Camping In All Seasons: Making The Most Of Your Time Outdoors

Although some hikers and campers schedule their trips for the cool months of the year, most outdoor enthusiasts get their nature fix during the spring and summer months. Neither time of the year is inherently better than the other, and you can certainly enjoy the great outdoors throughout the year. But no matter when you schedule your next trip, you’ll want to be sure that you make the most of the occasion. And this means taking advantage of any unique opportunities present in a given season, as well as preparing for some of the challenges different seasons present.

We’ll try to help you do exactly this below, as we point out eight of the most important challenges and opportunities different seasons present, as well as the best ways to maximize or avoid them.

Spring

Budding leaves, singing birds and warming temperatures make spring a wonderful time to enjoy the great outdoors. Just be sure to embrace the following tips and tricks to make the most of your springtime trip.

1. Mosquitoes Start Buzzing During the Spring

It can be easy to forget how irritating mosquitoes can be after they disappear for the winter, so don’t forget to pack insect repellent for your skin and permethrin-coated clothing to cover as much of your body as the temperatures allow. Remember, mosquitos are not only irritating, but they can also transmit serious diseases too.

2. Spring Weather Is Often Wet Weather

In many areas, spring is the wettest time of the year. Not only do many places experience an abundance of rain during this time of year, but the local rivers, creeks and streams can rise too, thanks to the melting snowpack in the surrounding mountains.

All of this additional water also means that you’ll usually wake up to a dew-covered ground in the morning. So, be sure that you bring all of your raingear and pre-treat your boots and clothing with a moisture-repelling product.

3. Prepare to Deal with Pollen

Pollen can be a terrible nuisance for hikers and campers spending time outdoors during the spring. This is especially true for those who are camping or hiking through forests, as trees tend to release most of their pollen during the spring (grasses, on the other hand, typically release their pollen in the summer).

So, be sure to bring along some Benadryl or another allergy medication and check out our tips on coping with pollen before you hit the trail.

4. Be Sure to Prepare for Unseasonable Weather

Excited by the return of warm weather, many campers find themselves unprepared for the occasional cold snap that blows through during the spring. So, don’t forget to bring enough clothing to stay warm if unexpected cold weather occurs.

5. Be Sure to Inspect Your Gear

Because most hikers and campers take the winter off, it is wise to inspect all of your gear before heading out in the spring. This way, you won’t forget to repair any items that broke last fall, as well as anything that became damaged during winter storage. You may even want to set up your tent on a sunny day and let it air out for a few hours – this will help get rid of any odors that developed during storage.

6. Start Slow

It is easy to bite off more than you can chew when heading out for your first hike or camping trip after a long winter of being cooped up indoors. But because you’re unlikely to be in tip-top hiking shape early in the spring, it is important to set reasonable goals with regard to distance and elevation for your first trip of the year.

Trying to hike too far can easily wear you out and leave you with sore muscles, and in a worst-case scenario, it could leave you stranded and unable to return to your car. Generally speaking, you’ll want to restrict your hikes to about 20% of the length that you were hiking in the fall.

7. Prepare for Unexpected Trail Changes

Winter weather can lead to erosion, which often forces rangers and park officials to re-route sections of some of the trails. Some trails may even have been closed if the winter weather was especially severe.

These types of issues rarely cause serious problems for hikers and campers, but it is important to be prepared to navigate a trail system that may not match your maps exactly. In fact, it is usually a good idea to contact the local trail-maintenance authorities before your trip begins, so you will know if you need to make alternative arrangements.

8. Take the Time to Enjoy the Birds

Spring is one of the best times of year to work a little bird-watching into your hiking and camping trips. Many birds will be returning from their winter haunts and brandishing their boldest colors of the year. This is also the time of year when many species are busy making nests and courting mates, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to watch them go about their daily lives.

You don’t need anything to watch the birds, but you’ll have more fun doing so if you bring a good pair of binoculars and a field guide to help you identify the birds you spot. And unlike the paper field guides of years past that were heavy and bulky, modern birdwatchers can carry an entire field guide on their phone.

Summer

Most people who go camping – particularly casual campers, who may only head outdoors once or twice a year – do so in the summer. But while this can lead to crowded campsites and trails, you can still have a fantastic time if you employ some of the strategies discussed below.

