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3/23/2016 3:19 pm  #1

How do you solo trip without freaking out?

I put this under skills because I kind of feel like keeping it together mentally for a solo trip is a skill.  Maybe not.

I keep reading posts about solo trips of various kinds, and I'm envious.  I have always wanted to be able to do that because of the freedom it gives you in planning, and how you spend the time, and frankly I'm a lot more into solitude that socializing so I figured I'd be ok with it, and I wanted to have that feeling of yeah, I did that!  The one time I tried it, I made myself a bit batty, and turned a four day trip into an overnight as a result.  I was really, really, really disappointed in myself.  I knew there was potential for some fear to creep in, but I was pretty experienced camping, several times in AP, and I figured I would get past that in pretty short order.  Nope.

I'm not sure if this is a "some can manage it, some can't" thing, or if you can kind of make yourself overcome the mental obstacle through experience, and I'd sure appreciate thoughts, because I would like to be able to do this one day.

That trip was a backpacking trip (no canoe).  That way I didn't have to worry about getting weather-locked on a lake, struggling against a strong wind, or finding myself in peril on the sea if I dumped (I have NEVER dumped a canoe I didn't mean to, but hey, things happen).  My canoe weighs 68 pounds, so portages would all have been doubles.  Anyway, it was a backpacking trip.  It did feel a bit like a portage that never ended, but the real thing was realizing that I did not have eyes in back of my head.  I had this constant "what is in back of me" thing going on.  That never diminished.  When I set up camp, well, that's when the real solitude of the thing set in.  Solitude by itself was fine.  That's why I went.  But there's not an extra set of eyes for things that go bump in the day, it was ear-buzzingly quiet, what is behind me, I'm here, what do I do?  It isn't like a canoe trip where you say I'll go explore the lake.  Here it is more like "I've walked all day....I know what walking all day is like.  I'd write in the notebook I brought for that purpose if I had eyes in the back of my head and felt I could let my guard down...."

If I did it again, I think I would do it as a canoe trip, deal with doubling portages, and stay on lakes that were pretty small to minimize the impact of weather/wind, and not see how far I could travel.  That would eliminate the constancy of being on a trail (never-ending portage), but I'm not sure I could get past the what is in back of me thing, or maybe even the "it is so quiet my ears are buzzing" thing.  It was so difficult to get comfortable.  My route was basically a giant square.  Day two would, if I followed the plan, as a certainty, be the equivalent of advancing to second base, and I'd have to have days three and four no matter how nuts I made myself.  So, I debated overnight, and hiked out the next day.  It has always bothered me that I couldn't make myself do it.  I guess I'll never know if I would have come out of the woods feeling more comfortable about it, or running out like a lunatic. 

Advice or thoughts are welcome -      


3/23/2016 5:13 pm  #2

Re: How do you solo trip without freaking out?

What makes you think we keep it together mentally?! 😀


3/23/2016 6:20 pm  #3

Re: How do you solo trip without freaking out?

A certain level of reasonable caution and vigilance is required when you go solo. Your mind has just gone hyper vigilant. No big deal.

1)I wouldn't be bothered by not sticking it out for the full time. Rather look at it as a success. You went to the woods by yourself AND NOTHING BAD HAPPENED.
No bear ate you. No children of the corn.  Nada. Nix. It was a great success.
The next one might be two or three nights. Nothing will creep up on you from behind except mosquitoes and black flies. Eventually your mind will wind down from its hyper vigilant state.
2)It might help to have a secondary purpose...taking pictures, identifying plants, doing bush crafty things. Takes the mind off the awareness that you are alone.
3)Bring bear spray and a superbright flashlight and an air horn for peace of mind, too.
4) push yourself so you are tired and fall asleep faster
5) I don't do this on the trail or canoe route, but some people drink or bring weed to relax themselves. Worth considering.


3/23/2016 7:08 pm  #4

Re: How do you solo trip without freaking out?

In addition to above, a dog is a great companion. Great listener, carries own food and bed, supportive companion, and will defend you from a bear. Sometimes wet and smelly. But so are you. Always willing to go on a canoe trip.

Get a larger breed (40+ lbs when grown) so they aren't in danger of becoming coyote snack. Start them in a canoe early and practice walking off leash. Consistent recall is the most useful command.



3/23/2016 9:54 pm  #5

Re: How do you solo trip without freaking out?

Have been wrestling with this for a while now. Maybe this season will be the one. Here's a link with some good advice.  Hood luck.


3/24/2016 7:33 am  #6

Re: How do you solo trip without freaking out?

1. As Marko says, bring a dog if possible. You feel a lot less alone.
2. Build a fire each evening, even if it's not necessary for cooking or warmth. Having something to take care of makes you feel more in control.
3. For your first attempt at least, pick a route/season where you're likely to encounter others along the way or see occupied campsites across the lake.
4. If the weather is cool, be extra cautious about having the means to keep your hands and feet warm (pack extra wool socks, hand warmers etc).


3/24/2016 8:44 am  #7

Re: How do you solo trip without freaking out?

A lot of this comfort level is simply achieved through experience. You don't need an extra set of eyes to see behind you, only ears and sometimes, a nose. Over time your'e able to distinguish between what's a snake, chipmunk,raccoon or something bigger in the distance. Is it coming toward you or going away? Your confidence grows, especially if you have to deal with some adversity and realize you can handle it - think of everything as a learning opportunity.

As for what to do - read, sketch, cook, whittle, gather wood, practice fire making skills? Whittling is seriously underrated as a relaxing activity! I'm out there to relax my mind so the wasted time is very welcome. Solo camping isn't really for people who need to be constantly busy, I suppose.


3/24/2016 8:44 am  #8

Re: How do you solo trip without freaking out?

From my personal solo trip experiences, I would say that the days are easy. Don't worry about double carries on the portage. Don't worry that you are not keeping to a strict timeline. Don't stress yourself out about being alone.  Just go with the flow and enjoy the time on the water and the portages.  After all, is that not why you are out there?

Once you make camp, gather all your wood for a long evening fire, enjoy a nice dinner and settle in for a great evening.  Bring a book to read by firelight. If good weather, find a nice spot down by the lake to lay down and watch the stars and satellites overhead.  I bring a small bottle of rye and powdered hot apple cider for a nice hot toddy to drink in the evening. Listen to the things that go bump in the night. Some pretty weird noises out there.

The more you think about the fact you are alone, the worse it will get.  Take baby steps and start with an over-nighter first time out and then work yourself up to longer trips.  Find out what works for you.  My first trips were a breeze during the day, but once I was done dinner and dishes washed and firewood stacked and darkness crept in, the "what do I do now" feeling crept in.  I ended up going to bed a couple hours earlier than I had planned and all that did was ensure I was awake a couple hours earlier than planned. At that point I just lay in my sleeping bag getting more and more annoyed that I couldn't get back to sleep.

My biggest tip / suggestion for solo trips is to make sure you have something to do in the evenings other than watch wood burn.  Read a book, whittle a piece of wood, sketch something you saw during the day, etc etc etc... Once you figure out what works for you, you will have the solo tripping thing down, no probs....


Paddling Adventures Radio
"Grab a paddle and get on the water"

3/24/2016 8:58 am  #9

Re: How do you solo trip without freaking out?

Marko_Mrko wrote:

Get a larger breed (40+ lbs when grown) so they aren't in danger of becoming coyote snack. Start them in a canoe early and practice walking off leash. Consistent recall is the most useful command.


While I do agree that a medium to large breed is less likely to become a supplemental meal, coyotes down in Cambridge have been seen carting off a full grown German Shepherd at the Shades Mill Conservation Area. That said, I have never been hesitant taking one of our dogs along. It probably cuts down on the number of deer we see but the dogs love tripping as much as we do. 


3/24/2016 9:11 am  #10

Re: How do you solo trip without freaking out?

Marko_Mrko wrote:

In addition to above, a dog is a great companion. Great listener, carries own food and bed, supportive companion, and will defend you from a bear. Sometimes wet and smelly. But so are you. Always willing to go on a canoe trip.

