The One Thing Not to Forget on Your Next Fall Hike, According to “America’s Park Ranger”

published Oct 6, 2022
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Woman wearing headband and backpack going for a hike
Credit: zedspider/

While apple picking, pumpkin flavors, and flannel shirts often mark the entrance of autumn, nothing matches the beauty of the leaves as they change colors. Fall is the perfect time of year to hike and immerse yourself in the rustic tones of the season, and whether you have plans to head down a local trail or spend a Saturday climbing to a high vantage point, you need to be prepared. 

Although you need sturdy shoes and should undoubtedly take along healthy snacks and plenty of water, there’s something else you should have, according to Ash Nudd, who is known as America’s Park Ranger and the hiking concierge for Worldmark by Wyndham. Not only is Nudd well-versed in national parks, but she is also the mom of two young boys, which requires her to be ready for any situation. 

Here is her advice on the one thing you need to take on your next fall hike — a windbreaker rain jacket — and why it’s essential.

It will keep you warm when it’s chilly.

Nudd stresses that having a windbreaker-style rain jacket is particularly handy when exploring in the spring, during autumn, and at increased elevations, where it can get chilly. “When you are hiking during seasons and in places where the temperature can and will change dramatically during the day, it helps to have a shell of protection,” she says. A light layer can hold heat and keep wind, rain, and cold at bay. Additionally, Nudd advises that getting wet when it’s cold outside can also be dangerous and that a waterproof jacket could be the difference between a fun hiking story and hypothermia. 

It easily packs into your backpack.

As the sun heats up or as you head to lower elevations, a light rain jacket is easy to take off and store in your backpack. They usually pack up tightly so that you don’t have to worry about saving much room, or you could always tie it around your waist without having it weigh you down. Nudd and her family carry a jacket regardless of the season due to their packability. “It is rare that you will catch us without one of these waterproof jackets in our packs,” she says.

Although you could take a bulkier jacket, it’s not the most convenient way to stay warm and dry. “Some people decide they will just deal with a really cold morning and hope it warms up fast because their jacket is too bulky for a day pack,” says Nudd. Others may bring a cumbersome jacket but regret it because it’s too large to wrap around their waist or fit into a backpack. So, invest in a thin, rain-repellent layer if you don’t have one already.

It keeps you dry without heating up in warm weather.

Autumn weather can be unpredictable as days oscillate between cold and warm temperatures. On hot fall days, having a light rain jacket will help you stay dry without causing you to overheat. “In the spring, fall, and high elevations, you will often have very cool mornings and random storms that pop up,” says Nudd, “but it can also get pretty warm if you are out in the sun.” A rain jacket allows you to remain dry without uncomfortable bulkiness as the weather changes. When the weather fluctuates in the fall — whether that means rain or cold — a lightweight jacket is a vital item to keep handy.