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Thursday, October 10, 2019

Fall Camping Tips - Camping in New Hampshire

It is pretty standard for me to make some last-minute decision to drive up north on a Friday night.   

This past weekend, I had a friend's daughter's first birthday party in the middle of the day Saturday which clashed with a weekend I was planning to see the foliage and drive Kancamagus Highway.  I wanted to be there for this special little girl's first birthday, but at the same time peak foliage waits for no one.  I had to find a way to do both.  

I packed and prepped Friday night into Saturday morning.  I loaded my car with groceries and tents, sleeping bags and bundles of clothes, pillows and hiking gear and everything Olive needed for two days up north.  Saturday mid day, I headed to the birthday party with the car packed full of gear and Olive patiently waiting in the backseat.  At around 4:30 om on a Saturday evening, just about halfway through the weekend and a late start for a far drive, I made the 4-hour drive north towards the Whites.  It would have been easier to cancel my plans up north, to stay home and find something to do around the house.  But this has been the year of putting my needs at the top of the list, and putting this trip off meant I was missing peak foliage in northern New England.  So off I went, northbound on a Saturday night.  

With a last-minute late-night trip to the Whites, we went back and forth between getting a hotel and pitching our tent.   Temperatures were set in the low 30s for the night and it's almost absurd how much gear you need to (comfortably) car camp with luxuries.  Whether it's one night or five, you need all the staples and it seemed ludicrous to pack all this gear for one single night.   And then there was the whole finding a campground, an open campsite, and setting up a tent at 10pm in cold temperatures.  

The answer was easier than you think for the pure reasons that I do love camping and own a house and a horse and live my life on a constantly shrinking budget.  

A strict budget when traveling means a lot of road trips and camping.  $150 plus on a room for the night (and trying to find something pet-friendly) or $25 for a campsite for a night.  I am happy to sleep on the floor if it means I get to wake up to the sound of the birds and a view of the trees, drinking my coffee outside bundled up against the morning chill.  

I packed my tent, a new air mattress, a double sleeping bag, pillows, and some kitchen gear.  Bringing my Coleman Stove and Camp Percolator meant we would be able to make coffee and breakfast burritos right at our campsite.  I was envisioning a Fall Sunday morning, cold weather camping cuddles, and a sunrise with camp burritos and hot coffee - it was a plan.  

Well, it was sort of a plan. 

I knew I was having breakfast burritos and coffee in the woods somewhere near where I was planning on hiking.  Where I was putting my stove, or my tent for that matter, that was still up in the air.  Thankfully, it's late in the season when campgrounds are starting to wrap up the busy season and attendance is low.  I didn't want to stay at some private campground (think KOA) and be stuck at some commercialized busy expensive summer camp-style place.  I just needed a spot in the woods to pitch my tent at 10 pm and legally camp.  The answer was Tripoli Road.   

Well, sort of, again.  

The answer was going to be Tripoli Road.  Tripoli Road offered a variety of drive-in, walk-in, or hike-in camping opportunities.  From what I read, it was basically "start driving Tripoli Road and look for a campsite".  Oh, and don't camp anywhere with large signs saying "NO CAMPING HERE".  Downsides:  The road is only open seasonally and closed in the winter.  

For fall camping, it seemed like an obvious win.  Dispersed camping on the side of the road, with a lot of opportunities to find a site in peak season in October.  All for 25 bucks. 

Tripoli Road Camping Area 
- This is roadside camping - first come, first served. 
- You must stay at a site with a fire ring, not all sites are numbered. 
- Road signs establish "no camping zones" 
- Register at the ranger station on the western end of the road,
- Rates are a flat rate set per car weekdays ($20 in 2019) weekend ($25-30 - holidays).
- Camping varies from right off the road to hike in options
- There are port-o-potties at the western entrance
- It is an active bear area, use bear canisters or leave food in your car

Established Campgrounds in the Area
This time of year they are first-come, first-served and with plenty of room
- Campton Campground
- Waterville Campground
- Osceola Vista Campground 
- Russell Pond Campground  

It was about 9:30 at night when we made a turn onto New Hampshire 49, the road that would take us to Tripoli.  It was late and I decided to put in the first campground I read about in this area (just off the turn and not even on Tripoli Road).  Late at night, we pulled into an almost entirely empty Campton Campground.  We saw one RVer and one other tent camper in the entire area.  We quickly set up our tent on a perfectly flat area just off the entrance to the campground, a little too close to the road but at 10 pm, two weary travelers set up their tent and hoped for sleep to come quick. 

