10 Ways to Enjoy Fall Camping


If you love camping as much as I do, you don't exactly want to stop when the temperatures drop. Thankfully, there's no need to pack up the gear for good. Here are some genius ways to extend your camping adventures into fall and beyond. (See also: Camping for a Week Is Only $160 at These National Parks)

1. Check Ahead

Some campgrounds are only open during peak camping months (usually Memorial Day through Labor Day). Before you embark on your adventure, call ahead to make sure your favorite destination is open. Check the weather, too. You may see rain in the forecast and decide to bring an extra tarp or other supplies. The idea here is to be prepared for what's ahead.

2. Leave Early

On our first fall camping excursion, we left too late in the day. By the time we go to the campground, it was getting dark and we were muddling around with our tent using headlamps. Remember that fall and winter mean fewer hours in the sun. So, plan accordingly and leave plenty of daylight hours for setup. Check out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) sunrise and sunset calculator.

3. Dress for Success

Layers are key when you're camping in the cold. I've always been told to stay away from cotton because it soaks up sweat and can make you wet. Try dressing in layers. Start with an inner base layer, a warming mid layer (or two, depending on the temperature), and an outer wind or wetness protection layer. Moisture-wicking fabrics are best, so stick with synthetic fibers or even a lightweight wool.

4. Bring Accessories

Along with layering, you shouldn't forget your head, hands, and feet. Bring lots of mittens, gloves, socks, hats, slippers, and other accessories. I like fleece because it's cozy and soft. This DIY fleece balaclava would make a perfect travel companion. You need 3/4 of a yard of fleece fabric and a boot lace. Cut three rectangles from your fabric, sew them together, and thread your lace through the channel.

5. Bag It

Check your sleeping bag for its European Norm (EN) temperature rating. You might notice that yours isn't fit for cold weather — the number usually indicates the lowest temperature that is comfortable to withstand in the bag. I like being warmer than most, so I do have a bag I use in summer and one for fall camping. I also favor mummy style bags because they leave less room for air to escape.

Skip bulky blankets inside your sleeping bag. They'll actually work against your mission to stay warm. A sleeping bag liner provides an extra layer of protection (like a bed sheet) and will work with your body heat to create a comfortable sleeping temperature.

6. Pack a Mat

I also like to sleep atop a travel cot or at very least a camping mat to keep excess moisture from entering my sleeping bag. I've used a yoga mat in a pinch. The bonus here is that the mat will create a barrier between you and the damp, cool ground. It's just more comfortable all around this way. If you can, try laying a tarp down before the pad for extra protection.

Still cold? A wool blanket under your sleeping bag can help.

7. Add Heat

My husband taught me a cool trick that he learned when he was a kid. Fill a hot water bottle or even a Nalgene with warm water and put it in your sleeping bag. You can always refill with warm water if you're particularly cold. We even use this method on cold nights in our house. Just make sure the seal is tight so the water doesn't soak you. And those HotHands hand warmers you use on ski trips are also invaluable on camping trips.

8. Sip Often

Another easy way to warm your core is by drinking hot beverages. Keep a kettle on so there's always hot water to make tea, coffee, hot chocolate, or instant soups. While you're at it, mind your fluid intake. Even if it's cold and you're not obviously sweating, you can easily get dehydrated with activity.

9. Cook Slow

If you're lucky enough to have a campsite with electricity, consider bringing your slow cooker to make mealtime easier. This way, you can simmer together warm and nourishing foods and keep the campfire all to yourself. Choose a cooker with a lockable lid for obvious reasons. Tent campers will want to bring a long extension cord. (If you're camping in bear country, you might want to skip this tip!)

10. Test It

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to test our gear before we went on a long trip. My husband and I set up camp in the backyard and felt sort of silly about it. Well, it was a good thing we did because we were missing an essential support for our tent. If you've never camped in the fall before, you might even want to sleep a night in familiar territory to make sure you have everything you need to be comfortable.

Are you a fall camper? What tricks have you learned to stay warm, dry, and safe?

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Guest's picture

Hot Cider is always a great way to warm up and this time of year it's especially nice to get some fresh locally pressed cider!