25 Essential Fall Camping Tips

Get prepared and stay warm with our best fall camping tips including how to plan, what to pack, fun activities and meal ideas

The summer crowds have dispersed, but it's still prime camping season. Get prepared and learn how to stay warm with these fall camping tips.

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Just because it’s fall doesn’t mean camping season has to be over. In fact, camping in the fall can be gorgeous with bursting colors, fewer crowds, and nice campsites that would be impossible to score in the busy summer season. It’s honestly my favorite season to camp.

Sure temperatures may be cooler and the days shorter, but with these fall camping tips, we’ll make sure you’re ready for an epic autumn camping trip under the stars. And if you need even more suggestions, head over to our cold weather camping post.

Read on for our best tips that will help you prepare and know what to pack so you can enjoy being outside without freezing your butt off.

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    Preparing for Fall Weather Conditions

    Weather in fall is unpredictable. Days can be hot and nights very chilly, and getting caught in rain or snow (depending on your location) is always a risk. Here are tips to help you prepare for changing fall weather conditions

    1. Check the weather

    One of the most important fall camping tips is to check the weather before you leave home, especially as the seasons begin to change.

    Hopefully, you’ll get clear sunny days, but knowing what to expect will help you pack accordingly.

    Once you’re at camp, if you don’t have cell service, you can use a Garmin Mini to pull up the forecast for your local area if you have one.

    2. Arrive at camp early

    The sun sets much earlier in the fall, so in order to make the most of your first evening at camp, plan to arrive early enough to set up camp and make dinner before the sun goes down. This way by the time it gets cold, you’ll be done with the hard work so you can get cozy in your warm clothes around the campfire.

    3. Pack a propane fire pit

    I much prefer a wood campfire, but these days due to increasing wildfire risk, I consider a propane fire pit to be a safer bet. They crank plenty of heat, there’s no smoke blowing in your face, and you don’t have to worry that the last person up will douse it with water when it’s time for bed. You just have to make sure you bring a full propane tank that will last through the evenings.

    I personally love the Lavabox (*Use the code BEARFOOT at checkout to get 10% off*). It’s a compact propane firepit built into an ammo-can. It takes up very little room in your car and gets very hot.

    lavabox propane firepit next to a sprinter van in moab
    A propane firepit is a safe and easy way to stay warm while fall camping

    4. Bring some string lights

    With the sun setting so early, you can create a nice ambiance at camp by hanging some string lights around camp. This way you don’t have to have your headlamp on the entire evening.

    These MPowered Luci String Lights can be charged by USB or solar, don’t tangle too easily, and can last up to 40 hours on a single charge.

    Sprinter Camper Van parked at a campsite at night with two camp chairs set up next to a campfire with string lights hanging for a nice ambiance
    String lights create a nice ambiance without having to use your headlamp

    5. Pack your rain fly

    Even if rain isn’t predicted, be sure to bring your tent’s rainfly and an extra tarp or footprint that fits under your tent. The weather can change rapidly in the fall and you just never know! 

    In addition to weather protection, the rainfly also adds warmth by reducing the cross breeze in your tent at night and trapping in some heat.

    6. Bring a tarp

    If the weather forecast calls for rain, bring a tarp and know how to set it up before you get to camp. This Kammok Kuhli Shelter will keep you dry at camp if it starts to rain. You’ll be thankful you have somewhere dry to relax and cook dinner other than being cooped up in your tent.

    Shop the Kammok Kuhli Shelter at:

    This tarp was a lifesaver on my rainy Alaska backpacking trip in Lake Clark National Park

    What to Wear Camping in Fall

    In fall, you can get huge swings in temperatures. It might be in the upper 60s during the day and down in the 30s at night. Nothing ruins a camping trip like freezing your buns off the whole time. Learn what to wear in changing temps with the fall camping tips below.

    7. Layer Layer Layer

    The key is to layer, layer, layer. Assuming you are car camping and you can easily throw in a few additional items, it’s always better to pack a little extra warmth just in case. Just like when you’re hiking, I recommend synthetic materials for your outerwear and either synthetic or wool for base layers. Avoid cotton as it doesn’t retain heat if it gets wet and takes a long time to dry.

