Published: October 24th 2012October 24th 2012
I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.
Autumn is probably the best season of the year in which to spend some quality time in the great out of doors. As anybody who has spent October in central Kentucky, you probably already know that there are few places on earth more autumnly awesome than right here. And yes, I most certainly just made up that phrase, but this season has a tendancy to create exhaltations of glee, frequently involving the word "awesome". The colors are breath-taking, the temperature can be "just right" (i.e. usually somewhere between the surface-of-the-sun heat in mid June and the wet cloudy cold that is January), everything smells fantastic, and even the wind sounds like it is singing.
However, when you're camping in autumn (just like in any other season), a little preparation and planning ahead goes a long way. To that end, and in order to make your own autumn excursions worthy of such aforementioned exclamations (try saying that bit 10 times fast...), here are a few things that you'll want to make sure that you think about before your next trip:
1) Fall weather is pretty dang nutty...
It's true. Compared to the other seasons, fall is more than a little tempermental. The summer can be uncomfortably hot (or comfortably warm too I suppose), but you can usually expect it to at least be consistantly "shorts weather". It's easy to pack for that. Winter has similar considerations. Not necessarily the warm part, but the easy to pack bit. You just need to make sure that you bring some warm clothes. While camping in the fall however, you have to be prepared for just about anything. You could wake up to a sub-freezing morning with all of your gear covered in frost, play all day in upper 60s or even low 70s, have dinner in a light jacket, and be shivering by the time you hit the hay. Add rain to this and you have a fairly challenging situation. The solution can be summed up in on word - layering. Essentially, you have to be able to add warm layers (fleece, jackets, etc) over your other layers without having to take something else off first. When it starts to heat up, you'll want to peel off layers individual like you would with an onion, without removing too much all at once and getting cold. Also on the clothing bit, you should try to avoid cotton. With all of this temperature change throughout the day, you might not pull off a layer as quickly as you should, and start to sweat. If you are wearing cotton clothing - especially right up against your skin - and you sweat it will be remarkably more challenging to find your right body temperature due to cottons somewhat frusterating ability to retain any and all moisture. No bueno.
2) Don't light your face on fire...
Fires are great. Especially during the fall. They are warm, and comfortable, and smell great too. You should have fires in the fall. Also in the fall, leaves turn brilliant colors and then dry out and fall to the ground. These leaves make excellent fire starters, sometimes even when you don't want them to. It is of the utmost importance to minimize campfire impacts. This means that you should always try to find a pre-made, designated campfire area, and to make sure that it is clear of flamable debris. If there is no designated area available, seriously consider whether it is still important for you to have a fire. If it is, make sure that you select an appropriate location. You'd be looking for a place without lots of overhanging branches or bushes. You'll also want to only burn sticks that are smaller than your wrist, burn them all the way down to ash, and then make sure that it is cool to the touch before you go to bed. That way, you'll have a great time, and you won't make Smokey the Bear cry. Nobody wants to make Smokey cry.
3) Keep your food to yourself...
Nothing beats a delicious bowl of some hot food after a long day in the wilderness. Turns out though that you're not the only one who might appreciate that. Animals during the fall are trying load up on food to prep for the winter. What does this mean for you? Basically, if you give wildlife the opportunity to get some of your chow, they will take that opportunity. Some people might think that it would be cute for animals to take some of your food. However, it not only ruins your food (which is no fun), it also makes the animals used to humans. If this happens, not only can they lose the ability to find food for themselves, but they might even become dangerous to humans. To avoid this, be sure to respect wildlife. It is important to make sure that you pack out all of your trash, learn how to set up a bear hang if there are bears where you are, and don't ever feed the animals.
Fall camping is the best camping of the year. Wilderness travel during the autumn can lead to beautiful views, the best stars you can find, fantastic meals, fires that you actually want to get close to, and some life long memories. Just a little bit of planning and prep can help you avoid being frozen out, building an uncontrolable fire, and losing all of your food to hungry animals.