By Brooke Binkowski
Southern California is more than just nice weather and beautiful beaches. It boasts some of the most wildly varied terrain in the world – its temperate Mediterranean climate is offset by the climatic extremes. From San Diego, you can visit the highest mountains and lowest, hottest deserts in the contiguous United States within half a day. There are even boreal forests perched on some of California’s higher peaks.
This makes camping ideal at just about any time of year. However, winter camping comes with its own set of cautions and restrictions:
• This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s really easy to forget to pack that extra layer when it’s 78 degrees and sunny outside. Bring longjohns or thermals, a warm hat, and gloves. And don’t forget warm socks! When your feet are happy, the rest of you will be happy, too. Also, cold weather can be just as dehydrating as hot weather, and sometimes more so. If you’re backpacking, bring as much water as you think you’ll need, and then bring more.
• Heading somewhere rainy or snowy? If you’re going to head to one of California’s subarctic areas (yes, they exist!) or even to the rainy sides of the mountains, a tarp, a foam pad, and a rainfly for your tent can make the difference between a great experience and an utterly miserable one. Given how variable the weather can be in the mountains and valleys, it’s always a good idea to pack at least a tarp. And winter is snow season in the desert, so don’t assume that you’re in the clear in the Mojave!
• Just because it’s January doesn’t mean the bears are hibernating. Find out what flora and fauna you’ll expect to encounter where you’re going, and what you’d like to avoid. Many otherwise great trips have been ruined by hungry and curious animals. If your idea of large animals is more Disney than danger, just picture yourself freezing and hungry on a chilly morning because something large and curious made off with all your food and your matches, to boot. That’s no fun!
This may sound redundant, but what this really means is be ready to deal with anything. Strange things can happen on the trail, and with the right attitude, the unexpected isn’t a setback, but a memory you will treasure for the rest of your life.
• So, in a nutshell: keep your toes warm, stay dry, make sure you have enough water, and above all, have fun! This can be the best time of year to experience all of southern California’s beauty, as long as you stay prepared.