    Pack the following clothes for the evenings on your fall camping trip:

    Kristen walking away from camera on shore of lake in the fall with mist over water
    Packing lots of layers is the key to staying warm and dry on fall camping trips

    8. Have an extra pair of clothes dedicated for sleep

    If it ends up raining and you get wet, you don’t want to go to bed in damp clothing. Always pack an extra pair of clothes and socks that you can wear in your sleeping bag.

    9. Bring camp slippers

    Pro fall camping tip right here. Insulated camp slippers are a game changer for fall camping. I own the Oboz Whakata Puffy Slippers, and they help keep my feet warmer and more comfortable than wearing my hiking boots around camp all night.

    Woman with a dog sitting in her lap in the desert
    I’m wearing the Oboz Whakata Puffy Slippers. Side note: a dog can also keep you warm 🙂

    10. Pack waterproof hiking boots

    In summer, waterproof hiking shoes or boots can get a little stuffy, but in fall, you’ll be glad you have them. Not only are they warmer, providing more insulation in chilly temperatures, if it does rain, you won’t end up with soggy, cold feet. My favorite comfy waterproof hiking boots for fall are the Oboz Sypes.

    Hiking boots also provide traction if the ground is slippery at camp.

    Oboz Sypes hiking boots on the ground with fall leaves
    I wore my Oboz Sypes while camping in Vermont in the fall

    Staying Warm While You Sleep

    Staying warm on your fall camping trip is essential for a good night’s sleep at camp. So we have a few fall camping tips for staying snug at night. Aside from having warm base layers and socks to sleep in, a cold-weather sleeping bag and sleeping pad are essential.

    11. Check your sleeping bag’s temperature rating

    Every sleeping bag has a temperature rating and it’s important you understand what that rating means.

    For example, a 30-degree bag means that if it gets down to 30 degrees, you won’t totally freeze. But it doesn’t mean you’ll be nice and toasty if it’s 30 degrees out. A 30-degree bag at 30 degrees is going to make for a very long and chilly night. I personally get cold very easily, so if I am going to camp in 30-degree weather, I would want a 0 or 10-degree bag.

    Before you leave on your autumn camping trip, make sure to check your sleeping bag’s temperature rating (you can usually find it somewhere printed on your bag) and make sure it’s appropriate for what the forecast is calling for.

    If you need a new sleeping bag, check out our list of the Best Sleeping Bags for Backpacking. Another cheap solution is to simply bring extra blankets from home (in addition to your sleeping bag), rent a sleeping bag, or add a sleeping bag liner to your sleeping bag.

    12. Consider a Double Sleeping Bag or Quilt

    If you are camping with a significant other, consider using a double sleeping bag or quilt. The body heat will help you stay much warmer at night compared to sleeping in a single sleeping bag.

    Ryan and I use the Enlightened Equipment 2-person Accomplice Quilt. It attaches to your sleeping pad with a pair of straps and clips and each person can open or close their side to regulate their own temperature.

    If you choose a quilt, just make sure to go to bed with clothes on, otherwise your bare body will be touching your sleeping pad, which I don’t find very comfortable.

    If you’re looking for a cozy double sleeping bag, the REI Siesta Double sleeping bag is very warm and great for car camping.

    Enlightened Equipment two person sleeping quilt for backpacking
    This is Ryan and I’s double quilt setup which is surprisingly warm and comfortable

    13. Pack an Insulated Sleeping Pad

    Another term you’ll want to know is the insulation value of your sleeping pad. Most sleeping pads measure this via an R-value, and a higher number (3.5+) will provide more insulation from the cold ground.

    My go-to sleeping pad for fall camping is the NEMO Roamer Sleeping Pad. It’s extra thick, extra warm, and extra comfy. For lighterweight sleeping pad recommendations, head to my post about the best sleeping pads for backpacking.

    If your sleeping pad has a lower R-value and you don’t want to invest in a new expensive pad, throwing an inexpensive foam sleeping pad underneath your inflatable sleeping pad should do the trick.

    NEMO Double Roamer Sleeping Pad
    The NEMO Roamer Sleeping Pad is 4″ thick.

