After the long winter, most backpackers are dying to hit the trail in the spring. This season requires gear you might not be used to taking. And, after a hiatus, it's even easier to forget some of these items at home.
We want to help you prepare as much as possible. While these items are listed on our Backpacker's Packing List, they're especially important to remember in spring. We've also got some tips to make the most of your trip.
Featured photo by Joel Holland
Springtime can be finicky in the weather department. Many hikers agree that it is the hardest season to get out in. Fluctuating weather creates the need to pack extra gear. Spring is often wet and cool. These conditions can lead to hypothermia. So, to make sure you're best prepared, check out this list below of extra springtime gear to pack.
Tarp - These compact pieces of gear are super versatile. They're perfect for rainy weather. You can put them underneath or over your tent for extra rain protection. Pop-up storms are more common in the summer months. But, tarps make excellent impromptu shelters if you do get caught in a spring downpour. They can be a lot quicker to set up than a tent. When it's breezy, string up a tarp to use as a windbreak for your cooking area. Tarps are also a hammock camping essential for protection from the elements.
Layers - Wearing layers is something most backpackers do regardless of the season. It is extra important this time of year, though. With cool mornings and evenings and warm daytimes, you need a variety of clothing. Remember, it's important to take off layers before you start sweating. Even perspiration can lead to hypothermia when it's cooler than 50°F! For a better idea of what to pack, check out our article “What to Wear When Backpacking and Hiking”.
Rain Gear - Extra rain gear is a wise idea too. We get it. A lot of backpackers don't like having to carry extra things if they're unsure they're going to use them. But in this case, it's better to be safe than sorry. Include things like a lightweight rain jacket, waterproof pants, or a light and breathable rain suit. It may be tempting to wear some waterproof hiking shoes as well. However, these can make your feet sweat more than regular hiking shoes since they're not as breathable. This can lead to rubbing, blisters, and pruny feet. While we're on the subject of shoes...
Extra Footwear - If you don't normally take extra shoes and socks, don't skimp in spring. Water crossings can be more frequent than usual. Opt for sandals, Crocs, water shoes, or a crummy old pair of shoes. Bring some extra socks to change into afterward. This will prevent blisters and give your other ones time to dry out. You might also consider waterproof gaiters if the trail is muddy and wet.
Warm Bedtime Items - Cold sleepers can have a harder time in shoulder seasons. If you don't already, bring some extra items to keep you warm at night. Our feet and head lose body hit quickest. Pack a thick pair of socks or booties to wear in bed. (A separate pair of booties for around camp is nice too!) Some people like using a hot water bottle in the footbox of their sleeping bag. For your head, a beanie or down hat works well.
Warm Sleeping Bag - It may be warm during the day, but it still gets pretty chilly at night during the spring. Make sure your sleeping bag is rated low enough. (Both survival and comfort!) Be sure your sleeping pad is up to snuff too. A 3-season one should work well, but check its R-value.
A 0-degree sleeping bag will definitely keep you warm during early spring backpacking trips, even on the coldest nights.
Warm Drinks & Cooking Supplies - Don't normally bother with warm drinks in the backcountry? Spring might be the time to splurge on some. Coffee, tea, or hot cocoa can warm you up from the inside out after a cold night. Plus, holding the mug warms your hands up. Don't forget your cooking pot and stove!
Backpack Cover - If you don't already have one, invest in a backpack cover. Most backpacks are already very waterproof. But covers help protect your gear even more from the elements.
Dry Bags - If you're backpacking where it's prone to be wet, you might want to invest in some dry bags. These prevent your gear from getting wet in heavy rains. They also help organize your pack too! For wet clothes, consider a wet bag. This will keep those items from getting other things wet in your pack.
Microfiber Towel - These towels are a lifesaver in damp weather. They're very handy for wiping off tents in the morning, whether covered in dew or rain. Plus, microfiber dries super fast so you don't have to worry about a damp towel in your pack. This also prevents molding and funky smells.
Gloves - Be sure to pack a pair of grippy gloves for cool mornings. You still want to be able to hold your trekking poles or check maps on your phone or GPS.
Bug Spray - Perhaps the one downside of spring are bugs returning. Ticks are always a concern. But mosquitos can be excessive with extra standing water. Check out our post on pest prevention on the trail.
Bear-Aware Supplies - Spring can be an extra scary time to encounter a bear. They're hungry from coming out of hibernation and mamas have their cubs. If you're hiking in bear country, consider taking bear spray. A bear bag or canister for food and toiletries is wise any time of year.
For spring backpacking, it's important to have some extra items just in case. There are several things to keep in mind to make your spring backpacking trip a pleasant one too. Remember these tips so you're not caught off-guard.
Dry items as much as possible. Even if you can't completely dry clothes and gear at camp, be sure to do it when you get home. Tents are especially prone to molding if they go in damp and sit in a bag for weeks and months. Plus, they start smelling funky, which can be hard to get rid of.
Be prepared to re-route. It's not uncommon for streams and rivers that are otherwise pleasant to become dangerous or downright impassable after spring rain. Make sure you have an accurate map (more importantly, know how to read it!), compass, and whatever else you may need to find a different way around or an alternate trail.
Pick your campsite carefully. Look out for hanging limbs and dead trees that may come down with wind or storms. Don't camp near creeks or other low-lying areas. They can flood quickly with rain. At the very least, it's not a fun way to wake up. At worst, it can be downright dangerous in the dark.
Stake your guylines, even if it's nice out. Especially towards the end of spring, weather can become unpredictable. In case of nighttime pop-up showers, try this out. Stake two of your guylines, but still leave the rainfly off. If it starts raining at night, you can quickly pull it over and attach the others before the inside of your tent gets drenched.
Face away from the wind. Set your tent up so that the door is facing away from the wind. This will help keep you a bit warmer and prevent the wind from blowing rain into your tent.
Opt for a hammock instead. Hammocks are a great option for soggy areas. Then you can avoid finding a dry spot for your tent.
Trail conditions may be worse than last year. Keep in mind that there may be washouts, fallen trees, and missing markers on trails after winter. Most trail maintenance doesn't get done until the summer. Again, make sure you have backup plans, even if that plan is turning around and trying again another time.
Stay in lower elevations. Spring is prime avalanche season. Plus, the weather and temps can be a lot different on a mountain than they are in the valley below.
Check your gear first. Make sure ALL of your gear is still in good shape after being stored all winter, Be sure you do this BEFORE you head out.
Store your water and filter in your sleeping bag at night. It's not unusual to get below freezing at night in spring. Frozen water in the morning is a bummer. But if your filter freezes and you don't have a backup, you're really in trouble.
With proper preparation and the right gear, spring can be just as enjoyable a season to backpack in as any other. Do you like backpacking in the spring? Why or why not? We'd love to read your thoughts in the comments section below!
What to Read Next
Wondering where to head on Spring Break now? Check out our round-up of “Best Spring Break Backpacking Trips”. For more help in choosing your gear and staying safe, check out the articles below.
For even more amazing backpacking trips visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed write-up like this one.
Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.