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(Last Updated On: October 2, 2021)

Backpacking solo can be very intimidating, but has such immense reward. It is challenging physically, mentally and emotionally. Let’s talk safety, fears, sleep, gear and more.

This post will be written from my perspective as a cisgender white woman. It is important to note there are challenges I do not face when recreating solo that LGBTQIA+ and Black, Indigenous and People of Color may encounter. I will link to other people in the outdoors addressing these challenges later on in this post!

Let’s talk safety, animals, sleep, fears, gear and more for backpacking solo as a woman.

My Intro to Backpacking Solo [Story Time]

I was not planning on backpacking solo when I went on my first solo backcountry overnight. A fresh break-up a month before had me scrambling to pull together a new plan for my now-solo road trip to Alaska. “What do you do if you see a mountain lion? How do you change a tire? What is the best gear for bear safety?” My google search history was CHAOS, much like how my life felt at that moment. 

Leaving Seattle, where I called home for 3 years, alone was challenging enough. I had rallied a friend to come backpacking with me on my journey through Canada, only to have her bail last second. So, there I was at an outdoor store in Vancouver buying bear spray trying to hype myself up to go alone. 

It was a 3.5 mile hike one-way with 1,700 feet elevation gain. I had been backpacking with friends and my ex all summer, so this was mild to moderate for me at that time. I felt confident, until I pulled into the trailhead parking lot. 

Paranoia and anxiety rushed through me as I pulled my pack from my car. “That group of men is staring at me,” I thought. I turned to look at them and they were smiling and taking photos of each other. I trudged up the trail that immediately started climbing in elevation. Sweat and fear were pouring out of me. I finally made it to a clearing and stopped as views of the ocean and mountains opened up in front of me. I suddenly felt so much lighter, as if half of my pack fell over the edge of the cliff I was gazing over. 

At the summit, I sat in my tent facing the ocean as the sunset brushed the sky in pastels. I cozied up in my wool socks and journaled about facing my fears and how empowering it felt. I felt like I could take on anything. Then it became dark. 

I eyed my bear spray before I turned off my headlamp. The ground felt hard and cold. I swore I kept hearing something walking around. “What do mountain lions sound like?,” I thought. Still wide awake at 3 AM, I buried my face into my sleeping bag, wiping away the beads of sweat lining my forehead. I woke up for sunrise two hours later, packed up, and started hiking down. Alone on the trail, I felt defeated after the fear of the night. I was mad at myself for being weak.

The next day. I backpacked solo AGAIN. A much harder hike of 6 miles one-way with 3,200 ft of elevation gain in BEAR COUNTRY. And YOU GUYS. I cannot begin to explain how empowered I felt when I set up camp alone for the second time. It rained the whole damn night and I didn’t have a rain cover for my backpack (lessons were learned that day), but I rode a high for the rest of that week that I’ve never experienced before.

Why Go Backpacking Alone?

1. You don’t need to have adventurous people in your life to have an adventure.

Not everyone is going to have a group of friends or a partner to go backpacking with, and that’s okay and sometimes preferred! You can still do the things you want to do if you don’t have people in your life to do it with! That was the conversation I had with myself before going solo. I knew it would be uncomfortable for me, but I knew not going because I was alone would leave me with regret. And reminder: alone does not mean lonely.

2. You can do whatever the f* you want.

THIS. This was really nice. I love stopping to take photos along the way, but would often feel guilty or self conscious when my friends would have to stop so I could take a picture. Or maybe I want to chill for a while and snack before finishing the trail. YOU HAVE THE POWER.

3. Get Uncomfortable

I always knew backpacking solo would be a mental and emotional challenge for me. When I went on my first solo trip I did not appreciate being alone like I do now.

In those few days of backpacking solo I made leaps and bounds in my journey of self love and appreciation. Finally giving myself the time to just be with myself was priceless. It also set the bar higher in my own mind of what I thought I was capable of and I truly don’t think I’d be where I’m at now, running my own business, if I hadn’t experienced that.

How to Feel Prepared to Backpack Solo

Photo in collaboration with Johnathon DeSoto

This is by far the most asked question I’ve received around backpacking solo. Especially from other women asking very valid questions regarding safety.

1. Backpack with other people first

If you’ve never backpacked before, it is not impossible for your FIRST trip to be solo, but I don’t recommend it. I learned so much by backpacking with more experienced backpackers that has prevented me from getting lost, running out of water and so many other valuable lessons.

