Hiking and camping in the mountains during autumn presents unique challenges. With snow and ice on the trail, cold temperatures, and freak storms, you need to be ready for anything in October and November in the mountains. I picked out some of my favorite gear for autumn adventures in the mountains. They’ll help you keep warm and dry and make your climb safer and more enjoyable. Here are my fourteen top picks for fall fourteener gear.
1. Nano Puff Insulated Jacket
Staying warm is priority number one on crisp autumn days in the backcountry. A nano puff jacket provides great insulation and warmth while packing away easilyfor storage when not needed. It’s the perfect fall jacket, when you may need to add and subtract layers throughout the day and as you climb higher. As a Patagonia product, you know you’re getting a high-quality product that’s environmentally conscious. This is my jacket of choice for fourteeners year-round.
2. Aeropress Coffee Press
If you’re like me, you love a good cup of coffee in the morning to help get you going. During fall months that’s even more important, but it’s hard to make a good cup out in the mountains. Aeropress is a fantastic tool that helps you brew high-quality coffee anywhere on the go. I bring it on all my camping and backpacking trips, especially during cooler months. It’s built to last with solid materials, you just need to provide your favorite coffee!
3. Therm-a-Rest Questar 20 Sleeping Bag
A summer season sleeping bag won’t cut it for a trip to the mountains in November. You’ll want at least a 20 degree rated back like the Questar 20 from Therm-a-Rest. It’s designed to be warm yet lightweight enough for backpacking and fourteener trips. You can add a sleeping bag liner for an additional 10 degrees of protection for late-season ascents.
While this is one of the pricier items on this list, it is one of the top-rated 3-season bags on the market. It’s worth the investment if you want to stay warm on crisp autumn evenings.
4. Kahtoola MICROspikes Traction System
Snow and ice on the trail are annoying and potentially quite dangerous. Many search and rescue missions involve people who slip and take a serious fall because they had no extra foot traction. Kahtoola is the industry leader and their microspikes will keep you safe and secure while hiking on ice and snow. I never head out into the mountains during October and November without bringing a pair of these with me. They’ve lasted five years and counting.
5. Outdoor Research Tundra Aerogel Balaclava
Cold, icy winds in the autumn season can cause frostbite on your ears, cheeks and nose if you are not careful. It is important to cover up your face during high winds if the temperature is close to or below freezing. This Balaclava from Outdoor Research is a solid option, which I use among several others. It’s easier to take off and on than some of the others I use, and I find it slightly more comfortable too. If you get one, I would make it this one.
6. Merino Wool Midweight Hiking Crew Socks
Socks are always important, but they’re especially vital in autumn when you’ll need to hike through snow. A Mid-weight hiking sock like this pair from REI will provide some insulation and cushion without taking up too much space in your boots. Merino wool is excellent at keeping you warm, wicking sweat away from your toes, and managing odor and moisture. That makes them the perfect choice for fall fourteeners.
7. Hydro Flask Standard Insulated Water Bottle
Leave your water bladder and hose at home in the autumn – it will likely freeze solid in the icy winds. Instead, an insulated water bottle will ensure your water stays liquid even in bitterly cold temperatures. This is one of the larger water bottle sizes from Hydro Flask, and can withstand being dropped and banged around on hikes and climbs. After more than 20 ascents, mine is still in great shape, despite a few scratches.
8. Smartwool Merino 150 Baselayer Bottoms
Adding a base layer in the autumn months will help you stay insulated and keep warm on the trail. Merino 150 layers are slightly less thick than the standard 250 layer which makes it a good fall compromise between warmth and weight. They wick away sweat from your body to keep you dry and manage odor as an added benefit. REI sells them in both a men’s and women’s version. I can vouch personally for the men’s version.
9. Black Diamond Midweight Screentap Fleece Gloves
Your hands and fingers are another weak point when it comes to winter-like conditions, ice, and wind. You want gloves warm enough they protect you, but not too bulky that you can’t use your gear. These mid-weight gloves from Black Diamond hit the sweet spot, and allow you to use touchscreen phones and other devices using screentap tech. The fleece lining is a nice added touch that feels great on a cold autumn day.
10. Celestron Nature 10 x 25 Monocular
If you’re heading out to the mountains to view the changing aspen or the elk rut, this is a great gadget. The monocular is small and lightweight but powerful for zooming in on far-away scenery and wildlife. On more difficult routes it can be used to help with route finding, identifying route markers and cairns in snowy conditions. It’s worth its weight in gold and is very affordable, which makes it a great gift for other peak baggers in your life.
11. Black Diamond Twilight Bivy
Even with all the right gear and preparation an injury or mistake can happen in the autumn. A bivy is a small tube-like emergency shelter that can help keep you alive in freezing temperatures. The Twighlight Bivy from Black Diamond is a dependable plan B if the worst should occur on a hike or climb. It’s tough for winter-like conditions but lightweight enough to bring along in your backpack. Better to be safe than sorry!
12. Fire-Starting Kit in Dry Bag
How do you stay warm if you get lost out overnight? Starting a campfire is a first good option if you have the right gear. This convenient Fire-starting kit is waterproof and has multiple ignition sources and tinder to get a fire going in cool, wet conditions. It’s a small investment that goes a long way in keeping you safe. Just make sure you also take time to brush up on your fire-starting skills, or the kit won’t be much help.
Stay Safe in the Mountains!
The mountains are a dangerous place during the autumn season. Always take the ten essentials with you when out during this time of year, and leave your plans with someone back home. Checking the weather forecast is even more important in fall as the conditions can be so variable day-to-day. The right gear will make your trip easier and a successful summit more likely. Safe travels on the trail!