Warm & Cozy - Foolproof Tips for Fall Camping

The temperature may be starting to drop, but don't it let force you inside just yet!

Camping during the fall is a wonderful way to extend your time outdoors during the cooler months. If you're brave enough to embrace these cooler temperatures, and are willing to put a little extra time into your camping preparations, you'll find autumn camping to be highly rewarding. 

Most insects are gone for the year or have greatly reduced their activity. Fewer folks mean that the perfect campsite is going to be easier to find. Crisp, fresh air makes a normally tough hike a little easier, and clear skies offer many more star-filled nights.

Here's 11 tips to make sure your next Fall camping trip is the best ever!

fall camping autumn cool weather

Time To Prepare

1. Find a great location at a reduced price..  and get a reservation if necessary.

Many locations are only open through Labor Day, and others may have reduced fees after this time. Find a campground that will be open, and make a reservation if you can - chances are good that other folks may have the same idea

2. Make a checklist

Yes, you're propably already doing it, but its even more important to do it before a fall camping trip. Make a check list of all the things you’ll need to stay safe, warm and dry, then go through it before walking out the door.

3. Plan your meals

Bring whatever pots/pans and dishes you need and plan what you will eat. To keep costs down, look into encorporating seasonal vegetables into your cooking, Many foods that are wildly available in the fall are hearty and don’t require refrigeration, so you can save on cooler space. Whatever you do, try to keep it simple. But remember, your body is going to burn a LOT of calories trying to keep warm, and you'll most likely be doing something active, so consume lots of good fats and carbohydrates during your time spent outdoors (and don't worry, with all your outdoor activities, you'll burn it off!).

4. Plan ahead for heat.

If you are building a wood fire, keep in mind that the later in the season, the less likely a campground host will be on hand to sell firewood all day. You may be able to purchase a bundle or two of local firewood on your way to the campground at a local store, farm or gas station. If you plan on using a propane campfire, you might be using the fire more frequently than you do during the summer. Consider bringing additional propane or locating a nearby source that can fill your tank for you if required.

fall weather camping heat propane

The Gear

5. A variety of clothing that can be layered - and don't forget a hat!

You’re going to want to bring more clothes than you think you need.  Autumn temperatures can be extremely unpredictable, with summer-like highs one day and downright wintry conditions the next. Even the warmest days can turn bitterly cold as the sun goes down (and the sun will go down MUCH earlier than in the summer). Be prepared for a variety of conditions and remember that layering is the key to staying warm and comfy while camping in the fall. Some essential items to include in your pack are:

• thermal underwear, or base layers with moisture wicking properties
• fleece jacket, wool shirt/sweater (or other synthetic layer) for warmth
• wind & water resistant jacket or shell
• winter hat/touque (great to keep you warm at night while sleeping)
• gloves/mittens, plus an extra pair in case first pair gets wet
• winter jacket (yes, even if the day temps are warm, it will get chilly at night!)
• sturdy boots, with waterproof membrane
• extra shoes and plenty of extra dry socks
• rain poncho and rain pants
• plenty of changes of clothing (you should be able to swap out damp clothing if needed)

Better to have it and not need it, right?

6. A Cold Weather Sleeping Bag and Pad

A cold weather sleeping bag is one that most fall campers have figured out. If you haven't though, you'll want to that first. A good cold weather bag is going to be one that protects against temperatures lower than you expect to encounter. For instance, one labeled for 0-30 degrees F when you will be seeing temperatures dipping to around 20 degrees F is a good fit. There is nothing worse than freezing though the night, so if you get often get cold, bringing an extra blanket or bag might even be something to consider. Mummy bags are an excellent choice for keeping warm as they fit closer to your body, and most models come with a hood that surrounds your head to catch any heat that might be escaping.

fall camping sleeping bag mummy

Another critical way you're going to insulate yourself from the cold is a good sleeping pad. Look for a closed cell, thick pad with a high R-value. An R-value will tell you how well the pad will insulate you from the cold ground. For instance, and R-value of 3 will keep you comfortable until around 20F (-7C), and an R-value of 7 will insulate you against the cold until about -40F(-40C). When in cold weather, go as high of an R-value as you can. In terms of heat retention, this is one of the most important things you can do to stay warm at night.

7. Tents and tarps

First, get a quality tent that doesn’t leak, better yet, make sure it has a full rain fly/footprint and repair any leaks or tears in your tent before heading to your site. Make sure your tarp of choice is big enough to cover your cooking and eating area so that if it does rain, food prep is no problem. It is going to be wetter than the summertime, so make sure you’re setting yourself up for a dry time.

8. Entertainment - For both outdoor and indoor fun

Don't be tempted to just bring a bike and a frisbee! While those items are great for summer camping.. what are you going to do when the weather turns ugly and you're forced inside the tent? Bring some pocket games, a deck of cards, or even a good book .. just in case you end up staying inside a lot more than you planned on.

camp comfortably in the fall deck of cards

Keep Toasty

9. Hot Foods & Drinks

When the sun is beating down, you'll almost always have a water bottle close at hand. But when the weather is cooler we often forget to hydrate. Make sure you are getting enough hydration, and warm up from the inside. Have a vacuum bottle with a clear, hot, caffeine-free beverage at the ready - a cider or herbal tea works great! 

As for hot foods, you probably won't have a problem remembering to have those! Be sure to eat calorie rich foods, with good levels of protein, fats, and carbohydrates to both keep you warm, and fuel your outdoor activities. Bonus tip: Eat a snack just before bed. Your body stays warmer by burning calories, so a snack full of carbs just before bed can help increase body heat. 

fall camping soup recipe

10. Keep the heat inside the bag

You don't want to be getting cold part way through the night, so here are a few ideas to help:

• Heat up a hot water bottle before bed and bring it in your bag with you. It can be placed at your toes or next to your body for warmth
• Try a bivy sack around your sleeping bag. You can increase your bags warmth in the range of about 10 degrees this way.
• If your bag has a hood, use it! Any heat that tries to escape out the top of the bag will be directed back at you.
• Don't breathe into your bag. The increased humidity will make things much colder, so if you are finding your head/face to be cold, use a ski mask or hat.
• Use the bathroom before bed. Half way through the night, do you really want to crawl out of a warm bag?

cold weather camping hot water bottle

At Home

11. Clean and dry your tent when you get home.

If you get rained on, chances are good your tent is not going to be dry when you pack it up. If you forget to dry it out before putting it away for the winter, you’re going to find it covered in mildew in the Spring. Be sure to completely clean and dry your tent before putting it away for the rest of the year.

Do you have a tip for having a great time while camping during these cooler temperatures? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your tips in the comments below!

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