Camping is often thought to be a group activity. In movies, we frequently see a happy trio of friends huddled around a campfire, roasting marshmallows and regaling each other with tales from the day. But what happens when you want to go it alone? Solo camping is equally fun if not more rewarding in many ways. Camping alone gives you time to recharge, gather your thoughts, and learn how to be by yourself. In fact, I suggest everyone give it a try at least once in their lives if only to experience that utter solitude that comes with quintessential “me time”. Of course, a solo camping trip requires more planning since you have to rely on yourself for everything. Even the most seasoned camper forgets important basics from time to time. To help you along, I’ve put together a list of nine essential camping tips. In no particular order, here’s what NOT to do on your next solo trip.
1) Leave the House Unprepared
This may sound basic, but it’s the crux of your entire trip.t’s critical to properly prepare yourself for your solo trip. This may include acquiring the necessary maps and scoping out trail beta for your planned hiking trails. If you are taking out new gear, your solo trip prep may involve practicing with those items before leaving the house. After all, it would be pretty terrible to show up at camp only to realize you have no idea how to pitch your tent.
2) Go MIA
Since you will be spending some alone time in the woods, it’s ideal to make sure you are doing it safely. Always be sure to let someone know where you are going; leave a note with a friend, neighbor, or family member, detailing your plans including your estimated return time, trailhead, and where you plan on camping. If needed, include a checklist so that they know your exact itinerary. It may feel like overkill to give your entire weekend agenda to someone else, but trust me, you’ll thank your lucky stars if you end up needing assistance.
3) Arrive Late to Your Campsite
Showing up at camp late is the exact last thing you want to do. Not only can the cover of darkness feel disorienting, but it can make finding and using your gear far more difficult. Make a point to arrive at camp with at least 1-2 hours of sunlight left. This will allow you enough daylight to locate a decent campsite, handle your tent setup, and cook your dinner. Plus, you may even have extra free time to enjoy that beautiful sunset!
4) Freak Out
Look, I get it. The sun has disappeared beneath the horizon, weird owls are hooting, and twigs are snapping in the woods around your tent. This is a perfect combination of events to cause fear, but freaking out won’t solve anything. More than anything else, the alone time on a solo camping trip can get stressful after dark. This is when imaginations run wild and humans have a tendency to freak themselves out. Don’t allow this to happen to you. Instead, stay calm and rational and realize all those wilderness sounds are normal. It’s just you, nature, and a lot of quiet time—and that’s a good thing.
5) Forget Your Entertainment
I realize that you’ve gone into the woods to spend a little time with yourself, but that solo time can weigh on you. Be sure to pack a book, journal or deck of cards on your trip. This will help fend off those evening hours when you don’t have anyone to talk to. An engaging audiobook will keep you so absorbed that you don’t even hear all those spooky woodland sounds outside your tent wall.
6) Overestimate Your Abilities
Maybe you easily cover 20 miles on your day hikes back home? Great, that is seriously awesome! However, don’t assume that your at-home mileage will automatically translate to your first solo trip. Hiking alone with a heavy pack is very different than a day-hike or walk in the woods. Some may find themselves so engrossed in their own head that the miles tick by. However, for others, the lack of conversation may be daunting and cause the hours to drag more slowly than expected. Either way, it’s not a bad idea to play it easy on your first trip. Don’t overestimate your abilities and be sure to target mileage that is easily doable for your skillset. This ensures you will arrive at your campsite with plenty of daylight to get yourself sorted and relaxed. Sure beats slamming in after dark all dazed and confused!
7) Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
On that note, here’s another pro tip: don’t try to tackle too much! Many old timers will advise you to camp out three or four or even five nights on your first solo trip, suggesting that longer is better for you to truly understand the nature of solitude. And while I understand that perspective, I don’t think it is a good idea for your first trip on your own. Camping alone is new to you and it’s ideal if you walk away from your first experience eager to go again. Don’t push it too much; plan on one or two evenings out for your first trip. This will give you enough time to recharge and get a feel for things without sliding into full-on loneliness. If you love it? Great, tack another night onto your next unaccompanied trip.
8) Be Afraid of Strangers
We’ve all heard the adage: don’t talk to strangers. When you’re camping by yourself, it’s an expression I would take with a grain of salt. Of course, you should always be wary of your surroundings and remove yourself from any situation that makes you uncomfortable. Taking care of yourself should be your first priority. That said, solo camping is a great way to make new friends! You’ve obviously got something in common since you are both opting to spend your free time outside, so it’s a good start. Don’t be afraid to meet new people on the trail or at camp. You may just find your next hiking partner.
9) Be a Noob (aka overly ambitious newbie)
I can’t express this enough: don’t be a noob. Camping alone is a rewarding and fulfilling experience. However, it is important that you know what you are doing in the wilderness before setting out on your own. If you are a beginner to hiking and camping, it is likely best that you avoid solo trips until you have more experience under your belt. Truly, this is for your own safety. There is always the risk of something going awry on the trail, and it will be much better for everyone if you are prepared and skilled enough to handle the situations. Much of this experience can only come with time. If you are a beginner, log some nights out with experienced friends who can show you the ropes. When you do finally hit the trail alone, you’ll be more confident and able to enjoy yourself like a well-researched amateur on the way to pro.