4 Steps to Your First Solo Backpacking Trip
It can be hard enough falling asleep in the backcountry, but what if you don't have that extra set of ears laying next to you? What if you're solo? Is going backpacking alone even a good idea?
Not everyone has friends who want to go backpacking or even the time to do so even if they did. If you're like me, you probably have a desire to hit the trail for a night, but often find yourself not having anyone to join you. At that point you have two choices; either go solo or don't go at all.
I've been there. I've had my moment of "Emory, you're going to do this!" only to find myself finding every excuse NOT to go backpacking that weekend because I didn't want to spend a night by myself in the mountains. I once backpacked in during deer hunting season with the intention of camping, only to hunt for the day and return home that night because I couldn't go through with it. Trust me when I say I've been there.
So does this mean we're always going to be bound to going with a hiking partner? Of course not! What it means is that you have to work up to having the confidence to be out there alone. It's not something you do over night, but if you follow a few steps and really put some effort into it, you'll get there soon enough. When you do, you're going to find that backpacking solo is incredibly freeing.
Before we dive in to how to go about working up to backpacking solo into the backcountry, I just want to say that by no means is this a quick and easy process. For some it might take a few months to get there, other it could take years and years. The steps I've outlined below are to be used as a sort of guiding outline to help you go from "hell no I'm not sleeping alone out there" to "let's do this!"
Step 1: Go for a solo Day Hike
So you know you like backpacking, but a great first step to backpacking solo is to try hiking alone during the day. Start out by going somewhere more populated with people and if that goes well, move to a trail that is less travelled. Get used to being out there alone with only yourself to keep you company.
If this step is going well enough, try extending your day trip out til dusk. This will get you a feel for how the forest begins to change in the evening. It's different when you're alone than when you're with friends, so just relax and enjoy yourself. Various creatures will begin to come out, but it's not just because you're there. It's because they do it every night and this time you're there to witness it.
Step 2: Backpack in with friends, but camp alone in your tent
You're not going to be sleeping in a tent with someone when you're solo, so get used to it now when you're with friends. Organize a trip and make sure you're sleeping in your shelter by yourself.
At first, camp near where everyone else is, then for your next trip and those following, move your camp further and further away from other tents. When you can relax in your tent without hearing those camping around you, then you're likely ready to move on to the next stage.
Step 3: Solo camp at a popular camp location
Even though it may not be backpacking, this is a big step. Before you go waltzing into the woods alone for the first time, let's get you camping at a popular location first so you can see what happens to your thoughts when you're alone at night.
The enemy here is your brain. You have thousands of years of human history and survival telling yourself you shouldn't be alone in the dark. This is good! It keeps you alive, but it will also keep you awake and if you're not in control of it, it will eat you alive.
At this stage, practice relaxing. Do whatever you need to do to feel comfortable at night being alone.
Step 4: Your first solo backpacking trip
Whether you've taken 5 months to get here or you've taken 5 years, you're here and that's the only thing that matters. It's important to plan out your first solo backpacking trip so that it's successful and doesn't leave you stressed out once the sun goes down. Below are some tips and tricks to manage your first trip out alone into the backcountry.
- Plan an easy route that you're familiar with. You don't need any surprises the first time out in unfamiliar country.
- Don't camp in an area that is fraught with bear activity. Let's work up to that...or not.
- Bring a Garmin InReach or SPOT device that allows you to send and/or receive messages. Texting loved ones will make you feel closer to home.
- If you can, camp in a location that has cell service for the same reason as above.
- Choose a campsite that isn't tucked away in a deep dark forest at the bottom of a deep dark drainage. The forest makes a lot of noises at night and it's something you'll want to work up to. At first, pick a spot that is open where you can see a bit of distance. This won't make you feel like the world is closing in on you once the sun goes down.
- If you can, pitch your tent near a rock wall or backstop. This can give you the feeling of protection subconsciously.
- Bring good food to eat. Like really good food.
- Bring a book to distract your brain.
- Bring a music. Anytime I'm hiking early in the morning or late at night, I like to play music to help calm my nerves. The same goes for at night. If you're getting the creeps, turn on some tunes!
- If it makes you feel better, hang your food and toiletries so you know for sure bears won't bother you. This also prevents other critters from getting to your food and making it sound like there's a monster animal outside when it's really just a mouse.
- Build yourself a bit of a nest inside your tent with your things. This sounds weird, but it helps not having empty space.
- Last but not least....relax. Breathe in the mountain air, listen to the birds, and remember that you were meant to be out there. The wilderness is where your entire bloodline lived for a very long time, you just have to reacquaint yourself with it.
I promise you'll get there eventually, but it's going to take some time. The wild places we visit have the ability to teach us so many things if we just take the time to listen. If you're confident enough to spend a night alone in the backcountry, what can't you do?
Be safe and be alone sometimes. It's good for you.