It can be so challenging to find people to go with for your first trip. I recommend browsing meetup groups and REI offers group trips and classes that prepare you!

2. Review The 10 Essentials

Need a review on what the 10 Essentials are? Click HERE.

3. Create a Plan

I will discuss this in detail below. This entails: choosing the duration of your trip, picking a trail that is a good fit for you and your abilities as well as factoring in your physical health and mental health needs.

For example – I am an anxious person and therefore pick trails that I know won’t be as likely to set off my anxiety (less crowded trails, no recent bear reports, less than 2 hours away from where I’m staying/living)

This also includes informing close friends of your plan and what actions to take if you do not check in with them by a specific day/time.

4. Stick to your Plan

It is a good idea to stick to your plan for a few reasons. Sticking to your plan means that the close friend or family member you informed of your plans will know where you are. For myself, when I am in an uncomfortable or new situation, decision making is harder for me and anxiety can cloud judgement. Having a well thought out plan that I can stick to relieves so much anxiety for me and makes decision making easier.

5. Get Empowering Inspiration!

Before I went out on my first solo trip, I was binging podcast episodes of other women that have traveled solo. Hearing their stories really inspired me to create my own. Check out my magazine of incredibly inspiring women doing things solo: Going it Alone. And I highly recommend joining a facebook group like Outdoorsy Gals where you can post about your upcoming solo trip and receive some hype from the other people in that group.

Safety while Backpacking Solo

Alaska backpacking
Photo in collaboration with Adam Ramer

This will vary for people depending on your comfort level! I’ve talked to several other women about backpacking solo and things that make me anxious don’t make them anxious and vise versa. So, let’s explore all things safety:

1. Protection

Let’s start with self protection. Again, this varies! Personally, I feel most safe and protected when I carry bear spray in a side pocket of my backpack that can be accessed while I am wearing my backpack on the trail. I carry bear spray because I know that it can really mess up any animal OR person that I may encounter where I would need protection. I also like that bear spray can be fired from a distance and that gives me more peace of mind.

Note: Bear spray is usually around $50 for a one-use can. I have found it cheaper at Costco if you have a membership! And remember, you cannot bring bear spray on air travel or across country borders, so look up the closest outdoor store or Walmart when you get to your destination. More info on animal safety below.

I also like to carry a small knife in my backpacking hip belt pockets. It is so handy for snacks, but again, it is one more protective item that puts my mind at ease. And I usually hike with one hiking pole to help my old lady knees on the way down, but this could very easily be used as a weapon if needed!

These may seem like a lot to some people, and to others, not enough protection. If you are seeking more protection and peace of mind, I’d recommend taking a self- defense class. I really enjoy @adventuresofnik Instagram page that includes virtual outdoor self defense classes and more.

2. Emergency Plan in the Outdoors

This goes with Preparation mentioned above, but in addition to preparing gear, packing the 10 essentials, and telling someone your plan, you may consider a satellite device.

I personally own and use the Garmin InReach Mini. It is unfortunately $350, but if you are able to afford this – it is 100% worth it. When I started planning my solo road trip to Alaska, I knew I needed this to communicate when I did not have cell service and have that emergency SOS button if anything extreme happened.

There are a lot of other satellite devices on the market now, so shop around for what fits your needs, but this allows me to send an SOS to Search and Rescue and also texting abilities with my location pin without cell service.

3. Navigation on the Trail

Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or on the newer side, y’all know how important navigation is. There have been multiple times where I have ended up off trail and relied on the below apps and devices to get back to the trail. If you do not have experience with being in charge of navigation on previous backpacking trips with friends, here are some tips:

Use a Navigation App for your phone like AllTrails or Gaia. These are the most affordable options at around $30 a year for unlimited offline map downloads. If you do not pay for the app, unfortunately if the app closes you may lose access to your map on the trail.

The Garmin InReach Mini mentioned above also has tracking and navigation systems built in to the device. It can be used on the device or through an app on your phone.

IMPORTANT: bring a backup battery power cell and cable to charge your phone in case it dies!! I cannot stress this enough. I know we want to be away from our devices on the trail, but having navigation tools available is so important. REI has a small one for $20 HERE that can give 2 full phone recharges and a solar operated one with a light for $50 HERE.

