Fall Hiking: In Camp

Learn how to pick the perfect campground and keep your food, and yourself, toasty in dipping temps.

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Pick the Perfect Campsite

(A) Pitch your tent above low-lying areas like meadows, ravines, and riverbanks where cold, damp air settles. Temps can be as much as 25°F warmer just 250 feet above a nighttime inversion layer. Expect all-around colder temps when skies are clear; cloudless nights allow the day’s ground-level heat to escape.

(B) Avoid strong winds. Signs of frequent, hard blows include trees with foliage concentrated on one side, bent or broken branches, and downed trunks facing one direction. Avoid summits and ridgelines where winds change and swirl, and narrow spots, like valley entrances and passes, where they accelerate rapidly.

(C) Take advantage of natural windbreaks by pitching your tent behind stands of trees, rock walls, and boulders, and on leeward slopes.

(D) Pick a site with an eastern exposure to catch the early-morning sunlight, and/or a southern exposure so that the sun hits your tent for more of the day.

Prevent Food Freeze-Ups

» Use insulated mugs and bowls to keep drinks and entrées steaming. Store leftover servings or lunches in an insulated pot like Innate’s Shiru Vacuum Food Container ($21-28,

» Keep water bottles from freezing by wrapping them in insulated sleeves (or wool socks) and storing upside-down to keep the mouth ice-free.

» Cook heat-holding meals. Gooey foods lose heat faster than all-liquid ones, so cook soup instead of thicker sauces. Also, opt for whole foods. Preservatives in over-processed meals freeze quickly.

Conserve Posthike Heat

» Add insulating layers. Your first step at any halt should be to preserve body heat. At day’s end, change into dry baselayers.

» Eat a snack and brew hot drinks as you set up camp. Snack again before bedtime; digestion raises body temperature.

» Keep blood circulating. Light exercise—jumping jacks or stretching—creates a warming afterburn. Just don’t get sweaty.

» Use a small tent. A low-volume shelter requires less body heat to warm. Be sure to vent it if condensation builds up.

» Carry a mini heater.  A tightly closed bottle filled with hot (not boiling) water acts as a radiator when tucked into your sleeping bag or clothing.