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Anyone just starting to camp/backpack?

Hi, all!

I have been camping and hiking as a solo female in national and state parks for twenty years now. If you have any ideas and questions, I would love to explore them! Souther UtahSouther Utah


Crater Lake (that is the bluest water...)Crater Lake (that is the bluest water...)


Death Valley Superbloom yearDeath Valley Superbloom year


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9 Replies

I just want to thank you for offering. I am 35/f and just getting started with the daunting task of backpacking alone. I hike alone (or with my dogs) pretty frequently and ready to take the next step. Slowly starting to realize that if I wait for someone to go with, I'm going to miss out on a TON of opportunities because I didnt think I could do it by myself. 

What are your top 3 tips? (Other than of course the obvious, pack the 10 essentials, give someone your itinerary, etc...)

Or gear that you just found you cannot LIVE without?

First time here on REI forums, but joined in 1972 and backpacked for 32 years, a lot of it solo.  Read a lot about gear but realize only YOU can determine what works for you, especially about keeping warm.  A lot of the "lightweight" crowd are young men who have unreal metabolism and I, being a cold sleeper, would risk hypothermia with following as little as they take.  Working at a backpacking store for 3 years 80% of the women admitted to be colder than their partner.

Understand that clothes and sleeping bags are NOT WARM.  A thermometer in them would record ambient temp.  The key to keeping warm is regulating the source of heat=your own body.  There are 5 ways a body looses heat: evaporation, conduction, convection, radiation, and respiration.  Clothes will control several of those but the actual heat comes only from food and drink and conserving what heat your body can generate.  I think this is the most important thing to know about beginner backpacking.  Also pay attention to your gut, it can talk to you about who feels safe to talk to, what place feels safe to camp.  Leave the earbuds at home, listen to the silence and experience the real world.  Pay attention to your surrounding and check your PAPER map often (every half hour, at times)  to verify location.  Study what you fear to minimize that fear and know you can do it.


I am single 44yo/F and wanting to get more adventurous with my solo outings. Sadly, as a woman, I don't always feel safe. What are your recommendations for 1) being prepared and 2) overcoming the fears that come with solo adventures?

What are you afraid of?  Bears or Mountain Lions?  Study their habits in the area you plan on backpacking and get the CURRENT information from Rangers.  Racoons are likely more damaging to equipment if you encounter them.  If your pack is left outside unzip the pockets so little critters smelling goodies will go in and out without chewing through the bag.  Dangerous men?  Camp in areas that are busy and full of people.  Talk to your tent neighbors and get their first names to have someone to call out to just in case there is an issue at night.  On the trail walk with confidence and carry hiking staffs to give off the energy of "I'm no one to be messed with".   In 32 years I've never encountered a dangerous situation with any men I've talked to, nor heard of any from friends.  I guess it happens but most big cities are likely much more unsafe than wilderness.  Cities are a lot easier to find vulnerable women.  Of course use common sense and don't give out too much information about yourself or camp really isolated.   Again check with the rangers about the area you are in. 

Before I did solo trips I came to the realization that 99% of any fear is just in my head.  Usually only one thought can be in your head at a time so I created a mantra to say over and over if I felt that fear bubbling up.  Mine was "All good things are happening to me".  Once I settled down the fear thoughts subsided and I could relax and get to sleep.  (While in a tent, birds or squirrels  jumping around in leaves can sound like giant monsters.)  I'm guessing you are thinking about if you need a gun and my opinion is that unless you have it loaded and you can get to it immediately and you are ready to actually kill or maim a real person it is just not realistic or necessary.  I guess you could carry bear spray, but we do pack our fears and it all weighs us down.  These are just my opinions, hope they help and you can have fun adventures.  (As far as prep, read my post above.)

What hazards arre you likely to confront and which will harm you.  Animal attacks, including humans, are not very likely.  You are more likely to trip and fall on a trail, suffer a longer fall, run into threatening weather, or drown (even in the desert) than be attacked by a mountain lion or a snake.  This is based on my experience doing volunteer SAR in southern Arizona for forty years, more or less, and the incidents we responded to there.  Animal attacks were trivial.

Surprisingly, drowning was second only to falls as a cause of death - in southern Arizona, no less.  Flash floods are serious business.

This opinion is based on experience centered in one area and things may well be different in other localities.  Accordingly, I would seek out information on this subject from local relevant authorities - often the county sheriff.

You definitely increase the risk by venturing out solo.  I know this all too well and I still solo.  Dress properly, paying attention to foot gear, learn first aid, carry a map and know how to interpret it properly, equip yourself properly (the ten essentials!!) and check the weather report.

Having a knowledgeable companion helps, but if misfortune strikes and one of you is immobilized, does your companion go for help, leaving you alone ?- a knotty problem, to say the least.  If your partner is inexperienced or incompetent, you have only increased the odds of misfortune....

Give serious consideration to acquiring a PLB and learn to use it responsibly.  Start on easy trips and learn from your experiences. 

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

I believe I've read that hypothermia is the most dangerous thing in the back country. Even in AZ it can get cold enough for that to be a major concern, it can happen with immersion into water if the temp is even midrange (50s, 60s etc degrees).  The body can barely survive 7 degrees either direction from normal.  Plan ahead with understanding prevention (as in my notes above starting with "First time...") learn what to watch for and how to correct it.   Going solo---knowledge and prevention is the key.


The general perception is that Arizona being mostly desert, is rather warm.  While that is true of the lower elevations in the state 9and in the West generally), much of AZis 5000 feet or higher and it can get really cold.  I have recorded minus 30F on an official Weather Bureau thermometer and have experienced -40 at really high elevations on the San Francisco Peaks.  Even in Tucson, winter lows will dip into the 20s.  The dry climate means larger diurnal temperature swings.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

I believe you and the misconception in the public's mind is that it has to be freezing to get hypothermia.  



Bear spray works well for 2 legged bears