10 Tips on How to Prepare for Shoulder Season Adventures


Fall is often said to be the best season for outdoor adventures. It’s not too hot and not too cold, and the vast array of colours makes hiking up a mountain or waking up to a sunrise all the more enjoyable. But as the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, adventuring outdoors in the shoulder season presents new challenges for hikers, campers and backpackers. While you might be reluctant to give up your outdoor hobbies as snow threatens to cover the trails, it’s important to adapt to the changing weather. Here are 10 tips to keep you safe on the trail during the autumn shoulder season.


Leave a Detailed Trip Plan


Possibly one of the most important tips to follow, letting friends and family know where you’re going, when you’re leaving and when you’re coming back is vital to your own safety. Having a detailed trip plan also encourages you to keep to a schedule, reach your goals and not stray too far into dangerous, unknown territory or take unnecessary risks.


Pack Safety Gadgets


While this applies to all seasons, packing satellite devices and a first-aid kit is even more important in the fall when sporadic weather is more likely to hit at any moment. Having a satellite device at your disposal allows you to call for help even without service—it could be the device that saves your life.


Prepare for Wildlife Encounters

Olivia Wiens 

Fall is a very active season for bears, as they are foraging and storing up for hibernation in the coming winter months. Due to this, hikers are more likely to encounter wildlife throughout their adventure. Carry bear spray and bear bangers with you as you hike while keeping both within easy reach. Yelling, “Hey, Bear!” or singing and talking loudly (even if you’re alone) lets bears known you’re in the vicinity. If you’re still worried, do some research on what to do during a bear encounter.


Dress in Layers


As shoulder season is a time known for unpredictable weather, it’s important to pack clothing for all temperatures. The most effective way to do this is to follow a layering system by using base, mid and outer layers to create a barrier between the frigid temperatures of the night while also allowing you to accommodate warmer weather throughout the day. Adding warm toques and gloves to your layering system can save your hands and ears from frostbite as well.

Fall can also bring dreaded rainy weather, which can easily turn to snow the higher you climb, so packing rain shells with added warmth can save you from getting soaked on the trail.


Wear Appropriate Footwear

Olivia Wiens 

As you climb to higher elevations, you’re more likely to encounter snow and ice blocking your path. Getting your feet wet can increase the chances of frostbite, so to make trudging through the snow and ice safer and more bearable, invest in waterproof shoes and gaiters. Packing a pair of cleats for traversing across winter-like conditions can also save you from slipping on your adventure.


Do Your Research


It does not need to be restated that shoulder season offers unpredictable weather and trail conditions, but checking the weather before you go—ensuring to look at the satellite imagery to see if any storms are heading your way—could save you an unpleasant trip halfway up a mountain before having to turn back. Additionally, consulting apps like AllTrails for current trail conditions, or downloading the map onto your phone or printing out a physical copy, adds an extra layer of safety to your adventure.


Get the Right Gear


For those backpacking during shoulder season, ensuring your gear is rated for the cool temperatures that roll in throughout the night is vital for your own safety. Especially at higher elevations, it’s not unusual to see freezing temperatures in the fall, so investing in a sleeping pad, sleeping bag and waterproof tent rated to handle that weather can save you a lot of grief.


Don’t Skip the Sunscreen


While the weather may have dipped a few degrees and the peaks may be snow-capped, the sun is still strong enough to burn you. Slathering on sunscreen can protect you from an uncomfortable, red-tinged neck or painful burn.


Light Is Right

Olivia Wiens 

Shorter days means less daylight, so packing extra light sources and checking that all rechargeables are at full capacity before heading out will save you from tripping on roots and getting lost in the dark.


Be Prepared to Turn Back


It always stings the pride a bit to turn back before reaching the summit, but sometimes weather, wildlife, unstable trail conditions, personal limitations or mental health conditions make us halt in our tracks. Turning around and heading home early may be the one thing that keeps you alive—never be embarrassed to cut an adventure short.


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