Camping Alone: A Guide to Solo Camping

TABLE OF CONTENTS

The popularity of camping has been trending upwards, and a large part of that has to do with the beauty of nature and its therapeutic effects. Many families and groups of friends also find that it’s a good way to strengthen bonds and challenge themselves in a unique environment.

However, haven’t you always wondered what it would be like to go camping alone? There’s something different and refreshing about forging your own way in the great outdoors, without having to discuss things with a group first. If this is something that you’re interested in trying, keep reading, because we’ve laid out everything that you need to know below.

Key Takeaways:

  • Solo camping boasts a number of unique benefits.
  • Always inform someone of your camping plans for safety.
  • Start solo camping near home for a controlled experience.
  • Arrive early at the campsite for better orientation and setup.
  • Practice using camping gear before the trip.
  • Rein in fears and trust in your preparedness for a positive experience.

Benefits of Solo Camping

There are quite a few benefits of camping that you’ll experience regardless of how many people you go with. However, solo camping has a few unique benefits that we’ll touch on below:

Set Your Own Pace

man wearing a hat putting up a tent

One of the most notable benefits of solo camping is that you can set your own pace during the trip. Whenever you’re camping with a group (even if it’s just one other person), you’ll always be somewhat limited in your activities and the speed with which you accomplish them. Perhaps one person wants to hike five miles but you only want to go up to the first scenic overlook. Or maybe you have a friend who just wants to hang out by the lake all day while you’d rather explore the area.

Can you go off an do your own thing even when you’re in a group? Absolutely (depending on how lenient the group is), but it’s not going to be very fun doing your own thing when you’re camping with a group. On top of that, you’ll also have to be more mindful of coordinating mealtimes, bedtimes, and activities.

With solo camping, all of those considerations go out the window. If you want to skip breakfast and hit the trail right away, there’s no one to consult first. You can just go and do it!

Boost Your Confidence

When you’re camping in a group, there’s usually a “leader” who takes care of pitching the tent and getting most things organized. Perhaps you’ve had this role before, or maybe you’ve been a follower up to this point, taking care of minor tasks here and there.

Either way, few people have been responsible for everything that needs to be done on a camping trip. And I’m not going to lie, the thought of being stuck with all that responsibility can be intimidating at first. You’ll probably struggle with various insecurities leading up to the trip and during it (I know I can’t be the only one who felt that way my first time!), but I don’t think it’s bad to feel that way. It means you’re taking the trip seriously, and hopefully you’re putting a lot of effort into learning everything you need to know before you go.

Once you’re out in the wild, thriving all by yourself for several nights, you’ll experience a huge confidence boost. So do some research, trust your skillset, and have a great time!

Increase Awareness of Your Surroundings

man wearing a headlamp in a forest

Instead of putting your time and energy into socializing, you’ll be able to fully immerse yourself in your natural surroundings. While group camping is a great way to forge strong connections, it takes a lot of your mental energy to keep the conversation going and make sure everyone stays happy.

But when you’re alone, there’s nothing aside from you and nature, allowing you to experience and connect with your surroundings on a much deeper level. Many people say that they’re able to appreciate the scenery more when they’re alone, and I would have to agree!

Remove Stressors

Stress reduction is one of many reasons why people go camping. And, let’s be honest, there are few stressors that have a larger impact than people. So, when you get rid of the people, you get rid of a good portion of your stressors. There won’t be any interpersonal conflict or drama, you won’t have the stress that comes from being responsible for the wellbeing of others, and you’ll be able to relax fully and be yourself.

Same Experience, New Excitement

man sitting on the edge of a cliff in zion national park

I find that camping alone is a great way to put familiar experiences into a new perspective. If you’ve been to the same campsite multiple times, it will feel entirely different when you go by yourself.

And when you’re going solo camping the first couple of times, I do recommend that you stick fairly close to home (as I’ll mention further down in the article). That being the case, it’s likely that you’ll visit some familiar locations that you’ve grown somewhat indifferent to. However, the novelty of the new experience will put your surroundings into a new light, allowing you to fully enjoy a place that you’ve seen before.

Solo Camping Tips

1. Share Your Plans Before You Go

Some of these solo camping tips are very important, while others are just a matter of personal preference. And when it comes to this first one, I can’t emphasize enough how crucial it is that you do this every time you solo camp.

