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Home Story Camping in the Arctic autumn: a how-to guide

Camping in the Arctic autumn: a how-to guide



In the Northwest Territories, fall can be forbidding. Yet for many visitors to the region, it’s their favourite time to camp, as some territorial parks remain open through the middle or end of September.

There’s something about the crisp tang in the air, the gleaming foliage, and the flashing Aurora that makes you feel fully alive. How do our rugged autumn campers make the most of it?

Here’s a suggested packing list:



During the Northern summer it’s bright 24/7, so your flashlight or headlamp ends up sad and forlorn, left at home. But come autumn, darkness stages a comeback and your light gets to come out and play. Be sure you’ve got a good one. Northerners often go for the most powerful option: Headlamps that blaze at 1,000 lumens or more, transforming the night into day.



Up here, autumn is ablaze with colour. Whether you’re up in the Mackenzie Mountains or out on the Barrenlands, the flora and foliage will be a day-glo canvas of crimson and gold – a stellar scene for keen shutterbugs. Better yet, birds and caribou are on the move in the fall. If you’re lucky, you might get to take their portrait.



This time of year, bears engage in what scientists call “hyperphagia” – meaning they’re pigging out in preparation for their long winter sleep. Avoid becoming their meal by staying vigilant: keep a clean camp, pay attention to fresh tracks or scat, and pack bearspray. (Pro tip: Make sure your bearspray isn’t expired, and practice using it. That way you’ll be quick on the trigger if Smokey wanders into camp.) 


Toque and mitts:

While 10°C may seem balmy when you’re setting up camp, it feels damn chilly once you’re sitting still. You can’t overdress for autumn camping. Longjohns, gloves and a fuzzy hat will allow you stay up late, sipping wine and watching the Aurora do its dance. And, you’ll be the hero the next morning when you emerge from your frosty tent and make coffee for your shivering friends.



During the hot, bright summer, campfires just don’t seem that special. In autumn, though, you’ll be stoking up the flames. There’s nothing better than huddling around a radiant blaze while the sparks fly up to the heavens. Bring some newspaper to help you get that fire started. 


Hot cocoa:

Hot drinks are the secret to fall camping. There’s nothing cozier than huddling around the fire with a mug of something hot and sweet to warm you from the inside-out. If you’re not into cocoa, try warming apple cider in a pot over the fire, adding in a sachet of mulling spices for extra warmth. 



Winter is coming, and when it does, you’re going to wish you’d spent more time out paddling. While the water is still liquid, cram in as much boating time as you can. Your soul will thank you.


Aurora forecast:

In autumn, the Northern sky is lit. Ain’t nothing better than kicking back on a Thermarest, listening to the loons wail, and watching the heavens go crazy. Pay attention to the Northern LIghts forecast for the Northwest Territories and you can time your camping trip to enjoy maximal auroral activity. 


Water bottle:

For a different reason than you think. Before you go to bed, fill the bottle with hot water. Then stick the bottle inside a wooly sock and place it inside the foot of you sleeping bag. Advantage 1: Toasty toes all night along. Advantage 2: Warm water for the kettle the next morning.  



LOL, just kidding! Fall camping is blissfully bug-free. 


All set? To book a campsite at a territorial park, go here.

Photo credit: Parks Canada, Tuktut Nogait National Park.

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