The fall season is upon us bringing with it the beauty of the changing leaves. While the warmest days may already be behind us, there is no reason for your camping season to be over yet! Ensure your fall camping trip is a great success by packing these essential items.
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There is no denying that the colours of fall can be absolutely breathtaking, painting the landscape in a sea of reds, oranges and yellows. It’s a time when many of us would love nothing more than to embrace the beauty of nature and spend as much time outdoors as possible. However, this season also brings cooler temperatures that discourage many from packing up their tents and heading out for the weekend. Don’t be fooled! The camping season is far from over… In fact, I would argue that we are just reaching the best part of the season now!
Fall camping allows you to enjoy your day outdoors without fighting the summer heat and overcrowded campgrounds. There is something to be said for holding a warm mug of coffee first thing in the morning, the steam rising around you while you watch the sun come up. Not to mention the fact that there are fewer bugs to contend with and some parks even offer a reduced rate! What’s not to love?
Table of Contents
Check Out These 14 Essential Items For Your Next Fall Camping Trip!
#1 – Firestarter, Kindling and Firewood
The most important thing to consider any time you are camping in cooler temperatures is ensuring that you have the ability to start and maintain a fire. This will ensure that you can stay warm and dry, even on cool damp fall mornings and into the evenings as the sun goes down. At the same time, a fire is a great way to cook your meals!
There is no need to struggle with your attempts to start your fire with so many great firestarter options available, you simply need to plan ahead. The simplest option would be to pack waterproof matches or a lighter along with materials that are quick to catch on. While dry leaves are a great option, it should be pointed out that many parks restrict the gathering of fire materials from the park itself. Other options include newspaper, egg cartons and dryer lint.
Once the fire has started, you will need a steady supply of dry firewood. Take note if there are any restrictions in place for the park you are camping at in respect to the transportation of wood into the park, as pests like the emerald ash borer have forced many to put these rules in place. If you are restricted to local wood, most parks will sell wood right on site. However, you can often purchase better quality wood at a lower cost by searching the surrounding neighbourhood. Don’t forget to cover your wood to keep it dry!
#2 – Tea, Hot Chocolate and/or Instant Coffee
If you’re feeling chilly in that cool autumn air, there is nothing that will warm you up quite like a hot beverage. Why deny yourself such a simple pleasure on your next camping trip? Individual packets of hot chocolate and tea bags are easy to pack. If you’re a coffee drinker, instant coffee will allow you to enjoy your liquid gold while you’re outdoors. Don’t forget to pack a high-quality travel mug to keep your drinks warm longer!
Coffee drinkers, before you roll your eyes at the instant coffee suggestions, humour me for just a moment. Not all instant coffees are created equal, so don’t count them out just yet! I was completely anti-instant coffee until this past year when I received some samples in the mail. I discovered that while I am still not a fan of most brands, I personally really enjoy the Nescafe Rich line of instant coffees, especially the Hazelnut variety. They can be purchased either in a jar or individual packets. If you can purchase a propane-powered coffee maker.
#3 – Warm Sleeping Bag and Bedding
During your trip, you will find that you are most vulnerable to the cool temperatures at night when you are sleeping. You can, however, take steps to ensure that you can enjoy a warm, comfortable sleep so that you get the rest you require. After all, being overtired isn’t going to help you stay warm or enjoy your trip!
The obvious first item for consideration is the sleeping bag that you are using. Not all sleeping bags are created equally. Each bag is given a temperature rating to suggest what temperatures it is optimally designed for. When selecting a sleeping bag, you want to choose one that is rated for temperatures that are a few degrees colder than the coldest temperatures predicted during your trip. Remember, you can unzip your sleeping bag or remove layers, but if you don’t have any additional protection you can’t magically add it! If you’re camping as a couple, some sleeping bags offer the option to zip together to form a larger double sleeping bag so that you can cuddle up together.
Within the sleeping bag, a sleeping bag liner will work to help you stay warm by wicking moisture as you sleep. Even the slightest dampness can result in your feeling cold. Blankets are also a great way to keep you warm, but you may be surprised to learn that placing them on top of your sleeping bag is not the most effective use. If you are using a tent rated for the season (see point #10), your body heat will be enough to warm the air within the tent. The biggest source of cold is actually the ground below you. Place your layers underneath your sleeping bag including blankets and sleeping pads.
It’s important to note that while you can likely get away with an air mattress earlier in the fall season, air mattresses hold onto cold air and may contribute to you being colder at night. As the temperatures drop and we move into the fall season, trade-in your air mattress for a sleeping pad instead!
#4 – Comfortable Sleeping Pad
Speaking of sleeping pads, this deserves its own separate point in this list! While you can likely get away with an air mattress earlier in the fall season, air mattresses hold onto cold air and may contribute to you being colder at night. As the temperatures drop and we move into the fall season, trade in your thick air mattress for a thinner, insulated sleeping pad designed for cold weather camping!
