Friday, November 22, 2019

Nothing Says 3-Day Weekend Like Cool Weather Camping

Hamilton Branch State Park, South Carolina (Lee Gandy photo)

With a carpet of orange, red, and russet leaves beneath our feet, my wife and I scuff our way along a lakeside path, enjoying the fall weather . . . and it appears that we are not the only happy campers out enjoying fall moments. The photo above is an early November moment in South Carolina that Lee and Lori Gandy enjoyed. Recently my wife and I enjoyed a November weekend in SE Iowa. The list goes on and on. It's just like Lee mentioned: "Nothing says 3-day weekend like cool weather camping."

Having posted last week my article on our fall weekend camp ("Our Solitary, Tiny Trailer Camping Weekend"), many fall campers reacted to the article on social media, sharing their wonderful experiences of camping in the fall. Now my wife and I are even more excited to try some more fall camping! A fall November or December camping trip, of course, will probably differ in terms of temperature if that trip takes place in South Carolina, Florida, or somewhere in the Midwest, where my wife and I are based, and we can probably quantify that difference in temperature as "cool" versus "cold." No matter, though, I've found that with a warm tiny trailer to return to, bundling up and hiking in temperatures that even are around twenty degrees can be a red-cheeked joy.

On our way to the Cottonwoods on the Grand Mesa. Mesa, Colorado. (Mary King photo)

Cool camping (or cold camping, depending on your sensibilities) depends both upon geographic realities and personal preferences. Recent social media posts about fall camping vary, all the way from "Did our last campout first weekend in November," to more adventurous souls (or residents of warmer climates) stating, "This past winter we camped for the first time (in winter). It was great! Only a couple other campers around plus no mosquitoes! Fall is probably my favorite, though. Love campfires and the fall colors," and the more gritty comment, "We normally camp right up until they start dropping salt and brine on the roads." It's not all about snow and ice, though. "Winter camping in South Georgia is like fall camping most other places," said one fall camper.

Most of us can guess why many folks like to camp in the fall, but scanning the social media camping groups provides a few specifics.

Why Fall Camp
  1. The "tranquility" of a campground with few people.
  2. "No bugs, no sweating while sleeping, and the fire feels toasty."
  3. The fresh, colorful fall weather is a natural "glamping" experience.
  4. Lower campground rates.
As camping edges into more extreme temperatures, though, being prepared to deal with colder weather is essential. Some means of getting warm is essential, and the ways campers do so are both varied and sometimes even amusing. I find my tiny standy trailer, built from plywood, does quite well in colder weather, although I haven't yet camped in it in temperatures below fifteen degrees. A portable heater and and the ceiling vent cracked keeps the camper warm and the condensation out. However, we don't sleep on the floor, which helps with the condensation.

Staying Warm
  1. "If it's real cold, I will get a camping site with electric and then bring a heater for my tent. Toast warm!"
  2. "We use a portable electric oil heater. Quiet."
  3. "My little propane heater keeps me warm enough at night. Well, and the golden retriever!"
  4. "Bring your electric blanket."
Most folks seem to enjoy a bit of a nip, enough to quell the bugs yet still warm enough during the day to enjoy a good walk. I know I was looking forward this year to the first frost strong enough to back off the chiggers. This was the first year that I really got some bites, and the chigger outbreak affected my hike choices this year. Fall weather brings cold weather issues, but it also gets rid of some of the summer issues.

 Fall weather was summed up by one camper with the following words: "My wife and I enjoy fall and winter camping. This past weekend the overnight temperatures dropped to 27, and we stayed quite comfortable in our little camper." Beautifully said--a little cool, a cozy camper, and probably a little time around the campfire. And the truth is that the temperatures could drop down to 15-20 degrees, and those words would still apply, as long as you were geared up.

With the smallest trailers, condensation is also an issue, one I've written about in an earlier article ("Minimizing Condensation"). If you want to be comfortable while camping in the cold, the best advice is to find a way to heat your camper so that you will have a warm environment that allows you to get out of the cold. If you can't create that, then your camping will be under more extreme conditions--and I admire your grit.

