Camping Solo

Camping Solo 1

By Andrea Willingham

I’m a pretty outdoorsy lady. My whole life, I’ve found both my deepest solace and greatest entertainment under the open sky or a canopy of leaves; in the maze of a forest, or the wide grandeur of mountains and ocean horizons. I feel safest when I’m out “in nature,” safer than I do in city surrounded by strangers. Needless to say, I’ve spent a lot of time outside throughout my life.

Thus, I was somewhat surprised last year to realize that of all the outdoorsy things I’ve done, camping solo had not been one of them. When I told a few friends about my plans to do it, the responses were almost universally, “Alone? Wow!” One group brought up the fact that it’s usually more of a “guy thing” to camp alone. That does seem to be the case, but I wonder why? I certainly know a few girls who camp alone, but all of this does bring up interesting questions of why camping alone isn’t more of a thing, and furthermore, why fewer women don’t camp by themselves (besides the obvious arguments for safety).

So, one weekend last September, I dove in.

I knew I was ready – or at least as ready as I could be. Over the past few years, I’ve spent a lot of time day hiking alone, so at least I knew I was comfortable with myself, my solitude, and my ability to make smart “survival” decisions on my own. One of the best ways to start mentally preparing yourself for your first solo adventure is to play the “What if?” game with yourself: “What if… I startle a bear around this next corner?” “What if… some guys start following and harassing me?” “What if… I get lost out here and have to spend the night?” “What if… my car breaks down and I don’t have cell service?” These are some of the big, scary questions that we are not only afraid to ask ourselves, but I think we are even more afraid that we might not know the answers.

So, I challenge you to ask those hard questions, and think through your answers. Even better if you play this mental game while you’re out on a solo hike! Or ask your friends and talk though what you might do. The more you play this game with yourself and start devising your contingency plans, the more you begin to feel confident in your own abilities to handle any situation, and the more you’ll feel prepared and excited to get out on your own and prove it to yourself.

So back to my own camping trip: Despite the fact it was my first time going out camping alone, I did very little preparation (perhaps feeling a bit too confident!). In fact, by the morning of, I hadn’t even started packing. But in a matter of about 2 hours, I had my little car loaded with my tent, sleeping bag, ground pad, a bag of food, a gallon jug of water, hiking boots, a change of clothes, camera, a guide book, and my journal. The essentials, a few comforts.

It was cloudy with patches of misty rain on my drive up into the mountains. Eventually I found the free National Forest campground I had picked out from some Google searching a few days prior. The campground was quite a bit smaller and closer to the road than I’d expected, but I decided to go hike to some waterfalls I had been wanting to see, and come back closer to dark to stake out my spot.

The trailhead to the waterfall was packed; families, couples, retirees. The further I went on the trail however, the more it thinned out, and soon I found myself captivated by the gorgeous autumn colors emerging and the strange landscape of volcanic rocks through which the path was cut. The trail wound into the dense forest, and soon I could hear the roar of the waterfall in the distance. Then, all of a sudden, there it was, towering mightily off to my left. Even from far away, it looked massive. Of course, I had to get closer. I followed the sound and the flow of the water back until it led me to the base of the falls. Surprisingly, no one else was there. For a short time, I had the whole place to myself.

Camping Solo 2
Proxy Falls

Eventually a few people showed up, so I took my leave, and hiked around a while longer finding more waterfalls and exploring the trails. By the time I made it back to my campsite though, it was completely full. Sigh. Well, worst case scenario, I could sleep in my car, or just drive home. But with still a few hours of daylight left, I decided to continue driving further into the mountains to see what I could find.

Another 20 minutes later and a thousand feet higher in elevation, I found myself at another campground. It had plenty of spots isolated from one another, so I was sold.  I found a spot with a nice view of the lake, and I set up my tent just as the first of the night’s rains began sprinkling in.

One drawback of packing everything the morning of my trip was that I forgot to bring the food I had planned on for both dinner and breakfast, meaning, I was left mainly with bread and peanut butter and potato chips. No big deal, but it did mean that my lunch, dinner, and breakfast were all going to be peanut butter sandwiches. Yum.

So, I ate my peanut butter sandwich while sitting on a log as the rain started coming in more heavily.  I tried half-heartedly to make a campfire, but it was already too wet so I gave up and crawled into my tent to do some journaling and reading before it got dark.  The rain poured heavier and heavier. Fortunately, my tent kept me dry and my sleeping bag kept me warm, so I was quite the happy camper.  (Sorry, not sorry for the pun!)

The night was long and damp, but I managed to get some sleep and by morning the rain was a tad bit lighter. Unfortunately, though a sizable puddle had formed under my tent and leaked inside — I knew I should have brought a tarp! Rookie mistakes. Oh well. My spirits were still high.

Knowing the rain was supposed to last all day, I packed up and enjoyed a leisurely drive back home listening to the radio and letting my mind wander.

I think that’s one of the best things about traveling solo: you’re on your own time. I realized when I was hiking the day before that I had no concept of how fast or slow I was going. Normally I’m trying to keep up with my faster friends, or holding back to stick with those going at a slower pace. But here, whether I was hiking or driving or hanging out in my tent, it didn’t matter how long it took me to do anything.

