Trip Log: How I’m (Attempting To) Overcome Fear While Solo Camping

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I awake with a jolt. I listen carefully to the noises outside my tent. It’s hard to hear anything over the sound of my heart beating or the short breathes I’m taking.

I hear the noise. It sounds like something is rustling my tent fly. Instantly my mind rattles through the animals that live in this part of California. Grizzles? Nope. Black bears? Nope. Mountain lions? Occasionally. Wolves, foxes, raccoons, murderers… unknown?

“Okay, mountain lion. Definitely mountain lion.”

I unzip my sleeping bag and put on my headlamp. With bear spray in one hand and my trekking pole in the other, I manage to open the tent and step out into the unknown.

Scanning the area around my tent, I’m both relieved and disappointed I don’t find anything. Great, no mountain lion… that I can see. After a minute or two, I retreat to my tent.

I snuggle back into my sleeping bag, but I keep my headlamp attached to my head and my arsenal of hiker’s weapons beside me. I put my headphones in and listen to a podcast. When I finally do fall asleep, I dream of the mountain lion.

It’s outside my tent, staring at me. It approaches slowly but with confidence. I spray it with my bear spray, but it doesn’t flinch. Instead, its eyes glow red, stained from the bear spray. It looks at me, amused, as if to say “It’s called bear spray, not mountain lion spray, you idiot.”

Once again, I’m jolted awake. I can hear the tent rustling again. I look through the mesh and can see a corner of the tent fly flapping in the wind. I open the tent door a little and reach out to the zipper on the tent fly. I pull the zipper down, securing the loose corner of the fly. Immediately the rustling stops.

For the rest of the night, I drift in and out of sleep. When 5:30 am rolls around, I’m thankful to be out of my sleeping bag and packing up for a long day of hiking ahead.

Camping at Maggies Half Acre along the Ohlone Wilderness Trail

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“How do you camp alone without getting scared?”

This is a question I’m often asked when someone learns that I go camping alone.

Usually, the person asking the question is expecting me to begin a monologue about my skills and experience, and how there are far more things to be afraid of in the city than in the woods. And while there’s some truth in that, there’s more to the story.

I do get scared camping alone.

During the day I don’t mind being alone. I’m confident in my abilities to stay on the trail, avoid injury and treat such injuries if necessary. I carry a satellite device and I leave my itinerary with someone at home.

I do get a little anxious when I encounter solo men on the trail, especially if they start asking me questions about my route or where I’m camping. But besides that, I don’t mind being by myself. In fact, I quite like it.

But I do get scared at night.

Confession: I’m afraid of a lot of things.

First off, I’m a little afraid of the dark. Specifically, I’m afraid of forests when it’s dark (so naturally, camping alone in forests was the best hobby I could choose).

I’m also paranoid of every unidentifiable sound. This used to be a serious problem for me as a teenager; every creak in my old house was definitely the start of a home invasion (it didn’t help that I watched a lot of Criminal Minds).

I was well into my teens before I could fall asleep while home alone. And even then, I’d usually have a knife in my bedroom (apparently I thought that I could summon my adrenaline into a Jackie Chan-style knife fight and repel my attackers? Talk about overconfidence).

All this to say, I am by no means fearless. That said…

Long ago I decided I’d rather be scared than bored.

I wanted to go camping but I didn’t have anyone to go with. So I started going on my own. I started with car camping, then progressed to developed backcountry campsites where I’d have lots of people around me. Only last year did I begin solo camping in areas where I’m truly alone.

Throughout all this, I still got scared (turns out it’s impossible to avoid darkness and noises when you’re camping) but over time I’ve learned to manage it.

I always bring a good headlamp and I avoid leaving my tent at night. I bring headphones and download some funny podcasts / TV shows to block out the noises. I also take comfort in having bear spray with me.

So it’s not that I don’t get scared while I’m camping. It’s just that I’ve found a way to cope with those fears. And with time and exposure, those fears have decreased and diminished. And now, on most trips, I sleep through the night without incident.

You don’t have to be fearless.

“Fearless is not the absence of fear. Fearless is living in spite of those things that scare you.”

Our lord and saviour, Taylor Swift

So if you’re putting off something until you’ve conquered your fears, you’re going to be waiting a long time. Do whatever you can to mitigate the fear and then get out there and feel the fear.

Woman sitting on a rock on the Ohlone Wilderness Trail with her backpacking gear

MY FAVOURITE GEAR

Fleece Sweater

Down Jacket

Hiking Boots

Hiking Shirt

Back Pack

Hiking Pants

8 thoughts on “Trip Log: How I’m (Attempting To) Overcome Fear While Solo Camping


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  2. Yed says:

    I enjoyed reading about your solo ccamping fears. About 5 years ago I decided to get into hunting. Now, i do almost everything solo, prefer it that way. My first 4 years of hunting I was archery only. So only had arrows for protection. I should also say that after the first year, I have been primarily a black bear hunter in the wilds on BC mountains. I did take my first bear with an arrow 2 years ago. Was a frightful experience. But not as bad as trying to sleep at night knowing I was in bear country. Last year I dec8ded to buy a shotgun for bear protection. My god what a different. Sleep like a baby now when I’m out and about.

    • Mikaela says:

      Interesting! I’ve never camped with a firearm, though when I was in Polar Bear country some of the other guides carried them and took turns doing night watches. Scary stuff!

  3. Don says:

    In my experience, sleeping under the stars (or a tarp, if the weather might not be perfect), with a bivy sac over the sleeping bag to keep it dry, is actually WAY less unnerving! If you really think about it, what protection does a tent actually provide? ? Tent fabric wouldn’t even keep a determined rodent out, much less an animal that could actually be a threat to your safey. The only thing a tent really does is provide shelter and privacy (and weight, lol) – from a security perspective, it only serves to attract more attention, blind you, and limit your options for fight or flight. Added bonus: sleeping next to the fire gives you comfort, light, and an effective deterrent for any predators

    • Mikaela says:

      You know, I’ve had strong feelings against bivy sacs but this is the most compelling argument I’ve seen. You’re right – it’s purely psychological safety! I do like being able to sit up in my tent, but it doesn’t offer much beyond that. I may consider the bivy after all…. thanks for the perspective Don!

  4. Kyle says:

    Kevin Callan, the Happy Camper, wrote an article on solo camping and said that the first time you try it, you should go for at least 7 days. He said it takes 3-4 days to get over the hyper active fear. He suggested that if you try it over a weekend, you might never try it again because you’ll be on hyper alert the entire time. I haven’t tried solo camping yet, but when I do, I’ll think I’ll try his advice.

    • Mikaela says:

      Hmmm, that’s interesting advice. I’d definitely like to do a long solo trip like that in the future – and I’d love for the vigilance to subside (though it’s definitely decreased a lot over the years!). My only concern with his advice would be that for many people it’s not feasible to take so much time off, so they’d put off doing any trips waiting until they can find the time to do a long solo trip. My view is if you want to do a trip and can’t find anyone to go with, do it alone regardless of the timing!

      • Zadig says:

        Yeah definitly … nature always have something to amaze either solo or in numbers. When I don’t have time, 8 just do one night camping up the altitudes, just a get-away. Keep in-joying and stay safe.

  5. Zadig says:

    Hi Miki!
    Your blog was recommended and it’s just catches me good. I wonder myself camping in New places but I personally fear the humans not the wild animal. I do camp just to get away from the city life and technology.

    The podcasts you hear while camping, you can hear them when ur in the city. I recommend to enjoy nature’s call and sound … my thoughts though. Will try to cope up with what I missed.

    Zadig from Ethiopia.

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