Being Safety Girl - Feeling (and being) Safe Solo Camping
Updated: Dec 27, 2020
But is it Safe? Being out there alone? Well ~ you are neither out there, nor alone.
It's important that you do activities to YOUR comfort level, safety-wise. I am just going to let you in on the precautions and practices *I* do that make me feel comfortable.
I want to stress: if ANY situation makes you feel uncomfortable, remove yourself from it. No judgement. No doubt. Trust your gut, as you would anywhere. And let's face it ~ if you are feeling fear, you are not feeling fun, relaxed, empowered, joyful... and those are the feels that you want your solocamping to be.
The number one thing women say to me when they find out that I solo camp is that they could never do it... whether they don't feel comfortable being self-reliant, or they just simply wouldn't feel safe being on their own. I think they may be thinking that I am *backpacking* alone... out in the wilderness, no one for miles, just me and the wildlife and the elements and my survival skills. Cheryl Strayed in "Wild" (which is an awesome read, btw.) Nothing could be further from the truth.
When I solo camp, it is in an established state or national park campground. It is, as I like to say, "me and 150 of my closest friends." There are literally people all around me. Peripheral people are part of the experience. You hear their sounds, you smell their campfires and maybe their steak on the campfire grill, you see their camp and their lanterns. You may hear their music (do NOT get me started on that, grrrr.) Their kids may ride their bikes past your camp; they may walk past your site on their way to the lake, floats or fishing poles over their shoulders. You can choose to interact with a nod or a "good morning,", but you don't need to. You are in your Campsite Bubble. Your *experience* is solo. Your choices are yours. Your campsite is your own. The environment, though, is all community.
That being said, there ARE campgrounds that have more greenbelt between sites, more privacy than others. How to find and book those is a topic for another blog entry. :) This one is about feeling safe, yet feeling solo, in community. It SOUNDS trickier than it is.
There are really three components - your appearance, and your comfort level.
Appearance - look like a family site.
Comfort level - just as with anywhere, at home or away - use locks, awareness within your surroundings, and protection.
Communication - Talk about it after you are home
Here are the tips I've developed and utilize, that make me comfortable.
Site selection. If you are just starting out, the first couple of times, I would choose a site that is in a well-occupied loop of the campground. You will have neighbors close enough that if you need a second set of hands getting the tension on that tent pole, or forgot your mallet and need to borrow one for some tent stakes that need to go into stubborn soil (both of which have happened to me) you can call over your shoulder and there are generally nice folks there to assist. You may find this reassuring.
Tent door orientation within the site. I really like to look out on greenbelt, so now that I am comfortable, I face my opening away from camp angled to where I just see forest, if it's at all possible. But to start with, and sometimes it's still a preference, angle your tent door toward the center of the camp, the campfire circle, which typically includes a view of car, chairs, the picnic table etc. In other words, you are gazing out on Your Camp Central Command.
Pictured: My tent facing the greenbelt, Millersylvania State Park.
When you see my pics, I like you to see what I go solocamping FOR - the trees, the nature, the site itself. In all cases, though, if I swung around, you would see a portion of someone else's camp - a tent top at the least, a full site at most. That is the nature of camping in a campground. You are NOT alone. You are having a solo experience, in community.
Pictured: The view out the windows at the back my tent, Millersylvania State Park (the chair on the left is in *my* campsite.)
Take a big tent, and two or three chairs. I really like the roominess of my 5-6 person tent, I'm not gonna lie. And I started using it based on the simple fact that that was what I had. But then I noticed, it was really an immediate way to spot a single person, if they had a 1 or 2 man tent. So my large tent is not only roomy for all my gear (handy if it's raining) and for me to stand up in; it also says "this is a family campsite."
Same with two chairs. I like two because I like to put my feet up on one by the fire. But also, a campsite with two chairs projects that there are two people or more staying there. So don't take a camp footstool ~ take two chairs, and *use* one as a footstool.
Look like a family camp. Don't advertise your solo-ness with your camp equipment.