In retrospect, I was far more cautious than I needed to be, but often that’s what keeps you safe on your first time out trying something new. So I figure, embrace your cautiousness. Take your time. Let mistakes happen, because they will: I failed to claim my first campsite. I failed to start a fire. I didn’t bring all my food. It poured down rain. My tent flooded. I didn’t even mention the fact that my car nearly ran out of gas on the way up the mountain the first time, and I had to drive back down 20 minutes to the nearest gas station.

It was far from a perfect first solo camping trip.

But the bottom line is, I’d camp solo again in a heartbeat (preferably next time not in the pouring rain!), and I think others should give it a try too. Listen to your gut, but don’t psych yourself out.  It’s so important to be able to find contentment and comfort in your own thoughts, and confidence in your own abilities and decision-making. And taking a simple trip out into the wilderness on your own is an incredible way to discover and develop that for yourself.

Camping Solo 3
My first solo camp
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56 thoughts on “Camping Solo

  • July 11, 2017 at 10:00 am
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    I’ve never tried camping solo before, it sounds exciting but also a little scary at the same time. I’m good with navigating but I’m not sure how I’ll manage when I’m all alone in the woods. I think it’s something that’s worth experiencing though, at least once in our lives.

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    • July 11, 2017 at 8:06 pm
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      Very cool! It’s always good to know your limits and comfort levels, and be willing to try expanding those. Thanks for your comments!

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  • July 11, 2017 at 5:37 am
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    Wow! Good for you. I really don’t know if I would ever go camping alone. I’m easily scared (bugs, strange noises, the dark), I don’t know if I would have fun lol

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    • July 11, 2017 at 8:10 pm
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      That makes sense, totally understandable. I did have one scare that I didn’t mention in the article — early in the morning, I was suddenly jolted awake by something hitting the top of my tent, and opened my eyes to see the silhouette of a squirrel half-sliding, half-scrambling away off the side of it. I think the squirrel scared itself as much as it scared me! 😛

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  • July 11, 2017 at 1:16 am
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    what a great chance to get in touch with nature so beautiful . I love to camp in groups and share what I see but you make great points as to why it would be great to explore alone as well.

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    • July 11, 2017 at 8:10 pm
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      I agree, it is so much more fun sometimes to be able to share your experience with others. There is something to be gained in both circumstances.

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  • July 10, 2017 at 8:35 pm
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    Camping solo would definitely be an experience. I have only ever camped once and that was with a huge group of people.

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    • July 11, 2017 at 8:11 pm
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      Oh wow, yeah camping alone is very different from camping in a large group, or even just a small group with a few friends. All can be fun, and it’s great to be able to experience the outdoors in a lot of different ways!

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  • July 10, 2017 at 8:32 pm
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    I love that you were journaling in your tent. That sounds like a peaceful thing to do.

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    • July 11, 2017 at 8:12 pm
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      It was very peaceful and cozy! I find that the mind wanders a lot anyway when one is sleeping in a tent, so you might as well write all those thoughts down. 🙂

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  • July 10, 2017 at 7:35 pm
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    You’re so brave to venture out on your own like this! It looks like you had a fab time though 🙂

    Louise x

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  • July 10, 2017 at 2:28 pm
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    Despite some setbacks, it still sounds like you had a good trip. I would love to camp alone, but probably only for a night.

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    • July 11, 2017 at 8:14 pm
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      It was great! I think camping for one night alone is the best way to start. Now that I’ve done it, I’m planning to do longer trips!

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  • July 10, 2017 at 1:11 pm
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    I would feel least safe if alone camping. However, I love the idea of solace, as it’s the best way for me to think and write.

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    • July 11, 2017 at 8:15 pm
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      I think safety really depends on where you’re camping and how prepared you feel — and it’s great to be able to find a space where you can think clearly and write peacefully, even if it doesn’t involve staying overnight in a tent somewhere!

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  • July 10, 2017 at 11:31 am
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    Camping is something I have wanted to do as a child but even now have not gotten round to it! I don’t know if I am brave enough to do it solo the first time but if I ever get comfortable with it I know I’ll end up doing it by myself all the time!

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    • July 11, 2017 at 8:17 pm
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      That’s so cool! Hopefully you can find some friends to go camping with soon and give it a try, and then you’ll know how you might feel about doing it alone. Or just jump right in!

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  • July 10, 2017 at 11:02 am
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    there were no bears…so you survived to tell the tale! – i am sure now solo travel is just getting more popular cos the experiences we are having are awesome and personal just how you have described your adventure here – and as you said great for development

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    • July 11, 2017 at 8:18 pm
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      This is true, though I have camped in bear country before and also survived to tell the tale. 😉 It does seem that solo travel is becoming more popular too, hopefully as more people are seeing that there really isn’t that much to be afraid of. And I think the more people find that they can have amazing experiences alone, hopefully the more people will open up to awesome things this world has to offer.

