Hiking and camping can be some of the most peaceful, and often spiritual, activities. It reminds us to open our ears to every rustling leaf and chirping bird, gaze at more than just the ground in front of our boots and return to the core of why we love carrying a heavy backpack through the woods. As simple as walking in the woods can be, though, hiking and camping alone requires an additional self and outer awareness that group members usually supply. Here are some tips for embarking on your first or hundredth solo trip.
A successful solo trip relies heavily on past experience and knowledge. Before planning a solo trip, ensure you can navigate with a map and compass, treat a variety of medical issues, build a proper fire, efficiently use your gear and maintain your body without assistance from others. If you have any hesitations about your abilities, take another trip with an experienced friend and test yourself along the way.
2) Draft and share your plan
Especially during an overnight or multi-day backpacking trip, the most basic step in emergency management is writing out a day-to-day itinerary and the GPS coordinates of each campsite to leave with a family member or friend. Then, set a date and time for when your emergency contact should notify authorities had you not returned or contacted them about extending the trip. This preventative measure could save your life following a debilitating injury, onset of disease or inclement weather.
As much as we would like to ostracize ourselves from technology on trips, carrying your cell phone or a satellite phone could also ensure your survival. Turn it off or on airplane mode to keep you disconnected and save battery.
3) Actively listen to your body
As with any hiking venture, pace and hydration are key to successfully finishing the day’s mileage and maintaining optimal bodily functions. In a group, inevitable disparities in speed tend to regulate the group’s overall pace and time allotted for water breaks. Solo hikers, though, can settle into a trance or depth of thought that can cloud the mind-body awareness. This can increase pace to unsustainable levels, leaving the body overly exhausted to efficiently set up camp and complete the forthcoming days. It can also decrease pace to a level that could unnecessarily extend your hours spent hiking.
Hydration also requires an understanding of under and overconsumption, especially when others cannot point out the signs to you. Outdated jargon surrounding hydration advised athletes to drink as much as they could before, during and after exercise. Now experts advise drinking water with the expectation of losing up to two percent body weight and never gaining weight during aerobic exercise. This means not only recognizing signs of dehydration, such as a dry tongue, pruny fingers, strong headaches and the appearance of flashing, dark spots, but also not over saturating the body to the point where you are constantly peeing or, in extreme cases, develop hyponatremia.
4) Fully set up camp before pulling out your camping chair
After a long day of hiking, setting up camp by yourself might seem daunting and exhausting, and you will want to delay it until the cold starts to penetrate the heat your core has built. Don’t let the thought of the seemingly strenuous feat stop you from assembling those tent poles and collecting water for the night. When camping with a group, you can employ the ‘divide and conquer method’ to collect firewood, prepare dinner and purify water. By yourself, it takes a while, especially in the dark. So, as soon as you arrive at your campsite for the night, throw back a handful of trail mix, rehydrate and start on the night’s tasks.
5) Don’t skimp on firewood
Depending on the quality of firewood in the area, you can burn through fuel quicker than you may imagine. And while that bundle of kindling and logs may look like it will last for another two hours, there’s a chance it won’t, and you’ll end up searching in the dark for more wood as your fire threatens to extinguish into a thick cloud of ash and smoke. So, when you collect firewood upon arriving at camp, overcompensate.
6) Bring activities
Like the parent who totes around a beach bag full of coloring books, mini racecars and puzzle sets, pack enough activities to last you at least until the sun sets. For some, a book suffices. For others without the attention span to read over one hundred pages in a sitting, bring cards, a journal and, if small and light enough, portable speakers or an instrument.
As with food, layers and other camping amenities, balance sufficient entertainment supplies with a consideration for extraneous bulk and weight as you would with any trip, solo or not. So, swap the 600-page hardcover for a 200-page paperback.
7) Embrace solitude
Although hiking and camping can create unprecedented bonds between people, doing so alone reignites the bond we have with the outdoors that lured us into the woods in the first place. So, let your mind wander to places unknown without the fear of getting lost. And, of course, only panic if that noise outside your tent is growling.