As an advocate for not letting my gender get in my way of traveling and being in the outdoors alone, I had it on my 2018 bucket list to take my first solo backpacking trip this year.
Last July 4th was my first solo camping trip to Bears Ears National Monument (such an amazing place!), so it was only fitting that this July 4th was a similar venture. I just did a one-nighter at White Rocks in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park on the Kentucky/Virginia state line and wanted to share my experience and how I made myself feel safe being alone in the woods. Because, let’s be honest, you should absolutely not let being a woman hold you back from doing anything in the outdoors, but you should still consider the risks and take the right precautions (as anybody should, no matter your gender).
First of all, I had an amazing time. Staying overnight in the woods completely by myself felt very empowering after I safely made it out. Add in the fact that I actually got a good night’s sleep and didn’t lay in my tent scared to death all night, and I thought I was pretty badass. 😂
Here are a few things that I did that I thought were worth sharing:
I told people where I was going. My good friend in Lexington knew where I was camping, what trail I was taking and about when I should be back to my car so I could let him know that I was safe. I also thought that backcountry camping in a National Park Service area would be safer, as I had to go get a permit from the visitor center, so the park rangers knew where I was and that I was alone as well. Just make sure that somebody knows about your plans, so in case something happens, they’ll notice that you’re missing and about where you would be.
I had a few tools (weapons) handy. Largely, it was to make me feel better, but I carried a whistle with me at all times, even around camp. I also had a hatchet, partially for self-defense and partially for chopping wood if needed. Pro-tip: The hatchet ended up just being useless extra weight and straight up wasn’t going to help at all if I’m being completely honest with myself. A pocket knife would have been a decent, light tool to have with me instead. Finally, I had bear spray to use if I came up any bears / axe murderers while on my hike. This was almost always within reach for me as well and was probably the best “self-defense tool” that I carried with me.
I was super aware the entire time. Except when I was sleeping. And I slept damn well that night (I might be a little proud of this…). But hiking up to the campsite, I was consistently paying attention to my surroundings and noting landmarks on the trail for the hike back out. Same thing around my campsite that night. A deer did come to visit me and almost gave me a heart attack as I was convinced it was a bear for a split second, so I was definitely on pretty high alert after that.
I’m not saying that what I did was perfect and safe and fool-proof, but I do feel like I was well-prepared, aware and ready for an adventure like this! This experience was a big leap and sign that I am improving with this whole “camp in the dark by yourself” thing. Trust me – if I can do it, you can do it, too!