The nights are cooler, the days are shorter and winter is just around the corner. But just because summer is on its way out doesn’t mean you have to retire your outdoor gear quite yet.
Summer is a popular time to hit the trails with friends and family for an overnight camping trip, but fall can be just as enjoyable. Crisp air, fiery foliage, less foot traffic and a dwindling mosquito population makes fall one of the best seasons to spend outdoors.
But before you roll up your sleeping bag, there are a few more steps you need to take to combat chillier nights and keep yourself safe on the trail.
In September and October, colder days plus frosty overnight lows can spell hypothermia. To avoid running the risk of becoming sick while camping in the fall, Meg Miller, an avid hiker, biker and camper, said it is important to wear layers.
“Layering is huge because if you get hot and sweaty, then you get cold when you stop moving around,” said Miller, who also has experience with outdoor gear and clothing in her work at the Alpine Shop in Middlebury.
For a base layer, Miller recommends a synthetic poly or wool. Wool, she said, regulates temperature very well.
“If you get damp, you stay warm regardless,” said Miller. “If you start with a base layer that wicks, you’re in really good shape.”
The next layer should be made of fleece or a material that will keep you warm. For insulation, Miller suggests synthetic down because if it gets wet, it doesn’t pack together — plus, she said, synthetic down is much thinner. Finally, the last layer should be waterproof.
But the clothing doesn’t end there. Steven Atocha, owner of Middlebury Mountaineer, said it is not only important to wear layers during the day, but it is also necessary to wear some extra clothing at night. You can add 10 to 15 degrees to your sleeping bag by wearing long underwear, socks and a wool hat, he said.
To keep you powered up for hikes in colder weather during the day, Atocha suggests packing a little more food and water than in the summertime. When the temperature drops, your body burns more calories to stay warm, so, said Atocha, if you have more food, the better off you are. Also, Atocha recommends bringing more water on the trail because a lot of times streams that were marked in a guide book might be dry in the fall. Plus, in cooler conditions, it can be more difficult to tell that you’re dehydrated.
“In the summer you’re sweating a lot and you can tell,” said Atocha. “In the fall, you might be sweating into your clothes and you can’t tell you’re dehydrated. So you want to make sure you’re drinking enough water.”
When Atocha goes camping in the fall he likes to warm up by drinking warm fluids like soup or hot chocolate. To heat up his food, Atocha usually brings along a small camping stove, no bigger than a deck of cards. Atocha recommends bringing a small cooking pot that can serve as a pot, skillet and cup all in one. It’s also important to bring enough fuel to keep your stove going, he said.
Now that you have your clothing and food sorted out, think about shelter. Atocha said fall camping does not call for a winter tent, which is designed to hold heavy snow loads. Instead, a three-season tent will do the job.
And if you don’t have a tent, no problem, said Atocha. There are shelters along the Long Trail that range in size and can hold anywhere from five to 16 people. Some are three-sided lean-tos, while others are closed in with four walls.
“If you don’t have a tent, the Green Mountain Club does a fantastic job with hut systems along the trail,” he said.
The Green Mountain Club is also responsible for maintaining the Long Trail, which Atocha said he likes to hike in the fall. He recommends taking a trip to the Skylight Pond Trail, a 2.5-mile hike between Ripton and Lincoln. You can camp at U.S. Forest Service Mount Moosalamoo Campground, and for a little side journey, The Natural Turnpike is a great walk, he added.
“You’ll see moose this time of year,” said Atocha. “I’ve seen them wading the in a pond.”
Heading south on the Long Trail toward the Middlebury Gap, Atocha said you would see a large rock that can be a great place to have a picnic or watch the sun set with a spectacular view of the Adirondacks.
“And with the fall foliage, it’s absolutely stunning,” said Atocha. “But you don’t want to be out there with kids because it slopes away really fast.”
Mt. Abraham in Lincoln is also a great hike. But be careful of the rock scramble near the top, said Atocha. “The top of Mt. Abe has a 360-degree view — to the west you can see the Adirondacks, to the northeast, the White Mountains in New Hampshire. But it gets windy.”
The Emily Proctor and Cooley Glen Trails in the Green Mountains lay about eight miles east of Middlebury. The trail head is in Lincoln on Forest Road 201. Atocha recommends these trails if you are looking for a longer hike that can easily be split into two days. These trails provide a long loop, where Atocha hikes one day for four miles and the next day for nine miles. Here you can see beautiful mountain views, and enjoy convenient shelters and an atmosphere of secluded wilderness.
To view the most wildlife while hiking in the fall, Atocha said mid-week is the best time to hit the trails before leaf-peepers come on the weekends.
Besides layers to keep you warm and enough food and water, camping in the fall is not much different than in the summer, except for one thing — fewer mosquitoes. This, said Atocha, is his favorite thing about fall camping — not to mention the foliage.