How To Prepare For Your First Solo Backpacking Trip

Solo backpacking means you’re free to plan your trip whenever you want, the only schedule you have to worry about is your own.

Out on the trail, the hiking pace is the one you set.

The campsite is the one you choose.

And at meal time you eat exactly what you want.

Wilderness camping alone for the first time can be a little intimidating. Here are a few guidelines and suggestions to help you feel more confident when you strike out on your own.

We’ll talk about staying safe, keeping oriented and highlight some necessary gear for soloers.

Stay Safe Out There

When it’s just you, safety is all up to you. Here’s information to keep you prepared to go it alone.

Wild animals

Since you won’t have anyone to turn to for advice, knowing what to do in the event of an encounter is important.

Hit the trail with a healthy respect for wild animals and the information on how to avoid — and what to do in the event of — an encounter.

Bears

Mother bear protects her three little puppies in the finnish taiga.

Being safe in bear country is a very real consideration. First, find out if bears will be present where you’re going. While bear attacks are rare, they do happen.

The best way to stay safe is to be informed.

Make Some Noise

Possibly the biggest concern for solo hikers is accidently surprising a bear. Since you’re not talking with other hikers, you’ll be much quieter.

When you round any blind corners on your hike, or enter an area where it seems bears could be present, sing a song, clap your hands or otherwise make some noise.

This gives the bears a chance to hear you coming, and clear out of the area.

Cougars

Cougar in the wilderness.

If there's a possibility of cougars or mountain lions where you'll be hiking, read up here and here for safety tips.

Your next safety concern should be...

… Not Getting Lost

Every hiker has heard the stories of the ones who never made it back home.

Out of all the people who hike and backpack in the wilderness, the percentage of those who lose their way and don’t come home is small.

But the possibility of something going wrong is a real concern for solo hikers. 

That’s why this is probably the most important piece of advice in this whole article:

Check out/check in

Always tell people where you will be and how long you’ll be there.

Always do this.

Every time.

Leave a clear description of:

  • Where you’ll be hiking (including the name of the park/area and trail name)
  • Where you will park your car
  • What you’re wearing
  • Where you estimate you’ll stop to camp
  • Which day and at what time you plan to be back
  • Who to call if you miss your check in (usually a forest ranger or sheriff’s department).

Leave this information in your car and with two different people (in case one person loses the info, it slips their mind, etc). Tell them when to expect your check in, and when to call for help.

Should something go wrong, you are much more likely to be rescued if rescue workers are notified quickly and know where to look for you.

Map and compass

When you’re by yourself, the only one in charge of directions is you.

In addition to carrying a GPS device, it’s a good idea to get a topography ma​​​​​p and a compass and learn to use them together.

Maps and compasses can’t run out of batteries. You might even consider taking a course in the skill or getting a book or two.

Compass and map. The magnetic compass is located on a topographic map.

Research your trail

Obviously you’re not going to wander into the wilds willy nilly.

Before you go, just make sure you’ve looked at your maps a few times, have an idea of what to expect, either from talking to others, reading about the trail online, or looking at trail guides.

Solo means you can’t beg a Cliff bar off your buddy so make sure you...

...Have Enough Food And Water

Most backpackers, especially newer ones, over pack on food. 

The first day, the thrill of hiking and being surrounded by the awesomeness of nature makes many hikers forget food entirely.

That is until you get to camp...

Chances are you’ll pack enough food to get you through. A good amount to bring is 3,000 calories of food per day, plus a little just in case.

A healthy adult can go 3 days without food.

So even if a wombat steals all of your food, you’ll most likely be fine until you get home. 

Water is a different story… Read our guide to always having water when you hike for a full picture.

While you should always bring as much water as is comfortable in your pack, you’ll most likely rely on finding water for the majority of your trip.

First make sure your trail has water sources.

Then make sure you know how and have the right equipment to treat water.

What About Fear?

A lot of the fears surrounding solo adventures are psychological. It’s our brain’s way of trying to keep us safe but sometimes those fears can get irrational.

After you’ve accounted for the real threats to your safety, like what we went through above, the next step is to quiet your mind and relax. 

Dealing with fear

If you find after you’ve addressed all the points above to keep you safe, you’re still carrying around some fears about going solo, remember that fear is in your mind.

Trying a couple techniques might help you to confront that fear and let it go.

Confront the fear

Surviving a bear attack.

Sometimes what we fear, is fear.

Ask yourself what you’re afraid of. Then take a little time to look at that fear, follow it to its logical conclusion.

Maybe the fear of bears is really keeping you up at night before a trip.

Acknowledge that you are afraid of bears.

Accept the fact that there is such a thing as a bear attack. Then remind yourself that you’ve learned what you need to know about avoiding and dealing with bears.

Being unnecessarily afraid of bears won’t have any effect on whether you see a bear or not

Let it go

Certain meditation techniques can be helpful for letting go of excessive fear.  

Before you head out, or even in your tent as you bed down for the first night, try these simple steps:

  • Breathe. Try and put all of your focus on your breath. Breathe in and notice how it feels in your nose and chest. Breathe out and imagine the swirl of air you just exhaled slowly disappearing. Try to do this for ten breaths. Then, maybe ten more
  • Scan your body. Fear can make us tense our muscles. Start at you head. Imagine all the tightness in your head letting go. Then go to your neck. Relax all the muscles there. Keep going down the body like this, focusing on an area, then letting that area relax

Now when you know how to stay safe and calm, here are a few solo backpacking essentials.

Necessary Items For Soloers

  • Topo maps & compass - We talked about this above, but it’s worth repeating. It’s always a good idea to make sure you can make it back to your car if you lose the trail
  • Satellite communicator or personal locator beacon (PLB) - These devices are small and transmit signals far better than cell phones. PLBs send out very powerful distress signals and are registered with the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. You only use these in emergency situations. Satellite communicators let you send short text messages to friends and family as well as send a distress signal
  • First aid kit - Always important, but especially so when you’re solo. Here are a few suggestions on what to pack
  • Hydration supplies - Another standard in any backpacking setup, but should you unexpectedly be out longer than anticipated, having water is crucial. Also bring an emergency back up treatment method, such as chlorine dioxide tablets

Prepare For A Great Solo Adventure

Completing your first solo backpacking trip will give you a big boost of confidence and improve your sense of self-reliance.

You’ll have time for reflection and contemplation away from almost all distractions.

Be prepared. Know where you’re going. Leave check in/check out info.

And enjoy.

How about you? Got a tip on making a first solo adventure a great one?

We’d love to hear it!

About the Author

After spending 5 years testing gear, meeting people and exploring his home state of Colorado with his wife, Andrej realized something about the outdoor industry. Mostly, that it was complicated. Andrej set out to create no-nonsense gear that was just as easy to use as it was reliable. He recruited a team of wilderness professionals and educators and hit the drawing board. The result was simple gear that you could trust, with specs you understood. Now he’s inspiring others to get out there and explore, by giving them the confidence to trust both themselves and the gear they use.

>
» ANNO​​​​UNCEMENT OUR SHOP IS LIVE!