Four years ago, I read Wild, the memoir by Cheryl Strayed about her time solo backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,600-mile long trek that stretches across the West Coast of North America. I thought to myself, “Hey, I should do that!”
And then I promptly hyperventilated because WHAT THE HECK WAS I THINKING?? I can hardly get myself off my couch on a regular basis. How in the heck was I going to get myself to hike all the way from Mexico to Canada??
Also SNAKES! And BEARS! And OTHER SUPER SCARY THINGS I HAVEN’T EVEN THOUGHT OF YET PROBABLY BECAUSE I DON’T EVEN KNOW THEY EXIST YET!!!
Flash forward four years later, and here I am planning my first ever solo backpacking trip for this weekend.
Granted, I will not be backpacking 2,600 miles. Heck, I won’t even be hiking the 23-mile backcountry trail in Northern Michigan that I had originally planned on doing this weekend.
Instead, I opted for something a little bit easier on my first go-around — a 12-mile loop in a state park with a rustic campground at the halfway point.
And, while, I’m more than a little bit nervous, I think I’m ready.
Here’s how I’ve been preparing for my big trip.
4 Steps to Prepare for Your First Ever Solo Backpacking Trip
Step 1: Buy all the ALL THE THINGS. Because this whole going minimalist thing requires a whole lot of stuff.
When I originally started solo camping, I probably spent all of five dollars on camping gear. And by “camping gear” I mean one of those marshmallow skewer thingies BECAUSE S’MORES.
I borrowed a tent and sleeping bag from my brother and a campstove from my coworker. I used the air mattress I already had from my pre-furniture days in my new apartment. And I grabbed a whole bunch of stuff from my kitchen to use — because who needs a special camping frying pan with a special fold-able handle when a regular frying pan will do?
Since then I have bought more camping gear, including, my own campstove and, admittedly, a special camping frying pan with a special fold-able handle because WHAT? IT MAKES ME FEEL LIKE A PROPER CAMPING PERSON, OKAY!
But, for the most part, I haven’t spent a whole lot of money on camping stuff.
I could probably have bought myself an entire fleet of miniature magical ponies with the amount of money I’ve spent in the past month on backpacking gear.
First, of course, there was the backpack. Which I accidentally bought two of because I shouldn’t be trusted to make financial transactions on the Internet before noon.
Then, there was the lightweight backpacking tent and the lightweight backpacking sleeping bag and the lightweight backpacking stove. And despite their light weight, they all hit my wallet pretty heavy, if you know what I mean.
And then there is the list of things that I never thought I’d own. I now have a compass I don’t know how to use and a water filter so I can drink murky pond-water to my heart’s content and hopefully not get sick.
And, well, there’s this:
Because, apparently, even going to the bathroom while backpacking requires its own special backpacking gear.
Step 2: Do lots of research. And by research I mean “Youtube.”
Hey, did you know that there are videos of people packing their backpacks?!
And did you know that if you start watching these videos you will basically be physically unable to stop watching these videos because there is something completely mesmerizing about watching another human pack their own bag?
And then it’s two o’clock in the morning and you can’t even remember your own name but you do know exactly where to put your sleeping bag and how to hang your hiking poles off your backpack.
Mind you, you still have no idea how to backpack. But you do know how to bag pack. So that’s something, right?
Step 3: Get physically ready.
I walk a lot — both for work and because I’m one of those weird people who likes to walk to places. So I didn’t think that backpacking would be that hard for me.
Until I went on a four-mile hike with my half-filled backpack the other weekend, and discovered that there’s a really big difference between walking somewhere and walking somewhere with a bag the size of a small European country on your back.
Also a lot harder than you’d think it would be: putting on a sports bra in a teeny tiny backpacking tent. Especially when it’s eighty degrees out and you’re sweating out of pores you never even knew you had.
Step 4: Get mentally ready.
Training for a backpacking trip doesn’t just take physical training, it takes mental training.
And I’ve found the best way to train your brain to be ready to go camping in the woods by yourself is to first go camping in the woods with a whole bunch of Class A douche-balls. Which is exactly what I did two weekends ago.
While I was testing out my backpack, I car-camped at a busy state park near my home, where my camping neighbors consisted of a bunch of college dudes who loudly told drinking stories while loudly playing drinking games all night. And then the next day they blared their car radio until the car battery went dead. It’s possible I made their car radio go dead simply by wishing it so with every fiber of my very being.
Also, some fourteen-year-old called me “Mom.” And I had to dodge a game of football every time I needed to go to the bathroom.
After a full weekend of that, I had never felt more ready to trek off into the woods by myself. When given the choice between listening to drinking stories for another night and drinking murky pond-water, I’d gladly take pond-water all the way. Sure, my intestines might never forgive me. But what’s a little intestinal discomfort compared to the discomfort of some random fourteen year-old calling you, “Mom”?
Have you ever backpacked by yourself? What did you do to prepare?
Disclosure: Some of the above links are affiliate links, which means I can earn a small commission for purchases made at no extra cost to you. Which means I may finally be able to buy that fleet of miniature magical ponies I’ve been wanting! Yay!