While everyone heads outdoors in summer, camping and getting out there in the fall can be equally awesome. The trees, the freshness of a dewy morning, and bundling up around a warm fire at the end of the day are all experiences heightened by the season’s temperature and scenery. Unlike summer, however, camping in the fall requires some know-how—you can’t just pass out under the stars. Well, you can, but you’ll wake up extremely cold and wet. If you follow these eight tips, your fall adventure is sure to be a good one.
Hang a tarp
Learning the art of hanging a tarp isn’t difficult, but it is extremely useful. Whether you’re stringing it over your tent to keep off the rain or providing extra shelter for the daytime, a tarp is a “don’t leave home without it” kind of item. With four straps or pieces of rope, four trees, and a couple of simple knots, you should be able to tie one up pretty quickly. Placing a paddle or stick at the centre of the tarp can prevent pooling during snow storms, heavy downpours, and frost.
Find the perfect site
Finding a good campsite is key to having a great outdoor experience. But there are some basic rules you have to follow to find one: Don’t camp in a depression that will fill with water during a downpour, and think about exposure—if the wind picks up, will you be exposed to it? Are tides an issue? Will wind blow sparks from your fire toward your tent? Finding a good campsite is all about using common sense and thinking ahead. Try to predict as many weather scenarios as you can and prepare accordingly.
Don’t sleep directly on the ground
Once you’ve found your campsite it’s time to set everything up. If you’re using a tent, it’s always a good idea to use some kind of groundsheet first. This will prevent condensation from building up inside your tent, and if it rains it’ll help you stay dry. Once again, the set up is all about common sense and thinking ahead. If you don’t have a Therm-a-Rest, placing some cedar boughs under the tent will help you stay warm overnight. Make sure you pack a warm sleeping bag and don’t sleep directly on the ground, as it’s sure to send a deep shiver throughout your body.
Start a solid fire
A great way to start a fire is to use a forearm-sized log as a base and windscreen. Next light your tinder (birch bark is an amazing fire starter in just about any weather condition). Once it’s lit, stack smaller kindling against the larger log, then allow oxygen to pass through and feed the flames. Continue adding larger and larger pieces of wood until your fire is hot enough to use large logs.
Always have a help signal
If your cellphone battery is dead and you’re injured (or if you don’t have service at all), it’s good to know how to get a signal in the woods. When technology fails you, the most effective way to do this is with a smoke signal. To create one, start a fire in a clear spot somewhere, like on a hilltop or in a clearing in the forest. Once you have the fire going, put a fresh pine bough above it to create thick smoke. If you’ve got a plane flying overhead, this is the best way to get their attention.
Keep water on hand
In Canada, finding water is rarely an issue. We’re blessed with so much fresh water that it seems like the stuff is everywhere. But not all of it is drinkable. In fact, some water will make you downright sick. The easiest, most surefire way to make sure the water is safe is to boil it. The guidelines on how long you have to boil water have changed over the years, but doing so for around three minutes should make it safe to consume.
Dress in layers
Staying warm makes all the difference when it comes to comfort, but in the fall it can be kind of tricky; days are hot, while nights can drop below zero. In this kind of weather it’s all about layering and staying dry. If you start sweating during the day, lose a layer. Once you’re wet, you’ll eventually be cold. A base layer should be worn at nearly all times. And if any of your clothing gets wet, take it off and try to dry it over a fire.
Make some java
Some would argue coffee is one of the most important items to pack for a camping adventure, and nothing tastes better first thing on a fall morning in the woods than a hot coffee. If you don’t have the coffee-making gear, simply pour some grinds into a pot of boiling water (remove from the heat) and enjoy a gritty boost of caffeine the way the cowboys used to drink it.