Fall Hiking & Camping Essentials

Gearing up for cooler weather in the mountains.

Whether you’re going out for a quick morning hike or venturing into the backcountry, autumn is one of the most rewarding times to immerse oneself in the Montana landscape. It’s prime harvest season, be it for game, berries, mushrooms, or just taking in the changing leaves. Plus, the cooler temps make long days out more comfortable than in summer.

Autumn does come with its challenges, the primary one being inclement weather. Fall is characterized by fast-changing temperatures and precipitation patterns. You could have a warm, sunny afternoon that turns to cold rain in an instant. Then, before you know what hit you, it's snowing. But if you’re ready and prepared, the weather won’t rain on your parade. Here are some tips for your next outing this fall.

Here’s a quick checklist of items that you'll probably need out there:

  • Rugged footwear
  • Bear safety (spray & food storage)
  • Shelter of choice (tent, bivy, hammock)
  • Sleeping bag & pad
  • Comfortable backpack
  • Cooking supplies
  • Firestarter (waterproof matches, tinder)
  • Navigation (map & compass)
  • Headlamp (with extra batteries)
  • Satellite communication device (if you're going deep)
  • Emergency kit: first-aid kit, emergency shelter, gear-repair kit
  • Plant-identification book
  • Extra layers

Lets break it down and look at some of the most important items in your kit, to make sure that you're ready for whatever you run into in the mountains this fall.

Jackets: There isn’t really a do-it-all jacket for Montana, especially this time of year. Combine various coats to create a versatile system for varying conditions. An insulated synthetic jacket with a waterproof shell to throw on top is a good place to start.

Baselayers: You’ll be happy you have them, especially when the cool nights roll in. A good moisture-wicking upper and lower-body baselayer made of polyester or merino wool will keep you comfortable.

Footwear: A little extra protection goes a long way. Nothing kills morale quite like cold feet, so make sure you have some warm, perhaps waterproof boots in case of rain or snow.

Tent: Unfortunately, the cowboy camping you’ve been doing all summer might not cut it anymore. When the weather turns, you’ll want to have something to warm and dry to sleep in, so look into some sturdy three-season tents.

Backpack: Pick your favorite, but make sure you bring along a waterproof cover to keep out the elements. Nobody likes a cold, wet sleeping bag.

Sleep System: Speaking of sleeping bags, when the weather really goes south, they might be your only hope at warming back up and getting some respite from the elements. You’ll want a bag rated to around 20 degrees, but getting down toward 0 can’t hurt. Synthetic insulation is better than down for wet conditions. An insulated foam or inflatable pad is also a must.

Other Essentials
Cooking: A warm, hearty meal in the evening and a hot cup of coffee (or three) in the morning make a chilly camp outing much more enjoyable. Bring a reliable stove, cookware, and utensils. Depending on whether you’re car camping or backpacking, this could range from a deluxe double-burner and cast-iron skillet to a light, compact stove and aluminum pot.

Water: Creeks and lakes will likely be at their lowest all year. What was a raging river last spring might be a mere trickle this time of year. Make sure you know where to find water, or pack it in.

Bear Spray: In the fall, bears go through a phase called hyperphagia, which means they’re filling their bellies for hibernation. During this time, they are especially active and hungry, increasing the likelihood for dangerous encounters.

First Aid & Emergencies: You’ll need to add some cold-weather safety to the kit. Taking an extra warm jacket or two is always a good idea. Also, an emergency space blanket can be worth its weight in gold when you’re in a tight spot.

All this gear can get expensive, and lots of products are in high demand these days. That’s where the Wilderness Edge by RightOnTrek comes in. This innovative new offering provides rental equipment for hiking or backpacking right at the gates of Glacier National Park. It’s like a vending machine for outdoor gear, with no reservation required (but you can reserve ahead if you’d like). Buy adventure meals, grab wilderness essentials, and get geared up at the one-stop shop for all your hiking and camping needs.