We like to think that we’re invincible, especially when we’re younger, but bad things can and do happen. If you’re in the wild by yourself when tragedy strikes, who’s going to come save you if no one knows that you’re gone?

Whether it’s a friend or family member, always let at least one person know where and when you’re going camping. That way, they’ll know where to look for you, in case you don’t let them know you made it back safely.

2. Start Close to Home

There’s no need to go off the deep end when you first start. Test the waters of solo camping by sticking close to home during your first couple of trips out. If you find that you don’t like it or you forget something back home, you’re still close enough to head back and reconsider your game plan. There’s nothing worse than being a couple dozen miles from civilization, deep in the mountains on your first night alone in a tent, only to figure out it’s not what you hoped it would be.

3. Pack Light

man inflating sleeping pads outside

When you’re camping alone, you’re going to be responsible for all of your gear. So, not only do you have to pack everything, but you also have to transport it to your destination. If this involves any amount of backpacking, you’re going to want to stay as light as possible, cutting out any non-essentials that put your pack weight higher than what’s comfortable.

Personally, I’d recommend ditching the tent and going with a hammock instead. They’re lightweight and fairly easy to setup, and the only additional gear you need is a hammock sleeping bag, depending on your preferences. A rain tarp, bug net, and underquilt are also optional additions.

However, if you decide you want to go with a shelter, you’ll need to know how to choose a proper tent. My recommendation is to stay small and go with a single person tent, but you can certainly go up in capacity if you’re comfortable with it. Still, I’d recommend allocating any extra space and weight to other essentials, like food, cooking equipment, a sleeping pad, and clothes.

4. Extend Your Trip

Whether you’re traditionally a weekend camper or you like to stay out a little longer, I’d recommend giving your solo camping trip at least three nights. The problem with camping is that it can be a rather uncomfortable experience, and when you’re by yourself, you don’t have anyone else to take your mind off how much you miss your bed back home.

All that to say, the first night or two of solo camping will be rough. And if you head back home after 48 hours, the whole experience might leave a sour taste in your mouth. In my opinion, it’s not until the third night camping that you can finally get a decent night’s sleep. Whether that’s because you get used to the environment or because you’re so tired that you can’t help but sleep is an entirely different matter.

5. Prioritize Safety

three brown bears walking on a hill

As they say, there’s safety in numbers. And when your numbers are non-existent, you’ll have to take extra precautions to stay safe while camping.

There are plenty of safety hazards to consider when you’re out by yourself. For example, it’s crucial that you know how to keep a bear away from your campsite by keeping food properly stored. You don’t want other critters, like racoons and foxes, to get their noses into your belongings either.

Take care to avoid environmental challenges as well, whether that be rough terrain or extreme weather. A friend of mine once fell into a ravine while hiking in a remote place by himself, badly injuring himself in the process. Thankfully, he was able to get back to his car and drive a few hours to the nearest hospital, but not everyone is so lucky. If you can avoid taking a dangerous route when you’re alone, you should.

And then there’s the consideration that we don’t want to think about, but should anyway: dangerous people. This one is particularly relevant for women, but men can be at risk as well. While most strangers on the trail are pretty harmless, there’s always the chance that you’ll encounter someone who’s up to no good. I’d suggest keeping pepper spray handy (or bear spray, if you already have some for the wildlife). It wouldn’t hurt to take some self-defense classes as well, since it’s a skill that’s useful outside of your camping trip too.

6. Don’t Start Solo

Out of curiosity, I conducted a survey to determine how many people are open to the idea of camping alone. The results were a little shocking, but at the same time, I can’t say I’m too surprised either.

More than half of the respondents indicated that they wouldn’t consider camping alone. That’s a pretty healthy number, and if you’re someone who enjoys solo camping, perhaps you’re a little surprised as well. However, I have a theory as to why the data shook out this way.

For starters, many people go camping primarily to bond with friends and family, and solo camping defeats this purpose. However, I also believe fear plays a big role here. There’s a lot of knowledge and planning that goes into a camping trip to make it a success. As a beginner, there are just some things that you won’t fully grasp until you’ve experienced it for yourself. This lack of knowledge can be intimidating (and potentially dangerous), which is why I would never suggest you try camping alone from the very beginning.

