An Expert Guide to Camping Alone as a WomanPublished on 07/30/2021 · 9 min readCamping & Hiking expert Elizabeth H. shares about her experiences solo camping as a woman and gives tips on where to go, what to do, and what to bring.
No shame in the using-my-car-as-a-tripod game! Photo by Elizabeth H.
Growing up as an only child in an outdoors-loving family, I got pretty used to being alone in the woods. I’ve always felt much safer in the middle of nowhere than in the middle of a city, and I would love to share some tips and advice for those who want to start adventuring solo but haven’t made the jump yet.
This article will take you through the basics, from what gear you will need for a variety of trips to where to go! I hope that you are inspired and confident enough to venture out alone after this.
Day Hiking Essentials
Day hiking is the easiest way to start heading out solo. It allows you to get comfortable with being in nature alone and you are close enough to home to enjoy your own bed! Research trails using AllTrails or go to your local ranger station. A ranger station is also a great place to get a paper map of the area. This may sound old-fashioned, but paper maps won’t run out of battery and will work no matter where you are. Another place to get maps of your area is to go to a camping store. Places like REI or a locally-owned camping shop will carry maps of the area, and whoever sells you a map will probably have recommendations of where to go.
Don’t be too ambitious when you are first starting out. Pick an easy trail and don’t be afraid to go slow or turn around early. It’s better to play it safe, especially when you are hiking alone!
My day hiking essentials
- Water: I will carry between 60 and 80 oz of water depending on the weather and how long the hike is, always bring more than you think you will need, or just turn around when you are halfway out of water!
- Snacks: The second most important thing! I’m a foodie so I always carry way more snacks than I eat. Granola bars, chips, dried mango, and energy chews are some of my favorites. Hard candies are also a fun reward.
- Extra layers: I always carry my rain jacket, a fleece, and my SPF shirt.
- Extra socks: Such a treat if your feet get wet or dirty
- Bandana: perfect for wiping sweat off your face, runny noses, or just looking cute!
- Sunscreen and bug spray
- Carabiners: Super handy for attaching sandals to the outside of your pack
- First aid kit: Mine has bandaids, antibacterial cream, butterfly bandages, hand sanitizer, and athletic tape. If you want to build your own, check out this guide.
- Bear spray: An absolute must for solo-hikers in bear country!
- Trash bags and gloves: leave the trail better than you found it!
- Just in case kit: headlamp, waterproof matches, a knife. Great to have just in case you have to spend extra time on the trail.
Next Step: Camping
Once you feel comfortable with day hiking, pick a campground and head out for the night. I would recommend starting with a campground close to home—this is a great way for beginners to dip their toes in the water. I personally like being in a campground with other people.
My first solo camping trip was a week-long national parks tour of Wyoming and the Dakotas. I started at Devils Tower National Monument and ended up at Wind Cave National Park. It was a great shoulder season trip since there weren’t too many people but most facilities were still open at the campgrounds. For more tips on camping in the shoulder season check out my article!
I prefer campgrounds because it makes me feel safer knowing that if something were to go wrong, there would be other people there. However, some women like to disperse camp away from everyone else which is also a great option and most disperse campsites won’t cost you a thing! It’s also a great way to explore public lands and get some solitude.
Trust your gut and find what works for you. Don’t be afraid to bail early from trips—you have to go at your own pace and follow your instincts.
For overnight trips, I will pack all of my day hiking stuff and lots of creature comforts. Feel free to use this as a checklist to begin planning your trip! This may seem like a lot of gear for just one person, but why rough it when you are car camping??
My camping essentials
- Tent: I absolutely love my Nemo Dagger! It has held up great for almost 5 years through crazy weather and lots and lots of sand.
- Sleeping bag: I have 15- and 30-degree bags along with a fleece liner. I pick which one to bring based on the weather forecast.
- Sleeping pad: The Exped MegaMat is a must for me. It is my favorite piece of gear that I own. I’m a side sleeper and this is the most comfortable pad on the market in my opinion!
- Stove: I have a two-burner CampChef stove but a single burner backpacking stove will be perfect for a solo trip. I always bring extra fuel as well.
