It’s officially the start of fall, and even if the leaves aren’t yet changing where you live, there’s probably enough pumpkin-spice-flavored products around to make you feel at least a little excited about the change of seasons.
Fall is the perfect time to get outdoors and get active. Temperatures are cooler, humidity is low, the colors are beautiful, and it’s a magical time to explore trails, woods, and mountains. Plan some time to explore your local hiking trails, or consider day trips or longer excursions to mountain towns or national parks when crowds are usually smaller.
Plan your hike.
No matter where you’re planning an outing, keep these tips in mind before you hit the trails:
• Check the weather. Before heading out, always check the weather forecast. Depending on where you plan to go, temperatures can range from mild to very cold, and it’s not unheard of to have early fall snowstorms in certain parts of the country. Similarly, you don’t want to get out on a trail and encounter a rainstorm if you can avoid it.
• Research the area. Especially if you’re exploring somewhere new, do a little internet research to familiarize yourself with the trails you’ll be hiking.
• Dress for safety. Fall is prime hunting season. Dress in bright colors when hiking in the fall months to avoid being mistaken for deer or other wildlife.
• Choose well-marked trails. Those vivid red, orange, and yellow leaves are going to fall eventually, so make sure the trails you choose are well marked so that even when covered in leaves, you can follow the path easily. To avoid getting lost, having a basic understanding of map and compass skills is also necessary. You can’t always rely on your Smartphone as you may not have coverage everywhere, especially in more remote areas.
• Watch out for wildlife. Encounters with animals may be more frequent in the fall. When hiking in areas known for bears, moose, elk, or other large animals, make sure you make enough noise so you don’t startle them and risk attacks. Snakes can still be a risk, but they will usually seek a sunny spot, so just stay alert and watch where you step.
Pack the essentials.
Pack a backpack with these essentials when heading out for a hike this fall:
• Maps and a compass. Always bring a compass and a paper map that is easy to read. A navigation app on your phone might be handy, but if your battery dies or you don’t have service, you risk getting lost. It’s best to stick with tried-and-true tools.
• Light. A headlamp or flashlight is a must no matter what time of day you plan to hike.
• Snacks. It’s important to have fuel to keep you going when out on a long hike. Snacks that are high in fat and protein are best, which is why trail mix is a popular choice. Other good snack ideas are packs of nuts, granola bars, protein bars, or dried fruit. Don’t pack anything that will spoil or spill, and single-serve snack options are easiest to carry and eat while in motion.
• Hydration. It’s absolutely crucial to stay hydrated when hiking. Carry a reusable water bottle that’s large enough to keep you hydrated throughout the day. Be careful of drinking water from natural sources you may encounter along your hike, as they may be contaminated and not suitable for drinking.
• First aid kit. You can get pre-made first aid kits just about anywhere. Be sure you know how to use items in the kit and understand first aid basics.
• Tools. Carrying a small Swiss army knife or multi-purpose tool is a good idea and can be used for all sorts of situations.
• Extra clothes and rain gear. A packable rain jacket or poncho is a must-have, and depending on the weather, packing additional layers in case temperatures drop is also a good idea. Pack items like extra socks, a long underwear layer, a hat, and a packable jacket if the weather is forecasted to get colder during your hike. Make sure these items are protected in your backpack in a waterproof or plastic bag.
• Sun protection. Even in the fall, you can still get sunburned. Pack sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to protect your skin throughout the day.
What to wear
You want to be dressed appropriately for hiking and for the weather, but you’ll also want to be comfortable. When hiking in the fall, make sure you follow these guidelines for what to wear:
• Skip the jeans. Or anything else cotton. If you get wet and chilled, cotton holds onto water and can also make you extra sweaty in warmer weather.
• Polyester, nylon, or wool. Choose these materials for all clothing when hiking. These fabrics wick away sweat from the skin and help keep you dry.
• A warm jacket. For most fall weather, a polyester fleece jacket would be enough. For colder climates, a down or polyester puffy jacket is a good choice.
• Brimmed hat and sunglasses. Both will help protect you from the damaging rays of the sun on hot days.
• Sturdy shoes. Your hiking footwear should provide proper support, offer protection from rocks and roots, and provide traction for wet or slippery surfaces. Make sure shoes fit properly, and wear good socks to prevent blisters.