These sleeping pads are thinner, but that doesn’t mean they don’t offer a surprising level of comfort. They deflate and roll up to make them more compact for travel and easily inflate when you are set up on-site. While some of these pads are self-inflating, others may require you to inflate them manually or with a pump. Each pad comes with an ‘R-value’ rating to indicate how well it is able to insulate and resist the flow of heat. The higher the R-value, the better it will work to keep you warm as you sleep. Keep in mind that selecting a sleeping pad with a high R-value will not cause you to overheat.
#5 – Tarps for Above and Beneath Your Tent
Another important step to take when preparing your tent to keep you warm and dry throughout the night is the strategic use of tarps to prevent unnecessary moisture. The most obvious use and one that most campers are familiar with is to string a tarp up above the tent to protect it from any rainfall. Ensure that you string your tarp up on a slight angle to allow for run-off in a location that is best for your site. For example, you don’t want it to run-off uphill from your tent or in the middle of your sitting and cooking areas.
The tarp above your tent shouldn’t be the only tarp you use. Placing a tarp under your tent prior to setting it up will help you to stay warm in 2 key ways – It will prevent moisture in the ground from coming up into your tent and will also add an additional layer between your body and the cold temperatures in the ground below.
If you have additional tarps, they can also be used to provide shelter in the event of rain by hanging them over your cooking area or sitting areas, providing you with a dry place to eat and relax. Furthermore, turn a tarp sideways and string it up between trees, if necessary, to create a wind block.
#6 – Warm Clothing for Layering
It should come as no surprise that the clothing you wear while fall camping has the ability to keep you warm and comfortable in even the coolest temperatures. However, many newer cold-weather campers aren’t familiar with the fact there is a ‘best practice’ when it comes to dressing for warm weather. It involves strategic layers designed to keep yourself both warm and dry throughout the day.
Your first layer should act as a base layer wicking moisture away from your skin. After all, as we previously discussed, even the slightest dampness can lead to you feeling cold. There are many thermal underwear style products on the market that are designed with this purpose in mind. Choose something that you are comfortable in, as this is the layer that will remain directly against your skin throughout the day. On top of this, you will want to add your second later, a layer for warmth including sweatshirts and comfortable pants. Finally, you want to select a third layer our outer layer that is breathable, waterproof and windproof, preventing your heat from escape while protecting you from the elements.
A good practice for sleeping at night is to also look at the thermal underwear style products as they will continue to wick moisture away from your body as you sleep. This is another reason why you should take the time to seek out the product you feel most comfortable wearing!
#7 – Comfortable Toque
Growing up, you were likely told time and time again that you lose most of your heat through your head. Let’s start by being clear, studies have shown this isn’t true. That being said, there is still a lesson that can be taken from this advice. As adults, we go to great lengths to bundle up as the temperatures drop with warm coats and sweaters and lines boots. However, we often overlook the importance of also keeping our heads warm. It may not be a magical secret to keeping you warm, but it is still part of the body and should be taken into consideration.
One great example of this in action is during the night. When you climb into your warm sleeping bag, every part of your body is bundled up and protected except for your head. The good news is that this is easily corrected. Pack a simple toque (a warm hat for those living outside of Canada). Choose one that’s warm and comfortable, and you can even make a fashion statement with the many colours and designs available. Have fun with it! (Just don’t forget it at home). I recommend checking out the brand Love Your Melon – There are a wide variety of colours and 50% of their products are donated to non-profit organizations focused on the fight against pediatric cancer!
#8 – Reliable Rain Gear
You may have all your layers in order, but none of it is going to be of any help if you find yourself soaked through in the middle of a rainfall! If simply being damp can cause you to become cold faster, you can imagine the impact of being completely wet! Even more concerning, being wet for any length of time in these cooler temperatures increases your risk of experiencing hypothermia. With so many great products on the market, there is no reason for you not to be prepared.
First, you should focus on the rain gear necessary to keep you dry. A rain poncho is a compact and simple option which is great if you are going to be spending your time relaxing around the campsite. However, if you know that you plan on a more adventurous day, for example, hiking, you should look at a rain jacket and rain pants for additional protection. You can even take it a step further by adding gaiters to your packing list for the most extreme adventurers! Don’t forget to consider footwear. Whether you prefer to wear rubber boots or a waterproof hiking boot, ensure that you are selecting something designed for wet weather.
Next, you need to take steps to ensure that your gear stays dry! Dry sacks, Ziploc bags and watertight containers will keep valuable items like electronics safe and dry. To ensure that your backpack or duffle bag is dry even if it has to travel through the train to make its way from your vehicle to your dry tent, line bags with a garbage bag or use a rain cover.
#9 – Headlamp
As we head into the fall season, the days are getting shorter and our daylight is limited. This means that you will need to take steps to ensure that you have enough light to cook by, tend to your fire, and make your way to the bathroom among other tasks. While there are many great flashlights and camping lanterns on the market today, none of these products allow you to be completely hands-free while moving about the way that a headlamp will. With many different brands and varieties available, take your time to find one that will fit comfortably and adjust easily to be worn on normally or over a hat.
#10 – Good Quality 3 or 4-Season Tent
While there are a variety of different shelter options during the summer months ranging from a basic floorless shelter to a high-end 4-season tent, it’s important to recognize that not all of these shelters will be appropriate during the fall and winter months. Floorless style shelters will not protect you from the cold ground while single-wall tents and mesh shelters fail to prevent the wind from ripping through your tent at night. The ideal tent for a fall camping trip will be either a 3-season for 4-season tent.
Generally lower cost, 3-season tents are designed to provide protection from wind, rain and bugs while still allowing for airflow. They are generally lightweight and lower cost than the 4-season variety, making them the more popular option for many campers. These tents generally include a double-wall design meaning that there is a tent body as well as a rainfly which helps to keep moisture at bay. These tents are great for cooler temperatures and even a light dusting of snow, but they will not provide the protection necessary for the harsher winter trips.
For the more extreme adventurers, the only reliable option for all 12 months of the year is a 4-season tent. Built stronger than the 3-season variety, they are constructed with more durable materials to ensure that they will be able to stand up to the harshest weather. These tents generally lack the mesh tent body that is seen in 3-season tents in order to retain warmth and eliminate any drafts, however, they must still provide options for ventilation to prevent condensation within the tent. Due to the difference in materials, they are typically bulkier and heavier to transport.
Consider your camping goals for the coming year. If you have no intention of camping in the dead of winter, you may be better off saving money and purchasing a lighter weight 3-season tent. Just remember, you get what you pay for! Do your research as a tent is an investment.
#11 – Gloves or Mittens
Your hands and fingers are particularly susceptible to colder weather and hypothermia. For this reason, it is incredibly important to take steps to protect them and keep them warm. When packing for a colder weather vacation, be sure to include gloves or mittens. While mittens are generally warmer, they will not add for the same level of functionality that gloves provide. You will also want to pack at least one additional pair so that you have options in the event that your gloves become wet or damaged. Lighter weight fabric gloves are great for earlier in the season when it is still relatively warm.
For colder trips at the end of the season, you may also want to pack individual hot packs. Some higher-end gloves and mittens offer a spot in the glove itself to hold these hot packs for maximum warmth without hindering the use of your hands, however, you can simply slide them into any glove or mitten when you are feeling chilled.
#12 – Wool Socks
Now that your hands are warm, the other area of importance to consider is your feet. You will not regret adding a few pairs of heavier wool socks with your gear. During the day, they can be worn over a moisture-wicking pair of socks in your boots to provide additional warmth during hikes and other daily activities. Then, at the end of the day, slide on a dry pair of wool socks before climbing into your sleeping bag to ensure that your feet stay warm throughout the night. This will also make it much easier to get out of your sleeping bag in the morning as you will not be exposing your bare feet to the cool morning air.
As with your clothing and gloves, it is important to change your socks anytime that you notice they have become wet or even damp. Dampness encourages cold and also heightens your risk of hypothermia during cooler temperatures.
#13 – Hot Water Bottle
If you find that you are the type of person who generally gets cold throughout the night, you may want to take extra precautions. One great way to introduce a little extra warmth while sleeping outdoors is to use a hot water bottle in your bed. Pay attention to which areas of your body are generally the coldest throughout the night and you can place the water bottle accordingly. For example, if you experience cold feet, place your hot water bottle inside the foot of your sleeping bag. However, if your hands are a bigger concern you may choose to snuggle up with it up closer to your torso where you can place your hands on or near it.
If you don’t wish to have something in the sleeping bag with you throughout the night, you may wish to simply place the hot water bottle in your sleeping bag for 15-20 minutes before going to bed, allowing it to warm up your sleeping bag for you.
Whichever option you prefer, ensure that you take the time to inspect your hot water bottle regularly for any leaks or areas of extreme wear. A leaking hot water bottle will result in wet bedding which will only lead to you feeling cold throughout the night. Even worse, if the bottle starts to leak while next to your body during the night the hot water may cause serious burns.
#14 – Tent Heaters
Another great option to encourage warmth throughout the night is to use a tent heater. If you are camping on a site with electrical service, you may choose to use a simple electric space heater. However, there are also great options for tent heaters that do not require the use of electricity. These heaters operate on fuels like propane and butane. Understandably, however, there are risks that come with the use of these devices.
The first and most obvious concern is the fire risk in the event that one of these heaters are placed too close to a flammable material or are knocked over throughout the night. There are also burn risks for people and animals who may accidentally touch the unit. For this reason, it is not recommended to use a tent heater overnight with children or pets in your tent. The heaters also carry the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning if they are used incorrectly or not monitored carefully. They should be used by experienced individuals or if you want to decrease your risk of a problem, restrict the use of your heater to just 20-30 minutes before you go to bed to warm up the tent in preparation for the night.
What tricks do you use to stay warm and comfortable during a fall camping trip? Did I miss mentioning any ‘must-have’ items from your list?