Tips for Fall Camping
Summer has ended. The air is getting cooler, leaves are turning to fiery tones of yellow, orange, and red, and people are getting ready for the fun and festivities of Halloween and Thanksgiving. It’s a season when we start moving our activities back indoors. But, if you think you can only enjoy fall from the cushioned seat by a coffee shop window, you’re missing out on the best that autumn has to offer.
Imagine hiking through those autumn woodlands to a high point and looking over a majestic sea of tree top foliage, or sitting at a crackling campfire with your friends or family with the smell of smoke and warm lick of the flames caressing your face. Fall gives you a new perspective on nature as it readies itself for slumber. Sure, it’s not 80 degrees out, anymore, but with a little preparation you can easily engulf yourself in the cooler side of camping.
Here’s a few tips on making your fall camping trip more comfortable:
Setting Up Your Campsite
You’ll want to pick a spot with the weather in mind. Fall weather can change quickly (be sure to check the forecast before you go), and inclement conditions are a possibility. Guard your campsite as much as possible from the cold, wind, rain, and maybe even snow. Find an area that’s more sheltered from the elements, and if you can get the direct morning sunlight on your tent, that’s even better.
Bring a tarp and hang it between the trees by your tent to help reduce the wind exposure, and hang one overhead for relief from the rain. Nobody wants to sit and get soaked when it’s windy and 50 degrees out. Bring or gather plenty of firewood—more than you think you’ll need, and be sure to only grab the dead wood that’s already fallen. For your camp stove and propane heat and light, you’ll need to bring extra fuel, as more is used in colder weather and the days are shorter. Same goes for water. It’s easy to get dehydrated in the cooler, drier climate, so drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Picking the Right Gear
With the temperature dropping and more radical weather fluctuations, your sleeping arrangements should suit the climate. Taking your summer tent might not give you the protection you need from the elements. A three-season tent with a full fly will help keep the wind and moisture out, while retaining the warmth better. Add an extra shield by securing a tarp over the fly, as an option, and always make sure you have a tarp or properly sized footprint under the tent to protect the bottom.
For your sleeping bag, pick one with a higher R-value, meaning it’s made for colder temperatures. Find one for 0-30 degrees, and you should be quite comfortable. Mummy bags are great at heat retention since they stay closer around your body, and many include a hood feature that keeps your head warm. Under your bag should be a decent sleeping pad as a barrier between you and the cold, hard ground. A good closed-cell pad will provide insulation and padding, while doubling up on those pads helps to ensure your comfort. Air mattresses might feel more luxurious, but most don’t have any insulation and will leave you shivering in the middle of the night.
Something to remember when sleeping in colder temperatures is not to sleep in layers of clothing. Your body will get hot and build up sweat over your skin, which in turn, will end up getting cold from the air and defeating the purpose of insulation. Instead, wear a base layer and use a proper sleeping bag for the climate.
Dress for the Occasion
A good rule of thumb for what to wear on a fall camping trip is considering Murphy’s Law, in that any weather condition is a possibility. One day could be warm and sunny in the morning and turn into a rainy, windy, cold mess after lunch. Don’t be surprised if you get a little snowfall, come October or November. So, come prepared for any type of weather.
The best move is to dress in layers, so you can strip off when it gets hot or add on when the temperature drops. Warmer items like wool socks and sweaters will come in handy. Bring a raincoat, and possibly a heavier coat if you’re camping in the later months. Always pack gloves or mittens and a warm hat. You might not need them during the day, but you’ll cling to them after the sun goes down. When you wake up in the morning, try putting your clothes for the day in the sleeping bag with you for a few minutes. The heat in the bag will warm them up and make for a pleasant start to your day.
Getting outdoors in the brisk autumn weather can be as enjoyable as the summer months. You can easily order a hot cider or coffee at your local five-dollar-a-cup joint, or you can relish the cooler months of dwindling nature by taking that hot cider to a campsite and soaking in the crisp, fragrant breeze and radiant foliage. As long as you remember what you need to stay warm and dry, your family weekend in the twilight wilderness can live up to your workweek daydreams.