Fall Camping Gear Essentials: Insulated Sleeping Pads, Warming Chairs, and More

Watch the leaves turn beside a cozy campfire.
Two tents on amazing meadow in autumn mountains

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Summer’s end signals a back-to-school mentality and feels like a farewell to carefree days spent in the sun. But before you shift into hibernation mode, consider a fall camping trip. If you’re like many people during the pandemic, the appeal of outdoor adventure has been especially strong this past year and a half. And while camping is often associated with summer, it’s a sleeper autumn activity.

“There is so much I love about fall camping. The weather is generally cooler and the changing leaves make the scenery even more beautiful,” REI Co-op virtual outfitter Sarah Sattin says. “Campgrounds and wilderness areas are also less busy as people go back to work and school. Even better, bugs are usually less of a problem than in the summer.”

If golden leaves, fewer insects and crowds, and a crispness in the air sounds like a pleasant time to you, continue ahead for a run-down of must-pack fall camping gear (and for the basics, don’t miss our general overview of camping equipment).

Overnight essentials

Additional light sources

An unfortunate fact of autumn: sunlight decreases. “I always bring extra lighting with me in the fall since the amount of daylight is getting shorter,” Sattin says. Her fix is a lantern that’s capable of casting light a further distance. “This lantern is easy to cook with if I’m making dinner after the sun has gone down but it also dims so I can have light—but not too much light—while hanging out in my tent.”

Black Diamond Apollo Lantern

Temperature-rated sleeping bags

Most sleeping bags come with a temperature rating, which indicates how low the temperature can get while keeping the camper comfortable. “Warmth is critical as we head into shoulder-season camping because temps can be warm in the day but drop significantly at night,” Kelty brand director Nels Larson says. “Check the temperature rating on your sleeping bag—is it rated for 20-degrees or below? And what’s the insulation on it? I love down because it’s the best insulation available as it’s lighter, warmer, more compressible, and temperature-regulating.” The brand’s Cosmic Down Sleeping Bag is affordably priced and one of the best-selling down bags on the market; as a result, it’s often sold out. For another option, try The North Face’s Eco Trail Down 20.

The North Face Eco Trail Down 20

Insulated sleeping pad

A warm sleeping environment doesn't stop at a temperature-rated bag—you need a pad, too. “We often forget that a sleeping pad is also important to keeping us warm at night,” Larson says. “Having that extra layer between you and the ground can make a huge difference in your body temp as you snooze. Make sure your sleeping pad is insulated and don’t leave home without one.”

Kelty Galactic Sleeping Pad

Sleeping bag liner

If you’re particularly worried about evening temperatures or simply run cold, another way to warm up your body is with a sleeping bag liner, which typically come in either a mummy shape to slide into your sleeping bag, or a rectangular shape that can be used on its own or inside. “This liner from Sea to Summit can add up to 25 degrees to my sleeping bag,” Sattin says. “So, if the temperatures get colder than what my sleeping bag is rated for, I will still be nice and toasty.”

Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme Sleeping Bag Liner

Lots of layers

Base, mid, and outer layers

You’re no doubt acquainted with the art of layering but, as a refresher, there are a few key pieces needed for fall camping gear, especially if you’re headed to places like the Northeast or Pacific Northwest. “I bring a wool top as my base layer, Hikerkind’s Midlayer_01 as my insulation layer, and a puffer as my outer layer,” Hikerkind co-founder Allison Levy says. Her co-founder Chelsea Rizzo notes that they designed their fleece purposefully for fall camping. “There’s a kangaroo pocket for your phone and the hem has a bungee that traps all the warm air close to the body,” Rizzo says.

Hikerkind Midlayer_01

Smart fabrics

A mantra in the outdoor community is that “cotton is rotten” as it’s extremely absorptive, making it difficult for water to evaporate; and when temperatures drop, the excess water will lower your body temperature, too. The easy workaround is to incorporate better-suited fabrics, such as Polartec, into your uniform. “Polartec Alpha is one of our most versatile technologies," Polartec's product marketing manager Karen Beattie says. "The patented design uses lofted fibers connected to a solid mesh core, allowing it to breathe when you’re on the move and insulate when static. It's perfect for those day hikes when the weather is a little cooler and is a cozy companion at night."

Strafe Alpha Shirt Jacket

Campfire companions

Easy-to-pack blankets

Is there anything more satisfying than cozying up beside a campfire at the end of a fall day? Evidently not, because numerous outdoor brands offer ponchos and blankets targeted at just that. “With high-elevation temperatures dropping in the morning and evening, a staple addition to my pack will be the Honcho Poncho," Therm-a-rest product line manager Jeff Moberg says. “It sets apart a good camping trip from a great camping trip and is packed with eraLoft synthetic insulation. It’s an evening campfire necessity.” Both Sattin and Larson also reach for their respective fireside layers at the end of the day—REI Co-op’s Camp Wrap and Kelty’s Galactic Down Blanket.

Therm-a-Rest Honcho Poncho
REI Co-op Camp Wrap
Kelty Galactic Down Blanket

Warming chair

Seat warmers aren’t just for the car anymore. “This comfy chair keeps the booty warm,” Sattin says. An insulated recycled polyester underquilt attaches to the seat of the chair, creating a pocket of warmth under the seat. As a bonus, this 2-pound, 14-ounce chair folds down into a compact shape (6 by 18 inches), making it easy to pack for a variety of adventures.

REI Co-op Flexlite Camp Boss Chair and Underquilt Bundle

Fire pit

“I love the warmth from a campfire but I hate getting hit in the face with smoke,” Sattin says. For those who feel the same, try this portable option. “This fire pit has vent holes at the very top that allow your fire to burn hotter with way less smoke,” she says. Its precision base plate targets oxygen directly to the embers below, which in turn burns wood and twigs faster and hotter, so you can get s’mores ready in no time.

Solo Stove Bonfire Fire Pit