Get a larger breed (40+ lbs when grown) so they aren't in danger of becoming coyote snack. Start them in a canoe early and practice walking off leash. Consistent recall is the most useful command.


My wife and I used to have a big dog that just loved to go on canoe trips.  We didn't have much luck getting her to carry stuff though!    While I have a lot of good memories of our dog on canoe trips, I would have no interest in bringing a big dog on a solo canoe trip.   It would mean more weight to carry -- a larger canoe, larger tent, dog food, dog dish, dog towel.  All that would work against being able to single trip portage.


3/24/2016 9:30 am  #11

Re: How do you solo trip without freaking out?

Re: Beasts of burden
Ruff Wear Palisades pack is great - bags are detachable, so you can use the harness for walking around at home (pulling a sled as well). The dog gets used to it. 14L capacity for medium size.

For food, he eats 4 cups/day (1L/day) - I carry the food in XL Ziploc bags - 1 gallon capacity -  one on each side for 8 days of food. In addition, he also packs a small blanket, ball, leash and 2 collapsible bowls (water and food). That's all he needs for the trip. 



3/24/2016 10:12 am  #12

Re: How do you solo trip without freaking out?

Getting comfortable in nature comes with experience and you have to keep getting out there to gain it. Man is naturally a predator and the most feared animal in the woods, particularly here in Ontario. You have nothing to fear but fear itself.
I always suggest people start with sitting still in the forest for hours at a time, as often as possible to settle into the natural rhythm.  Dusk and dawn, with an hour of darkness at either end, are the best.  Actually, an hour before sunrise is ideal as wildlife is most active and the gathering light will ease your anxiety.  Then, expand the time to days or weeks. 
For me, the challenge is not overcoming fear but rather overcoming the predator instinct and posture so that the wildlife settles back into their own natural rhythm.  Soon enough, you'll learn to identify all of the noises around you, separating the wind from the mouse from the bear, and will grow excited at the possibility of seeing a large predator in its natural environment.  When you lean to remain calm, you will take great pleasure in the fact that you either remained undetected, or that the animal respected your domination, and even better, accepted you as brethren.
I've learned through experience that weather is the greatest threat, and that wind in particular creates anxiety.  It's wise to always be aware of dead trees around you that may fall, and open water that must be crossed in the event of strong wind.  Preparation and awareness will ease that anxiety.


3/24/2016 10:42 am  #13

Re: How do you solo trip without freaking out?

I've never really had major issues during the day, but I've had less than comfortable nights on some of my solo trips. Hyper vigilance /  paranoia would set in, and then every little sound would get translated into something threatening. 

What I found helped with night-time peace of mind was:

a) having a completely clean camp. Food and anything with scent is always well away from camp long before the sun sets. This should always be the case of course, solo or not, but you really don't want to wake up in the middle of the night thinking about that snickers bar you left sitting by the campfire. 

b) Overnight in my tent, everything I could potentially need in a hurry has a specific place. My knife, whistle, bear mace, glasses, headlamp - they're all within reach of my right arm in specific spots. The tent zippers are in the same place too. No scrambling to find something when your heart is pounding. 

But mostly it was just time and experience; it's very rare for me to have a rough night any more. My trips are usually pretty active ones. I'm on the move almost every day, and I'm sure that helps as well. By the time I crawl into my tent I'm usually ready to pass out. 


3/24/2016 12:05 pm  #14

Re: How do you solo trip without freaking out?

I haven't much to add. Experience and familiarity will ease your mind while alone in the woods. I'm not usually completely comfortable with myself alone on a trip until the 4th day or so. Giving yourself full days and having something to occupy your mind at night is a great help. A book, journal, craft, etc... Another thing that helps me settle at night is Melatonin. 


3/24/2016 2:46 pm  #15

Re: How do you solo trip without freaking out?

Great comments already!

I've only done one solo trip so take with however many grains of salt as you think you should.

1) I would re-frame your opinion of your first solo trip. I'd see it as a success to build on. I know you chose backpacking for good reasons but it sort of sounds like your a canoe tripper at heart. Maybe you'd actually be more comfortable on a canoe trip as it's more familiar to you? Maybe try a route you've done before?

