The Prairie provinces are incredibly vast, comprised of everything from grasslands to mountains. There are scorching hot days, polar bears and everything in between. Because of this diversity, the specifics of preparing for a camping trip are going to depend on where exactly you’re headed. However, there are a few key pieces of gear you’ll want to keep in mind every time.
We consulted MEC camping experts Graeme (in Calgary) and Krista (in Winnipeg) to compile a list of what to pack for your next camping trip in Manitoba, Saskatchewan or Alberta, from Jasper National Park to Riding Mountain National Park and beyond.
1. Sleeping system
Whether you’re camping in the mountains of Alberta or in the vast Manitoba wilderness, you’ll want to prepare for the Prairie’s notorious microclimates that can bring anything from rain to sunshine in the blink of an eye. Get yourself a sturdy tent with a fly (such as the MSR Papa Hubba NX) that extends to the ground to keep the warmth in and the cold and rain out.
Having a sleeping bag with a rating of at least -7°C will keep you nice and warm during cooler nights. Pair it with a comfortable sleeping pad to keep you off the cold ground.
2. Clothing system
Even if the weather is predicting sunshine galore, remember that the Prairies can be fickle and it’s always a good idea to bring along a good rain coat, some warm layers (like a merino sweater) and a few pairs of socks. Favour wool and quick-dry materials because, unlike jeans or other cumbersome fabrics, they help regulate your body temperature and take very little time to dry. Also: find out why wool is great for camping.
3. Weather radio
To keep you prepared for the ever-changing climate (including the tornadoes that have been known to sweep through the Prairies), bring along a weather radio that can be hand-cranked and is USB powered. Some radios even double up as a flashlight and can play AM and FM radio if you want to liven up your campsite.
4. Water system
Although larger campsites will often have access to drinkable water, it’s best to pack your own water filtration and purification filter. While a pre-filter will take care of any leaves or sediment floating around in your water, a Steripen or some water purification tablets will make sure the water is safe to drink. These are especially useful in the mountains or if you’re camping on sites with boil-water advisories.
5. Bug protection
The Prairies seem to have a perpetual bug season, so it’s best to dive in prepared with bug protection. Get yourself some bug spray with a high DEET content or a bug jacket and head net. If you’d prefer to not use a DEET-based product, there are great alternatives that work well when applied correctly. If you’re going car camping, bring along a bug tent which will give you a peaceful bug-free haven.
Want more info? Learn how to choose bug spray and bug nets.
6. Essential extras
You’ll find many small campgrounds in the Prairies that are quiet, simple and give you just the basics. In these cases, it’s never a bad idea to pack along hand sanitizer and pocket-sized toilet paper for an outhouse experience without any surprises.
This region is home to a host of migratory birds and Important Bird Areas. If watching eagles, cackling geese, bluebirds or grebes is something you’d be interested in, pack a pair of binoculars that can handle the bumps and dirt of camping (and maybe a bird field guide) to add some checkmarks to your growing bird list.
Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba are all unique provinces, but a few things hold true for all. It’s important to stay up to date on the weather – but be prepared for anything – and to research amenities beforehand as they’ll differ with each campsite. Pack wisely so you can head out and explore all the Prairie provinces have to offer.
Photo credits: Choke29 / Shutterstock.com, Adam Melnyk / Shutterstock.com, Tom Reichner / Shutterstock.com