1. Employ Good Tick-Prevention Strategies

Summer is the peak of tick season across most of the eastern and southern United States, so it is important to wear a high-quality tick repellent and perform regular tick checks on your body. While most tick bites are merely a nuisance, some may transmit serious diseases, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease and others.

2. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

Sweltering summer temperatures can quickly lead to dehydration, so always make sure that you carry (and drink) plenty of water when enjoying the great outdoors during the warm months. Keep in mind that you’ll need to treat all of the water you drink in the backcountry, so don’t wait until your Nalgene bottle runs empty before re-stocking your supplies.

3. Make Time to Enjoy the Sounds of Summer

Summer nights likely provide the best soundtrack in the entire natural world, so be sure to spend at least one night just listening. You’ll almost certainly hear thousands of crickets and katydids, and if you are camping reasonably close to water, you may hear chorusing frogs too. If you are really lucky, you’ll hear calling nocturnal birds, such as whippoorwills and loons.

To avoid scaring away the local critters, forego the fire for one night, set up a comfortable hammock, and kick back and listen to the sounds of the forest.

4. Use a Suitable Sunscreen

Even if you will be hiking or camping in a forested area, chances are, you’ll pass through several sunny patches along the way. You may even decide to stop for lunch atop a beautiful and exposed vista. Accordingly, you’ll want to make sure that you wear an appropriate sunscreen while enjoying the outdoors during the summer.

Although you may be tempted to use a combination of sunscreen-insect-repellent, most authorities recommend against this practice, as the chemicals in the sunscreen can cause the insect repellent to be less effective.

5. Do Yourself a Favor and Hike in the Morning or Evening

Hiking during the hottest hours will only tire you more quickly and increase the chances that you’ll suffer from dehydration. So, try to confine your hiking to the early morning and late afternoon during the summer using trekking poles for more stability. Use the middle of the day to rest, set up campsites and tend to other necessary tasks that won’t wear you out. If circumstances do force you to hike during the middle of the day, just be sure to take frequent breaks, make the most of any shade present, and drink plenty of water.

6. Make a Safety Plan for Bad Weather

You should always be prepared for rain anytime you head out for a hike or plan to spend a few days camping. However, there is a big difference between some run-of-the-mill rainy weather and a late summer thunderstorm, which may also shower the area in hail or spawn tornadoes.

There are no universal steps to take – you’ll simply have to develop a plan that suits your circumstances. You may, for example, be able to take shelter in a public bathroom or ranger station, but in other cases, you may be forced to retreat to a cave or other natural shelter if nothing else is available. It’s also a good idea to bring along an all-weather emergency radio if you won’t have cell phone service during your trip.

7. Take Advantage of the Prevailing Winds when Making Camp

Although it’ll require a bit more preparation than usual, it is wise to do everything possible to maximize the amount of wind blowing through your campsite during the summer (obviously, within reason). The airflow will not only help keep the campsite cooler, but it will also help reduce the number of mosquitos hanging around like a mosquito bug net.

If the area is already relatively windy, it is easy to figure out how to orient your campsite – just be sure to put the campfire downwind of all the tents and gear. But if the winds are calm when you’re setting up your site, look for clues in the landscape, such as the direction most of the trees lean.

If nothing else, you can simply drop a few tufts of grass from your hand and watch which direction they drift on the way down. You can also wet your finger and hold it up in the air – the moving air will make the upwind side feel cooler.

8. Consider Lesser Known Trails and Campgrounds in the Summer

Summer is undoubtedly the season that sees most people enjoying the great outdoors. Many people schedule their yearly vacation for the summer when the kids are out of school and the days are long. And while all of this interest in the natural world is wonderful, it can make trails and campsites a bit crowded from June to August.

But you can avoid some of the crowds, by seeking out trails and campsites that fly under the radar during the summer. If you aren’t sure which trails are likely to see the least traffic, start by looking at those rated as “strenuous” or “moderate,” as most of casual hikers and campers stick to trails rated as “easy.”

Fall

Fall is an underappreciated time of year to go camping. The weather is generally mild, the trails relatively empty, and the colorful fall foliage can provide an amazing background for your trip. Just try to implement the tips below to make the most of your next autumn excursion.

