Spring camping in our camper at dusk on a particularly cold night.

Spring officially begins on March 19th, so we are just a few days from the equinox. That means camping season is set to start later this month, at least for us. Spring can be temperate and pleasant, depending on where you live in the US. If you live in the Rocky Mountains, the weather is chaotic. We get everything from 70-degree days to tropical storm force winds or raging blizzards that drop feet of snow. No matter where you live, we have some tips about how to make spring camping comfortable.

As I sit here drafting this article, I’m watching the local weather forecast, which details the massive winter storm coming through Colorado later this week. For us, they’re forecasting a mere 4-8 inches of snow, with feet predicted for the high country.

It is hard to believe that I’m talking about camping, even though we know several more big storms will hit the mountains before the weather actually gets nice. If you’re wondering when that usually happens in Colorado, it’s around June. But don’t quote me on that. I have endured a girl’s group camp trip in a snowstorm where we had to knock the snow and ice off our tent every few minutes to keep it upright.

Living in the mountains means we have to be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions. If we aren’t prepared, our trip will be unenjoyable, and at worst, we could endanger ourselves. Here are some tips, tricks, and gear to help you prepare for spring camping.

1. Have the Right Accommodations

If you plan on camping in the early spring, you must ensure you have suitable accommodations. We have a travel trailer that we take camping year-round. We are fortunate because our camper has a working heater, and even though it is over 50 years old, we often use it in spring and fall to keep us warm at night. Even if you don’t have a trailer or RV, you might consider renting one if you are worried about being cold at night. The extra cost will make your trip more pleasant. You could use a sharing service, like RV Share or Outdoorsy, to find a rental.

Are you trying to be more hardcore and insist on tent camping? Awesome! However, springtime in the Rockies can be downright frigid in a tent. That means you must be extra prepared to endure nighttime temperatures that can still drop down into the teens or lower depending on the elevation. It is best if you have a four-season tent. However, we know those are expensive, even unaffordable for the casual camper. If you have a three-season tent, there are a few things you can do to help keep you comfortable.

Suggested Gear

First, you want to ensure you have a good, insulated mattress. Although many summer campers have air mattresses, they are not insulating, so you will be cold when you sleep. Instead, get an insulated mattress. Traveling with two? We like the Stoic Double Cloud. Sleeping solo? Try the Klymit Insulated Static V Luxe.

We also like to layer below our sleeping pads to keep the cold out. I’ll use a closed foam pad below our sleeping pad, such as a Therm-a-Rest Classic. Between the ground and our Therm-a-Rest, we add a reflective shield. Although it might seem like a bit much, we notice a huge difference using the reflective shield. It can make the difference between freezing all night and being comfortable.

You also want to make sure you have a good sleeping bag. We suggest using a 0-degree bag, especially when camping in the mountains during March and April. If you have a 10-15 degree bag, bring extra blankets to help keep you warm.

Another item you might want to consider is a Mr. Heater Buddy. This portable and indoor safe heater has a built-in igniter. It runs on the green 1-lb propane canisters, or you can purchase an adapter hose to hook it to a 20-lb propane tank. The Mr. Heater Buddy shuts off automatically if it gets knocked over, which should give you peace of mind. We don’t recommend you run it all night. It works best if you use it to warm up your tent before bed and turn it on in the morning to get warmed up before you set out for the day.

2. Pack Right

Another way to make spring camping comfortable is to pack the right gear. Shoulder seasons are the most critical times of the year to double-check that you packed all the gear you need to keep you comfortable on your trip.

Bring Layers

It is always a smart idea to dress in layers. However, you might need a few extra layers in the spring to ensure comfort through those sometimes wide temperature ranges. I always pack the following items: a base layer, a vest, a long-sleeve fleece, a puffy jacket, and a waterproof shell. I also bring along a fleece-insulated flannel. Although my bag is stuffed, I know I’ll be warm.

I also bring underlayers for my legs. I pack my waffle tights and synthetic tights. The waffle tights are great for lounging, while the synthetic tights wick away moisture during bikes, hikes, or snowshoe sessions. For my feet, I bring many pairs of socks. Most of them are varying weights of Smartwool, which keeps my feet warm and dry whether we are active or just hanging by the fire.


Having a good shelter during a spring camping trip is also essential. This is especially true if you are tent camping. A shelter to block you from the wind, rain, or even snow can make the difference between an enjoyable and miserable camp trip. If you are inclined, a simple rope and tarp affixed to nearby trees can be set up as a windbreak or a rain shelter. However, if there aren’t trees, what then?

Many of our spring camping trips are at lower elevations, where we are more likely to encounter small trees and shrubs that don’t support a tarp. A traditional 10×10 pop-up works; however, if you’ve ever used one, you probably know it isn’t very durable. Over the past several seasons, we’ve seen pop-ups crumple in the wind, collapse in the rain, or fall apart during setup. All these failures finally encouraged us to seek an alternative.

