It’s hard to beat a fall hike just as the leaves begin to change, but along with changing foliage, we also deal with changing and variable weather. It’s easy to underpack and underprepare when first frost is weeks away, but nothing can ruin a hike quite like the constant nag of a slight chill. Here are a few tips to keep comfortable whether the conditions are fair and 60 or misty and 40.
Hike Little Stony Man in Shenandoah National Park | Photo: Christin Healey
1. Layers, Layers, Layers
Properly insulating is the most fundamental and important part of staying warm, especially when a grueling 10 mile hike is on the docket for the day’s work. Start with a thin and moisture wicking piece and build insulation on top to suit the conditions of the day. Sometimes that one piece of baselayer and a thin fleece will do the trick, but as conditions get colder, layer accordingly to fight off the chill.
2. Easy Does It
As fun as it is to just flat out ‘crush it’ sometimes, our bodies regulate temperatures best with a steady, consistent pace. When we really get after it, we tend to sweat which is no big deal until we sit down to rest. Even the best baselayers can only wick away so much moisture, and we find that our quasi-trail-run may just leave us clammy and cold.
3. Stay Dry Inside and Out
Staying dry is something we often forget to consider, especially when the forecast calls for a bluebird day. No matter the forecast, it’s always a great idea to go ahead and pack a shell with a waterproof membrane. With technology these days they pack down nice and small. It’s also important to wear the right threads underneath your shell (something moisture wicking and breathable), which leads to the next point.
4. Leave the Cotton Tee at Home
Without a doubt, most of our favorite pieces of casual wear are made of cotton. It’s soft and comfortable and it wears really well over time. It does not, however, wick sweat or breathe very well. Shoot for synthetic fibers like polyester or more technical natural fibers like merino wool. These are staple pieces that are sure to keep you dry and therefore warm on your outdoor adventures.
5. Mind the Wind
Sometimes a nice cool breeze can be a welcome gift on a hot hike, but as the day wears on and the air gets thinner, cool breezes can turn into blustery and chilly gusts. The wind provides another great reason to pack that rain shell - most shells are windproof as well. In the mountains, sometimes even the thickest fleeces can’t ward off the wind; be sure to bring along a piece that can function as a wind stopper.
6. Drink Up
Staying hydrated is a no brainer when it comes to being in the outdoors. Drinking plenty of water has far reaching effects, one of which is helping your body maintain a comfortable temperature. Staying well hydrated on the trail will help your circulation and get plenty of oxygenated blood to your extremities - sure to help with the cold feet and hands.
7. Know Before You Go
Checking the weather forecast is one thing, but knowing what the weather is capable of during a specific time of the year allows you to pack for the best and worst. Most weather forecasting sites offer historical highs and lows - take a look and make sure the gear you’re bringing along can cover you if a cold front moves in. It’s always better to shed a warm layer than regret leaving it at home.
Staying warm on the trail is really just an effort to better enjoy your time outdoors. These simple points are sure to help you get to the campfire or back to the car with memories of an excellent day in the woods, focused on the beauty rather than your temperature.
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.