This is my favorite time of year for hiking. I tend to wimp out in the rains of spring, melt down in the heat of summer, and I live in a place where the trails fill with snow in the winter. For cool weather outings, I’ve discovered a few tricks for getting the most out of this transitional time of year.
1. Check the weather forecast. There is no normal this time of year. A high pressure system can make your hike feel like summer, or a fierce storm can bring winter overnight.
2. Don’t trust the weather forecast. If the forecasters get it wrong, you don’t want to be caught out in the mountains in a pair of shorts and a hydration pack. For fall hikes I’ll usually pack a warm fleece with a hood or toque, long pants, and a water-resistant parka regardless of the forecast.
3. Use breathable shells instead of waterproof rain gear. This time of year, the sweat storm you create inside your jacket becomes a problem. What was a nice raincoat in August turns into a cold, clammy plastic bag in October.
4. Take a thermos of hot tea for your partner. Even if you’re feeling like a bottle of cold water is enough to keep you going, your hiking partner will be a lot more willing to follow in your footsteps if you’re toting a warm drink.
5. Make sure your camera has fresh batteries. Cold weather kills batteries like nothing else. Don’t miss a chance to shoot the brilliant low light, coloured leaves, and mountains dusted in snow just because you were too lazy to charge your camera battery.
6. Add a bit more fat to the picnic. Celery and carrots aren’t quite as satisfying in cool weather. Cheese, meat, smoked fish, nuts, and pretty much anything with some fat tastes better on a fall hike.
7. Carry a headlamp. It gets dark a lot earlier now - and it’s harder to get out of bed early. Even if you’re sure you will make it back by dark, carry a light so you can relax and enjoy yourself a bit more.
8. Pick a mellow hiking partner. It’s easy to get distracted by the spectacular visual displays of autumn in the mountains and the last thing you want is a hiking partner more focused on reaching an arbitrary milestone. What you want is someone who likes to leave the regular path to take in the view.
9. Consider a road trip. Changes in latitude are radical this time of year. Driving a few hours north or south, or changing altitude can give you exactly what you’re looking for.
10. Start dreaming about next year. Winter will be here soon and adventures in the mountains of the Northern Hemisphere will require snowshoes or skis. It’s a good time to plan next year’s hiking adventures. Plan that safari in Africa, that Grand Canyon hike in the United States, that Machu Picchu exploration in Peru, that heli-hiking odyssey in mountains of Canada. Take the time to make sure you get to live the adventures of your dreams.
Photo of enjoying a cool weather hike by Topher Donahue.