This post was originally published in November, 2013.
Whether it's bad weather, unsavory bad guys or wild animals, some women think that camping alone is only for the very brave or very crazy. But that's just not the case. If you've got the right gear, right preparation and the right attitude, camping alone can provide just the right combination of adventure, peace & quiet and much-needed rejuvenation. It's one of my favorite ways to reconnect with myself and nature.
Why spend time outdoors by yourself?
Camping by yourself is a great way to spend some quality time with the one person who probably needs it the most: you. The simple act of being around trees, rivers, lakes and the woods can take you from being a burned out, over-stressed crazy lady to a zen, bring-it-on kind of Wonder Woman.
There's nothing that will build your self-esteem and sense of accomplishment faster than packing all your gear in the back of your car and heading outdoors by yourself. (Plus you'll have the best story on book club night — which brings me to the best reason you should get outdoors: uninterrupted reading time!)
Here are seven tips to help you feel safe and relaxed while camping by yourself:
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7 Solo Camping Tips for Women
1. Prepare mentally.
This is the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do. Take some time to channel your inner Katniss Everdeen or even author Cheryl Strayed in her book *Wild. Imagine yourself as strong, capable and a total total badass, ready to take on whatever challenge the outdoors can throw at you. Journal about your fears, then switch roles and play the wiser, braver version of yourself and answer those fears. Next, minimize risks by following the rest of my tips to give you even more confidence.
2. Test Your gear.
Don't over pack, but make sure you have everything you need (this can be a hard balance for many women to strike). Bring a first aid kit, and know how to use it. Also bring bear spray, mace or a knife (one of these should be in every woman's standard hiking/camping gear) for emergencies, and understand how it works. ALWAYS practice setting up your tent and using your cook stove before you leave.
3. Let someone know your plans.
It's always a good idea to let several people know where you're going and when you'll be back. If you're going to a campground or state park, let the ranger/hosts know that you're there, and if you have any medical problems. Also, it never hurts to ask, "Is there anything I need to know?"
Some women like the extra confidence of having an emergency radio — one of my best friends, who often hikes in very remote areas, has a *Garmin In Reach Mini Satellite Communicator which allows her to always have a way to contact authorities in an emergency. These are pretty expensive tools, though, and I really only recommend them if you're going to be in the wilderness or so terrified there's no other way you'd go camping by yourself.
4. Pick a well-worn route.
Pick a trail or area that you're familiar with, and have visited before — barring that, pick a destination that's known to have good cell phone reception. State campgrounds are good options, as are private campgrounds — especially if you're just starting out.
The more experienced you are, the more you'll want to move out to less crowded campgrounds. The tradeoff is more peace and quiet.
5. Know your limits.
Start small, with a day hike so that you can become familiar with the area. If you're going to be gone for more than one night, make sure you're physically (okay, and mentally) capable of taking on a solo trip - be honest when it comes to your limits.
Build up to what you'll be taking on through walking, running and lifting weights, and make sure you have the appropriate food, water and all the right backpacking gear (including good shoes, a warm sleeping bag and the ability to pee in the woods) before you go.
6. Bring your dog.
A canine companion can provide just the right amount of company, though make sure you know the rules of the campground or area where you'll be bringing your pooch. Also make sure you pack extra gear and food so that Fido is comfortable and doesn't become more of a burden during the time when you're supposed to be re-charging your mental health.
A word of warning: sometimes your dog just isn't cut out for camping, and so your weekend away in the woods becomes super-stressful as you try to manage their anxiety. Know your dog's limits — sometimes a vacation includes getting away from the responsibility of dog ownership as well (assuming you have someone at home that can take care of your dog).
7. Bring a great book.
This is your chance to have some amazing reading time - make sure you take advantage of it! Whether you spend the whole time snuggled up in your sleeping bag with a book in front of your face (personally, my absolutely FAVORITE place to read is in my *hammock, or intersperse your reading time with some strategic hikes or cooking some gourmet meals for yourself, novels make great camping companions.
Looking for some great book recommendations while you're out in the woods? I've got you covered.
Camping by yourself isn't difficult or hard — it just seems that way if you've never done it before. Take the leap and you'll find it truly rewarding. What other tips or questions do you have when it comes to camping alone?
Leave a comment or question below and I'll answer it!
Pinterest camping has turned into one of our favorite places to find outdoor-related inspiration and hacks (it's been the inspiration for my posts how to stay warm when camping in the cold and how to start a campfire, and I use it almost exclusively to find content to share on my Facebook and Twitter feeds). It offers a wealth of recipes, destination ideas, hiking/backpacking/camping tips and of course gorgeous "memes" that remind me why I started the Outdoor Book Club in the first place. (Have you followed me there yet?) Lots of people use Pinterest to plan weddings; why not use it to plan your big adventure?
Four stages of camp planning: Fantasize, Plan, Experience, Share
Any planned adventure starts with an idea. Maybe you heard a friend rave about her camping trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes and want to have a similar experience. Perhaps you read an article, saw a picture or even had a dream about backpacking. That's when you start fantasizing about what an awesome trip you would have if you were the one planning the experience.
Once you decide you're at least somewhat serious about making your epic adventure happen, that's when you start planning. You look at your calendar, you research campsites, starting taking inventory of your gear, look up recipes and think about who you'll invite along. For many of us, planning is our strong suit and can be one of the best parts of camping. Pinterest makes it even more fun and inspiring.
The third stage is that you actually go on the trip. You use all the tips and resources you found, and take lots of pictures. You lose yourself in the beauty of the great outdoors, hike to places you've never seen, enjoy the warmth of a campfire with some amazing food and friends. You bring back a Petoskey stone from the beach, lots of gorgeous pictures and, after months or maybe years of wanting, found a sense that you've rediscovered your inner heroine.
How to use Pinterest for camping planning
I'm assuming here that you have a basic understanding of how Pinterest works. So I'll only give you a simple warning (which you probably already know, but bears repeating): Pinterest can be extremely addictive. You can spend hours and hours there, falling down one rabbit hole after another, your brain tweaked up on projects and ideas that might sound amazing and mind-blowing, but will in all likelihood, never happen. Planning your camping trip is no exception. So either accept that's your fate, or put a time limit on your browsing. Let's get started!
Create your boards
Boards help you organize your pins into categories like recipes, activity ideas, gear, inspiration and more. Don't go overboard with pinning everything that you find inspiring or interesting, otherwise you'll have a hard time finding the information you really need to plan your camping trip. Often using the "favorite" option is a good alternative to pinning everything you like. Questions to ask as you begin to create boards:
For example, if you're planning a backpacking trip to Isle Royale, you might want to create boards called (here are links to some of my boards):
Follow other people's boards
In order to find the best and most useful information, you need to start following boards and people. There are probably at least a handful of people who have started similar projects as yours.
Now you might not love every single one of their pins, but that's the beauty of Pinterest. You add the pins you do love to your own board. Once you've followed a board (or person), his or her pins will start populating in your home feed (similar to Facebook). Now each time you login to Pitnerest you'll have a fresh crop of camping, hiking and outdoorsy pins ready to peruse (and pin on your own boards).
Use the general search option to get started
This is as good a place as any to start your journey. Type in a keyword, like "hiking" or "camping" and you're off. Once you find a couple of good pins, you'll be well on your way to creating some truly inspiring boards. You can also start pining photos from some of your favorite outdooors sites. Found a helpful blog post on your destination that you want to revisit later? Pin it. Discover an inspiring travel photo? Pin it.
Make sure that you use the "related pins" option. Here's where you'll find some of your best stuff. (Remember what I said earlier about rabbit holes?) This really is the most awesome way to find the best pins. You'll move around the underworld of Pinterest, finding new and wonderful things on a variety of boards.
Got friends who camp? Follow them on Pinterest!
The best way to find the friends you already have through Facebook or Twitter is to click your name in the top right corner of the homepage, then use the Find Friends option in the drop-down menu. You can decide which friends you want to follow. To "tag" a person to a pin, simply use their Pinterest username with the "@" symbol.
Group boards are your friendHave you decided to bring along family members or a group of friends? Bring a little communal inspiration to a board, and invite them to add their own pins. This will keep everyone inspired and on the same page.
Pay it forward & create a post-trip boardPinterest is not only a great place for fantasizing & planning, but for organizing and sharing your adventures. After you come back from your camping trip, make sure you create another board where you can share photos and experiences of the trip (and help the next woman who comes along who's using Pinterest to plan her trip).
What are your favorite boards when it comes to the outdoors? Share in the comments below.