Have a carabiner and a locker combination lock. The carabiner I use CONSTANTLY, it is always with me. It's on my regular keychain. When I camp, it is on my belt loop, with keys, *always* (ever locked yourself out of your car camping? SUPER not fun.) I don't even remove it to open the car, I just use the remote unlock.
At night, when I am inside, I slip the carabiner through the tent door vertical and horizontal zipper tabs where they meet. I am locked to outside entry, and my car keys are RIGHT at the door.
The combination lock I use when I am going on a hike, or fishing, or taking the car exploring. I place valuable things (cookstove, etc) in the car or tent; and I use the locker lock, this time through the zipper tabs on the exterior of the tent, to lock in the contents.
Pictured: My carabiner locking my tent from the inside.
Be aware. Be solo without being solitary. I take only established trails, where I will enjoy my own company and some beautiful sights (all the pics on my instagram are from very established, publicly well-used trails ~ I do not lack for peace, or lovely things to look upon.) Don't wear earphones or earbuds... it's not the time to listen to a podcast or music. It really isn't. Do that around the track or the neighborhood at home. Keep your ears open for nature sounds as you walk, and that keeps you more aware of your surroundings. Your phone can be your camera - but do not use it for anything else. For one - you will be missing out on a huge portion of the experience, which is to UNPLUG from daily life and distractions. Two - you will not be aware of the beauty, or the situation, presented by your surroundings if you're looking down at your phone. I was editing photos when I saw a rather large movement out of the corner of my eye in the woods nearby. Thinking it was a deer, I was surprised to lock eyes with a coyote. Who slipped quietly away. I edit photos in camp by the fire now. It's a delightful way to review the day.
Use Community Language. When having conversations with strangers, use the pronoun "we." And it is FINE to make up a fictitious partner if you feel the slightest the need to do so in conversation. I often will tell women I am camping solo (I do not use the term "alone") if they express curiosity. If a fellow male camper on his own strikes up a conversation, I say "we," and if asked by same if I am camping alone, I reply, simply, "nope." Sometimes I'll add "I'd never feel comfortable doing that, are you kidding me?" You don't need a whole backstory. If someone asks more of a question at this point - again, benign general curiosity, I am certain - I answer with a question, "Why do you ask?" I've never had a conversation go beyond that.
Take walks or hikes on established trails or paths. Is that still lovely? Why, yes, it is.
Lastly, a utilitarian knife with a sheath. Wear it. And take it in the tent.
I treated myself to this incredibly handy, and nicely large, utility tool by Barebones (will be reviewed soon in Good Gear) for my birthday this year. It's a saw, a wood peeler, it's a digging spade; a truly multi-use tool, and it comes in a very nice sheath.
When I go hiking outside of the populated campground loops, even if it's just the well-populated path from the campground to the lake, or the walking paths that branch out from the campground, I wear this in its sheath on my belt. It IS a useful tool. It is also a visible deterrent, which allows me to relax. It's like two houses next to each other - one has a big large barking dog, one does not. Which one would a burger choose?
Does it work? I've had three men in three months say "WOW, that's a big knife!" as we pass on the path. To me, if it is getting noticed, it is working all I intended toward safety. It comes in the tent with me at night. Just allows me to feel protected.
Pictured: My Barebones Hori Hori knife
Post about your trip when you are home - just as you shouldn't advertise that you are home alone on social media, don't advertise that you are camping alone; in advance, or while out. If you do choose to post during you trip, don't give details like site numbers, campground names, trails, lake names, neighboring communities. It's fine for your phone to be a camper for the trip - but not only is it *nice* to be unconnected from social media, it is safest to post your trip and it's highlights when you are back.
You will ask me, have I ever felt uncomfortable? I've felt twinges. No more, no less than in my regular non-camping life. And none that would give me anywhere near enough pause to pack up and go home. I can tell you this... if I had felt that, I would have. That is part of the self-reliance that is truly one of the wonderful things about solocamping. You are responsible to, and for, you. Embrace this challenge; know that you will make decisions that are right for you.