by Diane Spicer
You need this Fall 2020 hiking and camping comfort guide for one simple reason:
Why not take advantage of empty trails and uncrowded campgrounds?
Granted, shorter days mean less daylight hours on the trail, but the upside is that you can spend more dusk and evening time enjoying your car camping site and all that it has to offer.
The tips in this hiking and camping comfort guide will keep you cozy (not clammy or chilled) even when the temperatures dip below 50F.
This guide takes you through reliable choices for all of these components of cozy camping and comfortable hiking:
Let's get comfy (the opposite of suffering).
Why click around the Internet searching for the right stuff to make you comfortable on a fall hike or camping trip?
Everything in this hiking and camping comfort guide awaits you at REI Co-op.
Why choose REI?
REI Co-op rewards you as a member.
They take care of you by offering excellent customer service, classes and events, and quality outdoor products and clothing from trusted outdoor brands - including their own.
Their website is easy to navigate so you quickly find exactly what matters most to you: women's hiking and camping gear and outdoor clothing.
Hiking For Her has been an REI affiliate for years, and a member of the Co-op for decades, because of the trust and confidence I have in their product picks.
When you purchase through the links on this website, you're allowing HFH to receive a small commission without costing you extra. It's one of the ways this website stays afloat.
And here's the fun part about reading this guide: the prices you see may have dropped, thanks to sales and end of season clearance events.
Now let's get started exploring all of the ways you don't have to suffer as you enjoy cool weather hiking and camping, beginning with trapping your body heat.
For summer hiking, your clothing had to be UV protective, fast drying and breathable to keep you comfortable.
Now that days are shorter - and much cooler- turn your attention to versatile pieces of clothing which play well together, designed to be:
Why so many layers??
In fall weather you never can tell what the day will bring on the trail, or while relaxing at your campsite.
So it's up to you to be prepared for anything, without sacrificing comfort or style in your outdoor clothing.
Think it's hard to choose versatile pieces of clothing which play well together AND achieve all of these objectives for fall hiking and camping?
All the work is done for you in this guide.
And here's a sizing note:
You want to trap heat with an insulating layer, but also want to wick away perspiration so you don't feel clammy or soggy.
And you want to be wearing the right weight for your activity level:
There's another consideration in choosing base layers: the material is right up against your skin, so it should feel great.
And you also have to ask yourself an even more basic question:
Use those links for recommendations on the basic answers.
Now that we've got the base layer problem outlined, let's look at your best choices for lightweight base layer tops and bottoms.
Lightweight is the right weight for low to moderate activity in temperatures that hover near moderately cool ranges.
Merino wool in long sleeves and a relaxed crew neck is a good base layer choice because it's soft, durable and won't hold onto odors as it wicks away your sweat.
This shirt will take you through winter and spring outdoor activities, too.
Choose a long sleeve base layer shirt in a longer length than you might normally wear, for tucking into your pants or bottom layer.
It's a smart move that traps body heat when you bend over or sit down.
The slim fit of these bottoms (to trap heat and wick moisture) still gives you lots of freedom of movement for knees, legs and hips.
And lots of room for more layers above them, as they are not bulky.
Because that's the name of the game for comfortable fall hiking and camping: non-bulky layers.
Same idea here for moisture and odor control, but a blend of 92% polyester/8% spandex rather than wool.
Note that this choice will keep you the driest of all, for the least amount of money, but will hold onto odors a bit. Pick your
poison comfort level!
|REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Long-Sleeve Crew Top $39.95||
Love this crew neck for comfort, with a longer hem for tucking - as we noted above.
Underarm gussets will move with you when you reach for your backpack or a log for the campfire.
Plus that little bit of spandex also gives you freedom to eat a few (dozen) extra marshmallows ;)
Flat seams on this base layer won't chafe you as you move.
The waistband has a low profile for comfort.
The crotch gusset? Also there for comfort while moving.
Note the different profile compared with the Merino wool choice above. Which one do you like best?
Because this is a hiking and camping comfort guide, you really need to know about silk base layers.
They have an incredibly soft, luxurious feel, and the price point isn't all that outrageous.
You must also know about one downside to silk: it won't wick your perspiration as fully as the other choices above.
So choose it for low activity days, or for sitting around at your campsite.
