Ten Tips for Your First Time Solo Camping

Lodgepole Campground – Site 172

Whether you are new to camping or just new to camping alone, today I’m going to share my tips and what to consider based on my recent experience at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

When I was little I didn’t get a lot of time out camping in the woods. In fact, I’ve probably only gone a handful of times. And most of those I was too young to remember.  One of the most memorable was the summer between junior and senior year. A bunch of us high school friends decided to go camping. Let’s just say the boys got kicked out of the campground, there was one couple who spent most of it fighting and I’m not even sure we got to make s’mores. I might try to dig up a photo or two and post it on my Instagram.

So why go camping alone? I think part of my desire to get out there on my own was to build my outdoor confidence. Sure I feel very confident as a day hiker, but what would be like to be on my own and be self reliant from setting up a tent to making breakfast – which I had never done on my own.

Also I want to work towards spending some nights on my own in the backcountry. Next year I am planning to spend a week on the High Sierra Trail or something similar.

Here are ten tips to consider as you determine if you’re ready to get out into the woods on your own.

1. Do your research.

Talk to some friends or experts about camping. Don’t be afraid to hit up your local outfitter, a message board or reach out to a friend.

I spent some time researching blogs and articles about what to do and not to do when you’re a first time solo camper.  I can say that I found lots of great tips out there. Some are just common sense. I also found a lot of tips that didn’t quite apply to my situation – and that’s the important thing to consider if you are thinking about first time solo camping or have a friend who might be. Each person has a different skill set and background – what works for me might not work for them. One tip said not to do your first solo experience far from home. I was thousands of miles away from home and wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I thought I would share how I prepped for my camping, what gear I actually took, what went wrong and all the things I would recommend to anyone thinking of going out alone.  For those of you listening who are experienced campers – I want to hear what you think about solo camping. What are your tips – whether it’s car camping or the backcountry.

First of all, I needed to identify where I was going. Since I knew I’d be in Southern California, on my short list was Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree and Death Valley. Given the time of year I decided I wanted to hit up higher elevations – and hopefully avoid some crowds. I had read that Kings Canyon had a lot of the feel in places of a Yosemite without the crowds. So Kings Canyon became my focal point. I was lucky enough to get a reservation pretty late in Sentinal Campground at the last minute. And at the very last minute I decided to add another day in my stay at Lodgepole Campground in Sequoia when a spot opened up. And once you know where you are staying, you’ll want to assess whether you need to pack all your water in, what the amenities are and so on.

Some additional items you’ll want to make sure you’re aware of are basic wilderness safety and camping etiquette. I’ve referenced some great resources in my show notes. The main thing to remember is that you should know how to properly store your food and anything scented like tooth paste, deodorant and so on – if you’re in bear country you might be required to use a bear canister, hang a food bag or store all your food and scented items in a secure locker. Additionally never leave food in your tent. Even when you’re not in bear country there are lots of critters that will destroy your tent in the search for food. Also a key thing is to practice leave no trace. Leave your campsite better than how you found it.

Choose your location based on what you might want to do. Try to research enough so you have a sketch of a plan, as in what trails you might want to hike or what points of interest are in the area. For me, I chose Lodgepole to be near the Giant Sequoias and General Sherman tree and then Sentinel so I could have time in the canyon.

2. Stay flexible – whether it’s about where you are pitching your tent or the trip itself.

I wanted to have a reservation but there are walk up campgrounds. Being flexible and not having to stay at the same site allowed me the opportunity to see two vastly different areas and I had entirely different camping experiences as well.

So now that I had reservations, This trip was becoming more real. Real enough that I started to panic a bit. Would I be able to set up my tent all by myself? That tent which has been in my closet unopened for a year?

On this trip, the hike I anticipated doing was partly flooded and half of the trail was closed. So keeping a mindset of staying flexible was important for me to not get too stressed. Remember, not everything is going to go according to plan but that’s why its an adventure.

3. Make sure you have the right gear and clothes for the trip.

Part of prep is also making sure that you have the essentials for the trip.

First I’ll go into what I did for prep.  I had my basic camping gear – tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag – and of course the 10 essentials. I’ll post a list of my gear in the show notes and of course, there are tons of resources out there. I’ll post a couple of the ones I found most valuable.

What I didn’t have…a stove and cookware. Not entirely essential for car camping in a national park that has a camp store and restaurant. However, I wanted to make sure this was good practice for the backcountry.  I picked up a GSI outdoors Glacier Camp Stove which worked out quite well besides me almost starting a fire in my backyard – make sure you don’t tip the fuel can and keep it on a level surface. I also purchased a very basic 1 person cookset from Coleman. And I can tell you that you definitely get what you pay for. The fry pan didn’t make it out alive. So now I am definitely on the hunt for some reliable cookware and perhaps something I can use both at a campground and in the backcountry.

You’ll want to bring layers and even if the weather forecast shows sunny skies, bring a pair of rain pants and rain jacket just in case. In a lot of my experiences when I’m changing elevations throughout the day, I’ve realized it’s critical to have layers. A good base layer and both my hiking boots and some camp shoes or sandals. Remember it also can get pretty chilly at higher elevations. I slept with my hat, jacket and base layer on underneath clothes.

