Camping,  Outdoors

Off-Season Camping: Tips to Make the Most out of Your Camping Trip

Many people end there camping season in the summer, but for the dedicated few, off-season camping is a prime time to get out in nature. With experience, it isn’t too difficult to stay warm and have fun while camping in the later months and as someone who has spent marvelous nights sleeping under the changing leaves, I have all the tricks to get out there.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to camp in the summer, but there is something just so beautiful about hitting the mountains in the off-season. Many of the major spots, even near where I live in Denver, tend to be empty and if you catch it at the right time, you might be blessed with amazing displays of the changing seasons.

RELATED: Fall Camping: Why you should go Camping in the Fall

As with any kind of travel in the off-season, there are challenges with off-season camping that chase away most campers. This obviously goes without saying.

However, this gives us more adventurous folks a great opportunity. Plus, off-season camping really isn’t too crazy if you are prepared.

Just take a few extra steps and you’ll be ready to explore!

Besides, the bragging rights from off-season camping will make any of these inconveniences worthwhile.  

Now where to begin?

DOUBLE CHECK THE WEATHER BEFORE YOU DECIDE YOUR LOCATION WHILE OFF SEASON CAMPING

Advances in camping gear have made all season camping very possible, even for novice outdoors people. However, save yourself the trouble and double-check that weather.

More power to you if you choose to camp in extreme conditions, but personally I want my camping trip to be more on the pleasant side. Plus, there’s really no harm in checking. It can help you prepare for what may come at you and what other things you may need to bring.

You don’t want to be caught without rain gear for instance if there is an 80% chance of rain.  

I always use weather.gov for an accurate read since it not only gives the temperatures, but it gives information about precipitation, a detailed description of what to expect at each day and evening, wind updates (trust me this is important), and you can type your actual location rather than just a nearby town.  

BE FLEXIBLE WITH YOUR LOCATION WHILE OFF-SEASON CAMPING

alternative locations for off-season camping

I know that I have all of my favorite free spots to camp but sometimes, the weather is just too inhospitable.

I’ve mostly camped in Colorado and Utah and fortunately, there are regions within these states that heavily vary in climate.

For instance, the deserts of Southern Utah can be great options in the colder seasons while northern Utah may be covered in snow. In Colorado, some of the higher elevations locations may be skiable while others are quite toasty during the same time.

Of course, you still need to check the weather since from experience, I’ve learned that high deserts can also get quite chilly in the winter. With the technology out there, there is no need for guessing games.

I’ve had many trips where my original spot was several degrees chillier than where I ended up. A little extra time traveling or a slight disruption in your plans could make all the difference on a fun trip.

BE AWARE OF FIRE BANS

Fire bans off-season camping

I know, it’s really sad that later seasons might still have these problems but with places like California currently on fire, you still need to check those fire bans. Colorado has had a fairly dry and windy fall and my trip was interrupted by fire bans.

This doesn’t mean you have to cancel your trip, I mean, I even have some cool tips to camp without that fire, but in the colder seasons, this may become a bit more of a problem.

RELATED: How to Camp without a Campfire

Double-check the bans and remember, these are set in place to protect you and the nature around you.

ALWAYS PUT OUT YOUR FIRE ALL THE WAY OUT WITH EITHER GRAY WATER OR DIRT

You don’t want to be responsible for starting a forest fire.

BE MINDFUL OF NATURAL OCCURRENCES WHILE OFF-SEASON CAMPING

Canon City Off-season camping spider location phantom canyon

Ok, this one comes from an interesting discovery that I learned while camping this October.

With seasons changing, there may be certain natural phenomenons that you may or may not want to be a part of.

As a camper, I generally have to put my minor arachnophobia aside and power through the thoughts of sleeping outside with these creatures hanging around.

Little did I know that in Southern Colorado, October is the prime time for tarantula mating. While yes, I understand these guys are harmless to humans and I’ve certainly seen them in controlled settings before, there is something seriously terrifying about seeing a tarantula as big as your hand charging at you in the wild. Needless to say, I was a lot more shaken up on this camping trip.

Point being, it’s good to be aware of what nature may be occurring in those off-season times because while some might be more harmless, others can be quite terrifying or dangerous.

I don’t know about you guys but this spider still haunts my dreams a little. Don’t mind me. Everything is totally ok.  

OFF-SEASON CAMPING MAY CALL FOR ADDITIONAL GEAR

I am a tent camper and don’t have the funds, or parking space given that I live in an apartment in Denver, to have a camper or an RV. If you have one of these, that’s awesome! Off-season camping is no big deal.

However, for us tent campers, you may need some additional gear.

Fortunately, my husband’s car is just big enough to sleep us both so we can always opt to jump in if it’s too crazy but it’s not very comfortable given that he is over 6 feet tall. We often still opt for sleeping in a tent.

Usually, I am not one to advocate for pricey gear since I started camping as a broke college student. However, if you are venturing into the off-season camping world, it’s probably time to up the gear.

A few pieces really can make a difference.

I live by these to keep me warm during these chillier nights.

Make sure you have an insulated sleeping pad/mat

sleeping pad

I use Big Agnes Insulated Double Hinman Sleeping Pad and it works like a charm. A few years back, I used this on the trip where I got engaged and we woke up to snow! I didn’t have any trouble sleeping at all, minus maybe the excitement of getting engaged of course. It’s rated to -5 degrees and boy does it feel nice. If you are one of those unfortunate souls to use a cheap air mattress while camping, it’s time to upgrade for these harsher conditions. You can read my rant about my hatred of cheap air mattresses here.

Keep off-season camping warm with a portable heater

Keep off-season camping warm with a portable heater. I got the Little Buddy Heater as a wedding gift and all I can say is wow. This heats up the tent in a snap and it has sensors to keep you safe from harmful toxins and knocking over. Plus, it’s pretty to look at. Another bonus is that this can help if the fire is impossible to make due to rain or bans. For the price, you get a ton out of it.

Consider some kind of shelter give you more room if the weather is rough.

camping shelter off-season camping

Depending on the wind, you may want to bring a pop up shelter to give you more protection and room to cook and hang out during while off-season camping. I have a cheap pop up like this one and you and use tarps to basically build a little room to hang out in. If the wind is an issue, try to find a spot that has many trees or use your vehicle to hang tarps to create a windproof shelter.

Off-season camping is the perfect time to get creative with tarps. When we were in Moab, my friend built a little area with tarps coming out of his car and it was the best spot to cook or hang out in when the wind picked up. Just bring plenty of rope and stakes to keep these bad boys in place.

I like to reinforce my tent with a tarp as well since my tent is really old.

Tarps are your best friend while camping!

Hand warmers

Cheap hand warmers can really be helpful while off-season camping. I have a bunch since we are skiers so I always throw a couple in my camping box.

MAKE SURE YOU KEEP THINGS AS DRY AS POSSIBLE

Woman in an awesome rain poncho for off-season camping, cold weather camping, rainy camping

This can go for any camping trip but especially in the off-season, you need to keep things dry. This means your gear, clothes, wood, and yourself.

  1. Make sure your waterproof shelter is up ASAP. You can then put things under it.
  2. If you are car camping, consider keeping certain items inside if there is a storm that may pass. I got hailed on while camping this past summer (I know), and luckily, all the sleeping bags and pads were safely in the car. Once it passed, I used a bucket to get the accumulated water out of the tent (seriously!), it quickly dried and we set up the bed later. No problem!
  3. Throw an emergency poncho in your gear. They are dirt cheap and can be useful if you need to grab anything away from your shelter. I found a few from the 90s at my old job. They’re rad.  
  4. Don’t forget to protect your wood. Wet wood sucks.
  5. Don’t be afraid to run in your car and wait it out for a minute. There’s no shame.

AS ALWAYS, LAYER, LAYER, AND LAYER!

Woman camping in the off season with layers

This is the advice I give for any camping but this is especially important in the off-season. In the off-season, you should bring a thermal layer, a flannel layer, a more breathable layer, a waterproof layer, and whatever else you may think. It’s always better to be prepared!

Don’t forget some kind of hat, waterproof shoes, gloves, and a bunch of socks either.

COOK WARM FOODS FOR OFF SEASON CAMPING

This is the perfect time to test the coziest of cozy recipes. Think stews, cocoas, soups, or whatever. I also try to make these meals more hearty than when I’m summer camping. Stick to the rib food is so comforting in the cold.

On that note, also make sure you bring alternative cooking materials. While it may be ideal to have a stew roasting in the fire in a heat resistant pot, this may not be possible. If the wood is wet or there is a weird fire ban going on, you will want to be able to make a warm meal. Trust me, summer is better for that cold sandwich.  

Well, there you have it.

Are you planning any off-season camping trips soon or have any great tips you would like to share?

Let me know in the comments and if you like what you read, be sure to subscribe!

Thank you all and stay outside in the off-season!

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