Solo Camping 101: Safety, Preparation, Pure Freedom


Going solo camping sounds scary. I know when I told my co-workers I was going to go camping around New Zealand for 5 weeks by myself–they thought I was crazy! It’s been, by far, one of my top life experiences.

Successful solo camping trips require safety precautions, preparation, clear objectives, and a flexible mindset.

That sounds simple, but it’s not–and may require practice to get it right. I’m going to walk you through exactly what you need to turn your solo camping trip into a trip to remember (in a good way).

Safety Precautions For Camping Alone

Before we get to all the fun stuff about camping solo, I want to mention that perhaps one of the best safety tips for camping is to bring a friend. Since you’re camping solo, you are intentionally going without that safety precaution.

Is It Safe To Camp Alone?

Solo camping is not unsafe, but special preparation is needed. Camping or hiking alone could be considered more risky than camping or hiking with your friends, and there are some things that you should absolutely do to make sure you have peace of mind and you’re protected against the worst eventuality.

Check In With Someone, Regularly

When I was in New Zealand, at the end of the (her) day I would reach out to my then-girlfriend (now wife) in the U.S. This served two main purposes:

  1. As cool as it was to be by myself, it can feel lonely when you’re off on your own. Connecting with someone on a regular basis is a good way to feel connected to those you care about. Feeling connected gives you more confidence to try new things and explore.
  2. Letting at least one other person know where you are going and what your plans are is an easy way to protect yourself against the worst-case scenarios. Ever watched “127 hours”? Don’t go somewhere without telling someone.

Deep Wilderness

If you’re going to be backpacking or going somewhere without cell service, then you can still give someone an expectation of where you are and where you plan to be. Give a time range. For example, you can tell your accountability friend that you’ll go to Point B from Point A and you are planning on taking 3 days. An example of an emergency plan would be “If you don’t hear back in 5 days, please call help.”

Another safety option in the deep wilderness is a satellite messenger (see some here at REI, or here at Amazon)–these devices vary in functionality but they are made for sending an S.O.S. signal so that in the worst-case scenario, someone can find and rescue you.

Satellite messengers are a fantastic option if you are going to be alone in the middle of nowhere and you want to feel safe without the burden of staying connected by the internet.

Notify Local Authorities

This is something that you should do whenever you are doing something dangerous (like hiking in extreme weather conditions like the Grand Canyon. or any other extreme sport)–if you are going to be in a park or a nationally protected area, then notify the park rangers where you plan to be.

First Aid

First aid is important when you’re with a group, but it’s even more important when you’re alone. I admit I only have a loose understanding of first aid and how to find my way around a first aid kit–but if you’re going to be around others this is less important (although still very important).

However, if you’re in a place where you’re truly alone, then having a first aid kit with the knowledge of how to use it can be the difference between a truly dangerous situation or a mild inconvenience.

Here’s a starter intro to how to use your first aid kit:

Bring a Phone (But Don’t Forget These Freedom Tips)

Part of the reason why you might be camping is that you’re trying to get away from it all–or perhaps you’re trying to give space for your own mind so you can think and process things and focus on simpler problems.

Bringing a phone/smartphone is a tricky balance because smartphones and the apps on them are all designed to demand your attention–and that might defeat the purpose of why you are going solo camping in the first place!

If you want to go solo camping, but be safe and have a way to contact help in case of an emergency but still experience freedom, here are some crucial tips:

  • Turn your phone off until you need it. It’s annoying, but it helps put an obstacle in your way so that you don’t reach for it out of habit.
  • Practice going without your phone leading up to your camping trip. Try turning it off for the day. This will help you disconnect while you’re out in nature and feel less anxiety.
  • Turn off notifications. If you’re checking in with a friend at the end of each day, make sure and turn off notifications for all the distracting apps or else you’ll get sucked into the regular world when you don’t want to. If you aren’t used to this, it’s a good thing to practice as well for your solo camping trip.

Can Women Camp Alone?

A really common and completely understandable fear for many women is if they can camp solo, safely.

Women can and do camp solo. Successful solo camping for any gender requires preparation, camping experience, as well as basic safety precautions–as far as taking care of ourselves and managing nature, men and women are equal. However, the most dangerous part of camping isn’t always nature, but it is often other campers.

I want to be truthful–some people handle this by saying that the dangers of solo camping are overplayed (we talk about some of these dangers in this post here if you want to see statistics). In other words, some people say that anyone who is afraid of camping solo is exaggerating the problem.