Okay, here's one more thing to note: you will need to wash it frequently, as it is not odor repellent like wool or synthetic blends.
But it feels divine! And that comfort may be exactly what you're going for on a fall hiking and camping trip.
Here's a great silk top and bottom base layer combo:
|REI Co-op Silk V-Neck Long Underwear Shirt $49.95||
For its amazingly light weight, this shirt will give you comforting warmth.
Worried that you have to fuss over this silk fabric? Nope! You're looking at machine washable, tumble dry low, comfort.
Tip: Wear this shirt around the house or while running chores for an extra bit of warmth without weight. That's what I do!
This breathable silk jersey fabric makes you feel like royalty, but keeps working hard for you on the trail.
The elastic waist allows you to bend with ease.
Note the ribknit cuffs to lock down the legs over or under your hiking socks.
|REI Co-op Silk Long Underwear Bottoms $49.95|
If you want a bit more heft in your base layer, move up to midweight fabrics.
I don't recommend them for easy fall hikes or short term car camping, as they add bulk and may keep you too warm, but if you want to start building a winter hiking or snowshoeing base layer system - or if you always feel cold - you should take a look at these REI options.
Sounds like a great idea, right?
Capture all of the heat you're generating as you hike, cook a meal, set up camp, or carry water back to your camp kitchen.
An insulating layer doesn't have to be bulky to do its work, either.
A down vest is an ideal midlayer for fall weather.
A vest can also take you into winter hiking and snowshoeing when you'll be working vigorously in truly cold conditions.
Be sure you can fit your outer layer (see below) over your base and midlayers. Don't even wonder how I discovered this tip :/
I'm a firm believer in a hiking vest.
It's a versatile piece of clothing that can double as a pillow, or be used as an outer layer in dry weather.
I have also put my vest on a shivering hiking companion (my dog).
Because a vest will work hard for you, year round, invest in quality features like these:
Not a raving fan of vests?
You have another mid layer option for your layering system.
Always be thinking about versatility in your layering system.
Here's a midweight, inexpensive fleece pullover that will see you through dry, cool trails on its own, or work well under a rain shell.
Some nice touches:
Never let it be said that Hiking For Her skimps on options!
Here's Choice #3 for a midlayer.
Consider the merit of wearing an insulated jacket to combine the coziness of a vest with the full coverage of a pullover to trap body heat, all in one smooth zip up motion.
This jacket gives you a recycled nylon shell coated with a DWR water resistant finish and filled with cozy down.
Generous zip pockets.
Designed to keep out the cold at neck, wrists and hemline.
6 color choices!
Best of all, it's packable in its own pocket, so when you don't need a midlayer it's quietly waiting in the bottom of your pack.
Now let's complete your layering system by addressing the most important layer of all.
When you're wet, you're cold.
When you're windblown, you're also cold.
And sometimes you're cold even as you hike on a calm, dry day.
It's all part of the hiking fun!
But you can prevent body heat from leaking away with a smart choice for an outer layer.
As usual, you've got some choices to make for your comfort:
Here's the truth: to get waterproof plus breathable, it's going to cost you more than if you're going for waterproof but don't care it is breathes.
Now face this fact: if the water you're generating from your perspiration can't get out, guess what happens inside the jacket?
And more importantly, what happens to the other layers you're wearing beneath the jacket?
Yup, you're right:
So I'll show you the very best outer layer choice first, then back off to less expensive but also less reliable (water resistant) choices.
Waterproof outer shells are my recommendation, but full disclosure:
My best advice to you:
Slide by with less than perfect base and mid layers, but don't skimp on the layer that stands between you and a cold, wet wind.
I'll say it again:
Your outer layer protects the rest of your layering system, and your body heat, from rapidly plunging temperatures and chilly precipitation.
On a fall trail, that could be anything from a light drizzle to hours of ice pellets.
Give your outer layer the attention, and investment, it deserves.
Arc'teryx is the brand I prefer for rock solid protection.
This jacket offers pit zips for ventilation, a breathable waterproof 3 layer fabric, and hip length coverage to keep your other layers dry.
The brand is legendary for its durability and performance.
And I know what I'm talking about:
This shell won't make crinkling noises when you move, which can be a nice perk on a quiet trail.
