When I first set out to travel across the US, I knew I would be camping all by myself. I knew NOTHING about camping. I mean I watched a couple YouTube videos and thought, how hard could it be? I had camped in wine country before, I had camped in the desert near a lake in Arizona with a bunch of buddies, but to be completely honest… looking back now I laugh at how much I didn’t know. But you know what? That didn’t stop me from pursuing my dreams. At the end of the day, I camped for more than 100+ days in National Parks in a tent all by myself. Here’s what you need to know about solo camping from packing lists to how to stay safe. Basically, a girl’s guide to solo camping.
Disclosure: This post not only shares camping tips, but also has Affiliate Links that I earn commissions from. This is how I make a living and keep this little blog running. Thank you for supporting me! I appreciate it. Much love, Kristi.
Let’s Talk Safety First
I’m often asked if I am scared to camp solo and how I would react in certain circumstances. So let’s break down a few different safety scenarios. This is what I did, and I realize you might not feel as comfortable with some of them… go with your gut and do what’s right for you.
Protection Against Unwanted Advances from Men
It happened – you know pretty quickly who is on their own when you pull into a campground. Just like in a bar, some people will come over to talk and some will want to see if you are down to hanging out in your tent. Um, no… no I’m not. When I road tripped the US I had a small Ruger 380 and a not-so-small 10″ tactical knife. I’m an expert shot and have spent many hours training in knife fighting. In the beginning I would sleep with my Ruger in my tent (it fit in the size of my hand), but it was always out of sight. I never walked anywhere though without my knife. I would chopped veggies for the grill or slice my campfire steak with it. It made quite the impression! 🙂
Who know what I had on me at all times because I’m allergic to wasps? Wasp Spray. That stuff hurts more than pepper spray and it can shoot 30 feet!!! I’m all about non-lethal ways to deter people and so I always had wasp spray in arm’s distance whether I was driving, setting up my tent, or sleeping under the stars.
Protection From Wildlife
I live and camp in Alaska, where there are a ton of large mammals that I love to see from a distance, but I have no desire to see them up close and personal near my tent. In Alaska I have seen brown bears, black bears, porcupines, moose, and a wolf while out enjoying nature. That porcupine ran up a tree when I got close – no idea that they did that! The wolf ran off super fast and the moose was too busy eating berries to give me any attention. Those bears though… that’s what I was most concerned about.
This cutie was eating berries on the side of the road in Alaska!
Brown Bears vs. Black Bears
Black Bears are much smaller than brown bears and are curious, playful, and follow their nose to a good BBQ. Brown bears are larger, more aggressive, and are not at all curious to hang out with humans. If you come across a black bear you want to make yourself appear really big by waving your arms back and forth and yelling at the bear to go away. You want to frighten the bear to run away or up a tree.
Brown bears though… that’s a different story. They are known to bluff charge you. Don’t turn your back on the bear and whatever you do, don’t run! Slowly walk backwards away from the bear and talk to it in a soft, calming voice. You want the bear to know you mean it no harm. If the bear does attack you, curl into the fetal position and cover your neck with your hands. The bear will leave you alone once it views you as no longer a threat.
I always have bear spray with me as it is a deterrent to bears. That gun I have would do no good against a bear as it is not a large enough caliber. It would only piss the bear off more.
When camping in bear country do not leave any food out nor bring any into your tent. Use the bear lockers if available or store the food in your vehicle. This includes dog food, deodorants, toothpaste and toothbrush, and anything that has a smell to it.
I wrote this post that you should read about camping around bears: What You Need to Know When Camping in Alaska’s Bear Country
Life Without Electronics
The last part of safety for me is my electronics. Even without WiFi or cell service, your GPS is working in the background. I always tell a couple people the general area that I’m going to be. I personally love to go off the grid and not have access to email and social media. I understand though that my family worries. I have used apps like Life360 to share my location with them.
Now that we have talked about safety, let’s talk about the fun stuff!
Deciding Where to Camp
Camping in Alaska, yes please! When camping in National Forests you might not get all the amenities, but it’s usually less than $15 a night, more rustic, less people, and the hidden gems of the camping world. — #getoutside #gocamping #campinglife #nationalforests #alaska #camping #justgo #explore #naturelover #mountainsarecalling #snowcappedmountains #takemeback #solocamping
For first-time campers, I suggest going no more than four hours away from home and to an organized campsite. That way, if you have trouble setting up your tent or your scared of what could go wrong, there are other people close by that can help. Camping in National Parks is my favorite. Their facilities are top notch, often with real restrooms and showers, plus camp stores in case you forgot something and if you are lucky, a coffee hut too! My fave National Parks to camp in are Denali, Glacier, Yellowstone, and Yosemite. When camping in National Forests be prepared to rough it a bit as typically it is a port toilet and no extra amenities nor running water. National Parks can run you $25-65 a night whereas National Forests are usually under $20 a night. State Parks are also fantastic and some states have gorgeous campgrounds with amenities, and their costs reflect that too.
After you’ve camped a few times in these types of campsites try backcountry camping or boondocking – setting up your tent in the middle of nowhere. It’s fun!
