There are few things that compare to the brilliant shades of gold and crimson and the crisp air that only autumn can bring. Camping in the fall is our favorite time of year to get outside and sleep in a tent. As the warm summer nights turn to chilly campfire-filled evenings the great outdoors beckons more than ever during this time of transition.
That being said, proper preparation for your camping trip becomes more important during this cooler weather and changing conditions. You can’t just throw some gear into your car and head to a campground – you have to plan more in order to ensure your comfort and safety. Having the right clothing layers and sleeping gear can make or break a camping trip, so it’s essential that you learn how to pack properly.
We’ve spent countless days and night outdoors in the fall months, and throughout those years we’ve learned the importance of being well-prepared. From our first fall camping trip where we froze our butts off to our more recent adventures where we stayed comfortably warm, we’ve learned a lot along the way.
In this article, we’ll be sharing our fall camping checklist, which has been honed through years of trail and error. It will help you assemble all the extra gear you need for an incredible fall camping trip. Whether you’re planning to hike in the mountains or relax by a scenic lakeside, these essentials will keep you covered. So grab your favorite flannel, a warm mug of something tasty, and let’s dive into what you’ll need for your fall camping trip.
Note: For a complete list of all your camping essentials, check out our guide What To Bring Camping: The Ultimate Checklist.
Fall Camping Clothing
The clothes, footwear, and accessories you take on a fall camping trip are completely different from the ones in your normal summer camping duffel bag. Since you will experience a variety of temperatures throughout a single day (like cold mornings, sunny lunches, afternoon rains, chilly evenings, and cold nights), you need the right items that can keep you comfortable at all times.
Layers are king in fall camping. All of these different layers will help keep you warm, and you can take them on and off throughout the day and night so you can stay comfortable in a wide variety of temperatures and conditions.
There are three different kinds of layers: base layers, mid layers, and outer layers. They each have their own function, but together they form a versatile system that helps you adapt to the fluctuating weather.
A good base layer is your first line of defense against the chilly fall air. Lightweight fabrics like Merino wool and synthetic blends are designed to wick moisture away from your body so you can stay dry and warm. This isn’t the time for cotton – we recommend avoiding this material at all times for any outdoor activities.
Base layers don’t have to be undergarments – they can be your main layer or they can go underneath long sleeves and pants during colder weather. Just look for Merino wool, long-sleeved tops and comfortable bottoms that work well for you. We really love Smartwool base layers and their Classic All-Season series. Here’s the men’s top and bottoms, as well as the women’s top and bottoms.
A mid-layer traps heat and provides additional warmth to your base layer. Mid layers are usually made of thicker materials like fleece, down, or synthetic insulation. They usually take shape as a pullover, quarter zip, zip up sweater, or even a vest.
Your outer layer provides a protective shield against rain and wind, or perhaps even snow depending on where you are. This layer should be wind-proof and waterproof so not only does it protect you, but it also keeps your insulating under layers dry. Depending on the temperature of where you’re camping, this outer layer can range from a heavy winter jacket to a lightweight puffy.
Our favorite all-around out layer that goes absolutely everywhere with us is a puffy jacket. Expect to pay more for this piece of gear. BUYER BEWARE: the cheap ones on Amazon are complete crap. We spent more money on quality puffy jackets in the beginning, and we’re so glad we did.
We highly recommend this REI brand one (see men’s and women’s) since it’s the best value for your money. It’s the perfect compromise between high quality gear and an affordable price that will provide plenty of warmth for lots of fall adventures to come.
Footwear & Socks
The right footwear is much more than just a fashion statement, it’s a fundamental component of your fall camping clothes. Whether you’re hanging out at camp or traversing muddy trails through golden leaves, the proper shoes and socks will keep you and your feet warm, dry, and happy.
A good pair of hiking boots or shoes will help prevent twisted ankles, avoid wet feet, and provide grip in muddy conditions. Even if you’re just walking across the campground on the morning’s dew-kissed grass, a good pair of shoes are necessary in order to keep your feet dry. Invest in a good pair of shoes or boots and break them in before your trip, that way you can focus on the beauty of the season rather than any discomfort in your feet.
Don’t underestimate the power of a good pair of socks. If you’re hiking, camping, backpacking, or just generally spending any time outdoors, you should have high quality wool socks on your feet, especially during the cooler months. Avoid cotton socks at all costs- they hold on to moisture and make you feel colder. Instead, choose a Merino wool or wool blend and always pack extra socks so you have a spare dry pair at all times.