It offers 2 layers of waterproof Goretex, which is plenty for routine fall hiking and camping.
Very nice price point if you're just getting started as a hiker!
This soft jacket retains your body heat even when it gets wet.
So if you're not a fan of hard shells, consider it carefully.
Patagonia is one of those companies that is doing everything right for women's outdoor clothing.
And you're probably way ahead of me here, but can't you see yourself sporting this jacket around town?
10 color choices!
Consider buying up one size in your outer layer to accommodate your layering strategy. You'll defeat the purpose of a weatherproof shell if you can't zip it up.
An outer layer with a hood expands the versatility of the jacket.
So go with personal preference to make the decision of hood/no hood.
Always have a few extra pieces of clothing to pull out of your backpack and don quickly to trap your body heat.
Tip: Don't wait until you feel cold. Stay warm with a few additional items of clothing that don't cost much but deliver big benefits!
Fleece is always a cozy choice for extra warmth in cool weather, and will stand up to a bit of moisture.
These are three of my favorite fleece ways to keep my head and ears warm:
Neck gaiters are cozy and practical this time of year. And such a perfect way to express your unique trail style!
Don't ever neglect your hands on the trail, because as they become colder, you lose the ability to use them properly.
This impacts your comfort level, navigation, safe use of trekking poles, and so much more.
So here's the stern but heartfelt warning: Cover up your hands before they get cold.
These gloves will help. Don't you feel warmer just looking at them?The North Face TKA 100 Glacier Fleece Gloves $24.00
Carrying a back up pair like these is such a smart move.
Note the reinforced palms, for added durability.
And snug cuffs, to keep cold breezes away.
|Zippo 12-Hour Hand Warmer $21.95||
This hand warmer is reusable, running on lighter fluid to create an oasis of warmth in your glove or pocket.
If the idea of being cold is holding you back from fall hiking and comfort, you need to tuck one of these close to your body and enjoy its heat.
Versatility in hiking gear makes you a smart hiker.
This hand warmer also charges your portable electronic devices while you enjoy your campsite!
Now it's time to get down to business with smart choices for your feet in this hiking and camping comfort guide!
Wet feet are cold feet in the fall hiking and camping world.
It's better to keep them dry than to try to warm them up after they get soaked.
Here are two footwear choices for soggy autumn hiking trails:.
This midcut boot keeps your ankles dry.KEEN Terradora II Waterproof Mid Hiking Boots $149.95
This boot features reliable traction, something you'll need if your hike takes you onto slippery rocky slopes.Salomon Pathfinder Mid CS WP Boots $120.00
As with any footwear for the trail, read the reviews carefully.
Consider your type of foot (arch, width) and preference for how closely the fit follows your contours.
And read about hiking insoles to customize your fit if your boots need a few tweaks to feel comfortable.
Choose technical hiking socks that will work well inside your footwear to keep your feet cushioned and dry.
Okay, you're all suited up in a weatherproof layering system, head to toe.
Now let's look at your hiking and camping gear for fickle fall weather.
Weatherproof your backpack with a little technology.
Lowest cost but least reliable is to line it with a garbage bag that won't fall apart easily.
Then put your electronics, i.d., and extra food and clothing in separate disposable plastic bags.
But that's a lot of plastic, isn't it!
Instead, use waterproof gear bags of various sizes that are durable, tightly sealable, and built to last a long time.
Don't take chances with your expensive electronics and cameras.
Bag them up in these dry sacks regardless of which season you're in.
An even better idea than bags is to buy a backpack with a weatherproof rain cover sized for it, which can be stowed away in a zippered pocket somewhere on the backpack until you need it.
|Gregory Jade 28 Pack $149.95||
This backpack pays attention to your body heat.
The ventilation system design keeps your back drier, and thus you feel less chilled and clammy.
The shoulder harness and hip belt are designed for women's curves.
Includes a fitted rain cover!
Get more ideas for waterproof backpacks here.
Summer nights are short and warm, but now you're in a different weather pattern that demands a bit more comfort in your sleeping spot.
You'll need these features to keep yourself warm, dry and cozy in your tent:
Because you're car camping, no need to worry about weight.
But you do want to pay attention to durability.
