I grew up camping with my family. We spent long weekends at Texas state parks, where we’d pitch our giant blue canvas tent, belly flop into the nearest lake, and chase fireflies when the sun went down.
As a college student, I camped with friends; when I married, my husband and I began backpacking. Until recently, though, I always slept within hollering distance of someone I knew, in case a bear invaded camp or a storm flattened my tent. Then, as part of what I called my “Year of Adventure” a few years ago, I decided to try solo camping.
What I learned from solo camping is that a few days on your own outdoors can leave you feeling like you can tackle anything the world heaves at you. You’ve just got to tamp down the you-can’t-do-this-alone chatter inside your head and arm yourself with some basic knowledge.
Kimery Duda, owner of the Austin-based Expedition School, which teaches outdoor skills and safety, has camped alone in Alaska, Colorado, Wyoming, Hawaii, and Costa Rica. “There’s a huge empowerment piece that reminds you, ‘Yes, you can do it. You’re not reliant on anyone else,’” Duda says.
Solo camping gives you the freedom of doing things at your own pace, and it helps connect you to nature in ways you might not with companions around. You get to focus on yourself, and do what you want, when you want, without filling the typical obligations of a parent, spouse, or friend. You can walk around in your underpants, eat dinner at midnight, write poetry, roll in the mud, or just sit and think.
Kimery Duda, owner of the Expedition School in Austin, on preparing for a solo camping trip:
Pack light. You’ve got no one else to share the load.
Make sure you have a good plan in place before you go, and tell someone—either a park ranger, friend, or family member—where you’re going and when you expect to return.
Check in with park rangers and experts from the area who can share valuable information about weather patterns, wildlife concerns, and flooding risks. Online forums are also good sources of information. “Reach out,” Duda says. “Park rangers are living libraries of valuable information.”
Bring a good communication device—a cell phone, or if necessary, a satellite phone—in a waterproof container.
Consider taking a wilderness first aid class. The Expedition School offers virtual classes, and an in-person class is scheduled at Franklin Mountains State Park in El Paso on Sept. 11-13.
But before you strike out for the backcountry, make sure you’re prepared. I eased into it by camping by myself in a busy campground, then camping in a part of a park where no one else was camped. Try camping with friends first to get familiar with skills like pitching a tent, using a water-filtration system, and cooking on a camp stove. Then go by yourself—but camp at a public campground, where others are nearby.
If you enjoy the relatively solo experience, then try heading out by yourself to some place more isolated, such as a primitive campsite at a state park, national park, or national forest.
The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based nonprofit outdoors group, offers a “10 Essentials” to surviving the unexpected. The list recommends bringing sun protection, navigation equipment, first-aid supplies, insulation (extra clothing), illumination (headlamp or flashlight), fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles), repair kit and tools, nutrition (extra food), hydration (extra water) and emergency shelter.
Still apprehensive? That’s normal. Just remember you’ll walk out of the woods with something you didn’t have when you walked in: a sense of accomplishment.