Who says that the camping season is over as soon as the summer holidays have been and gone and the first frosts touch down? Pffff. With most of the summer having been a damp squib for camping in a tent, there’s a desire to play catch-up. Campers are losing out on some potentially fabulous sunny autumn days if the tent is packed away too soon. Here’s what to consider when camping in autumn.
As campsites tend to lower prices beyond the summer season, there are opportunities for a budget camping break. Not least, many campsites have facilities that will provide plenty of comfort for cooler months. Fabric technology in the manufacture of tents and sleeping bags has moved on, too, making off-season camping an easy option.
Feeling cosy, warm and dry, especially at night, is what will ultimately determine whether your autumnal camping trip is a success. Being prepared by having the right kind of bedding will help. Using an airbed or, better still, a camp bed with legs to stay off damp ground is a good start, but it’s what you’re sleeping in that will help most.
Sleeping bags work by trapping warmed air inside its insulated filling, which is the most important aspect of the bag. Bags are rated according to their insulation properties; a ‘three-season’ bag is suitable for everything except a hard winter, while a ‘four-season’ bag is considered for all-year-round use. Tapered bags tend to retain their heat more than rectangular bags. There is also the possibility of adding a fleece liner to your bag for added warmth.
If you unpack your sleeping bag as soon as you can, it will allow the insulation properties to recover. This will make it warmer than climbing into a just-unrolled bag. Placing a hot water bottle inside half an hour before bed so that it’s toasty warm helps, too. And, remember, if you’re cold when you climb in, you’ll stay cold so keeping warm beside a campfire will add to the magic.
Sleeping bags also lose some of their insulation value when damp, so sleeping with your head out of the bag helps to avoid a moisture build up. You can always wear a hat in bed as your body loses most of its heat through your head. Packing additional fleece blankets, and placing a duvet, mattress topper or picnic rug beneath your sleeping bag will help to make a comfortable and warmer night’s sleep. Not least, it will make the tent look cosy.
Like sleeping bags, tents are also given a rating – according to how waterproof they are. For camping in autumn, look for tents with a rating of three- (spring/summer/autumn) or four-season (all year) and ideally a water resistance of 2,000mm, which is considered suitable for all-year use.
Most tents incorporate a waterproof groundsheet but having a tent with an additional living area and/or porch will prevent sleeping areas from getting dirty or damp. It’s somewhere to store shoes and wellies and outdoor kit overnight if you’ve done too much rain dancing and the heavens offer a sudden downpour.
It goes without saying that eating well – and eating the right kinds of foods – will help you keep warm throughout the night, so aim for hearty stews, soups, and other nourishing hot meals.
For safety, cooking on a gas stove or barbecue should never be done inside a tent. If it’s raining, a separate awning or porch is a useful addition for autumn camping. Keep the stove away from any tent walls, make sure that there is plenty of ventilation (if you must cook inside a porch area) and avoid cooking in the tent doorway, as it may block your main fire escape. Cookers with windshields will provide additional protection against the elements.
Where to stay
Many campsites stay open all year and are equipped for autumn camping. Head for a site that has heating in the toilet and shower areas, and with plenty of hot water. A campers’ kitchen is useful to avoid cooking in the rain or cold. Some sites also have indoor lounge areas or a games room where you can head if you need to get out of the cold, though check that bars and restaurants will be open as some campsites reduce their available facilities in the winter months. Sites with electric hook-ups will enable you to run lamps after dark (or pick a solar-powered light that recharges during the day), otherwise look for a site that will allow campfires to brighten and warm dark evenings.
Finally, it’s worth considering a site that provides additional accommodation like camping pods, so that if it’s gets too cold at night, you can always claim you gave autumn camping your best shot and move indoors!
Discover Where to Stay: Recommended open-all-year sites for autumn (and winter) camping
Anita’s Touring Park
Direct access to tent pitches off gravel tracks, electric hook-ups and six camping pods, if the weather turns, makes Anita’s ideal for winter camping. There’s a well-stocked shop on site plus numerous good pubs within a few miles to feed up on hearty food.
The Yews, Mollington, Banbury, Oxon, OX17 1AZ
Tel 01295 750731
Hopleys Farm Camping
You can take your own tent to Hopleys and take advantage of pitches with electric hook-up or hire one of their yurts or bell tents, furnished ready for autumn camping (to end of October) with heater and rugs. Two shepherd’s huts have log burners and a wood-fired hot tub. Pitches provide delightful views of the Worcestershire countryside and Severn Valley. Campfires are allowed but must be off the grass, with fire pits available to rent. Homecooked pizzas are available on site from The Rustic Kitchen with its wood-fired oven. There’s also a well-stocked farm shop.
Cleobury Rd, Bewdley, Worcs, DY12 2QL
Tel 01299 402173
Church Farm Camping & Caravan Park
Five separate areas within enclosed paddocks provide for differing campers needs; somewhere for families (where children are allowed to play ball games uninhibited), adults only, groups etc, as well as a large rally field. And while the high hedges and screening provide all these cosy niches, there are also some stunning views of the Cranborne Chase AONB within which the site sits.
Facilities include an amenity area where the showers are heated by solar power, a unisex family bathroom; disabled facilities are accommodated, too. Plus Hanlega’s, the restaurant and bar, open all day, offers a light and airy conservatory-style building.
Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 5ND
Tel 01725 552563
Tanner Farm Park
Centrally heated shower and toilet blocks plus a laundry room will help campers keep beautifully clean during a winter holiday at Tanner Farm Park. And with all the walks available direct from the campsite, a regular change of clothes might be required. However, there’s a ‘Rec Room’ with TV and comfy chairs should evenings get chilly. Glamping pods and a yurt, too.
Goudhurst Rd, Marden Kent, TN12 9ND
Tel 01622 832999
Castlerigg Farm Camping & Caravan Site
You cannot ask for better views than those obtained while staying at Castlerigg Farm – a complete 360˚ panorama, including that of Derwentwater. Hot showers in washrooms with underfloor heating will help autumn campers freshen up. There’s also a laundry room and drying room if you’ve been out on the fells, plus a campers’ day room. Perfect for enjoying the first frosts, maybe even some snow, before the site closes at the beginning of January, Castlerigg Farm reopens in February, so you can enjoy an early spring camping trip, too.
Keswick, Cumbria, CA12 4TE
Tel 01768 772479
Ayr Holiday Park
No, camping in Cornwall isn’t only for summer! Ayr Holiday Park is open all year – I was there in February, and I struggled to get a pitch such was the demand. The views over St Ives Bay are phenomenal and St Ives in winter is pleasantly busy (rather than a summer crush). The amenity block with hot showers has underfloor heating, there’s a laundry and the Quarterdeck Restaurant on-site offers breakfast as well as evening meals.
St Ives, Cornwall
Tel 01736 795855