4. Educate Yourself!

There are so many incredible resources on the internet to help empower us to go out and backpack solo! Here’s a list of things to educate yourself on before your first solo backpacking trip:

Animal Safety while hiking alone

So, you bought bear spray…now what? I spent HOURS on YouTube and blogs learning how to use bear spray and when to use it. Other things to look up is general bear safety – what to do if you encounter a Black Bear vs a Brown Bear or a mountain lion. What types of animals live in the area you are going to backpack? How to properly store your food and cooking away from your campsite are also important things to brush up on.

I have encountered bears over 5 times on the trail and have never had any issues. I gave them space and slowly maneuvered around them. Important to note that some bears that are brown in appearance are actually Black bears and are not as threatening as Grizzly bears. Just because you see a bear doesn’t mean anything bad is going to happen, but it’s good to be prepared and know what to do.

Note: another tip to avoiding animals is making some type of noise while you are hiking. A lot of people buy bear bells to attach to their pack. If it is a trail that has a lot of traffic, you probably don’t need to worry about this. If you are alone, you could consider playing a podcast or a playlist on your phone speaker at low/moderate volume (always make sure you can still hear your surroundings).

Story Time: I was once SO alone on a trail in British Columbia and was running back down to my tent from a sunset hike I attempted. Running because I was caught in a DOWNPOUR. Mid run I realized running is what you’re not supposed to do because you can surprise a bear or trigger a mountain lion…. so I started fast walking and scream-yelled lyrics to my favorite songs in the rain. It was a scene that I laugh at regularly.

Medical Knowledge on the Trail

As part of the 10 essentials, make sure you have a first aid kit packed! Not only pack it, but make sure you actually know how to use it!

There are plenty of books and again YouTube videos that can offer education on this. I received my medical training through my work as an occupational therapist that I can adapt if needed on the trail.

REI offers a lot of information and also Wilderness First Aid Courses starting at $250 HERE if a class is more your style.

TIP: My nursing friends taught me how great super glue is for skin wounds and gashes. So add this to your first aid kit!

A few resources to get you started:


Make sure you know how to use your gear and set it up in your yard or living room before you hit the trail! I lay out what I bring including Water Filtration and more in my guide: My Backpacking Pack List

Choosing the Location of your first Solo Backpacking Trip

solo backcountry camping for women
photo in collaboration with Adam Ramer

You may or may not already be well versed in finding trails. If you are not, head on over to my blog post: How to Find the Best Trails

A few factors will help you decide on what trail will be best for you

  • How many days/nights do you want to backpack?
  • What mileage/elevation do you want to stay within
  • Weather
  • Are permits required? Bear Cannisters?

If I hadn’t been sort of forced into backpacking on my road trip to Alaska, I would have chosen trails much differently.

Consider a familiar trail

For myself, I would have considered doing a trail I was already familiar with that I know and love. Whether it’s a trail you’ve day hiked before or have previously backpacked there. This relieves a lot of stress and anxiety.

Keep it short and sweet

I’d also recommend starting with a shorter trek with mild to moderate elevation. On my first solo overnight, it definitely helped knowing my car was only 3 miles away.

I Got Freaked Out:

My first solo backpacking overnight was short and sweet, but was really empty on the weekday I went. At first I thought – oh this is so perfect. I don’t want anyone else up here that could creep me out. But as it got dark and I was one of two tents up there, it became pretty eerie and I essentially did not sleep.

The next night I backpacked at Garibaldi Lake in British Columbia that requires permits and has designated campsites that are BOOKED up. I slept SO FREAKING GOOD. I realized, for myself, it was way less scary having quite a few other groups or campers around me.

Trail Recommendations (Washington Only sorry):

A few people from Instagram requested some trail recommendations! I can list a few in Washington that I’m familiar with.

  • Snow Lake
  • Gem Lake: Check out my blog post on Snow and Gem Lake
  • Rialto Beach
  • Second Beach

Falling Asleep and Staying Asleep While Backpacking Solo

sleeping in sleeping bag in the mountains while solo backpacking

Sleeping in the backcountry, let alone SOLO, was something I struggled with. I have mild insomnia and it is aggravated by anxiety and new places. Here are some things I’ve learned over the years to help fall asleep and stay asleep!

1. Get Comfortable in the Backcountry

Just like at home, it’s hard to sleep if you don’t have a comfortable bed or the right gear for the temperature.

