The leaves are changing, pumpkin patches are starting to sprout up, and the cool air is a welcome change from the heat of summer. Autumn is the perfect time to get outside and enjoy some fall camping and camp cooking! If you’re new to camping in colder weather, or just want to stay closer to home this season, a fall camping staycation might be your perfect fit...
The summer months might get all the glory when it comes to road trips and lake weekends, but fall is one of the best times of the year to head outside for a night or two. This fall, many of us aren’t travelling as much, which makes it a great time to try out fall camping right at home. Whether you’re camping for the first time or want to get some experience in colder weather before heading out on a longer trip, a fall camping staycation is a perfect way to enjoy some fresh air and quality time as the weather starts changing.
Gather the essentials for fall camping and camp cooking
First things first, make sure you have what you need to spend a night outside. Set up your tent, pull out those sleeping bags, and don’t forget a few extra blankets, too. Fall days are crisp, and nights can get cold. Make sure you’re prepared with a good tent! If your tent has a lot of mesh windows, throw on the rain fly or use a tarp to give yourself some extra shelter from the elements. Take advantage of being close to home by bringing out some pillows and an extra blanket or two. Most importantly, don’t forget a sleeping pad. As the air temperature drops, the ground gets colder as well, so insulate yourself with a sleeping pad. You’ll be amazed at what a difference this makes in the middle of the night. Don’t have a bunch of camping gear stashed in the garage? Check out a local gear trading or thrift store to find used camping gear. Or, rent the gear you need from an outfitter such as REI.
Once you’ve got all you need for a cozy night outside, it’s time to think about food! When spending time in colder temperatures, your body needs extra calories to burn in order to stay warm. In the fall, warm soups and stews are a go-to meal, as they fill you up and warm you up at the same time. If you’re new to camp cooking, prep your food ahead of time to make meal time as simple as possible. That means you can chop veggies or make sauces in the comfort of home and enjoy the tastiness later. For breakfasts, think of easy camping menu ideas, like this fruit and nut bowl, and for lunches, you can’t go wrong with a simple sandwich. If you really want to test out your camp cooking skills, pack everything you’ll need for your meals in a cooler and cook your entire meal outside. This means no trips inside to grab a missing ingredient (unless it’s the chocolate for s’ mores. That’s pretty critical). Make sure to pack all the camp you’ll use, along with oil and spices (in cold weather, use coconut oil to cook with- if it freezes, it’s easy to scoop out of its jar with a spoon, unlike olive oil, which won’t pour out of its bottle if it’s solid). And make sure to set aside some time for cooking your meals. Cooking outside in colder temperatures will take a little longer than you’re used to, so plan accordingly.
Do some research
Even if you’re staking your tent in the backyard, check the weather before you set up. Not only is this an important habit to get into for future camping trips, it’s just no fun to get a surprise rain or snowstorm when you’re not expecting it. Are you planning on having a campfire? Look for current fire restrictions before lighting any matches. Fire restrictions apply, even if you’re camping in your backyard.
If you’re heading to a nearby fall camping area, make sure it’s still open-and that there’s an open space for your tent. Some campgrounds, both established and dispersed, shut down in the colder months. For established campgrounds that are privately owned, give them a call before heading out. To find information for nearby campgrounds on public lands, use the campground finder by Discover the Forest. Here you’ll also find a list of any amenities (bathrooms, fire pits, etc) that a campsite has, as well as fee information and availability.
Learn some new skills
If you’re new to fall camping, practicing a few skills close to home will pay off big time in the long run. Try out pitching your tent and getting your sleeping situation set up quickly. You’ll thank yourself later if you ever have to set up camp in the dark. When camping in colder temperatures, it’s good to have a few tricks up your sleeve to stay warm, and a classic DIY toe warming technique is the hot water bottle. Just before bed, heat some water and pour it into a thick reusable plastic bottle that you know won’t leak. Keep it by the feet of your sleeping bag all night and enjoy toasty warm toes. Teaching kids (or yourself) about outdoor survival? Brush up on your outdoor preparedness by familiarizing your camp crew with the 10 essentials.
Practice camping sustainably
While you’re enjoying a night under the stars, remember to do your part to keep our natural places beautiful. Always follow the Leave No Trace principles when you’re enjoying your fall camping staycation. Positive changes start locally, so consider taking an hour to pick up trash around your neighborhood or local trail. Look through your camping supplies and find where you can switch to more sustainable options. Many camping foods are packaged with single-use plastics, so try out some homemade camp cooking recipes to reduce your use of packaging. When you’re cooking outside, look for sustainable camp cookware that you can use again and again, and use natural materials, such as wood, when possible. Not only is cookware made from natural materials more eco-friendly, natural cookware won’t leak chemicals or retain heat when you’re cooking, unlike plastic or metal made options. And if you want to cut down on the number of dishes you need to wash, use single-use plates that are compostable instead of throw-away cups and plates.
Unplug and Enjoy
It’s been proven that spending time outside is good for your health, so soak up benefits of fall camping. Make a plan to leave your phone inside or turn it on airplane mode and take the time away from everyday distractions to unwind- even in your backyard. You’ll be surprised by how much time you’ll have on your hands when electronics are out of the picture. Enjoy some simple pleasures you usually don’t have time for. Keep your hands toasty with a cup of tea, get the family involved with some camp cooking, or get your legs moving with a walk or hike in a search of fall colors.
With a little bit of planning and preparation, fall camping is a close-to-home activity that anyone can enjoy. So clear off a space in the backyard and pack your bags- your fall camping staycation is a lot closer than it looks.
Need more reasons to get outside this fall? Check out this article about the benefits of being outside!
Shop our favorite sustainable outdoor cookware here.