By Heather Madsen
The weather is starting to cool off, but that doesn’t mean that your camping trips have to come to an end. Camping in the fall gives you the chance to see all of the trees change color or try your hand at fall fishing, and campsites tend to be less crowded at this time of year too. Of course you still want to be prepared for the challenges that fall camping can present, so here is some advice on how to make your cool weather camping trip a success.
You always want to make sure that your equipment is in good shape before you take any trip, but in the cooler months it’s especially important. If you have rips or tears in your tents or bags, that could allow water or cold temperatures in, which would make your nights much less comfortable. If your tent didn’t come with a rain tarp or floor saver mat, it might be a good idea to buy them. They’ll offer an extra layer of waterproofing and protection. Just make sure you know how to set them (and your tent) up before you get to your campsite. Nothing is worse than trying to figure out how to set up a tent in the rain. You also need to be prepared for the side effects of damper weather. Bringing a camp stove and enough fuel to cook every meal is a good way to be prepared for if the firewood around your campsite is too damp to light. The days will also be shorter in the fall, so bringing extra lamps or flashlights will help you extend your day or find your way in the dark.
Fall weather can fluctuate quite a bit. The nights may feel freezing, while the afternoon is warm and sunny. The best way to prepare for all of the different temperatures is to plan your outfits with layers. Thermal underwear and flannel pajamas are good for nightwear, and soft and form fitting clothing under baggier pants and sweatshirts will provide good layers for the day. Don’t forget your waterproof outer layers, like a wind breaker or insulated coat, and waterproof boots. Speaking of boots, it’s also a good idea to pack wool socks which will help wick away moisture and keep you warm. Pro tip: extra dry socks never go amiss on a camping trip. Hats, gloves, and neck gaiters are other great accessories that will help you layer and keep your extremities warm.
Kids and Entertainment
Summer camping is a great activity for the whole family, and fall camping can be just as great. Although the weather might be too cool to do your usual camping activities, there’s still plenty of fun things for you and your family to do. The weather should be perfect for fishing during the middle of the day, so there’s no need to wake up super early in order to catch dinner. The cooler temperatures mean that hiking can be more pleasant too, with less chance of overheating and all of the beautiful changing colors to see. If the weather is too rainy or cold for outdoor activities, you can always break out the playing cards and board games in the tent. If you plan on spending a significant amount of time in the tents, it might be prudent to have a sleeping tent, and a playing tent. That way the family can play and travel in and out of the play tent during the day, while the sleeping tent stays clean and dry for nighttime.
Weather and Wildlife
Be sure to check the weather forecast before you head out to your campsite. This will help you pack and prepare, and leave unneeded items at home. If it looks like it’s going to be cold, but no rain or snow, you probably don’t need to pack your winter parka. On the other hand, if it's going to rain the whole time, bringing a couple extra layers and tarps might save you a headache and a soaking. You should also always look at what the lowest temperature at night is predicted to be, so you can ensure that your sleeping bag has an adequate rating to handle it. Packing extra blankets or fleece layers can help you insulate your bag as well. And as always, make sure you’re respectful of local wildlife. Lots of animals tend to get more active as the weather cools off, which means you might get the opportunity to see more critters than usual. Just remember to maintain a safe distance, and to never try to approach, touch, or feed the wildlife.
While it’s not the most exciting thing to think about when planning a trip, emergency preparation is important. Along with the basic necessities of a first aid kit, water or water purification supply, a knife, flashlight, and navigation gear, you should also plan for cold weather emergencies. An extra blanket or tarp will rarely go amiss and can be used as extra insulation or waterproofing. Packing a bivy can also help with insulation and waterproofing, and they're a great option to have on hand if you’re stranded or spending an unplanned evening outside. As mentioned above, campfires may be restricted or not possible, so bring a camp stove and enough fuel to be able to cook or warm all of your meals. Plus, as the old adage goes, the best defense is a good offense. Minimize potential problems by thoroughly researching your location and weather patterns, and by choosing your campsite wisely. If precipitation is anticipated, make sure your campsite is on elevated ground to avoid flooding and puddles, and stay at least 200 feet away from any water sources.
Camping can be a lot of fun, but don’t forget to be respectful of nature and other campers. Always check on the reservations and campsite rules of your chosen location, and plan ahead in order to accommodate any restrictions or regulations they might have, including campsite locations, wildlife protection orders, fire restrictions, and waste disposal protocols. The goal when camping is to enjoy nature, but to leave it as you found it. Always clean up after yourself and follow the campsite rules so that others can still enjoy it after you leave. A good rule to try and follow is to “leave no trace.” You can read more about the principles behind this outdoor movement here.
Now that you’ve done your research, you’re ready to plan, pack, and hit the road to your campsite! Hopefully these tips will help you have a great trip and make unforgettable memories. If you have any questions about what was discussed in this article, or if you would like to learn more about fall camping, visit us online at Sportsmans.com or at your local Sportsman’s Warehouse. Happy camping!