First time camping? Or maybe you’ve been roughing it and it’s time to try a well-set-up campground with things like running water, warm showers, and even WiFi? While you’ll notice that the details and colors may vary from place to place, the symbols campgrounds use are all based on designs created by The National Park Service (NPS). That means they’re almost identical whenever you are, making it easier for you to recognize and use them appropriately. You’ll find the same icons on outdoor/hiking maps too.
Here are the 10 most important campground symbols to learn and remember.
An easy-to-identify sign for water but keep in mind that it’s specific to a water tap (no water access in general) where you can fill water bottles and containers.
Don’t confuse this one with a store selling food. This is the sign to follow for hot meals.
Restroom with Showers
The typical toilet symbol is very similar (an empty little building without the shower design inside).
In some campgrounds, the visitor’s center and the campground’s main office are one and the same. So if you see this sign, it probably means the campground’s information center is particularly large and you might be able to find maps and information about local attractions.
Day Use Area or Picnic Area
This symbol marks open areas available to everyone where you’re likely to find benches and tables. If you see the same symbol with a line on top, it indicates a covered picnic area or pavilion, which can be used also during rainy or very hot days.
Garbage Disposal Area
Important to remember that the recycling area might be located somewhere else if you don’t see a sign for it next to the garbage sign. If you’re driving an RV, the dump station and grey water disposal areas will also be somewhere else and marked with their own signs.
Look for this sign if you’d like to put up several tents together or close to each other. Always confirm with the campground first, as each place will have a different definition of what a group is and might have limitations on the number of tents or people who can set up camp together.
Not a very common symbol, so important to know what it means if you come across it. If you see this, expect the campground to offer anything from concerts to comedy nights to guided hiking tours.
Although this sign technically means “get your firewood here,” many campgrounds also use it to signal the presence of fire pits where you can safely have a bonfire or simply to mark areas where fires are allowed.
Before you reserve your space, look for this sign. It indicates the campsite is only available on foot (you can’t drive up to it). The distance you have to walk varies greatly, from just a few steps to several blocks, depending on how secluded the site is.
Spring is a great time to gear up and head outside to start camping. While spring camping can be lots of fun—less crowded than camping in summer, fewer mosquitoes, lots more space—it also has its own challenges. Here is how you can prepare for spring and early summer camping and make the most of it.
It All Starts on the Ground
No matter what kind of amazing tent you own—if you can’t insulate yourself from the freezing ground, you’ll get cold. In fact, making sure the space under you is warm is probably more important than making sure you’re properly covered.
Before you set your sleeping bag down, cover the tent floor with an insulating material. Sleeping pads can help, but you could also use a plain foam pad, a wool blanket or even an inflatable mattress.
Sleeping bags are next. For early spring camping, a cold-weather sleeping bag (preferably a mummy sleeping bag with a hood, as these retain heat better) is your best bet. Spring nights can get very chilly, so always check the forecast and then get a sleeping bag labeled for lower temperatures than the ones announced.
If you’re worried about still being cold, bring an extra wool blanket to put on top of your bag. You can also invest in a bivy sack. Although they’re technically just meant to protect you against wet weather, sliding one over your sleeping bag can provide up to 10 °C of added insulation.
Be Prepared for Wet Weather
Not only is rain frequent in spring but being wet and exposed to the elements will make you feel even colder. A bivy sack is a good option to stay dry, but you could also look for a bivouac shelter or a tarp to protect your tent and to help you extend your shelter in case of heavy rains.
Unless you have a high-end waterproof backpack, chances are the contents –and that includes any clothes you’re bringing along—are going to get wet if it rains hard. The next best option if budget is tight is a backpack with a rain cover and then a water-resistance bag. In both these cases, thick plastic garbage bags can be used to cover the bag or to line up the inside to protect important items.
Layering is the perfect option for spring, as you can choose a mix of moisture-resistant, waterproof, warming, and breathable fabrics according to what the weather is like.
When it comes to layering, there are two main rules to keep in mind: avoid cotton (does not dry well) and stay away from too-thick, too-heavy pieces of clothing (which defeats the purpose of layering). Instead, bring at least one piece of thermal underwear for upper and lower body, a fleece jacket, and a wind-resistant shell or thin jacket.
If you think it’s cold enough for gloves or mittens and you’re out camping for several days, bring two pairs in case the first one gets wet. Throw a winter cap in your backpack too—even if it’s too warm to wear it during the day, it might come in handy at night.
Get Your Campsite Ready
If you’re staying at a campground, go over photos of the place in advance and select a spot where you’re likely to be sheltered from the wind. Bonus points if there are trees, as they’ll protect you at least partially from rain. If you’re camping somewhere where fires are allowed, arrive early and spend some time gathering firewood. A good fire is not only fun, but it will also help you warm up before you go to bed.
As much as you might like skiing, winter is a downer if you like to camp. Snow’s on the ground, the weather’s nasty, and the days are short. Here are 10 ways you can beat the winter blues.
The first option is to simply toughen up and go camping in the winter. Make a big fire, dig a snow cave, make and igloo, and experience the winter in a new way. Yes, it will be cold, but you’ll have the campground to yourself and winter has a beauty all its own.
Rent a yurt or a cabin. You’ll have a place to snuggle up by the wood stove and read while the snow piles up or the rain beats on the windows. It’s not quite camping, but who cares?
Become a Nature Nerd
Learn your wildlife. Get a tracking app and follow animal tracks in the snow. Learn your winter birds and how to identify trees when they don’t have leaves. Not all nature migrates south.Master The Fine Arts Learn those knots you’ve always meant to. Hone your map-and-compass skills. Practice your elaborate camp cooking or fire building in the backyard. Learn wilderness first aid. Winter is the perfect time to build the skills you’ve always meant to practice.
Prep future camp meals. When you’ve got leftovers, throw them in the dehydrator, vacuum-seal them, and store them in the freezer. When spring rolls around, all you’ll need to do it grab meals and ingredients out of the freezer and you’ll be ready for the backcountry.
Start thinking about next year. Dream of the next year’s trips. Lay plans. Rally friends. Apply for those hard-to-get permits. Set aside dates on the calendar. Some trips may not happen, but others will. Remember that thing about the early bird and the worm.
Repair Splint that tent pole and find those pinhole leaks in your tarp that have been driving you crazy. Find the slow leak in the air mattress or the raft. Backflush the water filter. Fixing your stuff will also save you money next season.
While we’re talking about gear, get it organized. Build those shelves or organize those boxes of gear so next season, you can make packing an easy grab-and-go affair.Fly Hop in a plane and go where’s it’s not winter to begin with. Find a sunny warm spot with a campground and a hiking trail, a beach, or a string of mountains somewhere in the low latitudes or the other hemisphere. Winter is only winter if you stay where you are.
Embrace winter for what it is. Slap some boards on your feet and slide around on the snow. It will help build the same muscles you’ll use to hike in the spring, and it’s darn fun anyway.