Tips for Fall Camping

Get your gear out for an autumn adventure

A group of people sitting in leaves next to a tent during some fall camping.

photo by Lightfield Studios – Fotolia

Maybe you, like me, have seen those photos of lovey-dovey couples sipping steaming mugs of hot coffee as the sun rises, their hiking boots side-by-side on some rocky vista as they take in Mother Nature’s beauty. When I used to see photos like that, I would think:

Oh, isn’t that sweet. 

Where are they? Looks pretty with the leaves changing.

I wonder where she got those cute hiking boots.   

Now that I am planning my fall camping trip, I also wonder:

Where did she get those cute hiking boots?

Did they cheat and drive into town for that coffee?

Do they have quality cold-temperature sleeping bags and a three-season silicone and polyurethane waterproofed tent?

It can get really cold at night in the autumn months, and when you’re camping, your “indoors” consists of a layer of nylon and a zipper protecting you from the elements (and the wild animals, but I figure they’re more scared of us than we are of them, right?).

I have only been camping in the summer, when you can cool off during the day by swimming in a lake or river, and warm up at night by putting on a light sweatshirt and sitting close to a campfire. It even rained one year, and it was still fun, because we had a big tarp, rain gear, and good attitudes. I think that’s true of any experience—the right gear and the right frame of mind makes all the difference.

With that said, here are some tips I’ve gleaned from experienced backpackers and casual car-camping fans about the benefits of camping in fall and how to best prepare for the excursion:

• It’s off-peak during the fall, so the campgrounds aren’t as crowded.

• There aren’t as many bugs. One time, we experienced the joys of camping after a massive mayfly invasion: I’m talking lifeless mayfly carcasses covering the ground and the picnic table and a fishy stench that seemed to permeate everything—never again.

• You will use more firewood in fall due to the shorter days, longer nights, and dropping temps. Prepare ahead of time.

• Always bring a First Aid kit along. You never know when you might need it. Case in point: When a moth flew into my friend Russ’s ear. True story.

• Keep all food out of your tent, preferably in a bear-proof container or cooler. Wildlife can be more aggressive when looking for food this time of year because they know winter is coming.

• Do not forget the tarp. It is essential for rain and wind coverage.

• Purchase a camping mat for under your sleeping bag. Studies show that it’s actually more important to insulate yourself from the ground than from the cold air. Obviously, though, you still want warm bedding. Bring a warm, comfortable sleeping bag made to withstand the cold, and a fleece blanket to throw over the top.

• Contrary to popular belief, your love will not be enough to keep you warm. Pack warm gear for your head (balaclava or hat) and wear it to bed. Over half of your body heat can be lost through your head. Pack wool socks, extra gloves, and layers of wool, fleece, or moisture-wicking fabric.

• Your body needs calories to stay warm, right? One-pot meals—like chili or soup—are the way to go, especially with a group. Eating a hearty dinner, with plenty of carbs and fats, will help to “fuel your furnace.”

• Take photos. Autumn in Minnesota is one of the most visually appealing seasons, and depending on when you go camping, you could very well have the best seats in the house when it comes to the kaleidoscope of spectacular fall colors.