I originally wrote this article in 2002 for a woman’s magazine and have updated it a little for this blog post.
I love to camp alone, and the more remote the area the better. There are many dangers involved for anyone camping alone and for women the risks are even greater.
Here are a few tips I’ve learned to help make the woman’s solo experience a little safer.
I first camped alone at the age of 35 (I’m now 55, in 2017) when I decided to relocate from my home in Indiana (when I left my (then) abusive husband). One day I jumped into my car and hit the highway. With no plans, I simply followed the roads at whim. After 4,400 miles and a month of camping alone, I realized the freedom I felt could not compare with anything else I’d ever done. Since then I’ve camped on my own extensively on the edge of a variety of wilderness areas, and some not so remote areas, either by setting up a tent or sleeping (living) in my vehicle or going for short solo backpacking trips.
Have I been scared? You bet. On my first solo backpacking trip, I was awake half the night, my ears straining towards the tree where my bear bag hung, and listening for evidence of bears stealing my food. The presence of bears worried me less than the possibility of losing my food on the first night. That would have been disastrous as it would have cut my sabbatical to one night instead of three.
But bears and mountain lions rarely bother with people unless they invite trouble. Here are the basic rules:
Keep a very clean camp (a BARE camp) and follow all the rules.
Store sleeping clothes separate from the clothes you eat in, hang all food including other scented items like toothpaste out of the reach of bears (fifteen feet from the ground and ten feet out from the tree trunk) and ensure pots and pans are clean and odorless.
When leaving camp it’s a good idea to store your sleeping bag along with your night clothes in a garbage bag inside the tent, you are then assured of a dry bag and clothes to warm up in if you get wet.
Even if I go for a short hike on my own I always have emergency gear with me. Some people may think this is being over cautious, but when I’m alone there is no one to help should anything go wrong. The key to survival is to think of all the many things that could go wrong and be prepared, without being paranoid.
When backpacking always let someone you trust know where you are. If you go for an unplanned hike, leave a note in your tent so others will know where to look in case you do not return. Ask other hikers of weather and trail conditions up ahead. One time this prevented me from a possible dangerous encounter with a female moose and her two calves. It is wise to stick to the trail, then if you injure yourself your chances of being discovered are greater. There are times though, when the temptation to explore something off trail may be too great. When doing this, be prepared mentally and physically to accept the consequences should anything go wrong. Always carry a map and compass and other survival tools (such as a PLB) and know how to use them.
When setting out for a solo backpacking trip or hike, never let strangers know you are alone or where you are going. I lead them to believe I’m meeting a party of hikers. One time on the trail a man approached me who did not generate an, “I can be trusted,” aura. With my hand on my bear mace, out of sight, I turned and shouted into the woods, “Come on Jack hurry up, I could have gone three times by now”. The stranger glanced to the woods, saw no one, but continued on his way. I know I led him to believe I wasn’t alone.
When car camping I find roads that lead to the national forest and sometimes bordering a wilderness area. Before heading into these remote spots do a quick check over the vehicle. Be sure the tires are inflated including the spare, the gas tank is full and the oil and water levels are good. Then stock up on food and drinking water. Even if you only plan to be there one night, it is wise to have enough supplies for several days in case you get stranded and have to hike out for help.
Visit the forest ranger’s offices whenever possible. Let the ranger’s know of your intentions, and ask for the best spots for a woman to camp alone. I prefer to camp in remote areas that are well hidden (I’m talking about dispersed camping or boondocking). In doing this I can see and hear people approaching, often before they are aware of my presence. This feels safer as it gives me the upper hand and a chance to prepare for an unwanted visit.
Other women may prefer to be in full view.
One summer I went on a ten-day solo trip around Colorado (this was back in the year 2000 before I became a full-time vehicle dweller and nomad, but did a lot of solo camping trips). On one road I saw a lady walking a dog, and stopped to inquire about the condition of the road and where it led. She could see that I was camping alone and was concerned. So I set a small rock inside a tree stump and told her that when I left in two days, I would remove the rock. If it was still there in three days, she and her husband should come and check on me. They seemed like honest people, and I chose to trust them. Admittedly, it was easier to sleep knowing that someone was aware of my presence in that wild, remote place. (This was many years ago, before cell phones and Personal Locator beacons were common and more affordable, but if you don’t use a PLB, you could maybe do something like this).
There are times and places that are a safer bet for women alone. During my 4,400 mile trip back in 1996, I stuck to State Parks because I felt considerably safer as it was hunting season, and large groups of men at various levels of inebriation were everywhere. Since then I have experienced camping mostly in the backwoods, and can’t tolerate the noise and thoughtlessness of other campers in such places, so I rarely stay in State Parks or any kind of developed campground. Additionally, they cost money, and I refuse to pay for camping except in very special circumstances.
For myself, the rewards of camping alone far outweigh the risks. I’ve learned to be more independent, and have found strength both mentally and physically I didn’t know I had. I also have a much stronger sense of self, so when at night I hear a twig snap close to my flimsy little shelter (or outside my vehicle) and wonder what is moving around out there, or when I walk quietly within a herd of deer; in those moments, with my senses in override, I know I am truly alive.
Until next time, stay safe out there.
Roxy ~ A Nomad for Nature
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