We discussed building a fall sleep system in our How to Build a Sleep System piece. Just like we did for Winter, here we drill deeper so you can head into Fall with the confidence and quality rest you need to maintain your summer momentum.

A proper fall sleep system gives an adventurer the ability to capitalize on the exquisite shoulder season of Autumn. Depending on where you are, shoulder seasons can be hard to plan for. They are often characterized by unpredictable weather and dramatic temperature swings. Even in shoulder season go-to regions like the desert, the weather forecast should not be blindly trusted. Despite the variable conditions you can expect, thermal efficiency can be achieved with the right combination of gear, so let’s get started!

1. START WITH A SLEEPING PAD

A thermally efficient fall sleep system begins by selecting a sleeping pad with the appropriate R-Value. If you want to be safe, aim for an R-Value of 4.0 or higher, which will provide sufficient insulation for the early winter conditions you may enounter. If you sleep particularly warm, and R-Value of 3.0 will be sufficient in many situations.

setting up fall sleep system

Fast & Light

Our fall sleep system pad recommendation must begin with the NeoAir® XLite™. With an R-Value of 4.2, the XLite provides full three-season warmth while weighing just 12 oz (230 g) in the regular size. Year in and year out it impresses reviewers by the virtue of its versatility and reliability.

It’s incredible warmth-to-weight ratio make it an icon on long distance thru-hikes where hikers experiences three seasons (sometimes four) and a myriad of climatic conditions. When weather can be deceptively summery before harassing you with the first taste of winter, the XLite can be trusted to perform.

inflating xlite sleeping pad

Trek & Travel

If your adventures don’t demand the ultralight profile of the XLite, the Trail Pro™ is a premier fall sleeping pad choice. With and R-Value of 4.4, you ostensibly get year-round warmth, and certainly get a pad ready for anything Autumn brings your way.

Due to its super supportive and compact StrataCore™ foam construction, the Trail Pro is light and packable enough for backcountry pursuits (especially by water craft). Moreover, the stretch-knit fabric on the surface is remarkably soft to the touch, and will be the envy of your camp companions. Weighing in at 1 lb 13 ox (820 g) in the regular size, the Trail Pro won’t disappear in your backpack like the XLite, but it will change the way you sleep under the stars.

laying on layered sleeping pads for fall sleep system

Another Option

If you are just stepping into the world of fall camping and don’t want to drop the dough on a brand-new pad quite yet, we understand, and have a solution for you! R-Value is additive, meaning if you add another pad between you and the ground, both pad’s R-Values can be added for a new total R-Value.

Layering the Z Lite SOL™ under your existing pad both adds its 2.0 R-Value to your system, and creates a layer of puncture protection under your pad. What’s more, is the Z Lite is deftly useful outside of the tent. Seating, dog mats, and cooler insulation are just three ways the Z Lite goes beyond the sleep system. With an affordable price and weighing just 14 oz (410 g) in the regular size, its little wonder why the Z Lite is nearly ubiquitous in camps year-round.

2. INSULATATION – SLEEPING BAGS & QUILTS

Approaching the variability of Fall conditions means you should be looking pretty resolutely in the 20F/-6C range of sleeping bags and quilts. EN/ISO Temperatures ratings are standardized and applied in ranges. Therm-a-Rest uses a handy graphic to make clear that a bag or quilt rated 20F/-6C will have a comfort range of 32F/0C while the transition range is 20F/-6C and the risk range is -9F/-23C.

taking in view sitting in sleeping bag

The transition range is defined as a standard user fighting against the cold but still in thermal equilibrium. Somewhere in the transition range is the performance limit of a sleeping bag or quilt, which is why those numbers are pulled into the name of the piece.

Sleeping Bags

Being comfortable at freezing temperatures is a solid bar to aim for when camping in the Fall. A sleeping bag like the Questar™ 20F/-6C is an excellent choice for the camper that wants versatility. With its W.A.R.M. fit profile, the Questar is well suited to both backpacking and car camping. Looking to go lighter? Try the Parsec or the Hyperion in the 20F/-6C models.

Here in the Pacific Northwest fall means the return of the rain. We use Nikwax Hydrophobic Down™ in our sleeping bags and quilts, which is proven to retain its loft an insulation properties much longer than untreated down when its wet. Still, pay attention to your forecast and draw upon your experience. It may be prudent to head out with synthetic insulation in wet conditions. With eraLoft™ synthetic insulation, the compact and comfortable Saros™ 20F/-6C sleeping bag is well suited to such a situation.

Quilts

Quilts follow the same temperature standards as sleeping bags, but offer the opportunity to trim a great deal of weight and packed size. If an ultralight Fall sleep system is your aim, then quilts deserve serious consideration, none more so than the astonishingly light, compact, and comfortable Vesper™ 20F/-6C. Due to the nature of their construction, we don’t make a quilt that is warmer than a 20F/-6C. Solely relying on a quilt for your fall sleep system is certainly possible, but requires secure knowledge in what type of sleeper you are and what conditions will be encountered.

waking up with quilt and sleeping bag

Why Not Both?

Still, quilts are deftly useful sleep system components when you factor in the strategy of layering. Much like adding a Z Lite SOL under your pad boosts the overall R-Value, adding a quilt on top of your sleeping bag lowers the overall EN/ISO temperature rating.

Again, say you have a 32F/0C bag but want to get some Fall camping in with a group of friends. You expect temperatures to get below freezing at night, and feel your bag won’t quite cut it. Adding a quilt like the Corus™ 32F/0C will push your insulation into the appropriate comfort range for a good and safe Autumn night under the stars. Come summertime, you then have a cool and lightweight quilt option to play with in your sleep system.

Bonus: Layering camping blankets achieves the same effect and adds a utility blanket to your camp! Less expensive and always useful, our line of camp blankets are an asset to any fall sleep system!

air pillow for camping

3. PILLOWS

Regardless of the season, the ultimate goal of a sleep system is good quality rest. Sleep is the foundation for clear-headed performance each day, so achieving higher levels of night time comfort helps you perform better. With that in mind, our fall sleep system definitely includes a pillow.

In our line of pillows you will find a light and packable model suitable to any adventure. From the ultralight and minuscule packed size of the Air Head™ Lite, to the ultra-comfy and upcycled Compressible Pillow, our pillows provide essential head comfort in your sleep system. When it is Fall, and the colder temperatures or volatile weather threaten to violate your slumber, having something to rest your head on is important.

Final Thoughts

Instead of concluding with flowery language about the sublime beauty of Autumn, here is our go-anywhere fall sleep system of choice: