Hiking in Fall: My Best Cold-Weather Camping and Backpacking Tips for Newbies
On our very last-minute fall hiking trip last weekend, I knew 2 things: I was going to be cold, and we did not necessarily have all the right gear. But I made do! I’ll talk all about the exact trip—74 kilometers of the Western Uplands Trail in Algonquin Provincial Park over three days and two nights—soon but as I put away all of our gear, I wanted to write this out while it was still fresh in my mind. I’m DEFINITELY not a camping expert, but we managed to stay comfortable in temps that went from 27 to 65 degrees F, and I wanted to share the tips that I feel like may help newer hikers who are freaked about gear.
These were the cheap/newbie friendly pieces that really saved my trip:
This is definitely not a pro hiker move, but… if you’re new to hiking and don’t have a great tent (we were using a $15 tiny tent that I had gotten at Walmart 10 or so years ago), bring a tarp. The inside of your tent will get condensation-y by morning, but holy crap, it helped us stay warm (and dryer than we would have been if we hadn’t had it on if it rained like the forecast predicted). Also great for if it does rain, setting up a camp ‘kitchen/dining room.’
Three miles in on Day 2, I got a soaker after stepping on what looked like a sturdy log on a creek but wasn’t. Blisters and grumpy feet ensued, but at least I had a couple pairs of socks to change into: I changed socks 3x over that hike in order to keep my feet as dry as possible while my sneakers dried out. I only had 4 pairs of socks for the hike, so I used a safety pin to pin the wet ones to the outside of my pack to let them dry as we walked. But definitely go N+1 on socks, N being the minimum you need.
I can’t stress enough how nice it was to get into camp and be able to drink warm tea to get comfortable. 100% worth having a couple of herbal teabags in my pack, and if you’re a total weight weenie, I would suggest either using a bag for you + your partner, or bringing an actual chunk of ginger and using small pieces of it in boiling water to make proper ginger tea, so you can just bury the piece when you leave vs hauling the teabag out with you.
This tiny camp towel was great for the couple things I needed to dry, but also as a blanket around my legs and feet while we ate at night, and then as a spare blanket inside my sleeping bag at night. I loved it since my nylon sleeping bag is ultra-light (rated for cold weather, but with that lightweight nylon feel, it’s not perfect for me.)
A warm around-camp slipper
On this trip, I had a heavy set of socks that I wore over another pair of socks as my camp slipper, but I definitely wished I had something with a bit of a sole. After walking in my shoes for 40K, I had no desire to keep them on at night at camp, but walking on the cold, damp ground in socks wasn’t great either. I came home and ordered this pair of packable down booties with a rubber sole from Northface immediately. They’re super light and compact, but have just enough sole to walk around in at camp. LOVE.
Day 1, I froze my ass off in camp because I simply didn’t think to put my thin sweatpants over my tights. Day 2, like a genius, I did so, and holy crap I was warmer. Layer EVERYTHING. I honestly have no idea why it took me 24 hours to figure that out.
Just DO THE DAMN THING
Honestly, my best advice is to just try it. Bring as much warm clothing as you think you’ll need and get out there! Try a short trail or camp in your backyard first if you’re nervous, but it’s worth trying.