Solo camping is radically different from group camping experiences. Without others around you to provide you with entertainment, company, wilderness skills, or a feeling of safety, you’re responsible for making your trip work. While this can be an excellent opportunity to build your skills, independence, and resilience, it can also be a source of fear and anxiety without the right planning. Here are six things to keep in mind when you’re solo camping.
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- Ease into it.
If you’ve camped many times with your family or friends but have never camped solo before, even car camping by yourself can feel intimidating. If you’ve camped solo at popular campgrounds, your first venture into the backcountry will probably feel new and perhaps even overwhelming.
Choosing a familiar camping destination that’s close to home is the first step to building confidence while solo camping. You can spend more than a couple of nights out in the wilderness alone and achieve a better comfort level in a recognizable area.
You can also test your skills incrementally if you are more familiar with the site. Choose a location that lets you test your limits in one or two but not all of the following categories: fire making, shelter setup, navigation, weather preparedness, wildlife preparedness or some degree of isolation from other humans.
- Let people know where you are.
Should an emergency arise when you are in the wilderness alone, make sure someone knows your itinerary and location so they can alert the authorities.
When you’re solo camping, always let at least two people know what new challenges you’re facing and when you’re planning on being back. If possible, set up check-in times so people back home know when to expect to hear from you. This can help you feel safer and more supported as you try new things.
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- It’s okay to be nervous.
Doing something new brings you face to face with the unknown, and it’s an opportunity to learn to navigate new risks and challenges.
Learning how to coach yourself through fears isn’t something we’re born knowing. It requires practice. One study demonstrated that self-talk training before competition for young athletes helps to improve not only anxiety but also performance and reduces physical symptoms of nervousness.
Rather than feeling weak for experiencing fear or abandoning your solo camping mission altogether, give yourself space to work through your fears one by one. Do some self-talk training beforehand and visualize where you’ll camp, the challenges you’ll face and how you’ll meet those challenges.
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- Build your skills gradually.
While solo camping is an excellent opportunity to increase your knowledge, skills, and abilities, there are a few necessary skills to master before heading out on your first solo camping trip.
You should know how to pack a first aid kit and perform basic first aid on yourself. Understand the major first aid risks you may encounter, basic weather signs, and what animals you may face in your area. If you’re in an area with bears, for instance, understand how to store food and trash safely so you don’t entice any hungry cubs.
You should know which plants in your area are poisonous, and it never hurts to do some research into local edible plants, especially if you like fresh greens with your MREs. If you are planning to camp by a lake or river, hone your fishing skills, pack your fishing rod and bring essential fishing apparel on your next solo camping trip so you can catch your dinner in comfort.
Ensure you head into a solo camping trip knowing how to build a fire with matches and feel confident in pitching your tent or setting up your hammock and tarp. If you’re venturing into the backcountry, you should know how to use a topographical map and compass and carry them. While GPS devices and phones are useful tools, batteries can die and screens can break.
- Be physically prepared.
It is crucial to prepare mentally for your adventure and practice all necessary skills–from tent setup to wet-weather fire building–at home and before you undertake your adventure. You also need to work on your fitness before heading out so you will be more than ready for any physical challenges you may face.
You don’t want your first solo camping spot to be 10 miles away from a trailhead when you’ve only walked eight miles at a time before. Train your body to carry weight by hiking with a heavy pack in the weeks leading up to your trip. You can also augment your functional training with some cardio and light resistance workouts.
- Pack smart.
Without friends and family to help you carry the load, you will need to become an expert at lightweight packing. To make sure you take all your essentials with you, you will need to pack smarter instead of packing more.
Make a complete list of all your camping essentials–double- and triple-checking it before you leave. Choose an ultralight tent with an easy setup that you can manage yourself and ensure you wear and pack appropriate clothing layers for the environment to regulate your body temperature. Water can significantly weigh down your pack, so consider camping by a water source and pack a water purification system to filter water as you go.
One piece of bulky gear that may be worth packing is a bear-proof cooler or canister to keep critters out of your food supply. For first-time solo campers, it may be worthwhile to begin with a car camping trip and store your supplies in your vehicle. You can make a note of which gear was most useful and which was unnecessary so you can refine your packing list for your next solo camping adventure.
Explore on Your Own
Solo camping presents you with profound opportunities to appreciate beauty and stillness while simultaneously pushing your limits. You may see a stunningly clear night sky and marvel in perfect silence, but squirrels sometimes sound like mythical monsters in the dark.
Remember that solo camping is not a test of your bravado, but rather an incremental and continuous lesson. Use these simple tips to help you make the most of your first solo outdoor adventure.