And then there are horror stories–and these are the reasons why a lot of people are afraid.

The truth is that bad events are rare. When we hear about them, though, it doesn’t matter how rare they are, they are very vivid to think about.

So, even if it’s rare, peace of mind is an extremely important aspect of enjoying your solo camping trip–so here are some things to think about.

Being Alone Vs. Truly Alone

If you’re camping, you have a lot of options–car camping, wilderness camping, middle of town (KOA) camping, etc. In many camping situations, you aren’t truly alone. In fact, where I live in Texas, the only camping there is you’ll be guaranteed to be around several groups of people close by.

As a woman, one safety precaution to take is to choose to be alone and in your own group but be around multiple groups of people. You can make sure and work with the park rangers (if you are staying in a state/national park) to pick a place that will allow you to have your own privacy but be around multiple groups of different people.

In other words, you can still have a great solo trip even if there are other people around–and it’s definitely possible to arrange your trip in such a way that you are never truly alone, or alone with a stranger.

Self Defense

Speaking of self-defense makes it seem like I think camping alone is a bad idea for a woman, and I don’t think that at all–but I know that many women are uncomfortable with the thought of being by themselves in any capacity. This is a real emotion and fear.

One thing that can help is to know some self-defense and have some means of doing so. You don’t necessarily need a self-defense tool to know the basic concepts of how to protect yourself, but some pepper spray is never a bad thing to have.

Healthline has some invaluable starter lessons on self-defense that can show the basics. Chances are you won’t need to use these–but for no other reason than giving you the confidence of being on your own, it’s worth spending some time to learn.

Preparing For Your Solo Trip

You would think that preparing for solo camping is the same as any other type of camping. As far as the basics go, this is essentially true. But there is a difference between enjoying your solo adventure and wishing you had all your friends with you. What’s the difference? Read on.

Follow a Checklist (Even When You’re On Your Own)

This sounds silly–why am I talking about checklists here?

Because you’re camping on your own, sometimes it’s easy to say: I know what I need, I’ll just keep what I have in my head.

I’m trying to tell you this because this is exactly the mistake I made in my last solo camping trip.

I’ve gone camping with my wife many times, and now our son several times again–and during these family trips we follow a checklist to make sure we get everything we need.

Since camping is much simpler with just one person, it’s very tempting to skip using a checklist.

Don’t do it! Make sure and follow a checklist or you’ll be smacking your palm against your forehead saying “ahh rats”, or something similar.

Planning Solo Camping Road Trips

Planning a camping road trip has its own challenges–I’ll give you some of my top tips here:

Build a Route

One of the best things I did for my big solo camping trip in New Zealand was that I carefully mapped out all the possible things to explore along the route. Besides just figuring out where I was going to sleep, I built a map of all the places I wanted to see and explore.

This gave me the freedom to follow a course and explore, or deviate entirely. Being by yourself you have to make all the decisions which can be exhausting. Researching and figuring out what to do next mid-trip is a not-so-fun way to spend your time.

I made a video about how to use Google MyMaps to plan your own travel route. You can check it out here:

Stock Up On Food That Doesn’t Require Refrigeration

When you’re on a road trip, especially when you’re by yourself and you may want to, on a whim, change your plans because nobody is there to stop you–it’s important to have food available at all times.

Unless you have your own refrigeration plan, it’s difficult to keep your food cool at all times with a cooler or something similar–so it’s a really good idea to have food that doesn’t need refrigeration.

  • Bread
  • Vegetable Spreads
  • Canned Goods
  • Cured Meats
  • Fruits (apples, oranges, grapes… bananas to a certain extent. You gotta watch out for bananas, they cause neighboring food to go bad more quickly)

Although that’s not exactly eating like a king, you will definitely be thankful you can eat a meal without significant preparation or if you are not able to get to a grocery store for a few days.

Don’t Ever Drive On the Beach

Don’t ask 😒

One Night Camping Trips

If you are not planning a month long solo retreat but you’re just going camping for Friday night, then there are still some tips that are important so you can get out there with as little stress as possible.

I talk about planning a one-night camping trip in general and how to make that a smooth process. Check out that article, here.

To summarize some of the key points, though–getting all your camping gear ready ahead of time in bins is a HUGE preparation tip. It makes it so much easier to just put your bins in your car and just go. Camping requires a million little things, so if you compartmentalize your gear and stow it in ready-to-go bins–you’ll be ready to go when the camping fancy strikes you.