    14. Bring a Hot Water Bottle in your Sleeping Bag

    A final camping hack that is super effective for staying warm is to fill a Nalgene bottle or hot water bottle with hot water.

    Bring that with you to bed and store it inside your sleeping bag (wrapped in a shirt so it’s not too hot against your skin). Voila, you’ve got a hot water bottle portable heater.

    15. Have a Spacious, Reliable Tent

    Fall is not the time to test out the tent that you got at your local garage sale. If it rains or is really windy and your tent fails, you will end sleeping half reclined in your car.

    For fall camping when the weather could be iffy, I recommend the MSR Hubba Hubba. I used a similar MSR tent on a 10-day backpacking trip in Alaska where it poured for 8 of the days. This tent is incredibly durable, yet light enough to also take backpacking if you want your tent to be dual-purpose.

    I also recommend sizing up. Pack a 3-person tent for 2-people or a 4-person tent for 3-people. That way if you end up having to hide out for a bit, you won’t be too cramped. For more tent recommendations, read my post about the best backpacking tents.

    Two woman setting up an MSR tent. They are putting the rain fly on and it is very windy
    Setting up our MSR tent in Alaska

    Finding Places to Camp in Fall

    Here are some fall camping tips for choosing a campsite. I recommend choosing somewhere you can do some leaf peeping. Just be aware that some campsites are inaccessible in fall, so you’ll want to plan ahead so there aren’t any surprises.

    16. Check the fall foliage map

    For the best leap peeping on your fall camping trip, check the fall foliage map on the American Forests website. You can move the slider to the weekend you want to camp and see where you can experience the peak fall colors.

    I also have a few fall itineraries that are worth checking out:

    Road tripping through New Hampshire in 2020

    17. Make sure the camping area is open

    You should start by downloading one of my favorite campsite finder apps. That way you’ll know what your options are in the area you plan to camp.

    iOverlander and AllStays Camp & RV are favorites for finding free dispersed camping and official campgrounds on public lands.

    The Dyrt is another useful campground finder app as well that has been handy for finding more paid campground options on the fly (you can try The Dyrt Pro for free for 30 days here).

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    Then, if you are planning to stay in an established campground, make sure the campground is still open and make a reservation if you can. Many campgrounds close up shop in late September or early October for winter.

    The same goes for Forest Service roads where you might be looking for dispersed camping. You don’t want to drive off the grid and out of cell phone service just to find out that where you were planning to camp is no longer an option.

    18. Check road conditions

    Even if the camping area is open, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be accessible. It’s really dependent on road conditions and your vehicle. If you plan to dispersed camp along a dirt road, make sure your vehicle is equipped to handle any conditions you might encounter, like mud from recent rain storms or any rain to come.

    Kristen standing on top of converted Sprinter van in Colorado surrounded by golden fall aspens
    Fall camping outside of Crested Butte, Colorado

    Fun Fall Activities While Camping

    Fall really is about enjoying all of the beautiful colors on crisp, cool days outside. Here are a few ways you can make the most of your camping trip.

    19. Plan a fun day hike

    Pick a hiking trail that shows off the fall colors. Just remember that the days are much shorter in the fall.

    Here are some quick tips for hiking in the fall:

    • Get an early start on the trail so you have plenty of daylight
    • Bring a headlamp in case you do get caught out in the dark
    • Add extra warm layers to your day pack in case the weather turns
    • Bring a rain jacket if there’s any chance of rain
    • Check what time sunset is so you can plan your hikes accordingly
    Kristen hiking on lakeside trail

    20. Shoot some photos

    Fall is an easy and fun time to shoot photos on your fall camping trip, and even beginner photographers can get some glorious results. It’s one of the reasons I love fall camping!

    If you’re curious about night photography, it’s also a great time because the stars come out much earlier in fall than they do in summer.

    21. Play Camp Games

    Glow in the dark bocce is my favorite nighttime camping game. Tabletop ping pong is another. Check out this post for more fun camping games.

