By Robert Loewendick
Four-season camping introduces the family to new adventures. Winter camping takes some extra planning and gear, but if you like solitude, you can't beat pitching a tent this time of year.
The 12-year-old boy stared out the window with a depressed look on his face. The overnight low temperature had left a fine coat of frost on the scene outside his window. Even though the morning's weather was normal for the season, the youngster's desire to go camping was not.
"Have you ever gone camping in the winter, Dad?" he asked his father. The question not only surprised the dad, but also excited him.
"Yes, I have, Son. Why do you ask?"
The boy continued to stare out the window for a few seconds more and then answered, "It's too bad we only get to camp in the summer. There's a lot going on out there that we could explore while camping."
Camping continues to grow in popularity and participation across the nation. Even when the economy slows, numerous families continue to set up camp. Shorter trips -- both in miles traveled and time spent -- are becoming the norm these days, though, and the hustle-and-bustle world is taking its toll on families already fighting to find non-interrupted leisure time to spend together.
Taking advantage of unexpected opportunities can increase your time together in the great outdoors. So wipe clean the traditional camping calendar that focuses mostly on summer; come explore the potential of four-season family camping and the great benefits that come with it.
Everyone has a preferred style of camping. From Class A motor homes to two-man backpacking tents, all forms of camping abound. While this article focuses mostly on tent camping across America's center latitude, all campers -- further north and south -- can adjust these tips to fit their 12-month camping calendar.
Some of the best camping occurs during the spring. Flora and fauna are awakening, displaying entertaining antics and beautiful arrangements. Pitching a tent amongst the regenerated natural world can be very rewarding at this time.
Family camping remains a bond-building activity for all involved.
used for summer camping will suffice for most spring campouts. Springtime usually brings spring rains, which creates the need for a superior rainfly and ground tarp to ensure tent dryness on top and bottom. The rainfly should be a secure one that extends well past the tent entrance. This will keep mud trailing inside the tent to a minimum.
Tent ventilation during this season is nearly as important as during summer outings. Any dampness in a tent takes away from the warming process. A dew-covered sleeping bag will not perform nearly as well as a dry one.
When selecting a sleeping bag for spring outings choose one that will dry quickly (not down filled), just in case the tent happens to leak. A sleeping bag with a hood will come in handy during cool spring nights. Spring weather can be unpredictable, so don't let the warmer days leave you shivering after dark. And don't forget -- winter sleeping gear is always welcome at springtime campouts.
For many campers, outdoor cooking and eating is a highlight to any camping excursion, no matter what time of year. Packing cooking gear for spring camping should include a heavy dose of warm food. Again, nippy night air and cool morning starts will be soothed with a toasty breakfast and dinner. A two-burner stove can handle the demand of four family members, but adding a three burner or a single burner is even better. A hungry camper is never a happy camper.
Weather can be both friend and foe to the springtime camper. Just as spring can deliver pleasant days for spending outdoors, it also can bring nasty conditions that'll test a tent's toughness -- and the camper's. Keep a radio with a weather band handy so that you're alerted when foul weather approaches. Don't forget to throw in a pack of fresh batteries.
Selecting and planning for a specific destination is half the camping fun. Focus on areas that will provide beautiful showings of newly grown flowering foliage. State and national parks are perfect sites for this and also provide early season fishing and hiking opportunities as well.
State parks maintain trails and other amenities catering to campers year-round, such as this wooden walkway which is useable during the spring rainy season as well as summer. Sizzling Summer
The most popular time for families to camp is during the summer months while the kids are on break from school. From one-night getaways to multi-day vacations, camping is a popular summer activity. Since so many camping articles cover the summer season, I'll briefly touch on a few points.
Most family-sized tents are designed with warm nights in mind, so choosing one is pretty simple. However, tent size is one thing you should consider. Selecting a tent that's made to accommodate one or two persons more than what the purchasing family has will allow ample room for gear storage and keep sleeping room comfortable.
"The more ventilation the better" is the rule when it comes to summer tents, and adding a tent fan to the packing list should be mandatory. Quiet, battery operated fans with soft plastic blades efficiently move air around inside the tent. Good tent ventilation is the key to waking up without an uncomfortable covering of dew inside the tent.
Every camper should have a sufficient first-aid kit in their supply box, especially during summer camping when insects and poisonous plants are highly active. Minor sunburns, scrapes and cuts are soothed by the contents of a first-aid kit.
The aroma of campfire and camp cooking, as well as the spectacular colors of transitioning foliage, create the perfect camping scenario. To take advantage of this exciting camping season, a few tweaks and changes of gear are needed. The same tent and sleeping equipment used for spring will be sufficient for fall, but the fall campsite is enhanced with a few gear additions.
Again, camp cooking has been, and is gaining in popularity. Dutch oven cookware is the hottest tool to find its way into the modern campsite. This historic outdoor cooking instrument comes to the campsite with many accessories and recipes. So for tasty, autumn cuisine consider a simmering pot of stew or a roast in a Dutch oven. The extra weight of the cast iron cooker is well worth the effort.
As most campgrounds begin to shut off their water supply for the winter, showering may become an obstacle later in the season. The four-season camper can eliminate this problem by adding a privacy/shower shelter to the packing list. Also include a solar shower, which consists of a poly bag that holds and heats several gallons of water at a time -- plenty for a family of four to take a quick but sufficient shower. Although the air temps may be cooling, the sun's rays will still heat the water to a toasty temperature.
Autumn camping adventures are many, but hiking seems to stand out from the rest -- and for good reason. From a simple, short walk to a multi-mile excursion, hiking transports the camper through and to impressive sights, sounds and smells of the fall season. Many locations now include handicapped access so that all may experience the pleasure of autumn displays. Perfect autumn camping destinations include the elements of woodlands, waterfalls and openings to view awesome sunsets and sunrises.
Possibly the greatest advantage of winter camping is the lack of crowds and choice of campsites. It's true that winter camping is not for everyone, but it is a realistic possibility.
A catalytic heater will provide a bit of warmth while tent camping in cold weather.
A four-season tent is a necessity for serious four-season family campers. The extra attention to detail in material strength and design features (such as closable ventilation openings) will be appreciated during a breezy winter night. To assist in shielding the cold, a flameless catalytic tent heater is useful and safe when you follow the manufacturer's directions.
A restful sleep can make or break a comfortable winter camping trip. A sub-zero sleeping bag is a must. While 3-season bags will suffice for mild winter days, you'll want the extra warmth of a 4-season bag once the snow flakes start fluttering about. A fleece sleeping bag liner is an addition that will provide even more comfortable warmth. Be sure to include a sleeping pad or inflatable mattress to complete the winter sleeping package.
Winter camping normally includes activities such as sledding, ice fishing, hiking, skiing and snowshoeing. As with all seasons, safety issues should be considered and prepared for diligently. Bring extra food and water, signaling devices, emergency blankets and fire starters in surplus. Most state parks are open year-round but with limited facilities during winter months. State parks also provide the perfect picturesque destination for a winter escape with plenty of established trails. Some even have planned winter activities.
Four-season family camping leads to more memories than sunny summer trips alone -- memories that include the natural world in all its seasons and splendor. For quality trips the entire family can enjoy, preparation is the key to success -- regardless of the season.