If you have family that likes to camp, try going with them on a couple of trips. Otherwise, friends are a good alternative as well. My family was never big on tent camping, so most of my trips have been with my wife and close friends. As long as you can find someone who’s willing to go with you (and you’re not going to kill each other in the process), that’s going to be a much better way to ease into camping than starting by yourself.

7. Bring Entertainment (Other Than Electronics)

man whittling down a stick with a knife

When there’s no one to talk to and share experiences with, you’ll want to bring some form of entertainment to prevent boredom. During the day, you’ll probably find things to do to occupy your time (like hiking, swimming, or cooking). But once the sun goes down and you’re stuck inside your tent alone, with a couple hours before bedtime, you’re going to go crazy if you don’t have something to do.

While your phone is certainly an option to keep you entertained, I wouldn’t recommend relying on it. Not only are you going to run out of battery when you might need it in an emergency (assuming you don’t have a way to recharge it), but hanging out on your phone defeats the purpose of camping to begin with. It’s an important time to disconnect from your normal routine, and that includes playing video games, talking with your friends, and staying updated on the news. Instead, try bringing a book, stargazing, relaxing around a campfire, or drawing. There are plenty of fun things that you can do to pass the time without falling back onto your technology.

8. Arrive at Your Campsite Early

It doesn’t matter if you’re camping in a group or by yourself, arriving at your campsite early is always best practice. I understand that it’s not always possible, but as far as it depends on you, try to give yourself at least an hour before the sun sets.

If you’re going to a campsite, it will be easier to find your spot while there’s still light to read the numbers by. It also gives you a chance to get your bearings, find where the bathrooms are, and check in with the camp host before nightfall. Depending on how early you arrive, you may even be able to locate some trailheads or scenic locations that you’ll want to visit later.

The same applies for backpacking, except this time, you’ll need to arrive early to scout out your own campsite. Know how to pick a campsite, and make sure to follow the principles of leave no trace while you’re out in the backcountry.

9. Know the Ins and Outs of Your Gear

blue backpack and other camping gear

It’s never fun trying to figure out how to use your gear when you’re away from home. Even little things that seem intuitive can cause you problems if you don’t practice with them beforehand. For example, your sleeping bag might be pretty straightforward, but do you know how to roll it back up so it fits inside the compression sack? It’s a process that takes practice, and that’s just one aspect of your whole camping experience.

The tent is one of the more obvious pieces of gear to learn the ins and outs of, but it certainly doesn’t end there. If you have a gas stove, do you know how to attach the propane canister? Do you have a way to measure the amount of water going into your dehydrated food pack? These aren’t the sorts of things that you want to try to figure out after you’ve already arrived at the campsite. Your gear should be as familiar to you as the back of your hand, allowing you to set it up without a hitch, and potentially make repairs efficiently and competently.

10. Don’t Overestimate Your Abilities

It’s good to be confident in your abilities, but don’t get too cocky in the process. It’s an easy way to make silly mistakes, simply because you thought a certain process would be simpler than it actually is.

When camping, there are some skillsets that you can’t do without, such as:

– Knowing how to set up camp
– Building a fire
– Forecasting the weather
– Cleaning water
– First aid
– Navigating
– Dealing with wildlife

If you’re new to camping, you might have the opposite problem (a lack of confidence), which can be bad as well. Just remember to do you research and planning beforehand, testing out your skills in the backyard first, and you’ll be fine when push comes to shove.

Solo Camping Checklist

person writing in a notebook

Before you leave for your trip, I always recommend creating a camping checklist to make sure you’re not forgetting anything. A solo camping checklist is going to look pretty similar to a group camping checklist, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to put together.

If you want a complete camping checklist, you can find ours here: Camping Checklist

And if you need one for backpacking, we also have one for that: Backpacking Checklist

Final Thoughts

Camping alone can be an intimidating prospect, especially if you’ve never done it before. As you’re lying there at night, worrying about every rustle that sounds a little too close to your tent, remember that your brain is your biggest enemy. You’ll feel anxious, and to some extent, that anxiety will keep you safe and well-equipped. However, don’t forget to rein in those fears that threaten to become blown out of proportion. If you’ve followed the tips that are laid out in this article, you can feel confident about your ability to have a fun trip into the wild by yourself.

Meet the Author!

By the age of 20, Spencer had already tackled some of the most famed mountain ranges in Europe, Asia, and North America. His mission is to help others accomplish their own outdoor-related goals, even within the time constraints of a 9-5 job and a busy life schedule.

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