Labor Day signals the end of summer for mostly everyone; white clothes go back in the closet, beaches and lakes close for the year, and school starts again. For most Coloradans, this may signal an end to camping season too... but September doesn’t have to be the camp finale. All that is required to carry on camping are a few adjustments to your camping kit for fall camping weather in the Rockies. At a lower elevation than other mountain towns, Steamboat Springs is the perfect choice for a fall camping escape.
Before you decide to head off with your kids to the hills, though, the most important preparation must be done at the warm kitchen table: confirm everyone wants to go fall camping. Nights will be chillier and there is no (purposeful) swimming this time around, even if you do finally get your coveted waterfront site at the nearby state park. If everyone is on board to go camping and have a great time, it will be awesome weekend. If someone is counting on the local brewery to keep them warm and happy or the enthusiasm is nonexistent, well, you may just want to throw in the towel (or head to Utah).
Now that you’re ready for a fall adventure, complete with dazzling aspen trees and glorious cups of hot coffee in brisk morning air, you will need to begin by re-examining your sleeping bags. Remember that temperature ratings on your sleeping bags do not guarantee that you will be comfortable at 40 degrees Fahrenheit - it just means that the bag will do its job and keep you from freezing at 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The manufacturer also assumes that you’re applying some common sense to your sleepwear and set up. Have you skipped your sleep pad this summer so you could travel lighter? Make sure you add the sleep pad back into your fall kit, regardless of the extra weight. Do you sleep cold even in mid-July? You may need to pop over to your local gear shop and consign your 40 degree bag for a 20 degree bag. There’s nothing worse than sleeping cold, and with a few investments at local retailers, you can set yourself up to revel in the crisp night air for the best night’s sleep of your life. Didn’t plan ahead? Stop by Ski Haus in Steamboat for last minute supplies.
Tweaking your layering is the next most important step before you head out. When I go camping mid-summer, the trip is as much about getting away from work and traffic as it is about getting some Vitamin D in a tank top and shorts - even more so if you’re camping with a romantic partner, right? Not so for fall. Leave your flirty camp clothes at home (come on ladies, we all have them!) and show off your camp know-how by bringing long layers, gloves, and a warm winter hat. If you’ve got gloves with the fingertips cut off, throw them in your bag too - they’re great to wear while cooking as it gives you extra dexterity. Get a lightweight, water resistant jacket for your top layer as you never know when you’ll get cold or an evening storm will roll into your campsite. Use your extra backpack or car space to bring long underwear exclusively for sleeping. As fall coincides with hibernation prep for most wild animals, it’s best to change into warm clothes for bed that don’t have the campfire cook stink on them, in addition to staying warm.
Although menu planning is similar in all seasons, remember especially in fall to bring plenty of hydrating drinks. When the weather is cold, it is easier to forget to keep drinking water because you’re not sweating as much. It is just as - or even more - crucial to stay hydrated in fall weather. Although you can’t feel the water being sucked out of you, trust me, it is. Plan for hot beverages after dinner, especially since Colorado is in a Stage 1 fire restriction. That means you cannot build a fire unless you are at a designated campground and need to count on hot drinks for warmth. Add tea bags to your meal prep, or pre-bag servings of powdered hot chocolate with powdered milk for hot cocoa, my old favorite from a NOLS course. Stop by the local distillery as a hot toddy might be just the ticket for a late, cool night.
Tell us about your autumn camp trips! Where are your favorite places to go and what is on your essential gear list?