Don’t put your tent and sleeping bags away just because the leaves are falling. No matter where you are in the country, fall is one of the best times of the year for a weekend camping trip: Warm days, cool nights, no bugs. If you love camping in the summer but have never tried a cooler weather trip, read on for our complete guide to fall camping.
Where to Stay
Chances are, you don’t have to venture far from home to find a great place to camp. One of the easiest options is to check out the state parks where you live. Most state park systems offer a range of camping amenities from tent sites, full RV hook-ups, and basic camper cabins. Looking to turn your weekend adventure into a road trip? Check out our favorite fall camping destinations—from the wild Maine coast to Washington state’s most stunning waterfalls.
Once you’ve landed on a destination and booked a site, the next order of business is making sure you have a place to sleep that’s right for the season. If you’re planning to camp in an RV or other type of camper, feel free to skip ahead this next section. As long as you have a site with electric hook-ups, you’ll be set for cool (or wet) weather. But if you’re a committed tent-camper, we have some recommendations that’ll keep you warm, dry, and most of all, comfortable.
Most tents that are used for summer camping are 3-season tents. This type of tent is designed to withstand a variety of weather conditions—spring through fall—while providing adequate ventilation. If you’re camping in a place where the fall weather is relatively mild, you’ll be perfectly comfortable in a standard 3-season tent. (In other words, you can use the same tent you brought on your July 4th camping trip.)
If your destination’s fall weather tends to be substantially cooler (or more wet), you may want to consider using a 3+ season tent. Also called an “extended season” tent, these tents have fewer mesh panels and vents which means they retain more warmth. They’re also designed to withstand more variable weather conditions such as wind and rain. Here are some extended season tents we recommend:
- Flytop 4-Season Tent: This model by Flytop claims to be a 4-season tent (meaning you could take it in the snow) but that seems a little ambitious. That said, it’s the perfect tent for fall—with waterproof construction and taped seams.
- ALPS Mountaineering Tent: With full-zip closure and minimal venting, this 3-person tent will help retain warmth on chilly fall nights.
- Marmot Crane Creek Tent: This tent’s spacious interior (well, for a backpacking tent) and full rain-fly offer the perfect combination of comfort and utility.
What to Pack
For the most part, fall camping gear doesn’t differ much from the gear you use during the summer. But here are some things to consider.
All sleeping bags come with a temperature rating that indicates their level of warmth. For instance, a bag with a 15-degree rating means that it was designed to keep the average person warm when the outside temp is 15 degrees or higher. Think about the average overnight lows where you plan to camp, then choose a sleeping bag with a temperature rating that’s a bit lower than that. The sleeping bag’s shape and type of insulation are also important. A mummy-style sleeping bag (complete with hood) will be warmer than a standard rectangle sleeping bag. And for insulation, while down is warmest, it’s also useless if it gets wet. With those factors in mind, these 3-season bags should keep you toasty wherever you go:
- Coleman Silverton Sleeping Bag: This mummy-style bag from Coleman is designed for warmth, from its drawstring hood to the draft guard that prevents heat from being lost through the zipper.
- Active Era Sleeping Bag: Active Era designed this 15-degree bag with a double layer of insulation and an internal storage pocket.
- Teton Sports Sleeping Bag: If you’re not interested in a mummy-style bag but still worry about warmth, this bag from Teton Sports is rated to 0 degrees and still comes with a drawstring hood.
Sleeping Pads or Mattresses
In the fall, dropping average temps means that the temperature of the ground gets cooler too. Make sure you have a sleeping pad between your sleeping bag and the ground. If you use an air mattress, the ground will cool the air inside it, so be sure to have a layer of insulation (an old blanket will do) between it and your air mattress.
- Therm-a-Rest Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-rest was a pioneer in the camping gear industry when they first started selling self-inflating sleeping pads in the 1970s—and they’re still selling them today. This is one of their basic models and is available in four sizes.
- Sleepingo Sleeping Pad: This self-inflating sleeping pad offers 2 inches of support and still packs down to an easy-to-stow size.
- Gear Works Sleeping Pad: This is also a self-inflating sleeping pad but its core is a mix of a foam insulating layer and air.
One significant difference between summer and fall camping is the amount of daylight. Keep in mind that with the sun setting earlier, you’ll likely be cooking dinner in the dark. Maybe sure you bring adequate task lighting for the job. Check our our guide to camp lighting or try one of these:
- Coleman LED Twin Lantern:This battery-powered lantern is great for lighting up the dinner table or your camp kitchen. It has customizable brightness settings and is water-resistant.
- Luci Ligh: Mpowered’s innovative solar lantern is inflatable (so you can pack it up when you’re done using it) and casts a bright glow. It’s also available in a range of colors.
- Energizer Headlamp: When you need a budget-friendly flashlight for camping, trail running, or fixing dinner past dark, this headlamp from Energizer is tough to beat.
Wind and rain can make it difficult to start a fire, but in cool weather it’ll be extra important to do just that. It will help to have a few things on hand that can give your fire-making skills a boost. See our tips for making easy homemade firestarters and don’t forget to add them to your packing list!
What to Wear
The most important principle to know about dressing for fall camping is layering. Fall weather tends to be variable—with sunny afternoons that have you wishing for shorts and cool evenings that make you shiver. The best fall wardrobe is one that consists of lightweight, breathable layers. Let’s break it down into the different parts:
The layer of clothing that’s closest to your skin is called a base layer. This should always be a thin, lightweight, moisture-wicking material such as polyester, nylon, or wool. Stay away from using cotton as a base layer if warmth is your goal. It will hold in moisture and will ultimately make you cold.
Consider this to be your insulating layer. After putting on a base layer, add a mid-weight layer of clothing such as a fleece jacket or sweater.
The last layer should be windproof or waterproof depending on the forecast. Choose a rain coat or another type of coat that’s made to stand up to wind and cooler temps.
Even if daytime temperatures will be warm, it’s a good idea to bring a warm hat and gloves when camping in the fall. Keep the hat near your sleeping bag in case you need it at night for extra warmth. It’ll help you retain heat.
What to Eat
If you think food tastes better outside, it tastes even better after a long hike on a crisp fall day. Here are some of our favorite camp recipes—for fall or any time of year: