May 26, 2021 at 11:10 am #3714269Kevin WBPL Member
I’m embarking on my first solo backpacking trip in the next couple of weeks. I have plenty of experience backpacking with a group and am going to a site I am very familiar with. I would appreciate any advice in dealing with nervousness on being in the backcountry alone, especially at night?May 26, 2021 at 11:59 am #3714293DanBPL Member
What are you nervous about specifically? And why at night? Maybe just go into your shelter and don’t hike at night. At least for your first trip. It’s definitely easier to get lost after dark.May 26, 2021 at 12:00 pm #3714294JStankyBPL Member
@jstankyLocale: SF Bay Area
I ended up going on my first solo trip due to a buddy backing out on me at the last minute. Best thing that ever happened to me. I’ve come to absolutely love my solo trips, but I don’t think there is any way around the initial nervous factor. You might bring some earplugs and maybe a mild sleep aide if you feel like you might be laying awake and worrying about what is walking around your tent. In terms of general unease of being alone in the wilderness, it will just take a little time. I suspect most people’s fear is related to animals. Bears, mountain lions, snakes, etc. It might help if you did more research on the potential and the reality of animal encounters in your area, and what you should do in the rare case that you have a close interaction with the wildlife. I’d also suggest picking up some sort of satellite messaging device if it’s not cost prohibitive. It will not only give you some peace of mind, but it will also likely put your family and friends at ease a bit. Solo hiking is so rewarding, I find that moving through the wilderness alone puts me in a state of heightened awareness of everything around me that you don’t get when you’re out with your friends. The fears will subside with time, enjoy!May 26, 2021 at 12:04 pm #3714298MarcusBPL Member
I just started soloing earlier this year, with lots of outdoor experience but minimal backpacking experience. I did a few trial runs close to town to get things dialed in then just went big and did 40 miles in 3 days.
I asked a bunch of questions and had similar concerns. Everyone – literally every single person who answered my questions and concerns – said not to worry, and they were right.
Be confident in your gear and gear list. Resist the urge to ‘Pack your fears’ (over packing for unrealistic contingencies) . Have a good plan. Know the weather and how your gear handles it. Be smart with your food (hang it/practice proper camp hygiene).
If you do those things you dont have much to worry about, even though you will tell yourself you do. Mice and toads will sound like elephants until you get comfortable. Just remember, whatever you’re hearing in the dark is much less scary than whatever you’re imaging.
its also a very good idea to have a satellite communicator if you’re solo. If that’s not in the cards, choose a well traveled trail for your first couple trips.
The general consensus is you have to worry much more about 2 legged creatures (humans) than 4 legged (animals) in the outdoors. Assuming you’re not leaving your bag of jerky in the tent at night, you have an extreeeeeeeemly low probability of anything investigating you. After a few nights you wont even think about it. Just plan well, use good judgement, and push through any hypothetical fears.May 26, 2021 at 12:26 pm #3714313dirtbagBPL Member
I love going solo. The first time or two there was definitely some nerves.. but after waking up in the morning and still being “alive”.. well it gets more normal each time you do it. I usually try to spend my day hiking some long miles, so I will definitely be tired come evening and get a good nights sleep.May 26, 2021 at 12:30 pm #3714317Kevin WBPL Member
Thank you for the advice, the main concerns are the animals and all making noise at night. I know it’s more or less an irrational fear, it can still get my mind racing though. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who was nervous about my first solo outing. I don’t have a Sat Communicator yet but I am planning on purchasing one soon. Thanks again!May 26, 2021 at 12:54 pm #3714330
I love solo hiking as well. Probably the only way to get past worries at night is to do it. I’m extraordinarily comfortable and at peace at night now. Of course, you could seek out a campsite with others already present. Actually I often do because I like to chat at night! Helps pass the time.May 26, 2021 at 1:00 pm #3714331DanBPL Member
Sorry, I didn’t realize the nervousness was about animals and noises at night. As you mentioned, it’s simply an irrational fear due to lack of comfort with the outdoor environment. I don’t think there is anything to do except to keep reminding yourself not to worry. If you expect really paralyzing fear, maybe consider a mild sedative like Benadryl. The nervousness will presumably decrease with repetition. If it doesn’t, then I guess solo backpacking is not for you, but you’ll figure that out for yourself.
Personally, after years of primarily solo backpacking, I find it annoying to be with other people (or to encounter them) while backpacking, since they disrupt my connection with the environment via talking and social interactions (which we can do every day).May 26, 2021 at 1:18 pm #3714332MarcusBPL Member
As another antidote, I hiked in solo at night a couple weeks ago to meet a group that was camped about 7 miles in. The area was very remote. I really enjoy night hiking as its much much more comfortable than hiking in the california summer sun and allows me to get a several mile head start on Friday nights so that i can get a 2 day/2 night weekend without taking a day off.
Anyways I’ve heard plenty of leaf crunching during my several night hikes, and that night was no different and heard random crunching throughout the hike, just kangaroo mice, toads, squirrels, and the like.
I was about 1 mile from camp in a wide dry stream valley filled with 8′ tall scrub brush. I was walking along and heard some leaves crunching, no big deal, then I heard a loud Crrrraaaack! It sounded like a 2″ branch breaking about 50-100 yards away. It was a loud enough and sharp enough crack I knew an animal at least 150lbs (probably bigger) stepped on a branch and broke it. The only large animals in the area are mountain lions and black/brown bears. The Crack immediately put me on high alert. I stopped and listened for a moment and the crunching slowly continued parallel to me for a couple seconds (luckily not coming in my direction). At that point I decided I heard enough and gave a couple loud ‘whoops’ and hissing while shining the area with my headlamp and the movement stopped. I quickly continued on my way. Never saw what it was or a pair of eyes reflecting back at me
The next day my buddy showed me a picture of a bear print he found about 1/4 mile from that spot 5 hours earlier, so I’m fairly sure it was a bear I heard, relatively close to me, in the dark, alone.
I was 5 out of 10 on the freak out scale until I made it a little ways without hearing anything else, but the moral of the story is that animals dont really want much to do with you unless you – 1. stumble upon their kill 2. stumble upon their offspring 3. surprise them by unintentionally sneaking up on them (easy to do when solo hiking and not making any noise)
Even after that experience I wont hesitate to hike in at night again. Its very peaceful and serene, but is a little freaky or fear inducing from time to time. Its something I accept as a unlikely risk and just try to get over it. It gets easier each time.
Luckily most animals know humans kill pretty much everything that moves and keep their distance, especially if encouraged with some banging/shouting/light flashing, etc. Habituated animals (like those that live around busy campgrounds) are probably more of a danger than backcountry animals.
I carry mace and a good knife, but wouldnt want to rely on those. Making adequate noise and proper food isolation will avoid 99.9% of unwanted encounters.May 26, 2021 at 1:26 pm #3714335SteveBPL Member
@steve-2Locale: Eastern Washington
One option that could help is to use foam ear plugs. If you can handle sleeping with them they might make it much easier for you. As a bonus, if you ever have to sleep (or hike) during high wind conditions, they are worth their weight in gold.
YMMVMay 26, 2021 at 1:34 pm #3714338
Bears in the Sierra are simply not an issue if you store your food properly. Zero. Nada. yes they may come around at night but most likely you won’t hear them. They move on immediately once they smell you have no food in your tent. I’m far, far more concerned with rattle snakes, and I’m hardly concerned with them at all.May 26, 2021 at 2:21 pm #3714351MattBPL Member
@mhrLocale: San Juan Mtns.
It’s never as large as it sounds.May 26, 2021 at 3:43 pm #3714359David GardnerBPL Member
@gearmakerLocale: Northern California
Earplugs, pepper spray, personal locator beacon.
The first time I soloed I was totally paranoid after being brought up in the “buddy system.” This was before PLB’s, cell phones, InReach, etc. I brought two of almost everything. Multiple means of signalling rescuers including mirrors, whistles, July 4th smoke bombs, and even a mini flare pen with six flare cartridges that shot about 100′ in the air. Hiked in a climbing helmet the entire time, just in case I tripped, fell, or otherwise took a blow to the head. Left detailed maps and printed route descriptions with several family and friends.
Traded my extra ace bandage to a guy for his six pack of Miller in glass bottles, after his girlfriend twisted her ankle. They didn’t have a FAK but did have that beer! Gave my 3rd water bottle, some food and my extra headlamp to an ultra-marathoner I came across who had bonked and was lying by the trail as dusk approached, 1o miles from his exit point and car. Traded my extra rolling papers for a couple cans of sardines.
Got over the nerves after that first trip. The only things I take two of now are bandaids, Esbit tabs, and socks.May 26, 2021 at 4:58 pm #3714859Jenny ABPL Member
@jenniferaLocale: Front Range
Most of my backpacking trips are solo and have been for years. I prefer to be as far away from other people as possible, since people are often less predictable than animals. Even after all this time, rodents scritching around at night and twigs snapping nearby generally result in some hours of wakefulness at night. I’ve had elk walk around and sniff my tent, owls hoot in tree branches directly above the tent, bears rattle chains on food storage cabinets, and wild horses trip over tent guy lines when we thoughtlessly camped too near a watering hole in the desert.
I’m sure there were other critters investigating that I never knew about, but the point is that NONE of these things resulted in anything other than some lost ZZZZ’s. Sometimes I think about keeping a small container of mace in the tent at night, but haven’t done that yet. The most annoying encounters have all involved other people and either alcohol or their unleashed pets.May 26, 2021 at 5:30 pm #3715415Bruce TolleyBPL Member
@btolleyLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
+ 1 to all the comments.
I often sleep under the stars in a bivy. The worse scare I had while hiking and sleeping solo was one night I woke up thinking I had heard a bear right near my head. Turns out it was my own snoring I was hearing.
If you live in the suburbs and have a backyard, you can try to habituate yourself to the nighttime noises. You would be surprised how much goes on at night in your backyard especially in the spring time.
Many birds and animals are diurnal, meaning they are active the hour or two right after sunset and the hour or two right before sunrise. And when the moon is full, there can be a bit more activity. Last night we had screech owls courting somewhere near our backyard.
BTW the Garmin InReach mini is on sale now at REI. It is hardly ever on sale….May 26, 2021 at 5:47 pm #3715579matthew kModerator
I think there are lots of helpful comments here.
I could never wear earplugs. I’d worry more about what I wasn’t hearing.
I’ve only spent a few nights out by myself. I’ve had an anxious moment or two and at those times I have taken an inventory about what I’m actually afraid of and my conclusion is there have not been any significant threats as long as I’m away from people. I’m not worried about bears (I don’t backpack in grizzly country) or other animals. My food is in a can or up a tree away from me. Weather can be scary. I haven’t been in an intense storm by myself so that might suck. Lightning is legit scary but that seems fairly easy to mitigate through campsite selection.
Again, take an inventory. I think you might see there really isn’t much to be worried about.May 26, 2021 at 7:14 pm #3715696David HartleyBPL Member
@dhartleyLocale: Western NY
Like a lot of things – you just have to do it and over time familiarity takes you away any nervousness.
The first time I backpacked solo I slept under an open tarp and hardly got any sleep at all.
The 2nd time – my 1st night was in an Appalachian trail shelter and a Mother bear and cub spent several hours trying (unsuccessfully) to get at my bear hang – not a lot of sleep that night either. The 2nd night though I was under a tarp and camped near other people and slept as soundly as I ever have from sheer exhaustion.
Since then I have backpacked and camped solo in the back-country many nights in tents, shelters, and under tarps, and I almost always fall asleep quickly and sleep well.
I don’t wear earplugs – I want to be able to hear if a bear is trying to get my food. I don’t always carry bear spray. Nothing profound – I just got used to it.May 26, 2021 at 8:44 pm #3715700KarenBPL Member
I never worry about animals, even in Alaska, once I’m in my tent. Only Hominids are of concern and even then, not Bigfoot. Sometimes I wish I were a dude, so I’d worry even less about Hominids.
Once when I was a kid and not solo but with my parents, I woke up in the night. I could tell there was something right outside the tent, on my side of the tent, snuffling about. I tried to wake my mom, who sleeps through freight trains, but couldn’t. Finally I woke my dad and he listened for a minute and went back to sleep. Next morning there were fresh black bear prints all around the campsite, including along the tent. Since then, I think about that every time I sleep in a tent. And then go to sleep anyway.May 26, 2021 at 8:48 pm #3715701Dave HeissBPL Member
@daveheissLocale: Pacific Northwest
I remember my first solo night. I was in a tent so I felt somewhat protected and the sleeping part was fine, but before I went to bed was another story. The darkness outside the light of my campfire kickstarted the ol’ imagination and that got me spooked a bit. I reminded myself that I had been backpacking for almost 20 years at that point (always with buddies) and being solo was the only thing that was different. Despite my imagination the night passed uneventfully and I quickly learned to love love love solo backpacking. I think you will too.May 26, 2021 at 9:33 pm #3715704Todd TBPL Member
@texasbbLocale: Pacific Northwest
Take your first solo when it’s windy.May 26, 2021 at 9:52 pm #3715705lisa rBPL Member
@lisina10Locale: Western OR
I started solo backpacking a few years ago and as someone who comes from a long line of anxious people, I still have anxiety about it. I love hiking alone and feel fine about that, it’s more the feeling of vulnerability when you’re pretty far out there and at night. I also don’t like being near other people so I tend to push myself into more remote and difficult places, which are nice in the day and can add to the anxiety at night. I consider every trip a training trip and like to think over time it’ll get easier. Don’t be hard on yourself about it. Be smart, be prepared, and ease your way into it. I also recommend something like a Garmin InReach, for emergencies and so you can message a friend if you need some moral support. And if night noises are your biggest concern, try and start off by camping near moving water. I find the white noise can help. Like someone else said, though, I’d never use earplugs (or even a strong sleep aid) because I’d be afraid I’d miss something I needed to hear. Of course, the night an animal pawed on the side of my tent, that I would have preferred not to hear. It was probably just a raccoon or porcupine but suffice to say I got about no sleep that night…Rational brain knows it’s okay but rational brain isn’t always in charge…Good luck and even if you get no sleep and are saucer-eyed all night, you can still be proud of yourself for pushing out of your comfort zone, something not a lot of people do.May 26, 2021 at 11:36 pm #3715708Michael BBPL Member
A lot of good advice. I usually enjoy going with others especially since I am married now, my wife’s nerves when I am out are worse than mine! I used to be a bit anxious about animals, and it is worse if I am using an open tarp and bivvy, even now. I am unsure what an enclosed tent does for my psyche: it definitely doesn’t physically protect me from anything except rainy weather and bugs. I am actually more freaked out by spiders and scorpions; seen a few scorpions close to a camp site, and had a few spiders wander over my bivvy or sleeping bag the couple times I tried tarping with only a ground cloth. I still don’t know how people can do that. I just use a single wall pyramid tent now to keep the creepy crawlies from wandering over me and that eases my fears.May 26, 2021 at 11:57 pm #3715710matthew kModerator
Hard pass on cowboy camping because creepy crawlies.
I’m totally fine hanging in an open hammock. That doesn’t bother me at all unless it’s mosquito season.May 27, 2021 at 4:56 am #3715713dirtbagBPL Member
Another tip: try not to camp in hi trafficked areas because I feel this is where most animals have become habituated. People tend to leave food and scraps around, especially in fire pits, so most animals know to visit these areas for food.May 27, 2021 at 9:06 am #3715859
“Another tip: try not to camp in hi trafficked areas because I feel this is where most animals have become habituated. ”
True. However, the op’s issue–and all of ours!–is with imagined animals prowling around the tent. In that case, sleeping near other campers can give a good amount of emotional security.
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