We are finally getting our first cold snap here in Georgia, and by that I mean for the first day in months it’s not going to break into the 90s. Later this week it’s supposed to be in the mid 70s. If you’re anything like us, as soon as this change takes place there is only one place you want to be: outside. Fall is by far my favorite season. The temperate weather, colorful leaves, willing trout, moving deer, and the sheer beauty of the changing season all call out at once with a roar that can’t be ignored. If it’s fall, I’ll be in the woods.
Depending on where you are, fall can be a couple months or a few short weeks. Here in Georgia it can remain summer until December when, with the flick of a switch, it turns to winter. It can also drag out in beautiful 60 degree days for months. Autumn can be fickle, so you’ve got to take advantage of it while you can.
With that in mind, fall is prime camping season. The daytime temperature is comfortable for activities, and the night time temperatures are perfect for sitting around a fire and getting cozy in a sleeping bag. These swings do require a bit more gear and planning however. Gone are the days of grabbing your Eno hammock, Chaco sandals, and a cooler of cold drinks and hitting the road. All of these things are still welcome on your trip, but you’ve got to be prepared for whatever mother nature has in store. With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of Fall Camping Essentials to keep you safe and comfortable when spending a few days outdoors. Here are your fall camping essentials:
1. Waterproof Shelter
In fall, I generally transition from hammock camping to tent camping. I’ll still use the hammock if space is limited, but using a tent offers you a warmer shelter right off the bat. Hammock camping can still be great though, and I’ll outline strategies for keeping you comfortable in cooler weather. Regardless of which you choose, waterproofing is a must. In many parts of the country, fall means a change in weather patterns and an increased chance of precipitation. Combine that with cooler temperatures and you’ve got a recipe for hypothermia. A quality tent with a rainfly that covers the entire body of the tent is best. If it has a covered vestibule it’s even better. Not only will you stay dry, but your gear will too. That rain fly will also help seal out drafts and keep your heat in while you sleep. Any of the Marmot or MSR tents have proven fly systems that will be perfect for camping in the shoulder seasons and summer.
If you elect to go with a hammock, a rain fly of some sort is still a must. Eno has a great line of rain flies from super lightweight models to models that have you covered all the way to the ground. Even the minimalist rain flies like the Eno Fast Fly will offer some heat retention and wind resistance, but if your falls are really chilly, a full coverage fly like the Eno HouseFly will keep you warmer. Any of the Eno Pro Fly models offer a great middle ground here.
2. Sleeping Pad
A sleeping pad is a good thing to have whether you’re sleeping on the ground in your tent or suspended between the trees in your hammock. Wherever you’re using it, it will provide you with a much needed layer of insulation. In the cooler months, you’ll lose a great deal of body heat through the compressed sleeping bag below you, whether it be into the ground or the air under your hammock. The sleeping pad will give you a layer of air that won’t compress as easily.
3. Sleeping Bag
A good sleeping bag is a must for camping in the colder whether. For this, you’ll need to take into account the average nighttime temperature wherever you’ll be camping. Keep in mind, temperature stations are rarely located out in the wilderness, and, while valleys and ravines will typically be more sheltered than ridges and exposed areas, cooler air will settle into these low lying areas at night. So check the temperature around where you’re headed, but plan for it to be 10 to 15 degrees cooler. You’ll also want a sleeping bag that is rated for cooler weather then you think you’ll experience. While a 30 degree bag will certainly keep you alive on a 30 degree night, it’s not going to be the most comfortable night you’ve spent outside. A good rule of thumb is to select a bag that is rated for 15-20 degrees less than you think you will experience. If you’re hammock camping, you may want to go even further. You can always unzip it if it gets too warm. If you’ve got a sleeping bag that is right on the edge, beef it up with a liner.
While not quite a sleeping bag, one thing you might want to consider for a hammock is an under quilt. An under quilt is like a sleeping bag that attaches to the outside of your sleeping bag on the underside. This allows the fill of the quilt to remain uncompressed underneath you, offering maximum heat retention and warmth.
We advocate this in pretty much any situation in any season, but we highly recommend you pack layers of clothing. You just never know what mother nature has in store for you. In the fall you may be comfortable in pants and a t-shirt during the day. At night, however, you may need to add a base layer and a down jacket to remain comfortable. Just make sure you pack enough layers to keep you warm in the coldest conditions you may face, and shed them as you need to throughout the day. I would also highly recommend you pack a hard shell for any wet weather you might encounter.
5. Fire Starting
Nothing signifies fall more than the countless invitations to backyard bon fires. There’s also nothing better than a roaring fire in camp to keep spirits up as the temperature starts to fall. With that said, make sure you’re prepared with everything you need to start a fire. You’ll want to bring multiple fire starters that you’re comfortable with just in case one fails (maybe also bring one you’re less comfortable with and get some practice). It doesn’t have to be tricky like a fire piston and a bow drill. It can be as simple as a lighter and a good set of matches.
You’ll also want to make sure that you’re going to have all the fuel you’ll need to start the fire and keep it going. If you’re expecting damp conditions, some pre-made fire starters can be a life saver. If wood and or kindling is going to be tough to find, make sure you bring some of your own. If you know you’ll have to process a lot of your own wood at the site, a good hand saw or hatchet is a must.
6. Camp Kitchen
After a long day of playing in the woods, especially if it’s cool outside, there is nothing better than a warm meal. While trail mix and uncooked Ramen is a camping staple, it doesn’t go nearly as well with whiskey and a camp fire as a good stew or warm dish. Plan what you’ll need in your camp kitchen by what you want to eat. Pasta and rice can be cooked easily via a JetBoil, but you probably won’t be feeding more than a couple people. If you’re planning on cooking for a number of people and have the means to get it in, a propane burner like an old Coleman may be a better choice. Conversely, a good camping cook set could allow you to cook right on or in your fire. If you want to get really simple, aluminum foil pouches full of meat and veggies and tossed onto hot coals can yield some surprisingly good results. Whatever you plan on making, just make sure that you’ve got the cookware and utensils to cook and eat it.
Why would you not have a knife on a camping trip just because it’s fall? Get a good knife and you’ll use it for just about everything.
Again, just because it’s fall and you’re excited about getting in the woods doesn’t mean you can ignore the basics. It’s going to start getting dark earlier and light later. A good headlamp or flashlight can extend your day, and is an absolute necessity around camp at night.
Pumpkin Spice Lattes may mean fall, but I wouldn’t want to have to survive off of them, or even drink one for that matter. Hydration is just as important in the fall as it is any other time of year. If you’re car camping, you can get away with bringing in large quantities of water in the car. If you get away from the roads though, a water filter is probably a better bet.
Getting outside in the fall is an absolute treat. The weather is perfect, and you get to see one of nature’s best displays of color. Whether you’re an avid camper, or this is the first fall you plan to spend in the woods, we hope you have a great time and stay safe.
Are you planning on heading out this fall? Where are you going and what’s essential to your kit? Drop us a line below and let us know! We’ll pick our favorite trip and send that person a little something for their adventure!