Here at the Outdoor Book Club we know that die-hard bibliophiles often have deep-seated anxiety about spending time in the woods (not to mention mountains, meadows, beaches and any other environment without a flushing toilet). Perhaps it's because most of us have spent our entire lives inside. (Who's read the book Room?) Even if we spent our childhoods riding bikes around the neighborhood, building forts in the woods or attending summer camp, we haven't really become outdoorswomen. So as we grow into adults, we lose a critical connection to nature that's really hard to re-establish after so many years with a roof constantly over our heads.
But all is not lost. Research shows that nature is an eternal spring of healing for all sorts of physical, mental and spiritual ills. For example:
You're not as big a wimp as you think you are.
You're actually very capable of being the heroine in the book that you've always admired. Nature is perhaps the single best way to reconnect with your inner heroine, with those around you and to the wider world. We simply won't survive long without connection.
But what about all those bugs? And what if I have to pee?
Bugs and peeing in the woods aside, the best advice I can give you about loving the outdoors is to simply decide to take the risk (I can guarantee you it's all mental). Don't argue with yourself, don't try and make excuses, don't worry about if you're doing it right. Just move forward a little bit each time, and it will get easier.
But if you still need some tactics to help you learn to love the outdoors, here are some tips to help make it easier:
You don't need to travel far if you're just starting to learn how to enjoy the outdoors. Walking around the neighborhood is as good a place as any to begin. Or if you're feeling like you need to be the valedictorian of the outdoors (an urge I'm familiar with), find a local hiking trail near your house. Then move up to spending more time outdoors: longer hikes, a camp out in the backyard, and then find a local full-service campground. Each action, each moment you spend outside becomes a stepping stone towards being the wild woman and heroine of your own story that you've always wanted to be.
Bring a friend (and maybe that friend has four legs)
Even if you really enjoy your alone time, there might be times when you need someone else's company (as well as the extra motivation). Bringing your kid(s) along is a great way for the family to connect and create memories, and a there really isn't a better date idea than a long walk along a flowing river.
Read up on the ecosystem where you live.
This will help you better appreciate the natural environment around you. Find out what kind of trees are native to your geographic area and try to find them. Bring along a bird book and some binoculars (you can borrow them from your grandmother). Find out how your local waterways connect together - then toss a stick or flower into the stream, and imagine how it could conceivably end up in the ocean (a great opportunity to reflect on the connectiveness of the Universe).
Bring treats (chocolate works — just don't keep it in your pocket)
So does an artisinal sandwich with all your favorite condiments that no one else likes. Maybe even one of those little bottles of wine, if you want to go down that road (do I have to tell you not to get drunk while hiking/kayaking/bicycling? No? Good.).
Bring a book
Yes. Bring your life preserver, and after you put in a good 30-60 minutes exploring, pick a quiet place and start reading. Soon you'll associate being outside with a healthier sense of well-being, alone time and getting to read your book uninterrupted (now how often does that happen on the couch at home?).
Buy awesome hiking boots
Nothing like a special pair of shoes to get you motivated. I'm particularly fond of Keens for all types of activities. Make sure you find out how to buy hiking boots that make sense for you, depending on what kind of hiking you're planning on doing.
Ride a bike
The thing I love about riding a bike over walking or running is that you cover so much more ground. Plus it's about as close to flying as you'll get without actually leaving the earth or paying money for a plane ticket.
Meditating while outside is like super-charging your meditation practice. You can either meditate while hiking, or find a quiet spot away from any foot traffic, sit down in the leaves or sand, and disconnect from the chaos that is your every day life.
Finally: get over yourself
So you hate being outside. Time to take a serious look at why that is, when so much research shows that as human beings we're wired to be outside, and that according to the New York Times, trying new things is one of the best ways to keep your brain healthy.
“Novelty-seeking is one of the traits that keeps you healthy and happy and fosters personality growth as you age,” says C. Robert Cloninger, the psychiatrist who developed personality tests for measuring this trait.
Decide that all the stories you've told yourself about how much you hate bugs and sunburn and physical activities are just your ego trying to keep you from doing something awesome.
What are other ways you've found to get yourself or others outside? Share in the comments below.
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Putting my phone away, even for an hour, can be excruciating for me. It's the last thing I look at when I go to bed and the first thing I check when I wake up (love that moment when I lay down and night and say "Set alarm for 5:45am" and Siri says "Ok!" ). I use my phone to meditate, listening to Omvana tracks through headphones to center myself and the Equanimity app to time how long I sit. I use my phone to hike, using RunKeeper to track my distance.
But when I hike and meditate? Then I put the phone away (or turn it to airplane mode), because I don't want anything to come between me and the orange-sherbet glow of a winter sunset or the quiet whisper of the wind through the trees. Those are the moments where I get to practice “aimless wandering” (and it doesn't even involve a Target store).
Still, I'm not just in it for the peace and tranquility: as a dyed-in-the-wool multi-tasker, hiking meditation can kill two birds with one stone: exercise and meditation. (If only I could also write - I'd hit all three of my daily goals at once).
What is hiking meditation?
You might have heard of walking meditation, which is where you walk and meditate at the same time (eyes open!), paying attention to how your body feels as you focus on the present. So hiking meditation is simply a variation of walking meditation - easier because hiking is a little bit more physically demanding than walking, but as is often the case, higher physical demands makes it easier to focus.
How hiking meditation works
Walking meditation starts when you begin walking, focusing your mind on your breath and the way your feet feel against the ground. Thoughts and anxieties might show up and start knocking around your psyche, like how you’re going to get that project at work finished or why your teenager won't say more than five words to you, but your only job is to detach from any judgment of those thoughts. Hold them up like an interesting stone or strange-looking toadstool you come across: “Huh, that’s interesting.” Your next move is to then simply release those thoughts out into the breeze, like a dandelion seed that floats up among the tree branches and away from this exact present moment.
Stay in the moment.
It can be hard to hold yourself there, but when you’re hiking, somehow it's much easier to watch how each moment folds into the next. It still takes practice, but it's hard to worry about your finances at the same time as admiring the exact way the sun breaks through clouds or how the woods smell after fresh snow.
Hiking meditation script
Some of us just need to know exactly how exactly hiking meditation works so that we can secretly be the the valedictorian of hiking meditation. I suggest you use the following script either by reading it one or two times before you set out on your hike, or record your voice reading it into your phone's memo function, and listen to it as you hike. You probably only need to do this once or twice, and then you'll remember how it works.
First, find the spot on the path where your hike will begin. Center yourself. Take a few cleansing breaths. Simply notice how the weight of your body is transferred down the soles of your hiking boots into the ground. Take a moment just to notice all the small little acts of balance that allow you to stand upright -- realize how often you take this amazing ability for granted.
After you're centered and quiet, step forward and begin to walk at a normal pace. You don't need to walk in any special way, just notice the way you walk. If your body starts to fall into a funny gait once you become aware of your walking, don't worry. This is totally natural.
Keep focusing on the soles of your feet, noticing the repeating motions of how it feels to plant your foot, then lift it into the next motion. How does your foot feel as your heel first makes contact, then the as the foot then rolls forward towards the ball. Be aware of how your foot then lifts and moves forward again. Visualize how your feet move over and over through this pattern as you walk.
As you walk, notice all the different sensations in your feet. Move from feeling the soles of your feet...to the spaces between your toes...to how your feet feel inside of your shoes, noticing the fabric of your socks. Relax your feet as much as possible. Notice your ankles; become aware of the inner workings of your joints and how they feel when you move. Stay there for awhile, just noticing. Now move up your legs: feel your shins, calves and knees.
Notice how your skin feels where it comes in contact with your clothes. What does the temperature feel like? How do your muscles push, pull and contract under your skin?
Now move up into your quadriceps (the front of your thighs), then notice your hamstrings, and your glutes (butt muscles). Feel how they push off and work together. Notice how your hips move in a certain rhythm: one first, then the other, moving back and forth.
Focus on your stomach, your gut, and its temperature. Notice how it's the center of your body, and how it is the very center of you and where the walking motion gets its power. Then move up into your chest and just notice your breathing. Again, focus on how your clothes feel on your skin, the temperature. Stay here for just a few minutes. If any interrupting thoughts come up, simply think to yourself "Thinking, thinking" and let them go.
Now become aware of your shoulders and take note of how they move with your body - opposite the rhythm of your hips. Let your arms swing naturally with the rhythm of your gait. Take a moment to wonder at the motion of your arms, the muscles, nerves and blood vessels that are all working inside to move together. Notice the sensitive parts, like the inside of your wrist or the crook of your elbow. Feel how the breeze moves across these places and the sensations that wash over you.
Now notice your neck and how the muscles hold up your head. What about the angle of your skull? How does it feel? This part is important: let your jaw relax. Then relax your eyes, softly focusing on whatever is in front of you, picking something on the horizon.
Keep moving. Keep noticing. Whenever your mind starts to wander, come back to your breath. Some people like to focus on the nostrils, feeling the air move in and out there; others prefer to notice how their lungs feel as the breath fills them up. Try both.
