No matter what you choose to call it, Fall or Autumn is one of the best times of the year for enjoying camping. In many places there is a dramatic and colorful change in the landscape that makes for a great backdrop to any camping trip. The campgrounds and prime camping spots are less crowded now that Summer is over, the mosquitoes and other biting insects are gone, and the cooler temperatures mean you can enjoy cozying up by the fire a lot more.
Fall camping can be just as enjoyable as Summer camping, if not more, but it can also take a turn for the worse if you aren’t prepared. These 10 essential tips to enjoy camping this Fall should help you be more prepared, and getting the most out of what Fall camping has to offer:
1. Pack for cold weather – There are several key pieces of gear to focus on to keep you warm especially while sleeping. The first is a cold weather sleeping bag. Always bring a sleeping bag that protects against temperatures lower than you expect, for example one labeled for 0-30 degrees F (-18-0 degrees C). There’s nothing worse than freezing through the night, so bring two sleeping bags if you get cold easily. Mummy sleeping bags are best for keeping warm because they cling closer to your body. Most of them come with a hood that surrounds your head to capture heat that would otherwise escape.
An insulated sleeping pad is critical to insulating your body from the cold earth. Get a good closed-cell pad and double it up with another thin foam pad if needed. In terms of heat retention, this is one of the most important things you can do to stay warm at night.
Bring a mix of clothing for layering. Layering is the key to staying comfortable while camping in fall. Pack layers of breathable, water-resistant clothing. Wool, fleece and synthetic materials will help keep you warm and dry. Avoid cotton clothing. If you’re backpacking, just be aware that extra clothes add additional weight.
Some essential items include:
- Thermal underwear, or base layers with moisture wicking properties
- Fleece jacket, wool shirt/sweater or other synthetic layer for warmth
- Wind and water resistant outer shell jacket
- Winter cap — for daytime use and for sleeping
- Gloves/mittens, plus an extra pair in case first pair gets wet
- Winter jacket (even if the weather is predicted to be warm)
- Sturdy boots, ideally waterproof
- Extra shoes and plenty of extra dry socks
- Rain poncho and rain pants
- Plenty of changes of clothing so that you can dry out damp clothing when needed
2. Use a bivy bag – Put a bivy sack around your sleeping bag for added warmth. This can increase your sleeping bag’s capacity by up to 10 degrees. See our “Mummy” waterproof bivy bag.
3. Be prepared for shorter days – Know when the sun sets and be sure to allow yourself extra time to arrive at your campsite before dark. And, as always, pitch your tent first thing as that can always be tricky in the dark. These shorter days lead us into tip #4…
4. Bring a headlamp – Shorter days mean you’ll need to be extra careful about planning for cooking and other camp tasks before sundown. A headlamp is particularly useful for managing tasks in the dark. A good lantern is also quite useful. We especially like the ultra light and packable solar powered blow-up LED lamps from LuminAid. They work quite well, and you don’t have to worry about batteries.
5. Stock up on firewood – Dry firewood can become scarce in Autumn. As long as there are no burn restrictions in your campsite area, pack your own wood so you don’t have to risk going without a cozy fire. Don’t forget other fire making essentials like a small hatchet for making kindling, dry newspaper, and matches or a lighter.
6. Be aware of Autumn wildlife safety – Wildlife are often engaged in fall mating rituals so be careful to respect their space. Some animals can be more aggressive as winter nears, so beware bee hives and be sure to eliminate trash from your campsite to avoid attracting bears and other animals. As always, never leave food in your tent. Use a bear can, hang your food from a tree, or if you’re car camping, put in in the trunk of your car at night.
7. Warm drinks make life better – More than a pleasant way to start a chilly day, a steaming cup of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate is a quick way to warm your core. If java is your thing, forget the instant stuff. Presses and other accessories allow you to brew your favorite bean. After all, “roughing it” should be taken only so far.
8. Get active! – There are plenty of activities you can still enjoy in the Fall. Maybe not so much swimming…but as long as you’re wearing layers and prepared you can spend your days hiking, fishing, canoeing and kayaking, observing wildlife or whatever else you enjoy doing in the great outdoors. Moving your body will keep you warm, even if it’s raining.
9. Watch the weather – Fall weather fluctuates quickly. Always check the forecasts ahead of time specific to the parks or campgrounds you plan to visit. Remember that warm weather can quickly turn. Depending on where you’re going, you should always be prepared for the chance of snow, rain, or other severe weather.
10. Hang a tarp – Hang a tarp between trees near your tent. The tarp will provide some additional shelter from wind. You can also hang a camping tarp over your picnic/eating area to provide a dry place to eat in case of rain. Click to see our selection of top rated waterproof camping tarps.