How to go Solo Camping (And Totally Not Die. Probably.)

August 11, 2015


Since writing my post the other week on 5 reasons to go solo camping (in addition to the other 5 reasons that I gave you guys last year), I’ve had some people tell me that I’ve inspired them to go solo camping. A few of those people even informed me that they’ve already bought their tents.

Holy schnikeys, you guys!

I didn’t think anybody was actually listening to me!

Now I’m feeling a bit like maybe I should give you some helpful advice that will hopefully prevent you from being killed. I mean, I know that isn’t exactly like me — to be helpful and all. But I don’t want all you new solo campers out there to die and then have people blaming me for your death because I basically forced you to go solo camping with my super persuasive writing skills.

So here goes:

1. Start with what you’re comfortable with.

When I say I go camping onΒ  my own, a lot of people picture me hanging out by myself in the middle of the woods with just my backpack and a bunch of bears.

Let me assure you, that is not the case.

The only kind of camping I’ve done so far is car-camping. Which basically means I reserve a campsite at a campground (usually a state park), I drive to that campground, I flirt with any cute park rangers while I check in, I pull my car up to my campsite, I dump all of my stuff out of my car (and, trust me, there is a LOT of stuff), I set up camp and then I start drinking hard cider by my campfire.

Solo camping step 12: drink the hard cider by the fire.

Solo Camping Step 7: drink hard cider by the fire.

Some people might not consider this “real camping.” In fact, a few people left comments on my last solo camping post implying just that. To which I responded, “Whatever! I don’t consider YOU a REAL PERSON!”

(Just kidding. I did not respond to them in that way. In fact, I did not respond to them at all because they are NOT REAL PEOPLE and I don’t make a habit of responding to fairies and goblins and other un-real people on the Internet.)

Sure, car-camping may not exactly sound like something out of a Jack London novel.

But it’s what I feel comfortable with for now.

If you feel comfortable camping in the middle of the woods by yourself, fending off bears for a fun time, awesome! Go do that!

If you’d rather set up your tent in a campground, where there are cute park rangers and other people around who can hear your screams while you’re being devoured by bears, okay! Do that!

Or if you’d rather rent a cabin and watch from the safety of your four wooden walls while your tent-dwelling camping neighbors are being eaten alive by bears, swell! You should go do that!

No chance of being eaten by bears in this thing!

No chance of being eaten by bears in this thing! Probably.

And if anyone tries to tell you that what you’re doing isn’t “real,” don’t listen to them. Because, whatever, they’re probably NOT REAL. They’re probably pixies or gremlins or other un-real internet people.

2. Borrow all the things.

Okay, this tip won’t actually help you avoid getting killed.

But it will save you a whole bunch of money — money that you could use to pay your ransom after you’re kidnapped in the woods by marauding hobos.

So, yeah, maybe this tip will save your life. You’re welcome.

Before I went on my first camping trip, I borrowed all the camping gear I needed from my brother, who had just had a new baby and had no plans to go camping anytime soon. And by “borrowed,” I mean “I took it and never gave it back and really have no intention of giving it back ever because do you know how much a new tent costs? I mean, seriously, you wouldn’t think a nylon sack with a few sticks attached would cost so much, but it does!”

I’ve since managed to accumulate some items of my own, including a camp stove and an air mattress, but I probably haven’t spent more than a hundred dollars on camping gear.

So, yeah, find someone with lots of camping gear (preferably someone who just had a baby because THEIR LIFE IS OVER). Borrow all their stuff. Never give it back. Save all your money for marauding hobos.

3. Tell everyone where you’re going/what you’re doing.

Okay, I know this one is tricky if you live alone and are traveling alone. I mean, who are you going to tell? Your cat? Because she’s pretty much useless when it comes to emergencies.

This is where social media comes in.

If you follow me on the Instagram, you know that when I go camping I basically post a picture of every single thing I do while I’m doing it.

Like this:

Hey, look! I'm putting up my tent!

Hey, look, guys! I’m putting up my tent!

And this:

Hey, look! I put up my tent!

Hey, look, guys! I put up my tent!

And this:

Hey, look! I'm inside my tent!