Finally, when you're at the end of your hike/meditation, simply stop naturally and quietly, and just feel yourself standing.
You'll come off the hike feeling mentally and physically refreshed — like a raw kale salad for your soul. Now, feel free to pull out your phone and check Facebook. You've earned it.
The campfire: it is the center of the outdoorswoman's universe; people have stared into flames under a starry sky for a millennia. The campfire represents all that is good and awesome about camping — not to mention the best food is cooked over the flames fueled by logs and twigs collected from the woods. But these days it's a bit of a lost art. So here's your ultimate guide on creating the spiritual center to your camping experience.
Create your own firestarters
Although purists would demand that you start your campfire with nothing but two sticks and some kindling, we at the OBC are a little more practical. Here are some of my favorites (gleaned from Pinterest):
Burn, baby, burn
Now that you've got your firestarters, it's time for the good stuff. First, you need head out and gather as much firewood as you can. Got it.
Great. Now go out and gather three times more. Seriously. Unless you've been building fires for awhile, you will never have enough wood. The info graphic to the right helps you figure how much of what kind of wood you need. Basically, you need three types - all of which should be dry. (Hint: Sometimes finding dead branches attached to a tree, rather than looking on the ground, are your best bet):
Second, decide how you want to structure the wood for maximum air flow. I like both the teepee and the log cabin methods (sometimes a hybrid of the two works best):
The trick is to push a few sticks in the ground to act as a support for the the remaining kindling.
Log cabin campfire
Use the same kinds of fuel, except now you want to place two large sticks parallel to each other on the ground, then turn 90 degrees and lay two more on top (like a log cabin). Add another layer in each direction, but use smaller sticks, moving them closer to the middle. Add your tinder in the middle, kindling on top (you can add a large piece of bark over the top of everything to make it burn even better). Light the tinder/kindling in several different places. As it burns, make sure you don't add any large logs until there's a strong flame and a few coals.
Whatever method you choose, don't make the mistake of smothering the tinder with too much kindling, which prevents air from getting to your flabes, and usually results in too much smoke. Always leave airflow gaps in the kindling, light the fire at its lowest point, and blow gently if needed. Once it starts to take, sit back, relax and enjoy one of the oldest pastimes of human beings (I once heard a contestant on Survivor call it "Survivor TV").
And don't forget to have some way to put out the fire should it somehow get out of control - most people use a bucket of water, but heavy dirt or sand will work as well. Make sure you spread the coals around before you put the fire out for the night - a tedious job if you're tired and cold, but it's the most responsible thing to do. (And we're all about being responsible when out in the natural world.)
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Over the years several myths have developed surrounding women traveling alone. Whether it's "traveling alone is dangerous" or "it's prohibitively expensive to travel by yourself," somehow these myths and untruths have developed into full-blown warnings. But the truth is that traveling by yourself as a woman is one of the most rewarding activities you can participate in. After all, it takes some moxie to decide that you're going to step out into the unknown with just your instincts to guide you.
Top 5 myths of women traveling alone
It's only for spinsters or losers.
Only if you're an AWESOME spinster or loser. When you join a tour or pre-planned trip with strangers, chances are that others on the trip share a common interest with you - whether it's the book or the destination. This gives everyone in the group an immediate bond.
You'll get hurt, murdered or kidnapped.
At Outdoor Book Club, we provide the right gear and expertise to our clients, so you don’t need to worry about traveling somewhere unfamiliar without a safety net. We've got your covered.
It's hugely stressful.
Traveling by yourself is actually very relaxing and freeing. No email, no Facebook, no kids and no men equals a very zen like experience. Also, since all you bring is your personal gear, there’s very little prep before the trip (as opposed to if you had planned the whole trip yourself) and clean up after the trip is over!
You won't know what to do with yourself.
Novelty and adventure keep us smart and young. When you try new things in a supportive environment, and the trip has a good mix between planned activities and personal/free time, you'll wonder where the time went. With our trips, you'll also go to places and have experiences the big tour groups cannot.
We've negotiated discounts and repeat booking bonuses give us access to first-class packages at economy prices. And our prices are a great deal, when you consider everything, including your food, drink and fees, are included in the price.
Traveling alone in an all-female entourage is actually one of the most empowering things you can do as a woman. It's fun, it's educational and it's empowering — in fact, we're not sure why more women don't do it more often!
Jill Hinton Wolfe,
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