On a large scale, we were immediately impressed with this campground.  Large spacious tent sites spread out, nice bathrooms (electricity and running water...coin operated showers!).  For $25 a night payable at a self-service fee station at the entrance, we were happy with our decision to skip the hotel and camp in October.  

We were happy with our decision until we inflated our new air mattress (why not car camp in comfort).  We were happy until we found ourselves on the ground on a deflated mattress in about an hour.  This is why you invest in quality gear.  Our $20 air mattress was flat on the ground in about an hour.  We tried to reinflate the air mattress one more time, only to find ourselves back on the ground. After a night's sleep directly on the cold ground (ditched the sleeping pads for the air mattress), we packed up camp, salvaged the morning with breakfast burritos and coffee and headed out for the adventures of the day.  

When I told people I was camping in October, everyone looked at me like I was crazy or exclaimed: "wow, it's going to be cold".  As long as you are prepared with the right gear (and the right mindset) camping in the colder temperatures is a treat.  Less crowded campgrounds, amazing foliage to wake up to and that cold cozy sleeping weather.  And so, here are some fall hiking tips to make the most of camping in the shoulder season as hiking season peaks, campgrounds start to empty, and the temperatures start to drop. 

As I go through the list, keep in mind the differences between car camping and backpacking. Camp camping allows you the luxury of weight and space while backpacking does not.  These suggestions are based on car camping but can certainly be applied to backpacking.  Just be sure to check the weight and size of items as you go. 

This is kind of one of those "equipment heavy" posts, but that's the name of the game when you are trying to sleep in the cold. I highly highly recommend you invest in the staples (tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag) and find ways to save money elsewhere (cooking your own food, maybe check the consignment stores for some lightly used outdoor clothing).  Being cold or wet will ruin your camping experience, leaving you with gear you paid for you probably never want to use again.  Invest in some quality products to keep you warm and dry and I promise you will have a positive experience camping in colder temperatures.  I included links to my favorite gear, and all the pictures are clickable links. 

1.  Its all about the R, R-value that is.  A sleeping pad and sleeping bags R-Value measures its thermal resistance, the ability to insulate you from ground and keep you warm.  The higher the R-value, the more effective it is.  For fall to winter camping, look for an R-Value of 3 for your sleeping pad.  Here are some highly recommended sleeping pads Klymit R-Value 4.4 (just upgraded my pad to this double version)


2.  Double it up. For car camping, a two-person sleeping bag is a sneaky trick to staying warm - body heat is a beautiful thing.  This bag is huge and takes up a ton of room, but when car camping, space is a luxury you can afford.  My double bag is rated to 32 degrees and two humans (and 1 dog) were very comfortable in this double bag in the low 30s overnight.  If you plan to camp in the cold often, you may want to invest in a cold-weather bag rated 0-32 degrees. 

Another way to "double it up" is doubling your gear.  You can stack two 1.5 sleeping pads, you can put liners in your sleeping bags, there are creative ways to increase the r-value without replacing all your gear.  I plan to put my mummy bag into the double bag, increasing the R-value towards that 5 range. 


3.  Make sure you have a 3-season tent - A 3-season tent is important for spring and fall camping.  A 4-seasons tent is even better, especially if you want to try your luck at winter camping.   3-season tents tend to be lighter and less sturdy while 4-season tents tend to be much heavier with large outside vestibules.  4-season tents do not usually include mesh sidewalls, can hold in some heat, and can hold up to heavy rain, wind, and snow. 