Hey, look, guys! I’m inside my tent!

You probably thought this was because I’m one of those annoying types of people who can’t do anything without posting it on social media. You would only be partially right.

This also ensures that people know where I am and what I’m doing. And when they don’t hear from me on Instagram in a while, they know where to look for my bear-eaten body.

4. You don’t have to know what you’re doing. You just have to act like you do.

The first time I went solo camping, I had no idea what I was doing. I had never set up a tent by myself. I had never made a fire on my own. I didn’t even know enough to bring that fire-starter gel stuff to help me out. (I do now. And don’t tell me that using the gel is not the “real” way to start a fire. YOU’RE NOT REAL, YOU HOBGOBLIN!)

I was worried that I would never get my tent up and have to sleep in my car. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to make a fire and would have to eat cold hotdogs for dinner. I was worried I would be attacked by wolverines.


Wolverine attack!

But, most of all, I was worried that people at the campground would notice how ridiculously unprepared I was and start telling me what to do.

You guys, if there’s one thing I fear more than wolverine-attack, it’s people giving me advice I haven’t asked them for. Which is totally ridiculous, I know, because I’m so incredibly clueless about pretty much everything, so shouldn’t I be happy when someone goes out of their way to try to help me out?

Yeah. No. Not so much.

As soon as someone tries to give me unsolicited advice, I instantly go into DON’T-YOU-GO-TELLING-ME-WHAT-TO-DO defense mode and I want to scratch their eyes out.

Don't even attempt to tell me to eat less cream puffs. I will hurt you.

Don’t even attempt to tell me to eat less cream puffs. I will hurt you.

So, in order to avoid the awfulness of advice I never asked for and the awkwardness of just having scratched out some stranger’s eyeballs, I made a point of acting like I totally knew what I was doing. I stomped around my campsite with purpose. I slowly and steadily put up my tent and pretended like I wasn’t looking at the directions when I was actually looking at the directions. I threw logs on the fire with confidence, as if I spent every weekend throwing logs on fires. And it must have worked because absolutely nobody tried to help me out.

Granted, this could have been because of the DON’T-YOU-GO-TELLING-ME-WHAT-TO-DO-OR-I’LL-SCRATCH-OUT-ALL-YOUR-EYES look on my face.

Either way no one told me what to do. And everyone survived the weekend with their eyes intact. Win-win!

5. Remember bad things can happen to you anywhere.

When I tell people that I go solo camping, I get asked quite a bit if I’m scared I will be attacked by some ax-murdering serial killer.

I will admit this possibility has crossed my mind a few times.

But since I stay at campgrounds, which are usually full of other campers, I feel like my chances of being ax-murdered are kind of slim. First, there are lots of people around to hear me scream while I’m being hacked into ax-murdery bits. Plus, tents don’t really provide a lot of sound insulation.

Besides, most of the people at the campgrounds I stay at are camping with other people — their families or friends or partners. Now, I don’t know a whole lot about ax-murdering, but it seems like something of a solitary business. You wouldn’t go ax-murdering people on a camping trip with your family members and friends, would you? I mean, wouldn’t they start to suspect something if you went off to chop firewood and came back with no firewood and a very bloody ax?

In fact, if anyone at the campgrounds I stay at matches the description of an ax-murdering serial killer it’s probably me. After all, I’m usually one of the only people camping alone. And I have a suspiciously large car with a suspiciously large trunk. Plus, I have a tendency to lurk around other campsites, trying to see if I can spot other solo campers.

Even if I were camping out in the woods by myself, I feel like my chances of being ax-murdered are still pretty low. I mean, if I were an ax-murderer (and, trust me, I’M NOT AN AX-MURDERER), wouldn’t I want to go somewhere that I’m guaranteed to find people I can ax-murder? Why would I tramp all the way out into the woods, on the off-chance that there might be some girl camping out there by herself that I can chop into little bits, when I could go to a city where there are tons of perfectly good people to ax-murder? (I should probably repeat here that I AM NOT AN AX-MURDERER. I SWEAR.)

Totally not an ax-murderer. Probably.

Totally not an ax-murderer. Probably.