Let's look at the lowest price point for a reliable three season tent which accommodates two people, or your and your canine companion.
|REI Co-op Camp Dome 2 Tent $99.95||
The REI Co-op Camp Dome 2 tent checks the boxes for easy set up and durability.
This tent won't take you through massive wind and rain storms, but will do the trick at a campground in the fall.
For a bit more money, this tent gives you room to move, plus nice rainy day features like 2 large doors with vestibules to keep your wet gear where it belongs.
Plenty of ventilation options, too.
Tents don't usually come with a footprint (additional piece of fabric to place between the ground and the tent), but you can purchase them separately.
It's easy to make a footprint yourself from thick plastic to save some cash.
Need more tips for how to choose the best tents? Here they are.
You'll need a comfortable, insulating sleeping bag and a pad to lie on so your body heat doesn't leak away in the middle of the night.
Here's a good combo in weather that won't dip below freezing temperatures:
|REI Co-op Trailbreak 20 Women's Sleeping Bag $99.95||Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus Women's Sleeping Pad regularly $104.95 on sale $77.93|
Lots more tips for comfortable sleeping here:
I resisted the idea of a camping pillow for a long, long time. But I finally wised up and got a complete night's sleep by supporting my head.
Here's my top pick for an adjustable, durable and comfortable pillow.
The shape and adjustable thickness works with whatever sleep positions you prefer.
The heat reflective finish is designed to send your skin comforting warmth as you sleep.
Now that you've gotten a good night's sleep, let's get cookin'!
Cold rain dripping down your neck?
Gusts of chilly wind in your face?
Doesn't sound like a good time to me!
Use the gear in this hiking and camping comfort guide to make sure you're protected from the elements when it's time to cook breakfast.
I've learned the hard way how important it is to have a shelter over the kitchen area.
It's de-motivating to stand in the rain and try to cook a meal.
There's plenty of room under this 10' x 10' rain shelter!
You can set it up with three different peak heights to tailor it to your campsite.
The waterproof top will keep things cozy (or at least less damp) beneath it.
There are optional side walls to create a wind shelter, too.
|Ultimate Survival Technologies FlexWare Sink $14.95||
Start with the kitchen sink.
This one holds 8.5 liters but packs up small, and can be repurposed for storage, toting items around camp, or for transporting water.
Next, a comfortable place to put it when there is no picnic table available.
Or when the picnic table is gross (which happens all too frequently at wet fall campgrounds).
|Mountain Summit Gear Roll Top Kitchen $89.95||
This table solves so many problems:
A hot meal actually generates heat as you digest it, making it a two-for-one smart move in chilly weather.
That's why I'm more willing to devote precious outdoor time to cooking up hearty camp meals in the fall.
Which means I need a stove with a flame I can control easily, and two burners: one for a bubbling pot of soup as an appetizer, and one to simmer the dinner entree.
My choice of campstove for this hiking and camping comfort guide:
Simmer control when you're putting together dinner, but full on power when you want some hot water in a hurry.
Easy ignition makes it a pleasure to use on chilly fall mornings.
I always keep a kettle of hot water handy when I'm in camp, because a mug of hot chocolate or tea really hits the spot on a fall hiking and camping trip.
Go retro with this enamelware kettle.
It holds up to 10 cups of water for beverages, instant soup, hot electrolytes, and other comfort foods.
Or look at my backpacking kitchen essentials if you want to repurpose a lighter weight teapot for the trail.
|GSI Outdoors Enamelware Tea Kettle $24.95|
If you go to all that trouble to brew up a mug of deliciousness, keep it hot. A mug also makes the perfect hand warmer.
This 12 ounce Hydro Flask mug with lid will do both jobs easily.
Comes in several colors so everyone can have their own mug around the campfire.
Take your hot beverage with you on a hike with this 20 oz. option.
Be sure you have the lid you like best; Hydro Flask makes several that are interchangeable.
Also available in 12 oz. and 16 oz. sizes!
Read my review here.
|Hydro Flask Coffee Flask $27.95|
Keep yourself off the cold ground or wet picnic table bench as you're enjoying dinner or relaxing with that mug of hotness in a lightweight, comfortable camping chair like the Flexlite.
|REI Co-op Flexlite Chair $79.95||
Four legs for stability, sets up fast, and there's a side mesh pocket - great place to stash your Kindle and snacks.
