Fall is the perfect time to hit the trail. The summer heat has died down and you can spend the whole day exploring without having to stop for shade in the middle of the day. Granted, the days are slightly shorter, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing at least as much as possible throughout the summer.
But with these shorter days come cooler conditions and more changeable weather systems. One moment you’re shoving your way through strips of scorched orange leaves, the next you’re pulling your hood over your eyes and trying to find shelter. Fall hiking requires a different gear setup than summer hiking, so let’s look at the essentials of fall hiking.
Autumn hike: what to wear?
Hiking in the fall requires a different clothing configuration for hot summer days. When the weather is warm enough, you can hit the trail in a breathable t-shirt and shorts, pull on some running shoes, and go for hours. Knowing what to wear while hiking is invaluable, especially when the weather starts to turn, so here are our tips for fall hiking days.
With such changeable weather, you never know what’s going to be thrown at you. By using a layering system, you can better regulate your temperature and adapt to all conditions. Start at the bottom, with a merino wool shirt. Merino wool has excellent breathability and temperature control, plus the added benefit that it locks in odors so you don’t stink after a day on the trails.
When it comes to choosing your mid layers, remember that you are going to be active on the trail. A thick fleece or insulated jacket can cause you to overheat, and a more active fleece like thewill help you regulate temperature and humidity more effectively. Keep an insulated jacket with you to throw on when you take a break so you don’t get too cold to start again.
Ditch the shorts
If you’re going for a full day on the trail in the fall, you’ll need good quality hiking pants. Shorts are great for hiking in hot weather, but keeping your legs protected and warm is key to full-body comfort. If you’re heading out for a night hike or it’s especially cold on the trail, you can add a pair of merino thermal base layers to get the same layering benefits as your upper half.
To start up
Like shorts, it might be time to ditch the trail runners when you go hiking in the fall. Waterproof hiking boots are not only a better option to keep rain and puddles from soaking your feet, but they also provide better support on rough, wet ground. A twisted ankle on a remote trail in the fall can see you sitting in the rain for hours, waiting for help. Better to wear boots from the start unless you are planning a fast day.
Don’t forget the socks
The best-fitting hiking boot is useless if you don’t have the right socks underneath. Like every other posing system, it should start with a pair of hiking socks made from – you guessed it – merino wool. It really is so good that we recommend it for your feet too. You sweat a lot while you walk and your feet take a lot of abuse. Cushion them, let them breathe, and keep them comfortable, and they’ll keep you walking blister-free for hours.
Autumn hike: what to put in your suitcase?
It’s time to replace your hydration pack you’ve been relying on for the summer with your favorite hiking backpack. With varying weather conditions and shorter days, you will need to take more gear with you on your hike. Here’s our list of things to pack for the fall hike.
Waterproof jacket and pants
They might not leave your bag for four consecutive hikes, but on that day when the forecast is wrong, you’ll be glad you took your waterproof jacket and pants with you. A lightweight set of raincoats can weigh less than 2 pounds – barely noticeable in your pack – and will keep you dry in an unexpected downpour. If you’re the kind of hiker who will go out no matter what – even in a heavy downpour – you’ll benefit from a tougher set of raincoats designed for the harshest conditions.
A spare diaper can save your life. Maybe you misjudged your distances, or maybe you got a blister and it’s slowing you down. If you find yourself walking longer – and at a slower pace – than expected, you will calm down. Insulated jackets are compact, weigh very little and can warm you up quickly. Synthetic insulation is usually a better choice. Although it weighs a little more than down, it stays warm when wet and won’t suffer long-term damage from soaking.
Hat, gloves, neck warmer
Take a beanie, light gloves and a neck warmer in your bag. The weight is barely noticeable, but you never know when they’ll come in handy. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a hot body, cozy legs, and frozen fingers or ears. These three elements could be the missing piece of the puzzle for extreme comfort during the fall hike. They are also invaluable if you find yourself lost, stranded, or need to help another hiker in trouble.
The days get shorter every year, but every year it surprises us. Suddenly it’s six o’clock and the sun has set, you’re on the trail trying to make your way to the trailhead parking lot using your phone’s meager flashlight. Surely it’s easier to throw a headlamp in your backpack so you always have a hands-free light to get home. Don’t forget to check the batteries or recharge before you go.
Nutrition and hydration
Eating well and staying hydrated is just as important in the fall as it is in the summer. When the sun isn’t beating down on you, it can be hard to remember to drink enough water to stay focused. It is important to drink small amounts regularly, as you will continue to lose moisture through sweating. Pack at least one bottle of water, and if there are no refill points in the way, consider a portable filter rather than carrying excess weight in the water.
One thing most people won’t struggle with is staying powered on the go. Eating guilt-free is one of the best parts of a long day of hiking, and there are endless snacks to choose from. Carry extra food at the bottom of your backpack in case of an emergency. That way, if you get stuck, lost, or go longer than expected, you have some calories with you to stay warm and keep moving. If you’re not in an emergency, reward yourself by eating that extra chocolate bar or slice of cake when you get back to your car. Then be sure to replace it for next time.