7 Helpful Fall Backpacking Tips

7 Helpful Fall Backpacking Tips

For many people Autumn or Fall signals the end of the backpacking season.  The changing season brings cold weather, snow, and rain and many other things that are undesirable to your average fair-weathered Backpacker.  Their packs to be hung on the wall in limbo till spring returns with the new year.  For us, it means nothing more than changing a few of the contents of our packs and re-calibrating our expectations and goals.

#7 Check the weather report but never rely on it:

During the Fall and Winter months, the weather can be very unpredictable and as we all know, a long-term forecast is mostly just an educated guess for by local Weatherman at best.  When it comes to cold weather, always hope for the best but prepare for the worst! This can save your life.  Weather at higher elevations can change in an instant leaving you vulnerable to anything from severe lightning storms to sub-zero temperatures and snow.  Be prepared for anything and always have an emergency plan.

#6 Dress and pack appropriately:

Since Fall is a transition between Summer and Winter, the days can be very hot while the nights can get extremely cold. Because of the radical fluctuation in temperature and weather, it is very important to pack clothing and shelter to endure both ends of the spectrum. This in turn translates into more weight for you to carry but is worth the effort. 

Inspect and repair your Outerwear.  Your rain gear, coat, boots, gloves, and hat are your main level of protection against the elements and therefore deserve a good inspection before packing them.  Repair or replace the items that have holes or tears in them.  Rain gear with holes will allow you to get wet putting you at risk for hypothermia.  Boots that leak and allow your feet to get wet can be the source of blisters and foot problems.  Check the tread on them to make sure they will give you adequate traction for wet conditions and use a reliable sealer for waterproofing regularly.  Be sure that your rain gear includes rain pants.  A simple rain poncho works well to keep you dry from the falling rain but does no good for the wet underbrush or deep snow that you are walking through. 

During the Fall and Winter seasons, there are fewer daylight hours.  This means that you will be relying on your artificial lighting more than during the Summer months.  Pack extra batteries for your flashlight keep in mind that batteries won't last as long in the colder weather.  You will also burn more fuel with your backpack stoves during cold weather so be sure to bring
extra.

#5 Include a cover for your Backpack:

Depending on the type of backpack that you have, it may or may not be completely waterproof.  Older packs will sometimes lose some of their ability to shed water due to exposure to UV sunlight or physical damage. It never hurts to seal your cover using Camp Dry or some other form of sealer approved by your manufacturer to protect it from moisture.  Having a cover will keep it and its contents from getting wet but also allows you to keep your backpack outside of your shelter during rain and snowstorms.  Hiking with the cover on can also reduce the weight by repelling excess water instead of absorbing it.

#4 Use a quality sleeping Pad:

One very important item that is commonly minimized when speaking about backpacking is your sleeping pad.  Many times it is discarded to save weight or so thin that it has minimal insulation value.  For cold weather camping, a good quality sleeping pad can be the difference between restful sleep and listening to your teeth chatter all night.  More important than the comfort factor, the insulation barrier between you and the cold hard ground can save you.  A good rule of thumb is "The colder the weather - the thicker your pad".  Your sleeping bag is vital to your survival but while sleeping, your body compresses the bottom side of the sleeping bag thus reducing or even eliminating most of its insulation value, and therefore the need for additional insulation is provided by your pad.  This also applies to the tree-dwelling hammock sleepers.  You may be off of the ground but may still fall victim to the same laws of physics as the rest of us.

#3 Increase ventilation to reduce condensation:

Condensation is the change of the physical state of matter from a gas into a liquid and is the reverse of vaporization. It can also be defined as the change from water vapor to liquid water when in contact with any surface.  ultimately, condensation can make a bad night worse.  Condensation is unavoidable in most cases but you can take steps to minimize the effects on your equipment using ventilation.  When purchasing a tent, be sure to get one that has good ventilation flaps or at least a screen top with a rain fly that will allow you to regulate it.  Keep equipment and sleeping bags away from the inside of your tent walls.  Never sleep in wet clothes. Keep your wet clothes and equipment outside of your tent.  Don't sleep with your head inside your sleeping bag.  If at all possible, sleep on your back so your breath goes straight up and out the top of your tent.  During the daylight hours, open up your sleeping bag and let it and your sleeping pad air out, and allow any moisture to completely dry before packing them.

#2 Sleep with hot water in your bottle:

A canteen or bottle filled with warm water is a great way to stay warm even if only for a while.  It can make the difference between getting to sleep or not.  You can heat up water using your backpack stove or a campfire then pour the water into your water bottle.  Be sure that the water is not too hot because it may burn you or damage your water bottle.  Put your cap on tight and test for leakage before you put it in your sleeping bag.  The last thing you want to do is to crawl into your bed and find a puddle of water!

#1 Use Common Sense:

Most tragedies that happen while backpacking could have been avoided with a little common sense.  Too many people are injured or die due to a lack of experience or good judgment. If you find yourself needing a selfie with a grizzly bear then maybe backpacking just isn't the best form of recreation for you.

Hypothermia is a big one - Around 1300 people die every year from hypothermia. Besides physical effects on your body, it attacks your mind and decision-making abilities, and therefore having a second opinion concerning life-or-death situations is always a good idea...Hence you should never Backpack alone in cold weather.  Always take someone with you and always let someone know where you are going and what time to expect you back.

These are the types of things that I would consider to fall under the category of common sense.  Too much money and too many resources are pissed away on rescue or recovery efforts by authorities.  Even with the vast amount of volunteers that turn out for these events, they are extremely expensive and most of the time the situation could have been easily avoided had the victim applied a little common sense during or before the trip began.
 
If you have known health issues that could be a potential problem, a history of poor judgment, a flawed sense of direction, a blistering need for attention, a death wish, or if you are just really stupid, then do us all a favor and either take the proper precautions or just stay in the city where you will be safe from mother nature and your neighbors will not have to pay to have you rescued or your carcass extracted.

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