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Even as the weather cools, camping enthusiasts find peace and adventure in the wilderness

by on November 01, 2019 12:49 PM

Not everyone puts their camping gear away when the temperature starts to fall. Adventurously brave campers don’t just stop spending time outside because the days are shorter and the thermometer drops.

Some people might enjoy camping in cooler weather in a rented cabin with a wood stove or an RV with the heat blasting.

But Melinda Friedhoff, of State College, her husband, Ken, their 5-year-old daughter, Helena, and their Great Dane, Bella, still use a tent. Friedhoff says camping is a way for them to unplug from electronics and spend time with each other throughout much of the year.

For Friedhoff, fall and spring are her favorite seasons to get out and camp. The weather is cooler and because the three humans and one Great Dane share a tent, it can get pretty steamy in the summer. Sitting in front of a fire is much more pleasant when it’s not a balmy summer night. And when it’s cooler out, the fire is an essential part of the trip.

“We always make sure to bring our own firewood. We’re usually able to find plenty, but when the night is going to be colder, we want to make sure we can have a fire,” she says. “A quality sleeping bag is a must, too, in the cooler weather and I insist on having hand warmers. In the summer, we can get away with less stuff, but for fall trips, it's all about the layers. Long underwear, pullovers, jackets, etc.”

Sue Melborne plays outside year-round, so whether she’s kayaking in the winter, mountain-biking in the fall, or meditating in the spring, she often camps wherever she is being active, either in her car or in a tent. 

“One time I ended up camping in a blizzard,” she says. “I didn’t know it was going to get so bad; when I went to sleep there were some light snowflakes. I woke up to 2 feet of snow and 20-degree temps. But I did have my winter sleeping bag, winter tent, and Gore-Tex gear on.”

While Melborne says she loves being outside in all weather, watching wildlife, playing, or being mindful, she also knows how to be prepared for anything unexpected, such as that blizzard.

“One thing people don’t think about in the colder weather is still staying hydrated,” she says. “But you should also stay dry. Bring rain gear, several changes of clothes, and be sure you aren’t getting into a sleeping bag that got wet.”

Over-packing is better than running out of dry clothes. Working up a sweat while being active during the day means sitting and sleeping in wet clothes after the sun sets. Plenty of dry clothes and weather-proof lining like Gore-Tex on the outer layer will be a huge help.

Melborne says that tents and sleeping bags should be seasonal. A tent in the summer should be airy and keep any breezes flowing, but in the winter, the tent should be able to keep body heat and breath inside and block wind and moisture. 

Friedhoff also recommends making sure the sleeping bags aren’t directly on the ground, for warmth. The family members have single-size air mattresses, put them all together, and sleep side-by-side. They make sure to bring Bella’s dog bed, too. 

Keeping comfortable in the daytime is a little different than at night.

“We get out to hike and try to be active, something to keep the blood flowing and take your mind off the temperature during the day,” says Friedhoff. “A nice fire and s'mores are a must, and we usually bring cards or something we can play together.”

Rothrock is their go-to camping spot for back-country camping, Friedhoff says, but her husband has a book on best places to camp and they have been exploring new places. 

“We just got a new tent last year, so it's spacious and cozy. Last time we camped, the three of us, along with our Great Dane, all bundled up,” she says. “Ken loves roughing it and I always have fun once I'm there, but I do enjoy the warmth that comes with a more formidable structure. My husband loves it and it’s so nice to watch him share that with our daughter.”

In November, Melborne will be camping again, but this time in a cabin. The State College resident will host a mindfulness retreat with kayaking, meditation, biking, and hiking. She says that being outside in the fall is magical because the blue sky, foliage, and crisp air before the cold sets in is lovely. It’s a great way to escape stressors and pay more attention to the outdoors. Her retreat, which hosts visitors from all over, gives people a healthy dose of the outdoors to rest, relax, and appreciate the moment.

Camping also gives people the opportunity to see more wildlife than most. In the fall, Melborne has seen bald eagles, deer, river otters, beavers, and even some bears.

“When you see nature close up like that, you feel connected and it stops time and becomes relaxing for the body and mind to immerse yourself in the outdoors,” she says.

Warm under-layers, weather-proof outside layers, boots for any kind of weather, and seasonal tents and sleeping bags can are not hard to get in State College, she notes.


Rebekka Coakley is a freelance writer.


Rebekka Coakley is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia.
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