4.  Set up your tent and check your gear ahead of time to make sure all are in good shape. 

Since I had never set up a tent all by myself, this was about to get interesting. I just moved into this new place, so I’m also just trying to figure out my bearings. Getting used to things. Well I went out to the side yard and proceeded to figure out how was this going to work. Thankfully no one was going to come to my rescue, because this was a struggle I needed to make me feel more confident. I have a 2 person Marmot Tungsten and putting the x bar together in those grommet holes. Bending them just right and then realizing that two just popped out. There is a trick to all of it. At least in setting it up alone and balancing things just right. Luckily I got it. And after that, everything was a snap. Attaching the fly, staking out the vestibule. So while I was nervous about what the actual moment would bring, I knew if I had done this at least once on my own – I would find a way.

So in checking out your other gear, make sure your sleeping pad inflates if its the kind that does. Make sure you have fresh batteries for headlamps and lanterns and that all work. If you’re bringing along an emergency communicator, make sure you have the right plan you need and you’re going to want to test it out. I did a practice run with mine in Sleeping Bear Dunes.

5. Write out your itinerary as best as you can.

Share with at least one person back home.

You may not know which hikes you’re going on and the exact time you’ll make it to camp, but at least give some of the basic info to someone who is expecting an all is okay call or message from you by a certain point in time.

Also if you are taking some hikes that require permits, you’ll want to check in with the ranger. For this camping experience, I didn’t do anything in the backcountry so I ended up just needed to check in at my campgrounds.

For my upcoming backcountry hiking trip that I’m starting to plan, I have tons of research to do. There’s permits, knowing where water is (water crossings, water resupplies, water purification) I’ll need to know how to pack lightly but enough to manage six nights out in the wilderness alone.  But that’s a different blog post!

6. Arrive to the campground or site early and plenty of time before sundown.

You don’t want your first time putting up the tent to be rushed or in the dark. Assess the site. Make sure you aren’t putting up a tent under a dead tree or dead limbs. And realize that your practice run is going to be different than the real thing. The soil composition is going to be different. What may have come easy in my backyard might not be so easy at the campground. One key thing for me was bringing along a rubber mallet to help drive the stakes in. However, that may not be a great idea for the backcountry – at least the bulky one I picked up. And that’s going to happen. You’ll realize that some gear worked well and some didn’t. And you’ll adjust for next time.

And here’s where I have to share a little bit about the campgrounds that I stayed in. First night I was at Lodgepole Campground. This is probably one of the most popular campgrounds in both national parks. I mean, there are shuttle buses and it feels for better or worse like a small city.  However, one cool thing about Lodgepole was the post office. I got to mail out a postcard from there.  I have to say though that site 172 felt like I had my own little piece of private wilderness. I would really recommend reserving it.  What I realized the next day at Sentinel is how lucky I was to get that camp site, because the Sentinel site was less private and therefore compared between the two – the lesser camp site experience. However, from a park perspective I enjoyed Kings Canyon more. So staying at Sentinel afforded me access to more of a remote feel for hiking and trails. As with everything, there are always tradeoffs.

7. Don’t stress the small stuff or the big stuff.

I couldn’t get a fire started on the second night and I was so tired and starting to get frustrated. I realized there was more to go into fire starting than I thought, and I hadn’t spent time prepping for that part. But the important was that I was enjoying myself. I was getting to know myself over these two days. More than I ever anticipated or imagined. I didn’t need to start a fire thankfully. And so now I have some time to practice my fire skills before the next trip.

8. Prepare to be alone.

Traveling and camping alone brings a lot of alone time. Some people aren’t all that comfortable with that much space. For me, I really needed it. While there were moments I sorta wished I could have someone next to me drinking coffee and sharing in my pitiful attempt at scrambling eggs in the burnt fry pan. Okay, maybe not the eggs…I also had a lot of time to reflect on life and feel at peace.

I suggest doing something like bringing a book, a journal to write it, some type of craft or art project. Because you might just get inspired being out in nature.

9. Take time to appreciate the moments of struggle and success.

While there’s no one to high five when you successfully put up your tent for the first time by yourself out in the woods, or to console you  or talk you down when you get frustrated or can’t sleep – all of these things are intrinsically rewarding and growing you as a person. Thinking back now after a little bit of time has passed, I can see my confidence has grown and that this trip really was a milestone. Something special I’ll always remember and be able to tell my kids about – or maybe their kids. Mine just roll their eyes when I talk about camping. But someday they will know that their mom really tested herself on that trip. And its in those moments we know what we’re made of.

10. Reflect on what worked and what didn’t work.

For me, I wish I would have brought a pen to journal, a good book and had practiced starting a fire beforehand. What worked was doing a lot of what I talked about today. Being prepared, researching, staying calm and flexible.

And realizing that not everything will go to plan. It’s like life. Letting go. Knowing that you can’t control everything and understanding that as part of life…about the only thing you can control is how you respond to a situation.

In conclusion, spending two days at Sequoia and Kings Canyon I was able to walk along the giant trees, see these beautiful vistas, feel the force of waterfalls in my bones, be in awe as I drove along Kings Canyon byway and feel so small in the canyons – staring up at the granite domes and walls. My hikes were amazing, but they were just one small piece of this wonderful journey. Whether you’re young or getting older, all of us can enjoy these wild spaces and it’s never too late to start. So I hope this post resonated with all of you. It’s just a piece of my longer journey. A journey to appreciating life more and growing and sometimes that’s painful. But it’s always worth it.

Thanks for following along. There’s still so much more to share about my trip to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. I’ll be sure to add a blog post soon about my visit and what it was like on the trail.

So until next time, see you on trail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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