1. Schedule Your Trip During the Leaf Change

It’s always worth trying to time your trip so that it coincides with the fall foliage is at its most colorful. But because most areas only experience a period of peak color that lasts a week or two, and the timing of the color change varies from one year to the next, this isn’t terribly easy to pull off. However, it is a high-upside, minimal-downside proposition – you have little to lose by trying.

Just consult a few historic leaf color change resources when planning your trip and remember that the color change usually occurs later the farther south you travel, which gives you more flexibility when trying to time things perfectly.

2. Wear Layers to Cope with Changing Temperatures

While the fall nights are often chilly and perfect for bundling up next to the campfire, the days can still be quite warm. And because sweating into your clothes all day long can leave you very cold once the sun goes down, it is important to remember to bring clothes that will still be appropriate for warm temperatures. As always, dress in layers so you can adjust your wardrobe to match the weather.

3. Consider Leaving the Camp Stove at Home

While camp stoves certainly make cooking and (if necessary) treating water, they do add additional weight to your pack (as does the fuel necessary to operate them). So, experienced campers – particularly those with excellent fire-making skills – may want to leave their camp stove at home during the fall. The fall is typically the easiest time of year to start a fire, and there should be plenty of dead leaves and fallen branches on the ground to help make the process even easier. And in addition to the weight- and space-savings you’ll enjoy by leaving your stove at home, you’ll also get to enjoy the romance of cooking over an open fire.

4. Use a Tarp to Make a Windscreen

Strong winds are common in some campsites during the autumn, and these winds (the very winds that are a welcome feature in summer campsites) are often responsible for making you feel cold. Most campers will feel comfortable when temperatures are in the 50s or 60s, but a modest breeze can quickly make the temperature feel much lower. Fortunately, this is a pretty easy problem to solve. Simply rig up a tarp on the upwind side of your campsite. You won’t block all of the wind, but you will cut the amount flowing across your campsite significantly, thereby making the entire campsite more comfortable.

5. Bring a Blanket to Use Around the Campfire

As mentioned before, fall is one of the best times of year to enjoy a good campfire. But because you’ll likely be dressed in relatively lightweight clothing, it can still be a bit chilly once the sun goes down – even when you’re sitting by the fire.

You don’t want to sit too close to the fire – this can make your front uncomfortably hot without helping warm your back up at all. Instead, the best way to stay warm is to bring along a good camping blanket to cover your back. You can use a sleeping bag, but they won’t provide the quality of coverage that a blanket will, and they can present a trip hazard. In fact, you may want to start using camping blankets instead of sleeping bags entirely.

6. Prepare for the Shorter Days and Longer Nights

Each passing fall day is shorter than the one before, and each night grows longer as the season progresses. So, you’ll have to plan to spend more hours under dark skies than you will during summer camping trips. This means you’ll need to make a few small accommodations. For example, you’ll want to pack a few more batteries than you would in the summer, as you’ll need to use your headlamp more often. You’ll also need to be prepared to set your tent up in the dark if you are arriving at the campsite on Friday night.

7. Try to Take Advantage of Southeastern Exposures

Fall mornings can be quite chilly, but you can help warm your tent up in the morning by pitching it in the right location and in the right orientation. Simply put, you want to take advantage of the sun’s morning rays, which will come from the southeast (assuming you are camping in the northern hemisphere – reverse things if you are camping in the southern hemisphere).

So, try to find the best southeastern exposure available at your campsite. Try to find an area that’ll enjoy the full power of the sun, and avoid locations shaded by trees or rocks. And once you find the perfect location, be sure to set up your tent so that one of the walls (rather than a corner) faces directly into the sun.

8. Don’t Leave the Fishing Rods at Home

If you enjoy fishing during your outdoor excursions, be sure to bring your rod and reel along during fall trips. Many people only think about fishing during summer trips, but there are plenty of fish to be caught in the fall too. In fact, many of the fish will be feeding heavily during the fall to prepare for the long, cold winter. Additionally, because fewer campers and hikers fish during the fall, they see fewer lures and worms floating by. This often makes them more willing to bite.

Winter

Winter adventures are usually the domain of experienced and highly skilled campers and hikers, and rightly so – it is undoubtedly the most challenging time of the year to spend time outdoors. But if you embrace the recommendations listed below, you’ll likely find that you can still enjoy the outdoors during the coldest portion of the year.