We landed on this UNP Canopy. The dome shape allows rain to drip off the side rather than collect in a low spot. It withstands moderate wind gusts. We frequently see 40mph gusts during springtime in the Rockies, but we can use the guy lines and stake points to ensure the canopy doesn’t fly away. It is crucial to monitor the weather because big gusts will carry the canopy away, possibly while a small person is trying to hold it down. Ask me how I know…

Despite this initial learning experience, our UNP Canopy has held up very well, with some maintenance, such as using seam sealer to prevent rain drips and cleaning and water-proofing the fabric annually. We are about to enter our third season with the UNP Canopy, which is far longer than any pop-up ever lasted.


Although the days are getting longer, we still spend time outside in the dark. That means we need a quality headlamp to make sure we can navigate around our campsite. We recommend the Foxelli rechargeable headlamp. At this point, I’ve had my headlamp for six years, and it is still going strong. It is bright and gives me an extended range of viewing. It has a high and low setting, which is helpful if you need more light. A red light setting also ensures I don’t disturb others if I have to move around late at night. Those who know me know that it is absolutely my favorite piece of camping gear, and I recommend it to everyone. Trust me when I say you need one too.


Another item we make sure to pack during our spring camping trips is hand warmers. They’re nice to have around on cold-weather trips. We use them most when snowboarding, but they also come in handy during our camp trips. When the temperatures drop slightly more than we expected, they’re great to have around. I’ve thrown a pair into my sleeping bag near my feet to warm me up before bed. We’ve also shared with our friends when they didn’t bring enough layers. They take the bite out of the cold and are worth having in your camp kit.

3. Be Flexible

One of the most important factors is being flexible when thinking about how to make spring camping comfortable. The weather changes frequently. Some weeks, we will check the weather on a Monday, and the weekend looks like it will be wonderful. By Friday, the forecast completely changed, and now we are setting out for a trip in less-than-ideal conditions. That’s life for you. What you expect doesn’t always come to fruition. Change necessitates flexibility.

For us, this can mean changing our plans altogether. I’ve canceled or rescheduled trips to avoid big storms and bad weather. Sometimes, the risk isn’t worth the reward. On those occasions, I’d rather stay home and watch the snow fall from the comfort of my home.

There are other times when we can make it to the campsite, and the weather turns on us while we are camping. Those occurrences require us to be flexible. It might mean easing into our day, making an extra cup or two of coffee, reading, or just enjoying the scenery from our camper or tent window. Rather than getting upset, we accept it as an opportunity to relax and slow down.

It’s OK to Change Plans

Last spring, I booked a campsite along the Arkansas River so we could go fishing early in the season. We were both looking forward to the trip since Alie had taken to fly fishing over the past two seasons. We were itching to get on the water. However, the weather conditions didn’t cooperate. It was cold, windy, and snowy, and we didn’t have the right gear to stay comfortable on the water. We didn’t fish at all during that spring camping trip.

Instead, we decided to take a hike. Initially, I’d hoped to squeeze in a mountain bike ride, but the conditions were poor. We headed to a regional park closer to town and opted for a hike. We happened to stumble upon a giant trail race that went on despite the weather. However, it was clear many participants did not show up for the event. While hiking, we offered words of encouragement to the race participants. Many responded with waves, thank yous, smiles, or high fives. Despite the occasional runner, we mainly hiked in solitude, enjoying the light snow and clouds that would descend and rapidly ascend in and out of the canyon.

After our hike, we drove the rest of the way into town, searching for a beer brewery. We figured we could enjoy a flight and a snack and get warmed up before returning to camp. While there, we made friends with our server and bonded in light conversation about home improvement projects. We observed many runners who decided to meet at the brewery to celebrate completing the race in miserable conditions. At the table over my left shoulder, I overheard two women talking about how thankful they were for the encouragement from the few hikers on the trail because it motivated them to keep moving forward.

Although nothing we had done was on our original agenda for the weekend, it still turned out to be a successful spring camping trip. We ended the evening by eating dinner in the warmth of our camper, sipping on whiskey, listening to music, and talking about the funny events of the day. These types of trips are great reminders to live in the moment.

Closing Thoughts

Spring is a wonderful time of the year to get outdoors and enjoy the longer days and warmer weather. However, spring can be unpredictable, with swings into winter-like conditions. If you plan to set out for a spring camping trip, take the extra time to plan your trip, pack the extra gear, and prepare for the possibility that you might need to change your plans with little notice. You’ll still have fun even if the trip doesn’t go as planned. Maybe you’ll even appreciate the uniqueness of spring camping compared to those perfect summer nights.

Happy Exploring!

For other gear recommendations, check out our Essential Camp Gear Checklist here.

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