Sometimes you just have to get away from it all – escape the stress of daily life – and there’s no better way than lighting out on your own and taking refuge in the country. Camping alone can be an extremely rewarding experience. Without any distractions of the modern world, it’s much easier to immerse yourself in your surroundings and become one with the true force of nature in all its raw beauty.
On your own, you become much more in-tune with your own thoughts and desires, as well as the all-encompassing sights and sounds around you. There’s loads of reasons to go camping by yourself, including but not limited to:
- Relying on yourself and nobody else, and that kind of experience is extremely empowering.
- Discovering your limitations, both mentally and physically, and learning skills or practices applicable to everyday life.
- Finding peace and quiet unparalleled in any other environment. That level of serenity has profound effects on your mental wellbeing.
- Without distractions, you become much more aware of your own mind and of the world around you.
- Finally: More space, less arguments, and if something goes wrong it’s nobody’s fault but your own.
Serene sights, peaceful walks and introspection aside, if you’re alone in the wilderness, solo camping can be dangerous. You have to be prepared when you tackle nature on your own. As beautiful as she is, Mother Nature can be very unforgiving. The majority of horrible events arise when people venture into the wilderness without preparation and foresight.
We’ve put together some step-by-step instructions to help you get the most out of your time in the wild whilst keeping yourself safe.
Every possible danger is heightened when you’re on your own. A twisted ankle or sudden illness, whilst annoying on a group excursion, could be extremely problematic when you’re on your own. Imagine the scenario, you’re out on a hike and lose your bearings. You start to panic and quicken your pace. Loose ground beneath you causes you to slip and you twist your ankle, or worse, you break your leg.
It’s okay, because you’ve got your much beloved cellphone in your pocket. You take it out to call the authorities, only to find you have no signal. What do you do? Unfortunately there’s not much you can do at this point. Obviously this is a worst case scenario but accidents do happen.
With proper planning and preparation you can reduce the chances of accidents and the associated risks. It’s worth advising now that outdoors, slow and steady definitely wins the race. Walk slowly and take in your surroundings. Not only is it safer, but much more rewarding as well.
Researching the campsite
Make sure you research your campsite or national park before you set out. Is the terrain rocky or smooth? Will you have access to clean water? Should something go wrong, will the authorities be able to reach you quickly and efficiently? Find out if there are any dangerous animals or plants in the area, and never eat anything you can’t properly identify.
Bears and bees can be a serious problem out in the wild. If you’re allergic to bee stings, make sure you bring the correct medication. A good tip for dealing with animals is preventing encounters. Try singing loudly as you enter your campground to warn nearby animals of your presence and always make any food or trash completely unaccessible.
For your first camping trip alone it’s a lot safer to be in a familiar environment. Choose a park you’ve been to before with friends. Study the maps and speak to people who have been to your chosen location. And remember, just because there’s a river on the map, doesn’t mean it’s a meandering fishing haven. In fact, rivers can cause more problems than they solve.
Know Your Body and Your Limits
As well as knowing the environment, it’s important to know yourself. Whilst embracing the wilderness you need to consider your limits. Don’t overload yourself with useless items or bring a tent the size of the Taj Mahal. For a start, you won’t need it, and secondly it’s going to be an absolute nightmare to set up.
Most small dome tents are simple to set-up and only require one set of hands. If you’ve just bought a new tent, practice setting it up at home before you venture into the great outdoors. People are different, and you have to know your body inside and out before you embark. Here’s some quick things to consider:
- Do you have a heart condition or physical problem?
- Realistically, how much weight can you carry?
- Do you know how to use all the equipment you have?
- Will you need any special medication (allergies, regular medication, etc)?
- Can you build a fire on your own?
Make certain you’ve brought all the necessary medication you’ll need, and then double-check it’s packed. Which brings us onto our next point…
Preparing the Necessary Equipment
You should always be considering weight when packing for a trip, as an overloaded bag will only increase exhaustion and fatigue. Make sure you consider what’s absolutely essential, and what’s luxury. Don’t bring anything you don’t need and don’t leave anything you will need behind.
Keep an eye on the weather forecast. They’re usually accurate within three days and could completely change your choice of clothing. Pack for the weather forecast but never neglect a raincoat. Regardless of the forecast, freak weather does occur and you don’t want to be shivering in gale force winds with nothing but shorts.
Make sure you know how to build a fire before going anywhere. Staying warm and being able to eat safely are crucial to any excursion. Thankfully with lighters, matches, camping stoves and vaseline soaked cotton balls, building a fire is easier than the alphabet.
Packing a First Aid Kit
First and foremost you need a very good first aid kit. Out in the woods, anything can happen. Even the smallest cuts can get infected and ultimately become life-threatening. Here are some important items to consider when packing your first aid kit:
- Bandages (a wide variety of sizes and designs. Be sure to include butterfly bandages and triangular shapes)
- Gauze pads
- Elastic bandages
- Blister pads
- Sterilised cotton
- Antiseptic wipes
- Bug spray
- Antibiotic gel
- Rubbing alcohol
- 3% Hydrogen Peroxide solution
- 0.9% NaCl solution (for cleaning eyes and wounds)
- Stomach Medication (anti-diarrhea, antacids etc)
- Painkillers (nothing too strong, aspirin or ibuprofen will do)
- Any prescription medication you may take
- Magnifying glass
- Surgical gloves
- Water-purification tablets
- Emergency blanket
You also need to consider what will hold your medical supplies. The container has to be lightweight and waterproof. Campers use anything from ziplock bags to lunch boxes to lightweight metal tins. Find what works for you. A flexible first aid kit is easier to pack but is less likely to protect the contents, and it’s a lot messier when opened.