If you’re in a hurry, take a look at these Darn Tough socks in men’s and women’s. They have an amazing lifetime warranty and are remarkably comfortable. If you have some time, check out these posts on our sock recommendations:
- Best Hiking Socks to Prevent Blisters
- Best Hiking Sock Liners for Maximum Comfort
- Best Waterproof Socks For Hiking
Back Up Shoes
Having a pair of backup shoes is a strategy I’ve learned through experience. There might be occasions where your boots become soaked or damaged, and having a backup pair of trail runners or hiking shoes can be a lifesaver. Having a spare pair ensures that you won’t be left high and dry (or in this case, wet) if something goes awry with your primary boots.
After a long day of hiking, nothing feels quite as wonderful as slipping into a comfortable pair of camp shoes. I’ve enjoyed many an evening by the campfire, feet comfortably resting in my camp shoes, reflecting on the day’s adventures. Lightweight and packable, camp shoes are an often-overlooked comfort that can add a touch of luxury to your fall camping experience.
Clothing accessories might seem like minor details, but they play a significant role in shaping your fall camping experience. From the warmth of a good hat to the dry comfort provided by a reliable rain jacket, these accessories are the finishing touches that bring everything together. Don’t overlook these essential items; they might just become your favorite part of your fall camping gear.
Normally when you go summer camping you want a hat like a baseball cap or wide brimmed hat. But when you’re fall camping, you need something that’s meant to keep your head warm like a beanie. A significant amount of body heat can be lost through the head, and I’ve found that a snug-fitting beanie or wool hat can make a world of difference on a chilly autumn evening. When the temperature drops and the wind starts to bite, you’ll be grateful for this cozy addition to your gear.
Pro tip: If it’s going to be really cold, look for a beanie with a fleece lining.
Just like your head, your hands need protection from the crisp fall air, especially at nighttime and in the early morning hours. Gloves or mittens can provide the essential warmth to keep your fingers nimble and ready for tasks like cooking, setting up your tent, or even capturing those breathtaking fall landscapes with your camera.
We can’t stress the importance of always bringing a rain jacket when venturing outdoors. As much as we like to pretend that we can predict the weather, it’s still very possible to get caught off guard by a sudden shower here and there. Not only will a rain jacket keep you dry, but it can serve as an additional outer layer or wind breaker on top of your other layers.
Just like the puffy jacket above, you should expect to pay more for this essential piece of gear. Cheap rain jackets will leave you feeling like you’re in a personal sauna, but quality rain jackets will have a breathable membrane that keeps you dry and less sweaty on the inside. Check out The North Facoe Alta Vista Jacket (men’s and women’s) for superior quality at a great price.
Most of the year we pack a minimal amount of clothing for pajamas and have even had to sleep naked on sweltering summer nights. But during the fall months, you need to be prepared for chilly temperatures that can drop close to freezing on cold nights. A warm set of pajamas will keep you cozy without overheating, and it feels like a warm hug when the outside world is so chilly.
You can pack your own pajamas (we love fleece), or you can use under layers like thermal underwear as pajamas.
Fall Camping Gear
Beyond fall clothing, there’s a whole lot of extra camping gear you need for fall camping trips. Starting with your sleep setup, you’ll need upgraded products from your normal summer camping repertoire. There’s something other things you can use to stay warm, and we’ve also some other gear that you may not have considered before.
Investing in a solid waterproof tent, a warm sleeping bag, a reliable sleeping pad, and a versatile liner means that you can drift off under the autumn stars, secure in the knowledge that you’re well-prepared for whatever the night may bring. After all, a warm, well-rested camper is a happy camper, and these essentials ensure that you wake up ready to embrace another beautiful fall day in the great outdoors.
Waterproof Tent with Footprint
Fall weather is fickle, and between the rain and morning dew it can be hard to stay dry at all times. We talk a lot about the waterproof ratings on tents, but here in fall it can become even more important. Look for a tent that has a waterhead rating of at least 1200m+, which is the minimum requirement to be considered waterproof. If your tent doesn’t meet these requirements, you can upgrade or waterproof it yourself. Read more about tent waterproof ratings here.
On top of a good tent, you need to a footprint or tarp to pair it with. There’s almost constant water on the ground in the fall, especially when you combine the cool air with the body heat in your tent. Every time we go camping in the fall, we are surprised how wet our tent footprint is when we pack up. There’s no time like the present to start using a footprint, which helps protect your tent floor from moisture as well as extra wear and tear.
There’s a lot more that goes into picking a sleeping bag than you may realize. Sleeping bags have a temperature rating on them but sometimes that temperature rating is a “survival” rating, meaning it will help you survive those temperatures. You want to find the sleeping bag’s “comfort” rating, which is the temperature that you should be comfortable at.
If you’re a female looking at a unisex or male sleeping bag, then you should add fifteen degrees to that comfort rating. For example, a unisex bag rated for 30 degrees (F) for comfort would actually be 45 degrees (F) for a female.
You should also choose a bag that’s rated for at least ten to fifteen degrees lower than the temperatures you plan on encountering. This helps you stay comfortable even when the temperature drops below the expected amount. For example, a 30 degree (F) comfort-rated bag would be good for a male who is expecting overnight temperatures around 40-45 degrees (F).