- Kitchen kit: I use a large plastic tub with a locking lid as my kitchen box. It fits all of my pots and pans, knife kit, utensils, cutting boards, mug, and tableware. It is the same size as my food box so they pack into my car super easily!
- Food: This is the most important part of any trip (can you tell that I went to culinary school and love food)! Having a single spot for all of my food helps keep me organized, and having it in a plastic tub keeps any pests out and can also be used as a chair or prep surface in a pinch.
- Headlamp and flashlight: I always have a backup in case the first one runs out of batteries.
- Toiletries: Can’t forget your personal essentials! Mine include baby wipes, deodorant, lotion, sunscreen, moisturizer, a toothbrush and toothpaste, lip balm, allergy pills, and ibuprofen.
- Appropriate clothing: Check the weather predictions and pack accordingly. I always bring extra layers and rain gear for any unexpected weather.
- A pillow: I wish I could take my beloved memory foam with me, but memory foam pillows and cold weather are not friends! I have a compressible pillow that fluffs up which is good enough for a few nights.
- Tarp: This can be a great way to create some shade in sunny areas or make a cover for your cooking area if it is raining.
- A book: There’s nothing cozier than reading a book while curled up in your sleeping bag. It’s also great entertainment for solo evenings—just don’t bring anything scary! You already have enough to worry about, so why add anything to your anxiety?
- Journal: I personally prefer reading, but lots of solo campers like to bring a journal to document their adventures.
- Chair: I love my Nemo Stargaze Recliner, but any chair will do! If you are camping in wooded areas, a hammock can be another great option for lounging!
Where To Go?
I grew up camping so a lot of the places that I’ve camped alone are places that I was already familiar with, but you might not have that same background. It’s super easy to find places to adventure alone. Ask your friends where they like to go or find a local hiking group. You can also research online. Freecampsites.net is a great way to find free camping and AllTrails is my favorite way to find trails when I’m exploring a new area!
If you have a local state or national park nearby, go there! I’m a total national parks nerd. The only thing on my bucket list is to visit every National Park Service site in the country. Currently, I have 106 stamps, so I’m about a 4th of the way done. State parks (at least the ones I’ve been to) usually have shower facilities and more amenities overall, including RV hookups. If you are planning on staying in a campground, make a reservation if possible! Most campgrounds will fill up quickly and some popular places are fully booked for months in advance, so always have a backup plan.
What To Do?
Solo adventures are a great way to connect with yourself and nature in a more meaningful way. My first stop on any adventure is the visitor center or museum. Most national and state parks will have exhibits that showcase the history and flora and fauna of the area. They also usually have a gift shop. I love buying postcards to send to friends and they make great keepsakes to remember trips by.
After I have a feel for the area, I will set up camp and get settled in. I always start by setting up my tent and getting my sleeping bag and pad ready for the night. I will start dinner preparations if it is late in the day, or if it’s early enough I will head out to explore. Short hikes or doing a scenic drive are a great way to spend the afternoon. If I’m lucky enough to be camping near a lake or river, I will bring my chair out and spend the afternoon reading a book. It is also really relaxing to just sit and be in nature. In a society that prioritizes doing, it feels rebellious to just be. I embrace it and cherish the time I spend watching the clouds go by or observing insects going about their lives.
What If I Get Nervous?
Nerves are super normal for solo trips. I’m a naturally anxious person and my mind loves playing the “what if” game. If I’m feeling anxious, I try to take a step back and pinpoint why I feel that way. Is there a weird sound coming from the woods? Am I worried about the campers in the site next to me? Did I forget to lock my car before getting into my tent? All of these are very real worries and you will have to find a way to breathe through them to calm yourself down. Usually I’m able to check myself and remind myself that thousands of other people have done this before and that I am able to protect myself if necessary.
If you have taken a step back and rationalized your worries and you still feel off. Just leave!! I’ve packed up camp several times from places that felt wrong. No one will judge you for choosing to feel safe. Spending the extra money on a hotel or driving to a new spot is worth your sanity and a good night of sleep.
I hope that this guide has inspired you to take the leap to go camp alone! Remember to trust your gut and have fun! Remember to reach out to a Camping & Hiking expert if you have any questions or for free, personalized advice and recommendations.