Make sure you know how to use everything in your first aid kit!
Going it alone shouldn’t affect any other equipment you bring. You’ll still need protective clothing suitable for different types of weather. Obviously a decent sleeping bag and tent, and as previously mentioned, knowledge of how to set up your tent. Don’t forget to bring enough food to see you through your trip and the gear to prepare it.
Get yourself a decent satellite phone. Should something go wrong and your cellphone doesn’t have signal, you’ll need a working satellite phone. Familiarize yourself with how to use it and make a list of important telephone numbers that you may need. Family, emergency numbers, and the number of a park warden or ranger can all come in very handy. For the best and efficient satellite phone, check our review list to find out more.
Every camper, hiker or trekker is probably quite unlikely to forget other essentials but it’s worth mentioning them. Make sure you bring a torch with spare batteries, a map of the area, a compass, a Swiss army knife, a buck knife with sheath, a small portable camping saw, firelighters, a whistle, a Zippo lighter with spare flint, waterproof matches, a head-torch, a lantern, toilet tissue and a blanket.
Contacting the Authorities
Once you’ve found your desired location, you should reach out to the local warden or park ranger’s office. Find out if any permits are required and purchase them if necessary. Many national parks require paid permission to camp, so if you’re on a tight budget then it may be worth researching free camping sites. Bear in mind that some sites require reservation up to 3 months in advance.
When you contact the local park ranger’s office, be sure to request a map, a copy of any rules or regulations, ask for any helpful information, and let them know that you’ll be on your own. It’s important to advise them of how long you plan to stay for, exactly where you’ll be and any medical conditions you may have. If you don’t want to tell people you’ll be in a secluded location alone, you may want to say that you’re waiting for a friend.
The ranger will most likely ask you for some basic personal details, your vehicle information and where you’ll be camping, so it’s handy to have this information beforehand.
Getting lost in the wilderness can be either extremely liberating, or extremely frightening, depending on how prepared you are and your definition of ‘lost’. The most disappointing thing, could be getting lost before you even reach your intended destination. That kind of stress can set the tone for the rest of your well-deserved time of peace and serenity.
Use one of the many online maps such as Google Maps, Mapquest, Yahoo! or purchase a road map of the area. It’s a good idea to have the directions to the warden’s office marked out on a map or written down. Do read our earlier article on how to choose the best GPS watch for hiking to guide you on your way.
Calculate the mileage to your chosen site and back, and make sure that you have enough fuel for both trips. Don’t forget your vehicle is going to be lugging a lot of extra baggage so add on a little extra when calculating fuel cost.
When you do arrive, it’s a good idea to leave a sheet of paper with some important information in your car. This is only for emergencies and should include emergency contact information, any allergies you may have, your blood type (if you know it), medication you are currently taking, a description of your clothing and any other information that may be useful should someone find you unconscious. If you’re parked in a relatively public location, hide this information away in your glove compartment. If you can see your vehicle from the campsite, then it’s fine to leave it on the seat.
Going to the Doctor
Before any trip is the perfect time to get a quick check-up. Let your doctor know of your plans to camp alone and take any advice they give. It’s a good idea to stop by your doctor before you prepare your first aid kit. Ask for any specific medication that you may need and for any medical supplies you may have forgotten.
Letting Your Family/Friends Know About Your Plans
As enticing as it is to just run away for a week and get away from it all, vanishing without a trace might not be the best idea. Not only because it could cause your family and friends unnecessary stress, but because it’s dangerous out there. If something happens and you can’t make it home, family or friends may be the first ones to notice and alert the authorities.
Set an exact return date and stick to it. If your family or friends are expecting you back before a certain date, and you don’t return, they can contact the authorities straight away. If you’re setting up a contingency plan like this, make sure you stay in contact and advise them if you change your plans.
Making the Most of it
After all this talk about the dangers of the great outdoors and making enough plans to invade a small country, you might feel that camping on your own is too much work to really bother with. Don’t. Experiencing the wilderness alone is one of the most rewarding and satisfying experiences you can have in this day and age.
The tranquility provides the perfect environment to learn new skills, practice old ones and reconnect with nature. Void of any external distractions you become more aware of your own mind and what you really want.
I’m not saying you’ll figure out the meaning of life but with extended periods of deep introspection you may realize what to do for your loved one’s birthday, or how to deal with a difficult boss.
Things to bring for entertainment:
- Journal – with a lot of time for deep introspection, you’re bound to have some good ideas and creative thoughts that you won’t want to forget.
- A good book – For long nights and relaxing days. You’ve got nothing but time on your hands, so maybe now is the time to work your way through War & Peace.
- Bird watching gear – An excellent way to immerse yourself further in your surroundings. A great pair of binoculars and a book of local birds can create invaluable sights.
- Camera – Don’t forget your trip. Take a camera and combine jaw dropping photos with your journal notes. Also, photos can be great fun for making the folks at home jealous.
- Hacky Sack – Easily substituted by a soccer ball or juggling gear. Keep your mind and your body sharp with a bit of technical exercise.
- Sketch Pad and Pencils – If you’re pretty adept at art, you’re about to be dropped in one of the greatest sources of inspiration. If you’re a beginner, you’ve got lots of peaceful time to practice.
You’ve researched your chosen location. You’ve practiced setting up your tent and you know how to start a fire. Your doctor has given you the green light and your first aid kit is ready. Permits and permissions have come through and you’ve spoken to the park rangers. You’re all packed up and ready to go. For more tips on hiking safety on the go, check out our earlier article on this topic.
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