Camping During the Shoulder Season
It’s finally spring, and the signs are everywhere! Here in Colorado, I spotted my first wildflowers last weekend, the snow is starting to melt, and the birds are starting to come back. However, despite the longer days and warmer temperatures, nights are still quite cold, dipping into the twenties and even the teens well into April and May. For those who are itching to get outdoors though and to do some camping, these cold nighttime temps shouldn’t stop you.
The keys to camping during the shoulder season are preparation and gear, and once you understand the things you need there are lots of advantages to sleeping under the stars during this time of year. For one, you can expect far fewer crowds than you will encounter during the summer. Another advantage is the elongation of your camping season as compared to those who aren’t willing to brave the more mild temperatures. Finally, those who camp during the shoulder season will be able to experience nature that others will not.
The shoulder season includes fall as well as spring, as the temperatures and conditions during both of these times of year are quite similar. Of course, differences do exist. For example, spring campers can expect to be privy to the first flowers of the season, while fall campers will be surrounded by colorful leaves. Another difference between camping in spring, as opposed to autumn, is the snowpack. In the spring there will be more snow on the ground since it’s had all winter to accumulate. Conversely, in the fall there will be far less snow since it should have all melted away during the summer. This makes fall a better time of year for camping at higher elevations, whereas spring campers may have to stick to the lowlands.
When temperatures are warm during the day but cold at night the most important thing you need to bring with you are layers. This means bringing a variety of different clothing items that can be worn together so that you are comfortable no matter what. My standard for layering during the shoulder season is to wear a tank top as a base, with a long sleeve tech shirt over that. I think also tend to bring with me some kind of cozy sweatshirt layer as well as an insulated puffy and an outer windproof jacket.
For my bottom half, I typically stick to pants during the shoulder season, as this is a safer bet than shorts. Even if it’s hot in the sun, air temperatures during this time of year can be lower than they feel, something you will quickly become aware of when the wind picks up. I’ll also bring long johns to wear under my pants once the sun goes down, that way I’m sure to stay cozy while hanging out by the fire in the evening. Although this diversity of layers may seem excessive, I can’t stress enough how important it is while adventuring during the shoulder season. While climbing in the spring and fall I’ve experienced days where it will be short sleeves weather one minute and snowing the next.
Have the Right Gear
Those who want to camp during the shoulder season need to be prepared with the proper gear. Most importantly, invest in a 0 degree Fahrenheit sleeping back. Seriously, this back will keep you cozy in temps the dip well into the 20s, and keep you safe if the temperature gets even lower than that. Other pieces of gear that can greatly improve the shoulder season camping experience are tech blankets, like those made by Rumpl, and four-season tents, which will keep you much warmer on chilly nights.
Prepare warm beverages, such as tea or hot cocoa, to warm yourself up while camping during the shoulder season. Having soup for dinner can be another way to stay cozy (and hydrated!).
Investing in a pack of hand warmers is also a good idea. These little guys can be placed in pockets, gloves, and shoes to keep your extremities warm. They can also be placed in your sleeping bag as a great way to heat it up before you settle in for the night.
Another way to warm your sleeping bag is to place a water bottle full of boiling water in it. If you want to heat the whole tent instead, put some rocks on the fire then move them to the vestibule when they get red hot. Just make sure that rocks don’t touch any part of your tent, as they will likely melt it.
Position Yourself In the Sun
Try to pick campsites that get all day sun. South facing slopes or flatlands are the best bet for this. If you can’t get all day sun, think about whether you need it more in the morning or the afternoon and try to position your camp according.
Avoid North facing slopes, as these areas will get no sunlight. Furthermore, as lovely as it is to camp in a grove tree, shoulder season is not that time for shady campsites. Instead, try to find spots that won’t put you in a shadow.
Shoulder Season Is the Same as Desert Season
The spring and fall are actually the best times to go camping in the desert. In these arid, hot areas the winter still gets too cold for camping, but the summer is too hot. During the spring you will encounter temperatures that are hot during the day and incredibly pleasant at night. So if you live near the desert start checking the weather and plan a trip ASAP.