  • Invest in a good sleeping pad. I personally love the inflatable pads from Big Agnes (check out my blog My Backpacking Pack List). Not only can I sleep on my side with this pad, but it keeps me so much warmer than basic thin pads.
  • Bring good base layers. I’ve really learned to love wool. Backcountry and REI carry multiple brands that work well depending of what fit you prefer. I personally use REI brand wool base layers and Kari Traa.

2. Set your Camp up for Success

There are so many factors that can determine how well you sleep outside. Are there a lot of nature sounds? Is the ground really uneven and rocky?

  • Try to find an ideal spot that makes you feel safe. I personally like to be tucked up next to a tree or a rock so that one side of my tent is blocked. It makes me feel less exposed and helps me sleep better.
  • Noises. Some people love falling asleep to the sound of nature. This only works for me if I’m sleeping next to running water. At home I fall asleep with a white noise app on my phone. Pack earplugs if noises bother you. I’m paranoid and usually only sleep with one earplug so that I still have some auditory awareness.

3. Hygiene before Bed

Chances are you’re feeling pretty grimy before bed. You just hiked with everything you need to survive for a night. I used to be too lazy to do any hygiene before bed and embraced the dirtbag life, but I found I sleep so much better if I do 5-10 minutes of hygiene before bed.

  • Bring wipes. It feels so good to wipe down your face and body before bed. Especially if it’s a hot night. You can buy a small travel pack or just put some wipes you already have in a ziploc bag.
  • If I put mascara on for photos or just because I WANT to – I always make sure to soak a cotton ball in my makeup remover and bring it alone in a sealed bag.
  • Moisturize. I have very dry skin and like to have a moisturizer with me so that my skin doesn’t feel irritated before bed. I personally like using argon oil (trader joes has it cheap!) I’ll put it in a small container that doesn’t leak. A little goes a long way and this keeps my face and body feeling and looking nice.

4. Pee!!

I was going to put this under hygiene but honestly it deserves its own category.

  • Always pee before bed. I feel most people do this already. I try to drink the majority of my water earlier in the day and cut myself off an hour or two before bed. Easier said than done.
  • PEEING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. I cannot tell you how much I HATE having to pee in the middle of the night. I’m creeped out by the dark and try to fall back asleep but it never works. Also, if it’s cold and you get out to pee, it actually will keep you warmer. Your body conserves energy when you don’t have to pee. So, keep your headlamp close and just do it. unless you have a spare water bottle that you don’t mind peeing in!

5. Treat Yourself.

First off, if you are backpacking solo – you have a lot to be proud of, so give yourself a pat on the back. I personally like to bring at least food or beverage item I like and one activity I really enjoy to reward myself.

I usually bring a small amount of dark chocolate and a small carton or flask of wine. This small luxury helps me wind down at night and prepares me for a more relaxed night.

Questions about Solo Camping?

I hope this was helpful! I can’t wait to get back on the trail this year! If you have any other questions not covered in this guide or my other backpacking guides, please leave a comment below! Also, if you’re planning your first solo backpacking trip or you have done it in the past, I would love to hear from you in the comments!

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Backpacking solo as a woman can be very intimidating. Let’s talk safety, animals, sleep, fears, gear and more in this blog post.

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  1. Erin on June 17, 2021 at 2:08 pm

    great article! I am trying to psych myself up to do this by the end of the summer! baby steps, and continuing to read and reread content like this!!

    • J on April 21, 2023 at 1:06 am

      Such a great story!
      I have been wanting to plan a solo trip before my daughter is born. I Have camped my whole life but never alone! I think Im afraid of being, so alone… with myself. Sounds kind of strange now that Ive said it out loud haha. I love photographing the star Timelapse’s & star trails, ect so Im awake during the darkest parts of the night. It can be nerve racking to say the least. most nights I set the camera for hours long Timelapse’s capturing absolute beauty. but feeling of solitude does frighten me quite.

  2. Liz G on June 18, 2021 at 1:57 pm

    I love your story of running in the rain and then speed walking and yelling the lyrics to a song–this has never happened to me, but I could totally see myself in your situation and had a chuckle.

    Also, I love how you admit you’re afraid of the dark and the noises at night! I’m the same way and that has been a mental block I’ve been working through. I think educating myself on wildlife will be my best bet and your article reinforced that. Especially when you mentioned your thought of ‘what do mountain lions [steps] sound like?’ — I’ve had this thought while camping with others and was still nervous lol

    Thanks for the informative and REAL article. 🙂

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