Fall is a beautiful time to hike, but it’s also a season when the weather drastically starts to change. One has to ask the question: What if I’m out there when bad weather hits? A low pressure system, high winds, maybe even a blanket of snow. This time of year, it’s sometimes just cold wet rain.
Your first and foremost concern should be maintain your warmth and keep yourself dry. (Wet clothing can quickly lead to hypothermia). Here are a few basics:
Prepare for bad weather before you go out into the backcountry. Plan for the worst, hope for the best. Prepare and go through a “worse case weather scenario”. This includes bringing the proper clothing. I have been in the backcountry where it has been foggy, rainy, and cold. Socks and hiking boots soaked, only to find myself the next day in warm dry weather.
Find shelter or set up camp to get out of the bad weather. Most of the time, you will probably have a tent. Practice pitching your tent in the rain. Or I attach my rain fly already packed in my compression bag. However, cover of any kind will do, and you should familiarize yourself with your surroundings. Knowing how to keep the rain, and wind off you will increase your chances of not getting cold. If there are strong winds, try to locate a shelter site in a protected area away from dead trees or trees with dead branches that may fall.
In severe lightning storms, there is danger from both direct hits and ground currents. Get close to the ground. Lay down if you can. The most typical way to lay low is to crouch down on top of your pack. Do not lay down under a big tall tree. Find smaller trees bunched together. Get off of a tall hill, or mountain, where you are exposed. Lightning can travel and strike miles away. You must take lightning seriously in the backcountry.
Make sure you can start a fire or light a stove for hot drinks. If your socks get wet, throw them in your sleeping bag while you sleep. Your body heat will act as a dryer and dry your socks to wear the next day.
DO NOT try and hike out in the midst of a serious storm. The possibilities for injuries or having people (or the entire group) get lost are too great.
Extreme weather conditions are a part of hiking in the backcountry. Storms can come up fast. Be prepared, and understand the weather conditions proportional to the season you are hiking in. Spring to Summer, and Fall to Winter can bring some serious weather. Preparedness is the key.