It's almost here. I can feel it in the air - backpacking season. The snow is finally starting to melt and reveal the well beaten paths that I love so dearly. Realistically, it'll be another month or two before I can backpack comfortably (I define "comfort" on the backpacking trail very loosely but the basic definition includes being able to get out of my sleeping bag without crying due to cold and my tears then freezing). But, with the right preparations, I can start heading into the wild without intense snow gear as early as mid-March. It can be easy to get too excited at the prospect of hitting the trail, but it's important to remember that the woods are different in the spring than the summer, and I'll need a few additional things to survive.
Take a Peek Into My Pack: My Spring Camping Must Have's
- A Hearty Three Season Tent & Tarp
I make it no secret that I love my Mountainsmith Celestial Tent, but any good three season tent will do. The musts? A bathtub floor that will prevent moisture from the ground from leaking in and a good rain fly. Make sure you have enough stakes to stake the rainfly down, and extra paracord in case you run into a storm and need some extra support.
I almost always bring a tarp to put down underneath my tent when backpacking, and would almost call it an essential for spring backpacking. Even with a bathtub floor in your tent moisture can sometimes seep in and it's nice to have that extra layer between you and the ground. Plus, tarps are extremely light!
- A Backpack with Rainfly... Or a garbage bag
My current Gregory backpack came with a rainfly, and it's one of my favorite features. Not having to worry about water seeping into your dry clothes or food from rain or even branches covered in snow is fantastic. If you don't want to buy a separate rainfly (like these sea to summit ones), just line your pack with a garbage bag and throw one on top for good measure!
- Warm Sleeping Bag & Insert
Let's be real here. It's March. You probably still have your comforter on your bed (and maybe six other blankets too, if you get cold like me), so you're going to want an extra warm sleeping bag. My REI bag is rated for down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit but since I know I get cold when I sleep, I bring this Sea to Summit Thermolite Liner that adds an extra 25 degrees of warmth to any sleeping bag.
- Trekking Poles
I consider trekking poles a must on every backpacking trip due to my knee troubles, but they're especially useful for spring trips. If you encounter any lingering snow (which is almost guaranteed above a certain elevation through May), they're great for keeping your balance. Also, any areas of snow that have running water underneath can be deceiving and look stable, but may give out as soon as you put any pressure on them - I always test any uncertain ground with my trekking poles first!
- Sacred Socks
Good, thick, warm socks are a no-brainer to put in your pack, but sacred socks are something else entirely. Sacred socks are the coziest, fluffiest, most comfortable socks in the world that you keep inside your sleeping bag so that they're always dry and warm!
- Stuff Sacks, Including At Least 1 Dry Sack
I religiously use stuff sacks to organize my entire pack. Clothes in one, food and cooking utensils in one, first aid kit/toiletries in another. It makes it so easy to pack up and get an early start on your morning! Whenever I'm planning a trip where I may run into snow, rain, or fog, I also make sure to pack a dry sack. I'll throw my phone, a book, and camera equipment if I'm bringing any into it to make extra certain it all stays safe.
At the risk of sounding like my Mother... don't forget that you can get a sunburn even through clouds! Not to mention, sunburn can dehydrate you and is one of the most preventable outdoor injuries. Throw a travel size tube in your pack, along with some chapstick with SPF.
- Puffy Warm Jacket
Okay, it's March now and we've had a few sunny days, but don't forget to pack your puffy! I bring a puffy jacket with me while backpacking even in the hottest days of July & August (Okay, unless I'm in the Southwest) and I never regret it. Bring a nice warm base layer, or ten, along with your puffy jacket, rain pants, gloves, beanie, and wool socks.
I hope this helps prepare you for your next trip into the wild! Please don't forget that I just included a few of the essentials, not all of them. Check out REI's 10 Essentials Article for additional ideas on things that should go into your pack.