I’m not saying that there isn’t a possibility of something really horrible happening to me while I’m camping alone.

But the sad truth is that there is always a possibility of something really horrible happening to any of us at any time no matter who we are with or not with.

The other week, I woke up to the news on Facebook of the mass shooting at a cinema in Louisiana, resulting in the death of two people and the injury of nine others, including two teachers.

I had just gone to the cinema the day before. I had watched the same movie they had been watching. As a teacher, I had probably even been thinking the same exact thoughts as those two teachers in the audience. Namely, “Wahoo! Summer break! Time to watch movies and eat popcorn for dinner!”

It hadn’t crossed my mind that I might be in danger as I was shoveling popcorn into my face and feeling fluttery girlie thoughts for Bill Hader.

Later that day after reading the news of the cinema shooting, I went back to the cinema. I bought a ticket for another movie and another bucket of popcorn. And I marched into the theater despite the fact that I was terrified — truly terrified that the same thing might happen to me as it did to those two teachers in Louisiana.

As a professed scaredy cat, I’m a firm believer in admitting and owning your fear.

But I’m also a firm believer in not letting that fear stop you from doing the things you want to do.

Yes, there is a really real chance that you might get hurt going solo camping. But, unfortunately, there’s also a really real chance that you might get hurt while driving your car each morning or while sitting in your office at work or while shoveling popcorn in your face at a movie.

But that really real chance shouldn’t stop you from doing any of those things.

Unless, of course, you’re some kind of NOT REAL PERSON. In which case, you can go do whatever you want and not worry about bad things because reality doesn’t apply to you. Must be nice, YOU PIXIE-GOBLIN-TROLL PERSON!


Have you ever gone solo camping? Have any tips to share with people so they don’t die?


I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On August 11, 2015 at 1:55 pm KathiG said:

    Great post! Just loved it. And while I am not planning on going solo camping any time soon (why camp when God gave us hotels?), I am contemplating a major life change that I would be doing all by my lonesome, and your unbrave bravery is a real inspiration. Plus, I’m also not an ax murderer, so we have much in common.

  2. On August 11, 2015 at 6:05 pm Leslie in Oregon said:

    Having always had a dog, I never have gone solo camping, but I have camped a lot…all kinds of camping. What you are doing is real camping as far as I’m concerned, because you are sleeping outside away from your home. Your stories and advice about it are hilarious and inspiring. And, as a person who doesn’t let fear stop you from doing what you want to do, you are the opposite of the name of your blog.

    • On August 12, 2015 at 9:15 am Sally said:

      So does camping with a dog not count as solo camping? I would think camping with any animal as long as it’s not another human would count as solo camping.

      • On August 12, 2015 at 11:50 am Leslie in Oregon said:

        I guess my comment shows where my head is on this. Since I am never alone when my dog is with me, it did not occur to me to consider camping with him (or, in the past, her) solo camping.

  3. On August 11, 2015 at 7:24 pm Priya said:

    #4 is my favorite tip. It’s pretty much the story of my life.
    Priya recently posted..All The Things I Ate On A Cruise Ship

  4. On August 11, 2015 at 9:25 pm Pam said:

    Love it! Thanks! I’m starting with really wussy state campgrounds just north of metro Detroit. If it’s not at home or in a hotel, it totally counts.

    PS did you make it to Pictured Rocks? I’ve enjoyed the UP posts but haven’t commented because I was, ahem, traveling.

    • On August 12, 2015 at 9:13 am Sally said:

      Which campground? (Not that I’m going to come to that campground and ax-murder you. I SWEAR.) I haven’t traveled much to that side of the state, so I think a camping trip is in order. I’ve heard good things about Bay City State Park.
      And, yes, I did go to Pictured Rocks. That should be my next post (hopefully!). I’m a bit behind on posts this week as I’ve also been traveling and who has time to write posts when you’re busy traveling and EATING ALL THE FOODS???

      • On August 12, 2015 at 10:01 pm Pam said:

        Bay City would be a little far, just in case I got out there and freaked out about the ax murderers, wolverines, and whatnot. I’m thinking about Holly Lake, which is in Northern Oakland County about a forty minute drive from me. (I live in Ferndale, an inner ring suburb of Detroit.) it’s not the most beautiful park ever, but it’s good enough!

