Fall is around the corner and, for those who know, some of the best backpacking of the year is approaching. Thinner crowds, leaves changing colors, less bugs and wildlife that is is hurriedly preparing for Winter. But with dropping temperatures, shorter days and quickly changing weather, backpacking in the Fall also comes with more risk. With some pre-planning and foresight on the trail, you can be better prepared so your trip goes off without a hitch.

Fall Backpacking
Photo by Vincent Lock Flickr.com

Planning for your Trip

Planning for Fall trips requires a few additional steps to your normal prep. For starters, the weather can change from sun to rain and even snow fairly rapidly, so it’s good to know what the conditions could be. Before heading out, review the weather reports a few times so that you have the most recent updates.

Because temperatures can fluctuate, wearing layers of breathable, water resistant clothing can keep you warm and allow you to easily adjust if the temperature changes during the day. Fabrics such as a midweight merino wool and polypropylene do a good job of wicking moisture away from your body, and a good mid-layer will come in handy during the cooler nights and mornings. If you do hike later in the Fall, a down jacket or fleece would be necessary.

A hat and gloves don’t take up much space and can give you added warmth. The body loses a lot of heat from the top of the head, so it’s important to keep it covered, even while you sleep. And one of the most important pieces of clothing for Fall backpacking is a rain jacket and pants. They not only keep you dry, but can provide warmth when worn over other layers during strong winds.

Fall Backpacking

Once you have your route established, check trail conditions with the ranger or on local websites. Recent weather might have caused trails to close or become more dangerous to hike. Also, in some parks certain campsites seasonally close while others remain open, so it’s good to know which ones are accessible. As you are reviewing the trail conditions, pay extra attention to your route and the distance between campsites so that, if the weather turns bad unexpectedly, you can quickly locate a campsite for some protection.

A final piece of preparation is to take a little extra food along with you since drops in temperature can affect what you eat. The body uses more calories in colder temps trying to maintain its core temperature. Snacks and meals that are high in carbs and fats give the body the ability to resupply its energy resources and helps you stay warmer on those chilly nights. And don’t forget to bring along some ingredients for warm drinks. They can be a nice treat throughout the day and can help keep your body warm on a cold day.

Fall Backpacking
Photo by Justin 0 of 0 Flickr.com

On the Trail

On the trail, days will continually get shorter, so if you are planning on hiking between campsites or just exploring, start a little earlier than normal. This way you can leave yourself some extra time in the evening to make camp, cook dinner or relax before it gets too dark.

If you travel between campsites, be sure to arrive with enough daylight left to set-up camp and cook. Lower temperatures mean longer cook times and that your stove will consume more fuel boiling water— utilizing a good windscreen and pot cozy can mitigate some of the additional time. Foods that are easy to prepare will come in handy if you are pressed for time.

As the temperature drops, a good sleep system and appropriate clothing can keep you comfortable at night. For a nice added touch, boil a pot of water and add it to your water bottle, then sleep with the warm water bottle with you in your sleeping bag. Not only will you have extra warmth where needed, you’ll also have warm water for a quick hot drink in the morning!

Fall Backpacking

Be Careful

Remember that Fall coincides with hunting season. Many parks do allow hunting, so it’s good to know the rules and regulations before heading out. If you do find yourself in a park where hunting is permitted, be sure to bring orange clothing, or another bright color, to make yourself visible. It’s also a good idea to make extra noise— either talking to a friend or whistling so that hunters know that you’re in the area.

With the changing colors, dropping temps and fewer crowds the Fall can be a great time for a day hike or multi-day trip. Just remember a few additional details so you can fully enjoy the clearer skies for some great stargazing!

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