Autumn has arrived and with it fewer daylight hours, wet leaves, cold rain, and morning frost. It’s still a great time to go hiking and backpacking, but I like to add a few technical and comfort items to my day hiking and backpacking gear list and swap in some different footwear as temperatures drop.
As the days get shorter, it’s increasingly likely that I’ll have to hike and set up camp after sunset. I switch out my warm weather Petzl e+Lite headlamp for the much brighter and heavier duty Black Diamond Icon headlamp. It’s bright enough that I can hike after sunset if I have to. It also has a locking on-off switch, which I think is a trail essential to prevent accidental battery drain when you can’t afford it.
I switched to Possum Down gloves last year for cool weather hiking. They’re super light, super warm, and dry quickly. They’re just lightweight gloves to take the chill off. When it gets colder and wetter, I’ll also bring Outdoor Research Versaliner softshell gloves which have a removable waterproof shell. The added weight is negligible and I can use the rain shells with both pairs of gloves.
Puffy insulated jacket
I also pack a lightweight Montbell synthetic insulated jacket in my daypack and for overnights. It’s not really suitable as an active mid-layer when I’m hiking because it’s too warm; I use a 100 weight fleece pullover for that. But a puffy jacket is a nice garment to pull out when we stop for a break or each lunch, when I’m not moving.
I always use lithium batteries in my headlamps and electronic gadgets, but if you don’t, you should definitely switch from alkaline batteries to lithium batteries for cold weather use. Alkaline batteries have water in them and stop functioning when temperatures drop below freezing. Lithium batteries don’t and will still work in sub-freezing temperatures. They cost more but they work when you need them to.
I burn more calories trying to stay warm in cold weather and like to bring more food along on hikes, especially chocolate, which keeps a lot better in cold weather. Mmmm.
Insulated Sleeping Pad
If I’m backpacking or camping, I’ll swap out my lightweight inflatable sleeping pad, a Thermarest Xlite (R-value =3.2) with an insulated Thermarest Xtherm sleeping pad (R-value=5.7). When the ground gets cold it will leach the warmth out of your body unless you use a warmer sleeping pad or stack a foam pad, like the Thermarest Zlite (R-value 2.6) underneath your warm weather pad. I shoot for an R-value between 4-5 for autumn and between 5-6 for winter, when camping on snow.
Dry layers/stove/extra insulation
I frequently carry extra baselayers (top and bottom) and socks in autumn on day hikes as a hedge against an unexpectedly long hike, the onset of really crappy weather, or an unexpected night out. It happens when you test your limits on high mileage “day” hikes or someone gets hurt and you get back far later than you expected. In fact, as temperatures get colder, the contents of my day pack look more and more like the contents of my overnight backpacking gear list. In addition to an extra base layer, I often carry a small stove/cook pot, or a lightweight sleeping bag, especially if I’m hiking by myself off the grid.
Blaze orange hat, buff, or vest
Come October, it’s hunting season where I hike and backpack. While I’m not that worried about accidentally getting shot, I do wear blaze orange clothing as a precaution. I have a blaze orange billed cap that I wear as well as a Turtle Fur blaze orange neck gaiter that doubles as a good layering piece. I’ve thought about switching to a backpack that isn’t white (white-tailed deer), but I figure wearing blaze orange is a sufficient precaution under the circumstances.
When daytime temperatures dip into the upper 30’s, I switch from trail runners to lightly insulated hiking boots with 200g of insulation. I hate having cold feet in autumn and these really pay off when I hike through wet and boggy terrain. I’ve been breaking in a pair of Vasque Cold Spark insulated boots after destroying a pair of Vasque Snow Junkie boots last year. They’re fairly soft boots, but it is a shock to transition from trail runners to them. I’ll upgrade to a much warmer winter boot when full winter arrives.
Adding gear to your backpack when the days get shorter and colder is prudent, especially if you hike in challenging terrain or over a long distance. Put it like this. Ultralight backpacking is a lot easier to do when the days are long and the weather is hot. While you can still use ultralight backpacking techniques and gear to keep your gear weight on the low side, I think it helps to be a bit more conservative in what you bring on day hikes and autumn backpacking trips as winter nears.
Plan ahead, check the weather forecast, think about the demands of your route, and the skills and experience of your hiking partners. Gear lists aren’t static, but should be tuned to the conditions you expect to encounter or that you might conceivably encounter whether you plan to or not.