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Solo Backpacking – How to go Backpacking Alone as a Woman

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solo female backpacker, solo backpacking

Wide open spaces all to yourself. Complete dependence on your own backcountry skills. Solace. Rest. Rejuvenation. Nature therapy doesn’t get much better than solo backpacking.

But I find that most people, especially women, aren’t all that interested in solo backpacking. Whether it’s because they think it sounds boring or lonely or they’re worried about safety, many will never attempt it. They’ll see this title and instantly shake their heads and utter a resounding, “Nope.” But you totally and absolutely should try solo backpacking! Especially if you’re female!

Why? Because it’s awesome. That said, there are obviously some safety measures you should take if you’re going to embark upon an outdoor adventure of your own whether it’s a simple overnight or months-long thru-hike. Read on to find out how to do it right.

reading in a hammock
When solo backpacking, you can relax and read in a hammock for as long as you please; there’s no one else’s schedule to keep to!

Why Go Solo Backpacking?

Because it’s fun, that’s why. I’m personally kicking myself for taking so long to take a solo backpacking trip. But my reasons have nothing to do with reticence or fear (the healthy fear part of my brain might be impaired). Instead, it’s simply because I never had to. Every time I wanted to go backpacking there was always someone who wanted to go with me. Usually Josh. In fact, it’s been years since I’ve gone on a backpacking trip without him! I mean, we both love backpacking, and we’re both freelancers, so we generally just work both of our schedules around when we want to go.

But with this pandemic and parks and primitive backcountry campsites being largely off-limits, it had been months since I’ve slept in the great outdoors and I was slowly dying inside. For real though, it was bad. And it just so happened that Texas State Parks opened primitive camping to new reservations the week Josh finally got some work. I was depressed and he was really busy all of a sudden, so the logical thing to do was throw up a peace sign and tell him I’d see him in three days!

And just like that I was taking my first solo backpacking trip. No planning, no deliberating, just booking a campsite, renewing my parks pass, and packing my bag.

And it. Was. Glorious. Dang I wish I had done this years ago! It was so refreshing to hum quietly along a largely deserted trail (only one or two people may have caught me singing or talking to myself…), be the sole decision maker for what trails to take and where to camp for the night (I’m generally chronically indecisive, so it was nice to have to take charge for a change), just hang in a hammock and read for as long as I wanted, converse with others on the trail (from 6 feet apart, of course), and feel the confidence boost that comes with proving to myself that I am capable of doing something like this completely on my own. And I don’t even struggle with confidence regarding how bad a** I am! I know it!

It’s also important to hit pause and take a solo refresh to actually think about what you need and what you like to do, backpacking or otherwise. It’s OK to have some fun all on your own without anyone else to interrupt your forest bathing or marathon reading sessions or naps in a hammock or judge you for how long you want to stay in your sleeping bag before packing up camp. It’s empowering and rejuvenating.

solo backpacking, hiker at water hole

How to Solo Backpack Safely

Let’s start with the basics that should apply to every backpacking trip, no matter how many people are out there:

  • First of all, you need to plan and prepare for every facet of your hike. It’s the first of the Leave No Trace principles for a reason. If you plan and prepare, even if something does go wrong, you should be ready for it.
  • Second, don’t assume someone else will be out there to help you. Have a backup plan in case the excrement hits the air conditioner, as they say. That means knowing where you might be able to get cell service, having intimate knowledge of first aid (via wilderness first aid training and a well-stocked first aid kit), and maybe even carrying a GPS locater device or satellite phone.
  • But maybe most importantly, always tell someone where you’ll be, where you’re going, and when you expect to get there. Then make sure they know that if they don’t hear from you within 24 hours, they should call for help. Even when I’m backpacking with others, I make sure one of my parents and maybe even a close friend knows what trails I’ll be hiking on, how many nights I’ll be gone, and what day I anticipate returning to the trailhead and having cell service again. Then I make sure to call or text as soon as I can so they don’t worry something has happened to me. Skip sharing your plans and you could end up having to cut off your own arm with a dull pocket knife 127 Hours style.
backcountry cooking
Making dinner at the waterfront hangs in Lost Maples State Natural Area

Now for the solo backpacking specifics!

  • First and foremost, don’t attempt solo backpacking if you’re brand new to backpacking and aren’t 100% confident in the skills required to survive on your own. Because being alone means you can’t just ask your hiking buddy How do I read this map? or How do you start a fire? or Did you remember the sandwiches? You should have not only all the gear you need, but navigational and survival skills, too.
  • In the beginning, consider sticking with fairly well-trafficked trails or trails with plenty of easy entry and exit points. That way, if something does happen–like you twist your ankle or have an allergic reaction to a bee sting or what not–chances are someone will hike past you within an hour or less. If not, multiple trailheads make it easy to map out the shortest route out of the backcountry.
  • Don’t tell anyone you’re out there by yourself or where you’re camping. This goes for all solo travel, especially for women who are more often taken advantage of. If someone asks explicitly if I’m out here by myself, I may answer honestly if it’s another woman, but anyone else I will either dance around the subject or outright lie and say my friend/brother/sister/husband is just behind me or meeting up with me at the next junction. And I never tell anyone “Oh, I’ll be camping alone at site B tonight.” Instead, if they ask (usually because they’re not backpackers and are simply stoked and curious about the concept of sleeping in the woods or mountains), I might say something like, “Oh, I haven’t decided yet” or “I’m actually on my way back to the trailhead.”
  • Be prepared to defend yourself. Whether it’s animals or other people you’re worried about, be prepared to defend yourself. That starts with carrying the right tools. I always hike with a 4″ tactical knife clipped to my shorts for easy access (solo or not), but depending on where you’re hiking, you may need more. In grizzly country, you should also bring bear spray, for example. If hiking where mountain lions live, it’s not a bad idea to hike with trekking poles. Concerning animals, it’s also important to know how to react to any and all animals you may encounter wherever you’re hiking. It’s just part of safe hiking. So look it up. I’ve written articles about what to do if you encounter a grizzly bear, mountain lion, moose, bison, and snake, to name a few.

Lastly, It would be remiss of me to neglect to mention that because I’m a straight white woman, I have a lot less to worry about in the outdoors, even as a woman, than a black outdoors person does (we wrote about unequal access to the outdoors in this post). I wish I could make you feel safe and welcome when it comes to solo backpacking, especially if you’re a black woman, but I’ll keep working to make that a reality, and until that day comes, hit me up and we can head outdoors together! Or you might try pseudo solo backpacking if you’re hesitant, white or black: hike the same trail as a friend or family member, but stay just far enough from one another that you rarely even see the other person (but are still within earshot for safety reasons). Then camp at the same campground, but at different sites, each with your own separate gear. And to further the illusion of being alone, no talking unless it’s an emergency!

The Bottom Line

So stop thinking about it and just do it. Male, female, non-binary, whoever you are. Just be smart about it, protect yourself, go prepared, and freaking enjoy yourself! Wander on!