Fall is my favorite time of year for backpacking. Summer in the Johnstown area gets awfully hot and humid. While the spring temperatures are more bearable, I am trying to get my body to switch back into the hiking mode. In fall the temperatures, generally speaking, are cooler and make the trip more enjoyable. But for a truly enjoyable and safe experience, there are some things that you must do to prepare.
Know the weather. This is a good idea at any time of the year, but is even more important as you move into fall. Fall weather can be quite different from one day to the next. It can also change rapidly throughout the day. Temperatures can dip down quite cool overnight. Plus the weather can change rapidly. Keep track of the weather in the week and days prior to your trip. Pay attention to the high and low temperatures for each day of your trip, the forecast precipitation and the forecast wind. This will allow you to take everything you will need without carrying a lot of unneeded weight. I personally like to use either the National Weather Service site or the Weather Channel.
Dress for the changing weather. It is also more important for your comfort and safety to dress in layers when backpacking in the fall. Start with your wicking layer. This should be a layer of merino wool or a synthetic fabric blend to draw moisture from sweat away from the body. You should stay away from cotton for a base layer. Next you will need your insulating layer or layers. Don’t use a single thick layer, but several thinner layers that you can remove as you get hotter or add as you cool off. Fleece is one material that is good for this. The last part is the outer layer which should be used to protect you from the elements: wind, rain, snow or even just bitter cold. Don’t forget your extremities. Take along a hat, gloves, and insulated water-proof hiking boots to keep you warm and dry. Also remember to take along extra socks, especially for night to prevent your feet from getting too cold.
Prepare for extra fuel. When backpacking in the fall you need to prepare for cooler weather. In cold weather you will need extra fuel for the body through the intake of extra calories to help keep you warm. Plan for warm meals when possible and take more frequent snack breaks. One way to keep your body temperature up is with hot beverages like tea, coffee or my favorite hot chocolate. This will mean that you will need more fuel. You cannot always depend on finding firewood and you will not want to carry it with you. In addition, if you are staying in one of the Pennsylvania State Forests, there is a ban on campfires between October 1 and December 1. So plan on using your backpacking stove more often. Guidelines suggest to plan on three times as much fuel.
Remember that the days are shorter. One thing to consider when planning your trip at any time of the year is allowing time to get camp set up before it gets too dark. According to expert advice from REI, you should plan to arrive at your overnight stopping location at least two hours prior to sunset to allow time to set up camp. While in mid-September the sunset occurs around 7:30, by the time the end of October rolls around, the sun sets in the Johnstown area around 6:15. This would mean that you should plan to arrive when hiking in the end of October around 4:15. In addition, the sun rises a little later each day. This will limit the length of your hiking day. You can find out specific sun rise and sun set times at www.sunrisesunset.com. This site also has an app available for your phone.
Don’t forget to stay hydrated. While the temperatures are much cooler, you will still find yourself sweating. As you sweat, you become dehydrated. The cooler temperatures mean that you may not even realize that you are dehydrating until you begin to feel the physical effects. To keep yourself in top condition, take time to drink water as you are hiking and even after you have stopped for the night.
So get out and enjoy the back country this fall by taking in one of the trails in the Johnstown area.