    Woman playing table top ping pong while camping at a campground

    What to Cook while Fall Camping

    My final fall camping tips are all about cooking. With chillier temps and an earlier sunset, you’re going to want simple, hot, and tasty meals to nourish you at camp.

    22. Do some of the prep work at home

    I recommend doing some of your meal prep at home to speed up the dinner-making process. Then pack whatever camp cooking essentials you need to finish the job.

    That might mean chopping vegetables at home or pre-making a pot of chili and simply reheating at camp. The quicker you can make dinner, the sooner you get to relax and get warm around the fire with a hot beverage.

    23. Plan for hot, calorie dense meals

    Salads are for summer. In fall, I suggest cooking hot meals that will warm your belly. Soups, chili, and hearty stews are a great option that don’t require getting too many dishes dirty. Here are a few easy one pot camping meals to get you started.

    24. Bring dessert!

    Whether it’s s’mores or homemade brownies, a tasty treat is always fun to have while sitting around the campfire.

    25. Pack hot beverages

    When I was on the John Muir Trail in mid-September, one of my biggest take homes were to pack hot drinks for every night. Whether it’s hot tea with lemon and honey or a hot toddy, having a hot drink will make hanging out under the stars more enjoyable.

    In order to keep your hot drinks hot longer, make them in an insulated mug – my go-to is the Yeti Rambler Tumbler.

    Kristen looking away from camera and holding Yeti insulated thermos and wearing insulated jacket
    Staying warm with a hot drink in my Yeti Rambler insulated tumbler

    Planning a fall camping trip? Share your plans, tips, and questions in the comments below!

    Bearfoot Theory | Fall is the ultimate time to go camping - cooler temperatures, fewer bugs, and a canvas of breathtaking fall foliage await! In our latest blog post, we’re sharing essential tips for making your fall camping experience absolutely unforgettable. From choosing the best campsite to keeping warm with lots of layers and cooking the most delicious campfire meals, we've got you covered. Head to our blog to discover how to elevate your fall camping adventures to cozy, golden-hued perfection.

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    1. Hi Kristen, your blog is really inspiring. Thanks for explaining in such great detail. I have always been terrified of the camping process but hopefully one day I’ll get around to doing it on my own.

      1. Hi Sophie!
        Thanks for your comment. We hear that frequently, and that’s one thing that inspired Kristen to start this blog! We have a plethora of resources for people just like you that don’t know where to start. You can start small and simple, and then maybe work up to something bigger. Check out this blog post – even if you don’t have a partner or they’re not into it, the tips in this blog post are helpful for anyone. https://bearfoottheory.com/introduce-partner-camping/ Let us know how we can help you feel less afraid! – Mary Kathryn

    2. I like your point about the days being shorter – it’s a hell of a realization when you forgot your headlamp at camp!
      I do strongly prefer camping in the fall though compared to any other time of year though, the weather just can’t be beat.

    3. You’re totally spot on about the sleeping bag rating. Many years in the scouts taught me that lesson. The night is very long when you are cold. I finally purchased a bag with a -15 degree rating. Overkill? Maybe. But I sure did sleep better and actually enjoyed cold weather camping because of it.

    4. I’m grateful to stop and read this blog, Kristen! Your tips are very reasonable and it will help our camping plans this fall. Need to order items that I learned from your article. Thanks!

    5. These are some awesome tips! I Loved reading this article. Everything looks well thought out and written. I especially liked the section about the hot water bottle trick. That is a smart way of staying warm and comfortable in your sleeping bag. Keep up the awesome work!

    6. Thanks for the tips. We already have most of these items and are preparing for our first run at camping. Technically it’s a practice prior to Big Bend! It may be fall, but it’s still hot af here in Texas. Our state parks are year rounders! I expect it will get very hot in the tent and will probably wish it were much cooler outside.

      P.S. How does one get an REI sponsored post?

      1. Hi David, thanks for reading! So nice you can enjoy your state parks year-round. A tent with a mesh upper can help with airflow in warm temps, and you can even sleep with the fly (the cover) off or rolled back for more ventilation. We love REI and have been working with them for years – we shop there for most of our hiking, camping, and other outdoor adventure needs and are always recommending products that they sell so it’s a natural fit 🙂