by NATALIE BARTLEY
Solo camping is one of my favorite ways to vacation. It allows for freedom of choice. I get to go where I want, when I want, and change my mind at any time. Camping alone builds self-confidence and creates lifetime memories.
Recently, adventurous women shared their thoughts and tips with me so that others might safely follow in their footsteps.
Katja Casson, of Hailey, Idaho, outfitted her four-door passenger car for solo camping. She removed her back seat, built a platform for sleeping, and stored camping supplies under the platform. She included a cook stove, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, vehicle emergency flare, first aid kit, water container, non-perishable food, headlamp, and hiking gear. Casson said, “It takes time to fine-tune things.”
She was concerned about safety, including physical safety, and had her windows tinted a bit darker, so people could not easily see into the vehicle. She increased her peace of mind by increasing her knowledge about gear, campsites, and destination activities.
Managing fear can be a challenge for the solo camper. In addition to physical safety, Boisean Ellie Johnson said she had to manage her self-talk on her first backpacking trip alone. She wanted to experience a solo adventure after she heard her husband talk about his solo trips. To determine if she liked camping on her own, Ellie decided to try a short, one-night trip, rather than committing to a multi-night solitary experience. She backpacked on a trail in the Boise National Forest and set up her tent for the night.
When she heard sounds in the dark forest, her mind conjured up visions of a bear mauling her or a man attacking her in the tent. She tossed and turned for hours until she got control of her mind and convinced herself to relax.
Johnson advised, “Keep those irrational thoughts in check; they are a time waster for enjoying why you are out there.” Proactively prepare for real animal or human encounters by having a whistle, pepper spray, and information. Being safe includes using intuition. If something doesn’t feel right, change the situation.
Site selection for safety is a key when solo camping in your tent or vehicle. Many forest service and state park campgrounds have hosts who live onsite in their recreational vehicles. Consider selecting a campsite near them and alerting them you are there. It’s comforting to know the hosts are keeping an eye on you. You can also prepay for your campsite on the internet, identifying a location you prefer and eliminating the uncertainty that comes with not knowing where you might sleep.
A solo camp trip might include the company of your four-footed buddies. Dogs make ideal travel companions. They are happy about all of your destination choices. With their sharp hearing, they alert you when strangers and animals are nearby. Plus, there is something soothing about having a canine companion.
When I leave home for a solo camping trip, I provide my loved ones the details of my journey and expected return time. I use my credit card for gas and food en route to my destination. If I ever were to go missing, my family and the police could access my purchasing history, re-creating where I was at what time and narrowing the search area. At trailheads, I sign in at the trail registration boxes in case they need to locate me.
During my solo outing, I update my location via text, email, or phone contact with folks back home. Cell coverage is surprisingly widespread, even in mountainous and remote areas. Locals or other visitors can suggest specific spots where coverage is available.
Consider how much information you are giving out to strangers when you are alone. You might talk about where you’ve been while withholding where you are going. Some gals camping alone tell inquisitive strangers that companions will be joining them soon. Other women wear wedding rings to ward off unwanted advances.
Camping and traveling alone provides a silence unavailable when traveling with another person or a group. The lack of distractions plays a safety role, allowing for increased attentiveness.
In the book Trail Safe: Averting Threatening Human Behavior in the Outdoors, the author Michael Bane presents a model for awareness useable in outdoor and urban settings. “The Awareness Color Code” involves four colors representing levels of awareness.
If we are unaware of our surroundings, the model assigns the color white. We are in a white level of awareness when we are preoccupied with using our cell phone while hiking. The book indicates most people usually are in this low level of awareness.
He suggests a green level of awareness when outdoors. Green represents being relaxed and aware. We are enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells, yet nothing is alarming us. Because we are alert, we observe more. Perhaps we notice fresh animal tracks. This observation might step us up to the next level of awareness.
The color yellow represents when something alerts us, such as hearing a rustle in the woods or seeing a person acting oddly. We quickly become more vigilant.
We are in the red color of awareness if in a dangerous situation. This is when we need to be completely alert and set to respond. An action may be required, such as finding and using an escape route.
Regardless of the setting, keep “The Awareness Color Code” in mind as you walk along an urban street or set up a tent at a campground. Intuition and awareness help you safely and confidently travel on solo adventures.
Natalie Bartley is a Boise-based author of trail guidebooks Best Easy Day Hikes Boise and the newly updated Best Rail Trails Pacific Northwest.