And did you know?
Flexlite has an entire universe of options! See more here.
You can consider all of your Flexlite backpacking and camping chair options in this article.
But what if you're not a fan of camp chairs?
Counting on the availability of a dry picnic table or handy sitting rock?
Just in case, bring a versatile blanket to your campsite.
But not just any blanket. You want one that is waterproof on one side, padded & insulated on the other side.
Like this one:
|YETI Lowlands Blanket $200.00||
Durable and useful for any chore around camp that involves kneeling on the dirt, too.
Buy it once, take good care of it, and have it for many, many seasons of camping.
Not to mention picnics, sporting events, and household chores.
You might be caught off guard with how early dusk falls, or how long it takes for the sun to come up in autumn.
Illuminate your kitchen area with this lovely lantern: one candle for a soft romantic glow, or have all three burning for lots of light.
You can hang it, or put it in the center of the table as your dinner centerpiece.
It comes with three candles which will burn up to 9 hours. A lovely alternative to a battery powered lantern!
When the weather turns chilly, you want to be brisk and efficient when you're washing camp dishes (see above).
But you also don't want to dawdle when doing your business.
Also, here's a dose of reality:
So you'll have to be prepared to supply your own bathroom.
These camping items will help you stay on the right side of camping hygiene.
If you're going to be at the campsite for longer than one night, why not set up a hand washing station near the kitchen area?
You can put together a quick hygiene station with these inexpensive supplies.
Use this as a face and hands washing up station before you crawl into your warm, cozy sleeping nest.
And then again, in the morning, to start your day off right.
Pooping in the woods behind your tent just isn't cool.
Plus, the whole squatting thing?
It violates our comfort guide Prime Directive: don't suffer.
|Reliance Luggable Loo Portable Toilet $19.95||
Instead, bring something like this Luggable Loo portable toilet, consisting of a plastic bucket and a toilet seat.
Excellent for family camping with kids or older folks who need a seat to feel comfortable.
Note: This bucket is kind of low to the ground, moreso than your toilet at home may be.
|Reliance Luggable Loo Seat and Cover $14.95||
If you're not comfortable lowering yourself down that far, find a taller bucket with a tightly fitted lid.
And just add this toilet seat.
Don't forget the toilet seat covers!
Contacting a cold seat with bare skin is the opposite of comfortable, not to mention a potential source of uncomfortable hygiene issues.
|Cotton Buds Toilet Seat Covers $1.75|
To make disposal of wastes easier, use a double bag system like this one: a sealable, leak proof outer bag encloses an inner bag containing waste gelatin powder to keep odors controlled.
|Reliance Double Doodie Waste Bags with Bio-Gel $17.95||
Downside: These are plastic bags, so will need to be tossed into a landfill.
Upside: Hygienic containment of waste reduces chances of cross contamination of hands and camping gear if handled carefully.
To keep everyone comfortable with the idea of using an outdoor privy, have at least one hand sanitizer available.
It's a low cost investment in good health during less than ideal outdoor conditions for food prep and bathroom hygiene.
Keep it in a sealable container with the toilet paper or premoistened wipes.
Worrying about being seen sitting on the potty sucks.
|NEMO Heliopolis Privacy Shelter $149.95||
Car campers can solve this problem with a handy pop up tent around the bucket.
And it's a versatile piece of camping gear: use it as a shower stall in warmer months.
Or as a changing room or nursing station to preserve modesty or create shade when there's no other cover to be found.
You did it!
You made it to the end of this lengthy Hiking For Her comfort guide.
You now have solid options for clothing and gear to enjoy comfortable fall hikes and cool weather camping, regardless of the temperature or moisture level.
And that, my friend, is good news.
Believe me, there's nothing quite like the pungent smell of fall as you stride down the trail in your weatherproof clothing and footwear.
And sitting around a crackling, fragrant campfire on a cool autumn evening, knowing your tent and warm sleeping bag and pillow await?
I'd be honored if you warmly toasted Hiking For Her's hiking and camping comfort guide with a mug of tea or a hot toddy on your next fall outing ;)
Hiking And Camping Comfort Guide For Fall 2020
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She's been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for 5+ decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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