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  • July 10, 2017 at 5:18 am
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    It looks like such an amazing trip. I always loved those kinds of hikes into the woods as a child and then seeing the waterfall along the way it was amazing.

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    • July 11, 2017 at 8:20 pm
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      Thanks for your comments! That’s so cool you got to see waterfalls on your hikes as a kid too — it must have felt so magical! I grew up in really flat terrain, so mountains and waterfalls still make me feel like a child at heart. 🙂

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  • July 10, 2017 at 3:27 am
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    Awesome to see that you had the courage to venture out and do this on your own. I too consider myself outdoorsy so reading this will challenge me to also embark upon my own first solo camping trip. Thank you!

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  • July 9, 2017 at 10:37 pm
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    I’m not brave enough to go camping solo. It sounds like you have lots of fun and thanks for sharing your adventure. So inspiring!

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  • July 9, 2017 at 4:39 pm
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    OMG! How can I go camping solo? I think I will not sleep the whole night lol.

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    • July 10, 2017 at 2:20 am
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      It’s not scary at all! 🙂 Do some preparation beforehand to get comfortable with the idea, and it’s a lot of fun. Thanks for commenting!

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  • July 9, 2017 at 11:35 am
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    I would consider myself adventurous and do solo travel, but I would think twice to go camping alone. You are one courageous woman and I am glad that you stepped out of your comfort zone! I also need some alone time, but I guess I would just rent out a cabin in the woods. With a friendly neighbor nearby. 🙂

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    • July 10, 2017 at 2:18 am
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      Glad you enjoyed the article, and it’s great that you enjoy traveling solo! Thanks for your comments!

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  • July 8, 2017 at 8:59 pm
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    Wow while reading I could imagine myself being in your shoes… I also liked the idea of the ‘what if’ game. We often do it but unconsciously.

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    • July 8, 2017 at 9:56 pm
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      Glad you enjoyed the article! I think you’re right about the ‘what if’ game being subconscious, too. It’s great to make it deliberate though!

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    • July 8, 2017 at 9:57 pm
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      It can be scary at first, but it’s really a lot of fun once you get over that initial fear! 🙂

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  • July 8, 2017 at 5:17 pm
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    I think you were really brave for camping solo. Sometimes we just need to go outside of our comfort zone and experience something new for ourselves.

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    • July 8, 2017 at 9:58 pm
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      This is so true, Maria! I’m glad you think so too. It’s so important to challenge ourselves once in a while!

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  • July 8, 2017 at 9:46 am
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    Now, I’m not the camping type so camping solo seems a bit of a stretch. I think I’ll have to get my feet in the water by camping with friends first. But who knows, someday.

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    • July 8, 2017 at 9:59 pm
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      I can definitely understand that, and I would highly recommend going camping with friends a bunch of times before you do it yourself, if you don’t have much experience camping! It’s great to learn with others before you try it on your own. I hope you get a chance to get out there soon!

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  • July 8, 2017 at 8:33 am
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    I’ve thought of camping alone before so this post was very helpful. I have always been too afraid to do it, but this post was inspiring, thank you!

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  • July 8, 2017 at 4:24 am
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    Going camping alone sounds terrifying to me, to be honest! You are a much braver woman than I!

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    • July 8, 2017 at 10:02 pm
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      Aww, you can be brave too! Everyone has their own comfort zones though, and sometimes it’s a matter of finding your own limits and ways that you’re willing to get outside of it, no matter what that may be. Perhaps one day you’ll feel ready to give it a try!

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  • July 8, 2017 at 4:19 am
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    Good for you! I remember camping a lot as a kid, and those were some of the happiest memories I have. It looks like your spot was perfect and peaceful, and I especially love the photo of the waterfall. There’s something about being out in nature that grounds me and makes me remember who I am. x

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    • July 8, 2017 at 10:08 pm
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      That’s wonderful! There’s something about camping that also brings back those fun childhood memories, too. Thanks for your comments, and glad you enjoyed the article!

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  • July 8, 2017 at 3:44 am
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    I’m terrified of camping alone but this made me feel like its totally cool to do it! Thank you so much for sharing. Super helpful! and an awesome read!

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    • July 8, 2017 at 10:03 pm
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      YES! You CAN totally do it, that’s the wonderful thing. And you’ll have a great story to tell later, no matter what. I hope you get a chance to try it out sometime!

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  • July 8, 2017 at 3:31 am
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    I’ve never tried camping solo though. It seems quite an adventure going alone and enjoying the beauty of nature.

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    • July 8, 2017 at 10:04 pm
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      It was quite the adventure, and I hope to do it again this fall! I would highly recommend giving it a try, yourself, if you ever get the chance!

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  • July 8, 2017 at 2:18 am
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    I never camped alone before, but now I will because of your information. Thanks so much!

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    • July 8, 2017 at 10:05 pm
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      It really is a great way to connect with nature — and maybe even more importantly, to connect with yourself. I hope you get the chance to try some day!

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    • July 8, 2017 at 10:06 pm
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      I went for many years without camping too, but it’s so fun to get back into it as an adult! Thanks for your comment, and I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

      Reply

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