  5. On August 11, 2015 at 11:34 pm Anan said:

    Solo camping sounds like a lot of fun! It must be rewarding to be inside the tent after all the hard work of setting it up on your own. Your post made me want to go solo camping too!
    Anan recently posted..You Deserve To Be Zappy Happy!

    • On August 12, 2015 at 9:11 am Sally said:

      It’s very rewarding being able to do all this stuff I never thought I could/would do. I highly recommend going — at least once — just to prove to yourself (and everyone else) you can do it!

  6. On August 12, 2015 at 3:04 am zoe said:

    I kinda want a bumper sticker or a tshirt or something with #5 on it, except I don’t think all that text would fit on a bumper sticker. (A fine-print bumper sticker would work, I guess?) Maybe I should just print it out and nail it to a door, Martin Luther style.
    zoe recently posted..Enjoying the evening light in Finland

    • On August 12, 2015 at 9:09 am Sally said:

      Maybe abbreviate it into: RBTCHTYA. It looks enough like a bad word that people might ask you about it and you can spread the gospel of Bad Things Happen Anywhere So Stop Telling Me I Shouldn’t Go Wherever I’m About To Go.

  7. On August 12, 2015 at 12:57 pm Anne said:

    I have never gone solo, but have camped a lot with my Hubbie. I am an introvert so maybe I should try it solo. I prefer camp grounds as well, mainly for the outhouse! Sounds like you have got this ax murderer things all figured out.
    Anne recently posted..Do Cats Get Cavities?

    • On August 12, 2015 at 7:04 pm Sally said:

      Even though I would never consider myself shy, I am definitely also an introvert. So when people ask me if I ever get lonely or miss someone to talk to when I go solo camping, I’m like, “Heck, no!” If you go solo camping, I definitely recommend staying at the rustic campsites. They’re a lot quieter, and you still have outhouses (although usually no showers).

  8. On August 15, 2015 at 11:47 pm Choi Kum Fook said:

    When I was scout, always fifty years back, I was used to camp inside the jungle, the rain forest, with a partner in order to get my scout camping badge.We built a small hut instead a tent along the river just convenient to obtain water. Of course had to face wild animals like snake, wild boar,bear etc. You must overcome many difficulties before you can pass the badge.I have not camped solo before.So Sally, you are a very brave girl, not unbrave girl!!

  9. On August 22, 2015 at 1:30 pm Alana | Paper Planes said:

    Love this post! Number 5 was especially great. What an awesome sentiment for any solo camper or traveler (or someone considering doing solo things). There’s some level of risk involved in almost everything. All the things, pretty much. But there’s a big difference between being prepared/cautious (thumbs up!) and allowing fear/risk prevent you from experiencing what you would’ve/could’ve experienced. Thanks again!
    Alana | Paper Planes recently posted..Three Stunning Spas in Chiang Mai with a Northern Thai Twist

  10. On August 23, 2015 at 3:55 pm E. Mac said:

    Oh crap!
    Here I was thinking that “car camping” WAS actual camping! LOL
    Oh well, I think I like the sounds of your “car camping” trips anyway!
    I find your writing so easy to understand, practical, & above all – kick ass! You are always fun to read!
    I’m trying to figure out how I can have #5 tattooed across my arm to constantly have it staring back at me – constant reminder that I’m a chicken but need to proceed anyway.
    P.s. Here! Here! For finding a fellow Bill Hader drooler. He was dreamy in Trainwreck & I’m a sucker for a funny guy!

    • On August 24, 2015 at 4:18 pm Sally said:

      I always considered car camping “real” camping, too. And still do. Because, hey, if I have to sleep on the ground in a sleeping bag, it’s camping. No matter how I got there. πŸ™‚
      And, yes, Bill Hader is the dreamiest. In the nerdiest/best possible way.

  11. On September 14, 2015 at 9:45 am CR said:

    The only way of starting a fire that isn’t a real way to start a fire is the way that doesn’t get a fire going…

    Not everyone is training to be on “Naked and Alone”.


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