Solo Camping for Beginners

Going camping by yourself can be a fun and empowering experience. Your first trip may seem a little daunting, especially if you have little or no camping experience. Let’s get you set up for success.

Picking Where to Camp

Picking the perfect camping spot is the first step in creating the ideal solo camping trip. If you are new to camping, try starting with a campground close to home with amenities such as running water and bathrooms. Some campgrounds even have showers. Camping at a site with amenities is an excellent way to test the waters without feeling too isolated. Many campgrounds will allow you to reserve a spot, but spots can fill up quickly, so try to plan ahead as much as possible and reserve your spot ahead of time. 

As you become more comfortable with camping, you will find that campsite options are endless. You can even camp in places that aren’t traditional campgrounds; this is called dispersed camping. Dispersed camping comes with no amenities, no bathroom, no trash service, no fire pits, and no picnic table, so make sure you are prepared if you choose to explore that route. Check local requirements for permits and passes if you plan on going dispersed camping, as most states have specific rules for dispersed camping. For this article, we will focus on camping at a campsite.

Shelter

There are a variety of options to choose from when picking a shelter. The traditional (and most popular) choice is a tent. Tent options range in both price and difficulty to set up alone. Thankfully most one-person tents are designed to be easily set up and taken down, but if you are concerned about this process, go ahead and practice in your front yard or living room before heading out on your trip. 

Picking a tent doesn’t have to break your budget. There are tent options for as little as $30. The $30 tent may not last long or keep you sheltered from adverse weather, but it is an option if you aren’t ready to commit to camping regularly. Another affordable option that may result in a higher quality tent is searching Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and garage sales. 

An alternative shelter option is to sleep under the stars, either in your sleeping bag or in a hammock. When picking a sleeping bag, keep in mind the average temperature at night for the area you are going camping, and get a sleeping bag that is appropriately rated. It is better to be a little too warm than too cold. 

If you value comfort, you can bring along things like an air mattress, extra pillows, thick bedding, a sleeping pad, or a cot to help put some distance between you and the rocks and sticks beneath your sleeping bag. They also make bug nets for sleeping in your hammock without getting eaten alive by mosquitos. 

Food

Don’t be afraid to get creative with your food! There are many fun camping recipes out there, including recipes you can make ahead of time and heat up on the campfire. It is helpful to plan what you would like to eat while camping and then break it down into ingredients for your shopping list. Don’t forget to add snacks, water, and ice for your cooler to your list. 

My go-to meals while camping includes the classics, hamburgers, and hotdogs, as well as some easy tinfoil meals. For breakfast, I will usually cook up some bacon and eggs in a cast-iron skillet over the fire, or wrap a frozen breakfast sandwich in tin foil and throw it on the coals for a bit. For lunch, I usually pack sandwiches or sandwich materials. Chex mix, trail mix, chips, fruit, and veggies are my favorite snacks to bring along while camping because they can also make great hiking snacks.

Safety

A few basic safety tips:

Restrictions

Before leaving for camping, review the campground website or local fish and wildlife page for any fire restrictions and camping restrictions. Getting to your campsite and finding out you can’t make a fire to cook any of your food or keep warm is a sure way to ruin your trip.

Fire

If you are planning on using a fire to cook your food, you will need to learn how to make a fire successfully and safely. Use a fire ring to make the fire, and keep enough water on hand to put out the fire quickly if you need to. Usually, campgrounds will sell you firewood, or you can purchase some from most major grocery stores. If you are camping in a wet environment, such as on the coast, purchasing your wood from a place that keeps the wood dry is helpful. There are great videos on different ways to set up your campfire so that it burns the way you want it, do your research before you head out.

Wildlife

Ducks

Camping outdoors comes with the risk of running into wildlife. Some of this wildlife is mostly harmless, like birds, skunks, deer, and squirrels. Some of the wildlife is a little more dangerous, like bears and cougars. Read up on the wildlife you can expect to see in the area you will be camping. 

At a minimum, you will want to keep bear spray and a flashlight (with extra batteries) with you for animal encounters at night. Keep your items and your food secured so that wildlife isn’t tempted to rummage through your camp looking for a midnight snack. 

If you do run into wildlife, please keep your distance. 

Water

Make sure to bring enough water to keep yourself hydrated, as well as to wash pots and pans and cook. Two gallons of water per day is a good amount to bring. It can also be helpful to bring water purification tablets along, just in case of an emergency. 

Weather

Check the weather before you go, and pack appropriately. It is usually a good idea to wear/pack layers because the temperature can change drastically throughout the day. 

First Aid

First aid kits are always handy to have on hand in case of an emergency. Along with the medical part of the first aid kit, you should have an emergency blanket, compass, waterproof matches, whistle, hand sanitizer, and pocket knife. 

Entertainment

Kayaking on the Deschutes River in Oregon
Kayaking on the Deschutes River, Oregon

Camping alone doesn’t have to be boring! Bring your favorite activities with you and soak up the alone time. Some of my favorite solo activities include reading, writing, hiking, swimming, fishing, paddle boarding, and kayaking. You can even download your favorite movie on your phone or tablet to watch.

Packing Checklist

This list is not exhaustive, but it’ll give you a good idea of what to bring on your trip.

The Essentials

  • Cooler
  • Ice
  • Food
  • Water
  • Tent
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Clothes
  • Towel
  • First Aid Kit
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug Spray
  • Flashlight/Lantern
  • Extra Batteries
  • Plate(s)
  • Cups(s)
  • Utensils
  • Cookware (I recommend a cast-iron skillet)
  • Seasoning(s)
  • Trash Bag(s)
  • Emergency Blanket
  • Matches 
  • Paper towels 
  • Whistle
  • Compass
  • Toilet Paper
  • Hand Sanitizer/Soap

Optional Additions

  • Blankets
  • Pillows
  • Cot
  • Sleeping Pad
  • Hammock
  • Book
  • Journal
  • Bike
  • Fishing Pole/Supplies
  • Snacks
  • Shovel
  • Axe
  • Camping Stove and Propane
  • Firewood
  • Kayak
  • Paddleboard
  • Speaker
  • Bug Net
  • Lighter
  • Tin Foil
  • Wipes

Now you’re ready for your first solo camping trip! Have fun and be safe! I would love to hear how it went. Shoot me an email or leave a comment. 

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