This time of year is my favorite to go and hit the trail, even if it's just for a few hours. The traditional greens of our outdoor environments changes to a sea of oranges and reds, eventually fading to the barren browns of winter. While the changing of the leaves may be short lived, it's all the more reason to get out there and take in as much as you can before you have to wait another year. As the days get shorter and temperatures get lower, we enter a period of what I would call optimal hiking weather. With summer in the rearview, carrying those extra pieces of gear becomes easier, with extra space in pockets, jackets, and backpacks. There are a few key differences that inexperienced hikers should be aware of in order to make the most out of their trip, but for those who are experienced, I hope this inspires you to head out to a trail near you.
As the type of person who prefers to wear long sleeved clothing, Fall fits perfectly in my portfolio, as it's pants and sweater season. I'm also the type of person who carries a few basic necessities anytime I hit the outdoors, and having a backpack or extra pocket space comes in handy for those purposes. Even during the summer, I do carry a pack on me for the purposes of a hydration bladder and hose system, as they're much more convenient than a traditional water bottle. I know plenty of people who prefer to carry a large water bottle, utilizing the water bottle pockets that are available on most backpack designs. It really isn't much more effort to hydrate from a bottle versus a bladder, but the main thing to consider here is weight distribution. Having a heavy bottle of water off to one side for a simple day hike, with nothing to counteract the weight on the other side of the pack creates discomfort, which is especially noticeable on longer treks. As temperatures drop, the bladder keeps the water closer to your body, allowing you to prevent it from freezing with your own body temperatures.
Speaking of temperatures, let's talk layers. Your base layers should be moisture wicking, as it's likely you'll build up a light sweat at certain points of your hike. Moisture wicking clothing will help lock your body heat in when you stop, unlike cotton clothes which maintain the moisture. When you do eventually stop to take a break, the chills can hit you harder than you thought was possible, and a large reason of this would be that your clothes are soaked in sweat. Materials like polyester are great for moisture wicking, and will help to keep you warmer during periods of inactivity, but wick away moisture as it develops. While a sweatshirt is nice and cozy, it has almost no water resistance outside of specifically designed sweatshirts. In most cases I would recommend a windbreaker type jacket, as this not only stops cold winds from cutting through, but repels moisture from falling droplets or even light rain storms. Especially during the fall, moisture is in abundance, so proper awareness and prevention is key.
With all of that in consideration, the most important piece of equipment on any hike, and certainly for fall hiking, is your footwear. As I said, moisture is prevalent during this time of year, which can cause injuries especially if you don't have the proper equipment. A good pair of hiking shoes or boots that offer ankle support is a must. Most have treads on the soles designed to give you traction in uneven and wet terrains, but you would also want water resistance in the footwear itself. Some boots come treated already, but if not, you can always purchase a water proof treatment and apply them to your hiking shoes. Covering your ankles with long socks and shoes also locks in more body heat, as much of your heat escapes from your neck and your ankles. Proper support and traction is hugely important for your own safety, and as some trails may get washed out from rain storms or otherwise, having a reliable piece of footwear far outweighs everything else.
Finally, some extra tools never hurt anyone. As I've said multiple times in previous posts, I always bring a knife and several ways to start a fire. Some snacks are always a great idea to replenish calories after a tiring trek, and could come in handy if the worst happens. As the sun sets earlier and earlier with each passing day, missing a checkpoint becomes easier the longer you stay out there. Hiking earlier is a better idea as days get shorter, but catching the sunset also becomes more attractive as it happens sooner. Staying till sunset does bring some inherent risk, so I would only recommend doing this on familiar or short/easy trails. While I've never needed to use my tools in a real survival situation myself, I can guarantee that I would be glad that I brought them if I ever found myself lost in the wilderness.