Our expert shares her must-carry list of essentials for fall camping, plus her favorite pieces of gear.
By Amy Whitley
Every year, it feels like the summer camping and backpacking season flies by in a flash. If where you live is like my region of the US, your outdoor season might have been shortened this year by wildfires or extreme weather. Or perhaps work or family obligations kept you from the mountains, beaches and woods you love. Don’t despair: autumn may be the best season of all to head outdoors for a weekend (or a week). As long as you stay warm and dry, fall camping offers many rewards: clear, crisp air; fewer fellow campers; and often, more wildlife sightings. Read on for 10 essentials every camper should carry to make their fall camping trip even more enjoyable.
Your summer-season tent might do the trick, depending on your region, elevation and weather, but investing in a true three-season tent gives you a better buffer against wind, and some come with a rainfly already built-in, which eliminates the need to add one if the skies turn rainy.
Amy’s pick: The Big Agnes Tumble mtnGLO comes with a removable string of LED lights, ideal for those fall evenings when it gets dark earlier.
Your sleeping bag is arguably the most important item you’ll pack for your fall camping trip, so it really needs to be up to snuff. I don’t know about you, but I can never sleep when I’m shivering in a bag that’s not providing enough warmth. The rating you’ll need will ultimately depend on the part of the world you’re camping in, but in my mountainous region of Oregon, a down or down-alternative bag rated at 15 degrees or less suffices. Adding a sleeping bag liner and slipping a quality sleeping pad under you will extend that range 5 or 10 degrees if you hit a chillier night or two.
Amy’s pick: Sierra Designs’ Nitro 0 Degrees is warm while remaining light to carry. It stuffs down small but provides the coverage around your shoulders and head you need. Plus, it has a fun feature: a slit at the bottom to stick your feet out of if you get overheated in the night.
A down or down-alternative ‘puffer’ jacket or sweater is the first thing I pack for fall camping trips. They provide a nice, lightweight layer that keeps you warm without bulk. A fun trend of late: down ponchos are all the rage, offering the perfect jacket/blanket hybrid for at camp.
Amy’s pick: The Therm-a-Rest Honcho Poncho can be worn as a poncho or spread out like a blanket, and it’s fun and playful, too.
Quick tip: Read all about layering here. You’ll want to put synthetic or wool layers against your skin to wick moisture away from your body (not cotton), followed by several layers to insulate your core (think vests, puffer jackets, and thermals). Top it off with a hooded, waterproof outer garment.
While we’re on the subject of staying warm, every outdoor enthusiast planning to spend time sitting back and stargazing at the autumn sky needs a comfortable camp chair (get that behind off the cold ground), a knit beanie hat (wear it to bed, too), and a blanket to tuck around oneself.
Amy’s pick: Rumpl’s Original Puffy Blanket is always travel-ready (mine is in the back of the car at all times), colorful, and versatile: use it at the fall cookout, the sports arena, and at home, too.
If my feet aren’t dry, I’m not having a good time. Period. Bring along waterproof boots. If you’re backpacking, your waterproof hiking boots will have to do double duty, but if you’re car camping, you can toss in a pair of heavier, bulkier boots, too. Seriously, I don’t mess around (think Sorel’s). Pair these with a quality pair of thick wool socks to stay toasty warm.
Amy’s pick: Salmon Sisters XTRATUF boots, which feature fun, beautiful prints on the inside inspired by Alaska, and tough, everything-proof rubber outers, plus a rugged outsole.
Autumn is the time of year to perfect your campfire cooking skills. You’ll want to linger longer around the fire (see tip #10), which gives you more time to bake. A Dutch oven allows you to slow cook cobblers, stews and even breads over low heat, and skillets retain the flavor of past meals, which is a good thing. We once enjoyed a peach cake that carried just a hint of cayenne pepper flavoring from the evening before, and it was prime.
Warm beverages (including that splash of whiskey before bedtime) are essential during fall camping trips. Keep your morning coffee and your evening soups and broths toasty warm for hours with a double-walled insulated tumbler.
Amy’s pick: Yeti has a great reputation for a reason. I love the Yeti Rambler 10-ounce Lowball, which is the perfect size for coffee and cocktails, my two favorite drinks.
It’s not a fun or sexy item, but a good tarp is key for the outdoors in autumn. In fair weather, use it under your tent to extend the life of your tent’s floor and keep moisture at bay. Yes, you have a rain fly on your tent, but when the weather turns, you’ll want to cover your camp kitchen area, too. And if you’re caught out in torrential downpours, throw it over the top of your tent and stake the corner’s down tight to provide an extra layer of rain protection and to cover any gear you can’t take inside with you.
Amy’s pick: Go to your local hardware store, and grab any quality tarp with eyelets so you can string it up wherever. Want to get fancy? I like Kammok’s Kuhli Weather Shelter, which is basically a lightweight tarp.
If you like to sleep in your hammock in the summer, you can carry on the tradition in the fall, but you’ll want a little something more between your butt and back, and the cold night air. Pad your hammock, and string a tarp over it.
Amy’s pick: Enter the insulated Hammock V by Klymit, a specially-shaped sleeping pad that’s made to fit a hammock. You’ll stay toasty warm all night.
With the severity of fires in the American West, it’s essential to be aware of any campfire and open-flame restrictions wherever you camp. If fires are prohibited, don’t despair: a good backpacking stove or camp stove is still permitted, and you can cook up a big pot of hot soup to satisfy that need for cozy warmth.
About the Author: Amy Whitley specializes in outdoor travel writing for families with children. She is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids, a family travel site dedicated to resort, attraction, and outdoor activity reviews for kids. Amy writes regularly for U.S. News Travel and Southern Oregon Magazine as is an editor for OutdoorsNW Magazine and Twist Travel Magazine.