This week I have certainly felt the first truly cold chill since Spring. Even when standing out in the sun, you can feel that the warmth that was there just a few days ago, has now started to fade.
I love this time of year, similar to Spring, it is a time of great change, but it’s also the time when all the hard work throughout the year can pay dividends. Remembering where you saw that blackthorn months ago, which will now be bearing its fruits. Harvesting the plants and vegetables that were planted many months ago.
It’s also one of the most dangerous times of year for those that enjoy spending time outdoors. We’ve been used to the warm nights, where it’s possible to sleep under a tarp with just a blanket, and wearing only a t-shirt for forays into the woods. Now that starts to change, it is easy to get caught out by being under prepared. It’s easy at home to forget the feeling of cold. The central heating ticks away in the background, taking away all thought of the cold until it’s time to venture out.
Preparation is key to enjoying this time of year. Preparing for that sudden rain shower, sudden chill when the sun goes behind a cloud and sudden waking in the middle of the night, wondering how to get warm.
Like many who spend time outdoors, for my clothing I work in a layered system, which allows me to add or remove layers easily as needed. This is especially useful at this time of year. Base layers are often not needed until the later months of Autumn but it’s useful to have a supply on hand just in case the harsher cold sets in early. Where a few weeks ago a t-shirt would be ample, I now find myself in a long sleeved heavy cotton shirt. The sleeves can be rolled up if it gets too warm but also help protect against wind chill. Having a collar means it can be folded up to protect the neck from the wind.
Over this, if needed, I use a light wool pullover. This helps to retain the body temperature, while still allowing moisture to escape. If it’s a particularly breezy day, I will add a simple cotton shell, such as the Italian field jacket. I find this three piece combination to be enough for most of the early Autumn months. If the rain is coming down hard, I will either substitute the field jacket for a light water proof, or add it over the top.
I find that a remarkable amount of heat is lost through the legs. I usually wear a sturdy pair of cotton trousers unless the weather is extremely hot. These give protection when walking through wooded areas, both against brambles & branches, but also biting critters like tics. These are usually sufficient in the early months of Autumn, but when it starts getting much colder, I add a pair of long johns. These come in varying thicknesses so can be adjusted to suit to conditions.
I’m a big fan of hats. Throughout the Summer I’ve been wearing a Tarp Hat, which is perfect for keeping the sun out of the eyes. They are also very water repellent, which means it can be used later in the year as protection from the elements. The canvas is also great at keeping the head warm. One colder days I revert to a woollen beanie type hat, which helps to protect against even the coldest of days.
For footwear, I use a sturdy pair of Hiax combat boots. These provide a great level of water resistance but also have breathable patches, which stops the feet from overheating. When these are coupled with a thick pair of socks, there’s no worry that your feet will get cold.
I’m one of these funny people that hates the feeling of cotton wool, it sends shivers down my spine, so gloves are a tricky one. For tasks around the camp I use truckers gloves (the yellow ones with the fleece lining), I find the lining of these to be bearable, especially once they’ve been worn in a bit. Military gloves are also bearable. I also use thick fingerless gloves when the weather gets really cold. This gives the hands good protection but also the ability to still to more intricate tasks.
Fire becomes hugely more important in the Autumn. Yes the majority of us like having a fire at any time of year (where permitted), but in the Autumn they become much more important. I’m not saying that it needs to be a roaring inferno, even something like a small twig stove can let out considerable heat. For protection from the elements, I like to use a Polish Lavvu, the canvas and lack of floor means that it’s possible to have some sort of heat source directly inside. I often light a trangia burner for a few minutes, which shoots up the temperature in no time and it lasts for a good amount of time. I’ll caveat, all indoor burning must never be left alone, I diligently sit next to mine & put it out when I’m done, also making sure I have a Carbon Monoxide (CO) detector nearby.
Autumn sleeping can be a concern for some people. I get lots of questions about what type of sleeping bag to buy. As with clothing, I prefer to work in a layered system, so more can be added if it’s too cold, or some taken away if it’s too warm. I’m currently using a British army 58 pattern down sleeping bag, not the lightest or smallest, but it works well. My first addition to this is either a sleeping bag liner, or a bivvy bag. I favour the Czech army bedroll as this also has three layers, a shell, a blanket and a sheet, any of which can be removed if needed. Once a sleeping bag is added to this, there’s no worry about the cold. If an added boost is needed, an improvised hot water bottle works a treat!
Autumn really is one of the best times of year. Once you push past the uncertainty of the weather, there’s nothing quite like wrapping up for a walk in the woods, enjoying all the spectacular colours on the trees.
Travel safely & enjoy what’s out there!