What to Wear Hiking in Fall to Stay Safe and Cozy on the Trail

Fall is a beautiful time to hit up your local trails and walking paths. The temperatures are cooling down, there are fewer crowds to deal with, and the autumn leaves are putting on a magnificent show of color! But before you lace up those boots, here are some tips on preparing for this new hiking season.

Fall Is one of my favorite seasons for being outdoors. There’s something about a hot and sticky summer followed by that first cool day of Fall that feels like a breath of fresh crisp air. Whether you are going on a fall day hike or packing up for a fall camping trip, there are a lot of reasons to get excited about being outside this autumn. Don’t forget the campfire and smores!

What’s Great About Hiking in the Fall?

  • Leaves change colors, the seasonal changing of colors is one of the most spectacular natural events that happen worldwide every year.
  • Cooler temperatures mean little to no sweating on the trails
  • Fewer Crowds mean fewer people to deal with and a more peaceful hike.
  • The bugs have all but disappeared!

There are a few challenges to be mindful of…

  • Shorter days mean limited daylight hours for hiking.
  • The weather can be unpredictable. Possibly having rain, wind, and snow.
  • Fall is the start of hunting season for big game animals. Greater precautions should be taken in some areas.

Below,  there share some great tips to help you get the most out of the Fall hiking season. Suggestions on what to pack, what to wear, and how to be prepared while out on the trail!

Use Offline GPS Navigation 

The Fall weather can quickly change the trail conditions. A carpet of fallen leaves, heavy rain, or even an early snowstorm can quickly fade a once obvious trail. That’s why it’s a very good idea to use an offline map with GPS navigation.

Here is a short list of apps to download routes ahead of time. This way, even when you’re out of service, you will have access to the route, and your phone’s GPS navigation overlays the map so you can double-check your position relative to your planned route. Check these out or search for more options online.

Go Check the Weather Forecasts

The Fall season brings unpredictable weather so it’s not only important to check your local forecast but if you’re heading into the mountains you will want to get an accurate forecast for what the weather might be like at higher elevations.

There are apps out there that you can check the weather on. This helps you get a better picture of the type of weather and temperatures you might encounter during a hike, so you can pack accordingly at the trailhead. It might be in the 70s at the trailhead, but freezing temps at the summit.

Always Pack A Headlamp

As Fall brings in shorter days and longer nights it’s more important than ever to pack a headlamp with you. If you spend a little too much time out looking at all the fall foliage you might unexpectedly find yourself out after sunset. It’s always a good idea to have a fully-charged light source with you especially knowing it’s getting darker sooner and sooner each day.

Be Aware Of Hunting Season

Fall is a signal for the start of hunting throughout much of the country. Something you will want to be aware of if your hike could be affected by this.

  • Double-check hunting regulations in your area to see when people may be hunting and where you may encounter hunters on your hike.
  • Wear bright, visible colors like orange, yellow, red, and pink are recommended as the best visible colors.
  • Keep your dog (if allowed on trails/paths) on a leash and ideally, have them wear a bright-colored harness or vest pack.
  • Make noise on the trail. Talking with your hiking/walking partner or singing will help alert hunters to your presence. In some places, it’s recommended to wear a bear bell.  You may also attach a bell to your pet for added safety. 

Hydration And Food

  • Proper hydration helps your body with temperature regulation, so you’ll stay warmer. Be sure to drink water frequently on Fall hikes. Here’s a tip – Store room temperature water in insulated bottles so that you don’t have to drink cold water on cold hikes!
  • Pack plenty of snacks! Not only will snacks help keep your energy levels up, but it will also fuel your bodies funace and help keep you warm. You are going to want a mix of carbs for quick access to energy and fats for a longer burn. Protein will be helpful for recovery, so have a protein-rich snack ready for the end of your hike.
  • Once you stop moving, your core body temperature will begin to drop. If you know that you will want to spend some time enjoying the scenery at the top of your hike, pack something warm to enjoy and help you stay cozy as you soak in the amazing views.

Some warm ideas for an insulated container

  • Hot Coffee
  • Hot Chocolate
  • Tea
  • Soup

Fall Hiking Attire and Layering Tips

Fall is one of those seasons that you can expect a little bit of everything all in a day. In the morning it’s cold, daytime temperatures can be in the 60s and 70s, the wind can pick up, it can rain on and off, and at higher elevations, you can even get snow and hail added into the mix.

So what is good attire to wear in the Fall that will keep you comfy and warm even if you encounter all these things in one day? The answer is… Layers! Once you get down the technique, you’ll know how to manage your body temperature on any given hike and be comfortable throughout the day – regardless of the weather.

Base Layer is next to your skin which will wick away moisture to keep you dry and warmer. Do Not Use Cotton for a base layer. Only use a synthetic material or wool.

Mid Layer is the middle layer of your fall hiking outfit. Should be a lightweight warm layer, such as long sleeve shirt or light fleece. It should fit over your base layer comfortably and not too bulky so you can fit the next layer on top without restricting movement.

Insulating Layer will trap and retain your body heat, keeping you nice and toasty warm. Unless it’s really cold out, you most likely won’t wear this insulating layer while you’re hiking (at least not for long). But, you will still want to throw this layer on as soon as you take any kind of break so your core temperature doesn’t drop too much. This layer is typically a jacket or hoodie and in a combination, if needed, of a down or synthetic vest for that extra core warmth.

Water/Windproof Outer Shell will keep you and your other layers dry in the event of rain and will help trap in heat and keep the wind out. This layer usually consists of a rain jacket and pair of rain pants that are stashed in your daypack until it is needed.

Fall Hiking Pants should be comfortable, breathable, and water and wind-resistant. If it’s particularly cold, you might consider adding a base layer under your pants. If it’s looking like it might rain and/or the forecast calls for it., you may want rain pants.

Footwear For Fall should include the gold standard in hiking sock materials. Wool will keep your feet warm while drawing moisture away that can cause blisters. It’s important to make sure your socks are not too cushy that they cause your boots to fit too snugly, which can decrease circulation and cause your feet to get cold. It is highly recommended to bring at least one pair of extra socks in the event that your first pair gets wet.

To finish off your Fall Footwear, waterproof shoes or boots. All it takes is a little bit of rain to turn a perfectly passable trail into a mud field, which is why you might want to consider picking up a decent pair of waterproof hiking shoes or boots. This means a little rain won’t spoil your hike and if you get the boots their a little more thermally insulating and there’s the option for insulated boots. Depending on the weather and situations you will be in will help determine which footwear to choose. Say NO to chilly toes!

Day Packs are the most important part of the layering system. You need to be able to comfortably store all your layers, food, and other hiking essentials. Consider a water bladder for easy hydration. Make sure it’s waterproof or at least has a pull-out rainfly. If it does not then there are covers you can purchase that are a universal type fit.

Fall Hiking Accessories 

  • Gloves
  • Scarf
  • Sunglasses

Firestarting items. At least 3 different ways to start a fire

  • Lighter
  • Waterproof Storm Matches
  • Fero-rod/striker
  • Natural or Chemical fire start cube
  • Fat Wood
  • Char-cloth

First Aid

  • First aid kit make or purchase
  • Bandaids
  • Bandana
  • Gauze
  • Wound cleaning
  • Ace wrap
  • Neosporin
  • Burn cream
  • Pain relievers
  • MEDICATIONS if you take any

Survival items to consider if hiking or camping.

  • Signal mirror
  • Whistle
  • Compass
  • Knife
  • Duct tape
  • Paracord

Now that you have read our suggestions and advice you can start gearing up for a safe and cozy Fall hike.