1. Remain Cautious Around Wildlife

You’ll rarely have to contend with bugs or snakes when snow covers the ground. However, this shouldn’t lull you into a false sense of security regarding the wildlife you may encounter on the trail. Many large animals, including moose and wolves, remain active throughout the winter months. And while you needn’t fear these animals, it is wise to afford them a healthy dose of respect and give them a wide berth.

2. Use Caution When Avalanches Threaten

Be sure to use caution when camping or hiking in places where are a concern. Avalanches are extremely dangerous events, and they can cause death by suffocation, blunt force trauma or, most commonly, hypothermia. Avalanches can occur during any month of the calendar, but they are most common following winter storms that deposit 1 foot or more of snow during a short period of time.

3. Wear Bright Clothing When Traveling Through Areas with Hunters

Some wilderness areas and national parks allow hunting as well as camping, hiking and other types of outdoor recreation. If you are planning on visiting such a park, be sure to do everything you can to make your presence known, so you won’t end up involved in an accident.

This means wearing bright colors to make it easy for hunters to see you (if you feel like you are at an especially high risk of encountering hunters, you may want to consider wearing a blaze-orange vest or hat). It’s also a good idea to make a bit of noise while you hike down the trail. If nothing else, just clip your car keys to your pack, as they’ll jingle with each step.

4. Staying Warm Means Staying Dry

While you’ll need to take extra precautions to remain dry and warm while camping or hiking in the snow, there are few more beautiful sights in the world than a wild vista that’s been coated in a foot of snow.

So, while you can’t control the weather, it may behoove you to review historic snowfall records for the area to which you’ll be traveling. You may get lucky by planning your trip during a week that receives a disproportionate amount of snow.

5. Note That Poison Ivy Still Represents a Threat

Don’t forget to be careful to avoid touching poison ivy while camping in the winter. Poison ivy is a deciduous plant, so it loses its leaves in the fall or winter, but the remaining portions of the plant – including, most notably, the tree-clinging vines – persist throughout the winter and are capable of triggering a rash.

Poison ivy vines are typically 1- to 3-inches thick and covered in numerous hairy projections, which makes it pretty easy to spot growing in the forest.

6. Don’t Let Your Water Filter Freeze

No matter how much you try to empty your water filter, a small amount of water will almost certainly remain trapped inside. If you then leave your filter out in your daypack, it may freeze. This can cause damage to the internal components, which render it non-functional. It may even allow non-treated water to contaminate the water you believe is safe. So, in addition to drying out your filter as much as is possible after each use, you may want to keep it with you in your sleeping bag. This should usually keep it warm enough to avoid freezing.

7. Bring Plenty of Food

You’ll obviously want to pack enough food for your next camping trip (as well as lengthy hiking trips in which you plan to eat at the half-way point), but it is easy to underestimate your caloric needs during cold-weather trips. Remember that the food you eat not only helps to provide you with the energy to do physical work, it also provides your body with the fuel needed to keep you warm.

Simply put, you’ll need more calories in the winter than you will in the summer, as your body will require more fuel to keep your internal fires stoked. So, be sure that you plan carefully for your trip, and increase your daily food ration by about 10% to 20%, or as much as your pack capacity allows. And while you’re at it, be sure to pack several warm drink mixes or soups to help warm you up quickly when the cold winds blow.

8. Pack the Snow Before Pitching Your Tent

If you plan to make camp in a snowy location, you’ll want to take a few moments to pack down the snow in the place you intend to pitch your tent. Fail to do so, and you may rip the bottom of your tent when you step inside. Additionally, the packed snow will generally provide a more comfortable floor for your tent, and it’ll be easier to roll around and stand up when necessary.

And if you don’t mind putting in the work, it is also a good idea to clear a pathway between the spots you’ll frequently traverse. For example, between the fire circle and your tent, or your tent and the latrine. This will make it easier to make quick trips in sneakers or comfortable hiking boots, rather than forcing you to put snow boots back on.

As you can see, there are a number of things you can do to help make the most of hiking and camping trips during any portion of the calendar. And while most outdoor enthusiasts schedule their adventures for a relatively short window of time between April and October, you can still enjoy yourself while heading outdoors during the fall, winter and early spring too. Just try to use the tips discussed above to ensure you’ll be prepared for your next outdoor adventure – no matter when it takes place.

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