You don't need to be putting your outdoor gear away just because it is fall. There are many benefits to camping when the leaves change color, the crowds leave the park and the temperature starts to drop. Most insects have died off or have reduced their activity. Less people mean that perfect campsite is going to be easier to find. Crisp air, crystal clear skies and changing plant life offer new experiences and sights at your favorite park.
However fall camping doesn't come without risks. A man has already died this year, while camping in the mountains of Colorado, when five inches of snow blanketed his camp. Being prepared and educated will help you have a great time as the temperature continues to go down and the days get shorter. Here are ten common pitfalls to camping in the fall and how to avoid them.
Don't get caught in the snow. In most mountainous areas of the United States at least a light dusting of snow has fallen above 7,000 feet. If you are going to be camping at altitude be very aware of the weather forecast. A chance of rain where you live may mean dangerous conditions at higher elevations. Getting snowed on in the backcountry can collapse your tent, soak your gear, and can cause a number of risks and dangers.
Don't get left shivering. Make sure that your sleeping bag is temperature appropriate for the conditions. Remember adding more clothes won't help you stay warm; it actually can make you colder. If you don't have a mummy style sleeping bag sleep with a hat on, 50% of body heat is lost through your head. Use a sleeping pad to keep the chill of the ground away, foam based pads will provide better insulation than an air mattress.
Cooking time, cooking time, cooking time. Try to keep your meals simple. Remember colder temperatures mean longer cooking times. You're going to consume more fuel and energy trying to get a pot of water to boil or cooking complex meals. Keep a lid on the pots when you are cooking.
Watch the weight. Keep in mind that warmer clothing is going to mean added weight which means more stress on your body. Don't go crazy packing for every emergency, but be prepared for what nature has to offer and cut back on how far you can travel in a day.
Look out for bears. Keeping a clean campsite, whether you are in the frontcountry or the backcountry is critical this time of the year. Bears can spend as much as 20 hours a day foraging for food during these last few weeks of fall. If you camp in the backcountry set up your camp in a triangle, cooking in one spot, storing your food in another (in a bear proof container) and camping in yet a third. You should keep these three areas 100 yard apart unless the campsite you are at provides different instructions.
Watch out for bees. In areas where there has been a hard frost bee activity should be limited. If the area you plan to go camping in is still having warm sunny afternoons, be very careful around bees. Just like bears they too know winter is coming and are more aggressive during this time of the year.
Be ready for the wind. Fall brings strong cold fronts across the United States. Behind these cold fronts strong winds wrap around powerful Canadian highs pressure areas bringing cold temperatures, crystal clear skies and a lot of wind. Your A-Frame tent might be great in the summer, but could have a hard time in the wind. Make sure you stake your tent securely; they have been known to blow away even with gear and people inside of them!
Stay dry. Don't underestimate the power of hypothermia. If the air temperature plus the water temperature is less than 120 degrees combined, getting wet can put you at risk for getting hypothermia. If the combined temperature is less than 100 degrees, you can be at grave risk. With daytime highs reaching only into the 50'ies and 60'ies in most parts of the country, treat getting wet as an emergency. If you are getting to your favorite campsite by canoe or kayak consider wearing a wet or dry suit if appropriate.
Don't end up in the dark. Remember that as we get deeper into fall not only will the weather get cooler and more unpredictable, the days are getting shorter. If you're planning to camp in the Pacific Northwest, the Northern Plains or the New England states this can be a pretty dramatic effect. In Alaska, already shivering in the cold, the endless days are getting ready to turn into endless nights. Give yourself enough time to arrive at your campsite during daylight hours so you don't end up hiking in the dark.
If the weather sours don't panic. If you are camping in the backcountry and the weather turns sour, don't panic. Attempting to hike out during a snowstorm or a dense fog can have tragic results. If you followed rule number two about being prepared for the cold, you are probably better off riding out the storm. Just make sure that you follow rule number eight and don't get wet. Also make sure you don't let snow accumulate on your tent so the weight doesn't collapse it.