly. It is important that the tarp over the top is secured firmly and forms an A shape over your tent, this will deflect rain and snow. One time, in my early days of spring camping in the mountains, I was sleeping in a small pup tent with no tarp above it. I woke up in the morning and the tent roof was about six inches from my face, weighed down with ten inches of fresh, heavy snow that had fallen during the night. The two aluminum poles at each end of the tent were bent from the weight of the snow, and the whole tent was about to collapse on top of me.
The most important thing for cold weather camping is your sleeping bag. Sleeping bags are rated for temperature, and a bag rated at 10 degrees should be plenty to keep you warm. But the rating of the bag is not the only thing to keep in mind; be sure to consider the size of your body in relation to the space inside the bag, you don’t want too much room inside the bag to try to keep warm with your body heat. At the same time you don’t want a bag that is going to be too constrictive as you toss and turn during the night. I like a sleeping bag that has a slick material on the inside so my clothing isn’t getting all balled up if I shift my body position during the night.
Along with a good sleeping bag, you need a good mattress, either an inflatable one or a foam mattress. It is critical to have a layer between your sleeping bag and the cold, hard ground, both for warmth and for comfort. If weight is a consideration, select your mattress accordingly, as you can go in either extreme with a good mattress. Some back packers and hunters cut a foam pad to only go as long as just below the hip, but that takes away the insulation for your legs.
The next thing is clothes; bring a lot of layers, and a lot of extra clothing if space allows. Be sure to have a good hat and gloves, and it’s always a good idea to have an extra pair of gloves in case your first pair gets wet from snow or rain. Remember the 3 W’s of layering – Wicking inside layer, Warmth middle layer(s) and Wind/Water outer layer. The Wicking layer should be a polypropylene material for long underwear and sock liners. The Warmth layer(s) should be fleece or wool. The Wind/Water layer should be Gore-Tex or at least 60/40 nylon. Lastly, be sure that your footwear will keep your feet warm and dry, there is nothing more miserable than being in the cold with wet feet.
I hope you all have the chance soon to get out and do some spring camping. I am sure at other locations around the country it feels more like spring right now than it does here, but it isn’t too far away!