Many people think of summer as camping season, but if you are prepared, going afield during fall is much more pleasurable. Early spring should be considered as well, but fall camping provides advantages that other seasons lack. Here’s how to get the most out of your fall camping experience.
By Thomas Ray
The first advantage of fall camping is obvious. No one likes high heat, bugs, and humidity while hiking and trying to sleep. These can be avoided in many areas as temperatures cool. Fall days provide some of the best hiking conditions! Another advantage is solitude. If you want to get away from it all, in some areas, late fall can be the right time. However, you must be prepared.
Be prepared with warm clothes (if your area calls for them) and a map and compass.
Depending on location, fall nights can become quite cold. If this is the case in your area, the number one thing is to protect yourself against hypothermia. Hypothermia simply means a potentially dangerous drop in your body's core temperature. Pay close attention to weather forecasts, but also prepare for their inaccuracies by bringing enough warm clothing and a way to stay dry. No matter when you are camping, let your family or friends know where you are going and when you expect to return. If you are venturing into the backcountry, always carry a map and compass and know how to use them.
Two excellent fall sleeping bags: A Marmot 0 degree bag (top) and a Marmot Sawtooth30 degree bag (bottom).
A tent or tarp is necessary for almost any type of camping. If pitched correctly, it will protect you from the sun and repel dew, rain, snow and sleet with ease. Most importantly, it will keep you dry. Depending on conditions, you may be able to begin with a poly tarp to save money. Watch a few videos and practice pitching it securely at home. Later, you may want to go all in and purchase a lightweight backpacking tent. If you are backpacking, weight is an important consideration when choosing your shelter. Light, high quality tents are usually expensive, but in colder months, a closed tent will do a better job than a tarp of holding in heat and protecting you from weather. The screening in a tent will keep insects at bay on warm fall nights.
A sleeping pad is a necessity on the trail, especially in the fall. Therm-A-Rest pads are lightweight and reliable.
A good night's sleep is extremely important. When choosing a sleeping bag for cool weather, to insure comfort and allow for the unexpected, choose one rated for a temperature that is 10-20 degrees colder than the coldest temperature in which you will be camping. For example, if you are going to be camping in 50 degree temperatures, you will want to purchase a bag rated for 40 degrees or lower.
Try sleeping out at home on cool nights in your bag to test its comfort before depending on it while away. Great bags filled with goose down (the lightest) or synthetic fibers are made by a variety of companies. Two excellent brands are Marmot and SierraDesigns. Bags from both can be had with DriDown, a treatment which protects individual down fibers and prevents moisture.
You will also need a sleeping pad to insulate you from cold coming from underneath. This is an absolute necessity. A sleeping bag alone will not provide this protection, and whatever the season, no one sleeps very well with only the ground underneath. Therm-A-Rest makes excellent lightweight sleeping pads. Include a small pillow as well if you require one.
Fall is still quite warm in some areas. Choose the sleeping bag you will use accordingly if this is the case in your region. Insectsmight still be activeas well. An enclosed tent, or at least a mosquito headnet for protection and comfort when sleeping could be a welcome item. Carry insect repellant for use during the day.
Layering is the key when it comes to fall activities. Whenever possible, choose breathable fabrics like synthetics. You will need a base layer next to your skin, your clothing, then perhaps an insulating layer and a wind shell or rain jacket depending on the weather. Silk used to be the ultimate base layer for cold weather, but it is expensive and has largely been replaced by synthetics. Wool is a great insulator, but it is heavy. However, wool socks are a great option and also provide padding for the feet on rough hikes no matter the temperature. Shed layers as temperatures warm to avoid sweating.
Jetboil stove provides the utmost in cooking convenience while on the trail.
A campfire is almost always a romantic addition to any fall camp, but if you are going to established camping areas that allow fires, be prepared. The campers before you may have used most of the available firewood within a reasonable distance from camp. Also, for cooking purposes, not all wood is created equal. With this in mind, you may want to carry a stove. Lightweight, convenient backpacking stoves such as those made by Jetboil(Link: https://www.jetboil.com/)can be had for reasonable prices.
Firemaking supplies are always an important item to pack.
A fire at night in a fall camp is always a welcome addition. Sometimes it is a necessity for cooking if your stove is inoperable. In case of an emergency, if you need to dry out or stay warm, a campfire gets the job done. Practice making fire under a variety of conditions. You should always carry several means to make fire and know how to use them.
Camping in the fall offers much variety and can be the most pleasurable camping of all, if you are prepared and equipped with the right gear. Get some basic experience in winter camping under your belt before tackling a trip in the snow if that is a fall occurrence in your area. Get outside and enjoy the pleasure of fall camping!