Sleeping Bag Liner
A sleeping bag liner (like this one) can help increase your warmth by adding some degrees to your sleeping bag’s temperature rating. If you already have a sleeping bag and want to increase the rating, or if you want to add a protective layer to keep your sleeping bag cleaner, then we highly recommend this upgrade.
In summer camping, you can just use any type of sleeping pad or mattress that works for you, but that won’t cut it while fall camping. You should purchase something that has a high R-value, which is a rating of the pad’s ability to insulate you from the cold ground. We’ve learned the hard way that skipping on this piece of gear can to lead to a cold, uncomfortable night, so choose a pad with the right R-value for the conditions you’re going to encounter.
We use an Exped MegaMat (Derek’s top choice) and a HEST sleep system (Ashley’s top choice). Both of these are comfortable for car camping and have a high R-value to keep you warm. You can read my in-depth review of the HEST camping mattress for more info. This may be the most expensive piece of all your camping gear (besides your tent) but it’s well worth the warm and comfortable night’s sleep.
Stuff to Stay Warm
On top of having a high-quality sleep setup and warm pajamas, there’s some other things you should have to keep warm throughout the night.
We’re not talking about just any old water bottle, we’re talking about a big water bottle (like a Nalgene) that’s full of hot water. This is my favorite hack to stay warm in a tent and I couldn’t recommend it more. Simply boil some water right before bed, pour it into a Nalgene, then put that water bottle on your sleeping pad but under your sleeping bag. I put it near my feet, since that’s always my coldest body part. It stays warm for hours and makes an obvious difference in my comfort levels.
My heated camping blanket may be my favorite piece of cold weather camping gear I own. As a chronically cold human, I love having a battery operated heated blanket that provides hours of warmth even without access to electricity. It’s perfect for having around the campfire, in the chilly morning hours while you drink coffee, and even as an extra heat source at night while you’re sleeping.
While it’s not for everyone, there are some great tent heaters on the market that could heat your tent’s interior space on those cold fall nights. Whether you opt for a propane heater for use inside or outside your tent, or one of the many other options, these devices can provide some extra warmth when you need it.
Heated Camping Gear
On top of having a heated blanket and a tent heater, there’s lots of other kinds of heated camping gear currently available. Things like a heated camping chair, a heated vest, heated socks, or even a heated sleeping bag, there’s lots of battery operated items that provide warmth for hours on end.
There’s a ton of gear that falls into the “other” category on a regular camping checklist, but like we’ve already mentioned above, these are extra things you need specifically for fall camping. These are just some stuff you may not have already thought about, or perhaps you just take them for granted on summer camping trips.
As the days get shorter and cooler, the sun sets earlier and earlier every day. While summer nights run well past 8pm (or even later farther north), fall nights come quickly before you can even eat dinner. Not only does this mean you should be off trail earlier, but it also means you will need more lighting at camp so you can see in those dark evening hours.
You should pack head lamps, lanterns, and any other kinds of lighting you need in order to effectively make dinner, start a fire, and walk to the restroom. Bring extra batteries since these lights may run for longer than usual.
Fall Camping Cooking
One of my favorite parts of fall is the warm foods that heat you from the inside out, and fall camping is the perfect time to bring out some of these recipes. Warm drinks like hot cocoa, apple cider, tea, and a hot cup of morning coffee can bring you comfort while you breathe in the crisp, fresh air. For breakfast, our favorite recipe is hot oatmeal, and dinner recipes like stew and chili become staples.
Campfires are an essential part of any camping trip, and they’re easily the best part about fall camping. There’s nothing like crawling into bed while you smell like campfire smoke, and hanging out by the fire on a cool night is a special thing. Plus, campfires bring much-needed warmth after the sun sets.
This means you should bring everything you could possibly need for a campfire – and more. Make sure you bring plenty of firewood that’s locally sourced, as well as a lighter and fire starter. If you want to cook on the fire, bring tin foil and a cast iron skillet. And don’t forget the s’mores stuff!
Here’s some campfire tips you should learn:
- How to Build a Campfire
- How to Cook Over a Campfire: 10 Easy Steps
- Best Campfire Cooking Tools & Essentials You MUST HAVE
- How to Keep a Campfire Going All Night: 5 Easy Tips!
- How to Put Out a Campfire: Be a Responsible Camper
- How Hot is a Campfire? Turning Up the Heat
Fall is our favorite time of year to go camping, and we hope that by following these tips it will become your favorite time of year as well. Whether it’s heated camping gear to keep you warm, layered clothing that can go on and off depending on the temperature, or graham crackers for s’mores, taking the time to make a list of everything you could need for fall camping will help set you up for success on those chilly, cool nights.