Clear Objectives

So, now let’s talk about the fun stuff.

Solo camping can be life changing. Giving yourself time and space to be, exist, to think and to act on simpler needs can be incredibly therapeutic.

Or, it can be really stressful.

Having a successful solo camping trip requires good preparation and safety measures, but it also needs clear objectives.

Pick An Outcome

Don’t worry!

I’m not talking about creating an hourly agenda–that would ruin the fun. I’m talking about having a specific goal in mind for your solo camping trip. Sometimes that goal can be really simple, like relaxing. Or, it could be to learn something new, or to learn the local plants in the area, etc.

Having a specific goal will help you in your planning and give your body and mind a sense of purpose.

Camping solo can feel a little rambly and purposeless–if you give yourself a specific goal then you’ll avoid the purposeless feeling and have a better time.

Check out the Pure Adventure section to see some examples of what you can do.

Pure Adventure

Learning to adventure is a skill–and it’s okay if you’re not perfect at it at first.

Your first solo trip might be stressful–things might go wrong and you’re not prepared. All of that’s really difficult to deal with at the time, but eventually you can make it to a place where you can appreciate the adventure.

Here are some tips to gain a mindset that will help you enjoy your solo camping as much as possible.

Flexible Mindset

As important as it is to have goals, it’s pure freedom to have a loose plan and then at the last minute do something completely different. When you’re by yourself you can absolutely do just that. There’s nobody to upset, there’s nobody’s expectations to live up to.

If you want to go check out this mysterious road and see where it goes? You can do that.

If you want to see what’s beyond the river bend? (if you’ll pardon the cliche) You can do that!

You need to have the mindset though that your plan won’t go perfectly and that you have to accept each moment as they come. For example, what if you can’t make it to your planned campsite in time? Then you’ll have to figure something else out.

Being willing to change your plans is crucial for a pure freedom solo camping trip.

Meditation

Meditation isn’t for everyone, so don’t feel like there’s something wrong with you (or anyone) for not enjoying meditation. But if you haven’t tried it–solo camping is a great place to try it out.

When it’s just you, the trees, the wind, (and a hammock if you’ve got one), it’s easier to let your mind drift or focus, depending on what kind of meditation you’re into.

Solo camping is the perfect opportunity to try out meditation.

Journal

Extended alone time can be a crucial time for self-discovery. A simple lined notebook with a pencil can be all you need to figure out whatever’s going on in your life. There’s something different about writing things down that can help you sort things out.

Find a New Challenge (Some Ideas)

For example, on my last solo camping trip I wanted to practice my sheltering skills so I decided to hammock and set up a tarp shelter. This gave my solo camping trip a sense of purpose and it was really invigorating to be able to make the shelter and sleep in it (and stay dry!)

I used my knowledge of knots to accomplish this task. Have you ever felt like you needed to learn your knots better? I’ve actually made a knots course that walks you through some of the most crucial knots to learn in a way that will help you remember them for when you need them. You can learn more about my course here.

hammock-shelter-over-hammock-at-campsite
Finding a goal or project while you’re solo camping can make your experience all the more rewarding.

Some ideas for other goals:

  • Spend an hour each day writing (journal, fiction, poetry, etc)
  • Go fishing every day
  • Learn the local plants in the area
  • Birdwatch
  • Learn some bushcraft and make your own shelter
  • Spend time thinking about your life and how you’re doing
  • Try and see a waterfall every day

I can’t set your own goals, but hopefully that gives you some ideas on how to make the most of your solo camping time.

Figuring out Loneliness While Solo Camping

Even though it’s nice to be alone, it can be unnerving, especially in our connected world. Sometimes it can be too much, especially if you’re not used to it.

It’s a good idea to do something to stay connected. Like I mentioned in the beginning of this article, it’s not a bad idea to check in with a friend every day so you can stay sane (for extended trips) and also for safety reasons.

Bring a Companion (Not a Human)

Another option is to bring a pet. Bringing a dog or cat while camping is another set of stresses on its own–you have to think about leashes, feeding, cleaning up after them, etc. But a pet can make a huge difference in giving you a companion. Looking after an animal as they look after you is a powerful way to feel at peace wherever you go.

If you don’t have a dog but are considering one, check out our article that talks about ideal breeds for camping.

Is Camping Alone Weird?

You might be wondering if you’re crazy for even wanting to go camping alone. I can relate–some people have thought I was weird or extreme for going camping by myself. I go into detail on some of the mental benefits and go deeper into the question in this post.

Peter

Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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