Don’t Be a Fool: 10 Things to Avoid While Spring Backpacking

After a long winter, spring is time to bust out the backpack, hit the trail, and fill up on mountain time. It’s also a particularly tricky time of year for traveling in the mountains—not winter anymore but not summer yet, it’s easy to get fooled by everything from weather to trail conditions to ourselves. Keep reading to ensure a safe and fun first backpacking trip into the mountains this year.

Credit: Tim Peck

Duped into a Big Trip

You were pounding out Northeast classics like the Pemi Loop and Carter Range Traverse in the fall, but tackling a big backpacking trip is no barrel of laughs if you haven’t hiked or donned a heavy pack all winter. Start small, build fitness, and work out the kinks before tackling bigger objectives. Not to mention, if trail conditions are still wintery, you’re going to move slower than you expect.

Whacky Winter Trail Conditions

The joke’s on you if the nice weather in your backyard tricks you into not packing your winter gear. Ice and snow linger at higher elevations much longer than you think—it might not just be Mother Nature pulling your leg if you leave your traction and flotation devices at home.

Credit: Tim Peck

Temperature Tomfoolery

Spring weather is a prankster. It’s often warm and sunny just long enough to have you consider leaving behind layers only to spring unexpected cold, rain, or even snow on you. Have the last laugh by packing a hardshell, rain pants, more layers than you think you’ll need, and accessories like a winter hat and gloves.

Belly Laughs

Whether it’s the extra effort needed to negotiate tricky shoulder-season trails or extra calories to keep you warm, spring backpacking works up an appetite. Fuel your trip with plenty of nutritious and delicious food like this backpacker special to avoid a side-splitting adventure.

Credit: Tim Peck

Tent Trickery

A “three-season” tent implies that it is suitable for use in spring, summer, and fall, but that is not always the case. While a lightweight three-season tent is fine for camping at protected sites and platforms, it’s a joke for the extreme weather found above treeline on early season attempts of the Presidential Traverse—avoid chicanery and don’t test it in the high winds that dominate Northeast ridge lines in the spring. Also, remember to only camp above treeline when there’s two or more feet of snow on the ground.

Sleeping Bag Surprise

Spring and rain go hand in hand, which makes choosing a sleeping bag that can fend off water and insulate when wet extra important. Using a sleeping bag filled with synthetic insulation or hydrophobic down is a favorite trick of seasoned backpackers.

Pad Put On

Shoulder-season backpacking commonly means sleeping on warmth-sapping surfaces and a sleeping pad with the “right” R-value can prevent buffoonery at bedtime. An insulated pad is a popular choice, as is pairing a closed-cell foam pad with an air pad for a silly-comfortable (and warm) combination.

Credit: Tim Peck

Waterproof Wind Up

Wet weather is no laughing matter for spring backpackers, especially when it soaks essential gear. Work a waterproof pack cover, pack liner, or individual dry sacks into your bag of tricks for storing stuff like your sleeping bag, extra layers, and food.

Gear Gag

Gear has a funny sense of humor, especially after a long winter. Before hitting the trail, spend an evening checking that your gear is in order—make sure all your tent’s pieces are in the bag, your sleeping pad holds air, the batteries are charged in your headlamp, and your stove starts. The more kinks you can work out at home, the less kooky things will be in the backcountry.

Have the Last Laugh

Creating a list of everything you need before packing your bag is a good strategy if it’s been a while since you last backpacked—forgetting those little-but-essential items like a lighter for your stove is a sure-fire way to look foolish.

Have any other tips to keep spring weather from making you a laughingstock on your first backpacking trip of the year? If so, we want to hear them! Leave them in the comments below.

Credit: Tim Peck