How to Set Up Your Campsite
First let’s talk about camping gear. Not all tents are created equal. When looking at tents don’t get one that has a ton of parts and looks overly complicated to setup. I have found that REI tents aren’t the cheapest ($100+ for a 2-man tent), but are so dang easy to set up that the extra money is worth it for your sanity. Plus if a squirrel eats your tent on the first night, they will replace it free of charge – true story!! You will need a tent liner to put underneath the tent to keep the moisture away. They go for around $40 or you can buy a $3 shower curtain liner and it will do the same job.
Picking the Campsite
I’m picky when it comes to choosing a campsite. If the weather is chilly, I want a spot in full sun to soak up the heat. If it is hot out, I want a few shade trees. When there is water nearby like a river or a lake, I want to see it from inside my tent. I will circle around the campground once or twice and take notes as to which spot has all that I’m looking for. You also have to note if it has been reserved already for the night.
Side note: I’m the type that just wings it. I rarely ever make a reservation at a campground. If that’s not how you roll, you can reserve a spot up to a year in advance.
Once I’ve picked out my site, I fill out the little envelope and add my cash – always have cash on hand to pay for your camping spot as they don’t take credit cards. Then I drop the the envelope in the box or take it to the camp host. The camp host will also have firewood for sale and be your Go To Person in case you need any help or advice on the area.
Camping in Alaska… peaceful, beautiful, perfect for just one night or for weeks on end. I will take it everyday of the week! 🙌🏼 — #camping #thealaskalife #getoutdoors #mountainsarecalling #peaceful #findyoursoul #campinglife #alaska #roadtrip #solocamping #justgo #alaskalife #campingtrip #travelalaska #alaskaliving
Setting Up The Tent
Back at your campsite, choose a flat area for your tent. Place the liner down and set up your tent on top of it. I always put the rain guard up over the tent. I’ve left it off twice and it rained buckets when there was no chance of rain that night. Use the stakes to secure it into the ground. Use a mallet if the ground is too hard. I then place a blanket down in the tent, kinda like carpet. Next comes the air mattress or mattress pad with a fitted sheet over it. Then a sleeping bag, pillows, and blankets. I camp with a lot of blankets! I personally don’t like to be in the cocoon of a sleeping bag as I sprawl out. I also always bring heat warmers, even in the middle of summer. I place my lantern, water bottle, wasp and bear spray, plus a good book inside my tent.
Setting up the Rest of the Campsite
Grab your camp chair and place it near the fire. If you are traveling with your pup, lay a blanket out next to your chair for him to curl up on. Wipe down the picnic table or toss a tablecloth over it. Realize now that there are spiders underneath the table. Don’t look if you aren’t a spider fan… I have yet to find a camp table that is spider and insect free. If that freaks you out, bring your own camping table.
Place your 5-gallon plastic jug of water on the table. Pack one gallon of water for each day of your camping trip. Use this to fill up your water bottles, the pup’s water dish, water for cooking, and for cleaning up.
Tips to Starting a Fire
A lot of campgrounds have a ban on bringing in firewood because of beetle infestation. You can purchase firewood from the camp host or in the closest town. There is no shame in using fire starters to help get it going. I’ve also brought a fire log too and then placed real wood on top of that when I wanted a really hot fire. It took me a good year to be able to get the fire going without any help. I can remember it clearly though – I was camping in Denali National Park and it took me 45 minutes to get it going strong… I was so damn proud of myself!
Solo Camping in Denali National Park ~ first time I got the fire going without any help whatsoever!
- You are not alone out there and people tend to be friendlier when camping. Ask for help if you can’t figure out how to get the tent up or if you forgot batteries for your air mattress pump.
- Unplug as much as you can… nature will fill up your cup more than you can imagine if you let her.
- Check out your surroundings! Go on a hike, bring your bike, follow the sound to the waterfall… don’t be scared, don’t let fear ruin your day!
- Bring bug spray and sunscreen – use them liberally.
- Breathe in peace and let go of life’s frustrations.
- Pack good craft beer or bottles of wine with screw caps or even Rose in cans!
Solo Camping Packing List
It’s not camp cooking if you’re not cooking over the fire in a cast iron skillet. No one will know if you simply put this on a propane burner either. This Presasoned Combo Cooker works as a deep skillet, a fryer, a Dutch oven, and the lid converts to a shallow skillet or griddle – the perfect pot for camping! I have one that I take everywhere. I’m not afraid of just sitting it on the campfire coals either!
Here’s a list of other items that will make your camping adventure more enjoyable. It took me years to get all of this. In the beginning, I invested in a good tent and sleeping bag and added more items in as I needed them. For food, I will either cook a gourmet meal on the campfire or just eat Doritos… doesn’t seem to be a middle ground for me. Ha!
- Mountaineering Eclipse Table — $24
- Solar Camp Electric Lantern — $34
- LifeStraw Personal Water Filter – $15
- Coleman 5-Gal Water Jug — $18
- Coleman Oversized Camp Chair with Cooler — $18
- Extra Large Picnic & Outdoor Water-Resistant — $22
- Wasp Spray — $14
- Camp Towels — $25
- Heat Warmers — $6
- Tactical Knife – $10
- Fire Starters – $7
- Fire Log – $5
What other solo camping questions do you have? I would love to help you get out and get camping!!
A Little Camping Humor
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