10 Hiking Essentials for a Fall Hike

The weather has cooled off and there is a crispness in the air.  Slowly the trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses are changing colors as they die or become dormant for winter.  But what a sight! Those golds, oranges, maroons, browns, and violets- they are going out with a bang! Aspen leaves changing color, Populus tremuloides in Colorado. Going on a fall hike? We have the 10 hiking essentials you will need on the trail It’s a great time to hike. It’s beautiful, a contrast to green summer days, and you might not even break a sweat with the chill in the air. But that cool air and the shortening of the days can make your hike a little different than a few months ago. Here are the 10 hiking essentials you need for a leaf-peeping, awe-inspiring, spectacular autumn hike. Fall in the Colorado Rockies- what are the hiking essentials for a fall day hike anywhere?
  1. Layers: You guessed it, its chilly and you should bring a sweater. Light athletic layers are best. If you are going on a long hike, you may start early when it is quite cold. Fall often has unpredictable weather patterns, so even on the sunniest warm days strong winds may start up and bring colder temperatures with them. I recommend layering this order: A. Athletic base layer, preferably polypropylene material like the Under Armour Men’s UA BaseTM 2.0 Baselayer Crew Small Black B. Mid layer, mid-weight light fleece or a lightly insulated puffy jacket C. Outer layer, a water resistant or water proof jacket that will double as wind protection
  2. Beanie: Again with the warmth. But beanies are super small, lightweight, and the one item that will help keep you super warm
  3. Water: Don’t skimp on the water. In cooler temperatures you may not feel the urge to drink much, but you need water just as much as in the summer. If you are hiking on a colder fall day you may want to invest in a little insulator for your Camelbac or other water reservoir. You’d be surprised how quickly the long water spout freezes. I like this affordable one Black Hydration Pack Insulated Drink Tube Cover seen below.  You may also want a full water reservoir insulator if it is really cold. They also help maintain cool water in hot weather. Some streams that run in the spring and summer may be dry by fall, so be aware if you had plans to get water on site.
  4. Food: It’s always good to bring at least a light snack- Kind bar, trail mix, granola, etc. The difference here compared to summer is that it is very important to be aware of where you food is- in Bear country and elsewhere animals are preparing for winter and stocking up on food. If you leave your backpack with food in it alone you may come back to a torn up bag. Be conscious of food storage in the fall, I speak from experience having chipmunks tear the zipper off of an old daypack.
  5. Bear Awareness: Although in most of the United States we only have black bears and clapping is enough to scare them off, in some part of the country your best bet might be bear spray.  In areas where grizzly bears abound it may be important to at least carry bear spray, which is basically the same thing as pepper spray but a much larger can will discharge completely on the bear when engaged.  Bears are in a state of hyperphagia during the late summer and fall where their appetite is highly increased. The real importance is being Bear Aware, as the National Parks Service likes to remind us.  It is a pretty easy trick to simply tie a bell or other noise maker to your backpack if you are hiking a lone and do not wish to encounter a bear of any kind.
  6. Hiking boots: Good hiking boots can make a trip a lot easier. Make sure yours are still water proof and give them a little maintenance. You don’t want frozen toesies in the variable fall weather. I like to use mink oil to oil my boots which increases the water-proofing, extends the life of the leather, and makes the boots more durable. I use Sof Sole Mink Oil, 3.5-Ounce for my boots.
  7. Headlamp: I’m amazed in fall when I go out for a evening run and the sun is already setting at 6:30 p.m. Be prepared for the shortening days by bringing a headlamp on your next hike.
  8. Lighter or matches: Fall can often be a dangerous time for forest fires after a dry summer. Be aware of fire bans in the area you are hiking and use these tools only in emergency situations if there is a current ban. These are important survival equipment.
  9. Binoculars: Wildlife is usually more active in the fall (also in the spring). Animals like elk and moose are so preoccupied with mating activities that they do not mind humans as much as usual.  Keep a sharp ear for the male elk’s bugle call for females, it is a quite unique and beautiful sound. Other wildlife such as migratory birds may be easier to spot in their migration southwards. This is not exactly a hiking essential but it does make for an interesting adventure.
  10. Survival supplies you should almost always bring hiking: These items don’t really change in fall, but I did not want to leave them off the list as they are essentials. These include a map and compass (and the ability to read such tools), utility knife, medical or first aid kit, and a durable pack to carry all your items.
For more ideas on the essentials you need while hiking, check out our other post Top 10 Hiking Essentials for Summer Day Hikes in the Mountains Fallen aspen leaves, Populus tremuloides in Colorado at Hessie Trailhead. What are the fall hiking essentials you need for a autumn hike anywhere? Now get out there!