Amazing sunrise and hike today. We are only 100 feet from Port Beach State Forest, Lake Michigan. Amazing solitude. (Jim Grote photo)

Having a warm haven away from the cold, I've been surprised how much time I actually spend outside. When I dress, I layer up with warm clothes, and then being outside suddenly becomes "invigorating" rather than "excruciating." All joking aside, most of us tend to spend our days in a pretty narrow temperature range, mostly between 60-75 degrees, and we surprise ourselves when we discover that it ain't that big a deal to be active outside that range. One of the most enjoyable bicycle rides I've ever had with my wife was when it was spitting snow. We had dressed warmly, and we didn't have to deal with sweat, humidity, or bugs. It was great. My wife and I plan to hike as much as possible during our cold weather camping trips. During our last camping outing, we took both our lightweight and heavyweight down coats, using both.

We've both also found that we enjoy the campfire more when the weather is cold, the fire having a purpose more practical than symbolic. Speaking of the practicality of a warm campfire during cold weather, it's important to not go to bed too cold. You might have a difficult time warming up if you are cold and fatigued. Hot tea, a hot water bottle in the sleeping bag, maybe an electric blanket, sufficient time in the warm camper before jumping into bed--whatever is your method, make sure you don't over-tax your body's ability to warm itself; otherwise, you could have a miserable night's sleep.

"Six to eight weeks every fall. This year we worked our way to northern New Mexico." (Laurie Caldwell Kinney photo)

During our last camping trip, my wife and I discovered that the only patrons of our local state park were tiny trailer owners. It seemed that since we were used to not having all the functions of an apartment in the rig we tow, it wasn't such a drastic move to camp when the showers and flush toilets were closed. Business as usual, as it were, with the added pleasure of access to water and electric hook-ups at each site.

Hamming it up. It wasn't that cold!

What about the idea of cool weather camping and the 3-day weekend, though? I can only speak for my wife and me, but three days was about all we got before the wind picked up and the temperatures dropped. We would have loved to have had a month of "Indian summer," but the forecast was predicting to onset of record-breaking cold temperatures, a stiff north wind had replaced a south wind, and our woodstove at home was telling us it wanted some company. Two days later, we looked out our home's window to s snowy, windy, frozen, 3-degree dawn. I'll take a great weekend of camping in the fall or even the winter. I'll sneak one in and feel lucky. How about you?

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  1. In Oregon, camping depends for fall and winter. I've been known to go in all months, although, I don't do weekends because a retired person doesn't need to add to the traffic. I'm fairly close to the coast, and it's a bit warmer there, so I don't head for the Cascades. Not as many campgrounds are open, so there are a few people in the open ones. One year, though, I ambled up the coast and found a nice spot, but the rangers did not tell me the toilets in that loop were closed. That's when the Luggable Loo is useful.

    At this time of year, although one might go camp, the dog loves cold weather, but leaving home isn't always an option because the water pipes could freeze, so I have to watch the weather reports to make sure I don't need to be home to keep the water running.

    I have camped in November, January, and any month but December if the time is right. I seem to skip December due to Christmas preparations.

    But even the more wintery months on the coast, I take the little electric heater for the trailer and a propane heater for the Clam shelter. The Clam is only 6x6, so with wind panels, it can be more comfy for early morning, as I do not have a stand-up trailer. I pick a campground with trails for dog walking, as he is less than thrilled with walking on the beach.

    Sometimes, I wish I had a stand-up or sitting type of trailer, but I do like it fitting in the garage, and mine barely fits because it is an off-road, and it uses no additional gas to pull it. But yes, winter weather is often just right for hiking with a northern breed dog.

    1. Lorelei, thanks for your detailed comment. You hit all the significant camping points: toilet, electricity, and home and trailer maintenance safety. My wife and I also have a Clam, the larger one, which we have not yet taken out in cold weather. We have the wind panels also, so I'm thinking that my infrared electric heater could work to warm it if necessary. Because we have a standy tiny trailer, though, having the clam isn't as basic as for you with the smaller trailer. Thanks again for providing me with another option.