Here is my 3-season 2 person ALPS tent I have used for years and years and love. This is the ALPS 2 person 4-season tent I want to also purchase for winter camping. 

4.  Bring your clothes into your sleeping bag.  No one wants to put on freezing clothes in a chilly tent.  Fact, I have refused to change clothing the next morning after a backpacking trip because it was too cold and I couldn't imagine stripping down in 30 degrees to put on cold clothes.  Keep your clothes in your sleeping bag with you and you will have nice warm clothes to transition into the next morning.  Dry clean clothes will also keep you much warmer than anything damp.  


5.  Layers, layers, layers Layers are vital for any cold weather activity.  When it comes to camping, a hat and gloves may be the most important ones.  Have layers to put on or pull off when you sleep.  A hat is vital to keep your head warm and gloves are essential for those chilly mornings packing your gear.  Glove liners in mittens are best if you hands get cold easily.  When I took a winter camping workshop, we practiced assembling tents in big bulky gloves, to stimulate how much longer it takes to set up a tent in heavy gear.  Start with a thin pair for setting up gear and have something thicker in case you need it.   Some of my favorite layers: Patagonia Fleece, Smartwool base layer, a puffy jacket that easily packs into a bag, thin gloves that can be used as liners, and a trusted beanie.

6.  Have an extra pair of warm dry socks. I am going to quote this winter camping workshop (through REI!) because t was so informative.  When we were discussing ways to stay warm while sleeping, the instructor told us about his "holy socks".  He suggested we always have a pair of clean dry socks that never leave the tent.  Pack extra socks, keep a pair "holy".  I love love love my Darn Tough socks (made in Vermont!). Warm, durable, and so darn good. 


7.  Find a way to heat things up.  Sometimes, you just need some heat.  A popular way to warm up your sleeping bag (and you!) is to put hot water into a bottle and bring the bottle into your sleeping bag with you.  A stove or jetboil is also great to have a way to make coffee, tea, or hot food.  It's amazing how much a hot meal or hot cup of coffee can warm you up.  For backpacking or quick and easy, I use my Jetboil to boil water.  If I am car camping, I use my coleman stove to percolate coffee and cook up something hot. 

8.  Have a backup plan.  If things are just too uncomfortable, if something isn't working as it should, or if you just aren't enjoying the experience, have a backup plan.  For me, the backup plan is always sleeping in my car.  Added protection from the wind and a cozy place off the floor is helpful on really cold notes.  Backup plans could also include a local motel or staying close enough to home you can just pack up and return.  I hope you don't have to use it, but it's nice to have options, especially when you are starting out in cold weather camping. 

With the exception of the mattress debacle (our fault for not investing in a quality air mattress or double sleeping pad.... Walmart is not the answer here - invest in quality gear), we were very comfortable camping in temperatures hovering around freezing.  The double sleeping bag was a game-changer and hot coffee on the percolator was the perfect way to start the morning.  We packed up our gear a little tired but excited to start this foliage packed day in New Hampshire. 

Back on the road, we continued down Route 49 to Tripoli Road to Waterville Ski Valley to hike Mount Tecumseh. After our hike, we drove the remainder of Tripoli Road, passing by all the camping opportunities we had read about, and past trailheads for various hikes in the Whites.  It was a quaint little scenic road, narrow and winding through the fall foliage of Vermont, making our way to Lincoln, New Hampshire to drive Kancamagus Highway.  

Before our final leg of the trip, the foliage drive through New Hampshire, we stopped at a ski sale in Lincoln, and for a quick round of 18 holes at Hobo Hills Adventure Golf (miniature golf).  Mini-golf while traveling is the new requirement for #AdventureswithAdam, and we had a blast on the empty course, with New Hampshire's foliage serving as the perfect backdrop.  I managed two holes in one and held my lead for half the game, before being beat by the golf enthusiast. 

Thanks, New Hampshire for another amazing weekend.  Foliage drives, camping, hiking down ski lifts, ski sales, and a round of mini-golf.  Until next time. 

Happy Wandering, 

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