2)  I brought ear plugs on my solo trip and used them at night. It was a lot easier not to stress about every sound in the night when I couldn't hear them. I wouldn't even eliminate the idea of bringing an ipod and listening to music at night. Banish the idea of "cheating" by bringing technology like that. It's your solo trip and you can do whatever you want!

3) This is silly, but I brought a small teddy bear from my childhood (I don't have a dog to bring along). Having a focal point to talk to was actually really helpful. My husband even made the bear a life jacket. He (the bear) was sunning himself on a rock as some fellow paddlers went by; great conversation starter! I have even followed one tripper (can't remember the link now) who has a stuffed animal that goes along on all his adventures. He entertains himself by taking its picture in strange places. 


3/24/2016 3:34 pm  #16

Re: How do you solo trip without freaking out?

My first solo trip was to one of the paddle -in sites in Rock Lake. I could not hear the campground, but I could see it, and knew i was very close to help if i needed it. Like all the others, keeping yourself occupied helps. for me, i loved tinkering around with food, to see what would work best, taste best , stored well, etc, as well as reading, crosswords, and i love  taking pics of whatever grows. I found it very re assuring to be able to bring some fire wood with me from the campground as i did not have to portage, and i did not inmediately have to dive into the unknown forest wondering if idd get lost. Even if you found youdd forgot something you cant do without (like a lighter to get a fire or stove going) the worst it would be is to paddle back to your car and get it. I found it reassuring to stay on one site those first few times. 
I  slowly expanded over the years to other lakes,and multiple sites, first with a short portage in between,  untill the last few years where it no longer bothers me at all where i am.
As others have said, your first try was a success, you tried! 


3/24/2016 4:09 pm  #17

Re: How do you solo trip without freaking out?

Thank you all for these great comments.  I knew it was a real thing and not just me, and I really appreciate the ideas.  It does inspire me to try it again (as a simple canoe trip rather than endless portage), and I think just talking about it with people who “get it” will help a lot.   

Plus if I install rear view mirrors on my forehead we’ll be golden.  To be very honest, it wasn’t the night thing that got me so much as the what is in back of me thing.  The mental image of a messed up wolf or sniffing bear suddenly appearing in back of me…. Unlikely?  You bet.  But when you let your imagination run unimpeded by sensibilities, they are already there.  So you look over your shoulder a lot.  More reason to canoe rather than backpack for me anyway. The boogie man seldom paddles.  Some folks commented about feeling less an intruder or predator, and getting to the sense of being a part of what is there, and I think recognizing the limitations of our vision just jumped out at me in a surprising way.  Everything felt dark beside me and behind me, and I think given a few days, I'd recognize just how much I'm noticing through general sensory as opposed to how much I'm missing through relying so heavily on vision.  Plus the expanse of a lake is easier to deal with (for me anyway) I think than the confines of the forest, or at least it provides for more varied scenery.

The real message I’m getting is “Stay with it.  You’ll be fine”, and it is nice to hear that it takes most folks some getting used to.  Supportive responses alone are a help - thank you. 

The earplug suggestion is interesting.  Knowing that the boogie man, a bear, an angry bull moose, a lone rabid wolf, a wolverine, and a lecherous red squirrel, are all standing just behind my tent forming their nefarious plans, and me being unable to hear them would be difficult.  But it would be worth having them in the pack just in case.  There isn’t much of a weight penalty for earplugs.

Claire, I have to tell you, I really like the idea of the....focus item.  I talk to myself plenty (anybody surprised by that?), so I don’t know that I’d have mini-conversations with….a focus item.... like Tom Hanks with Wilson, but I might just bring a mascot.   A few years ago my son bought this small park ranger beaver stuffed animal with a campaign hat, and later gave it to me.  He’s pretty cool (so is the stuffed animal).  Has a good attitude and a winning smile (so does my son).  He could be a good trip mascot in general (the beaver), and maybe he’ll come for the ride when my son and I go this summer.  I’ve spent about a year building a stuffed animal pig (in a cub scout uniform) into a cub scout mascot.  Dr. Professor Evil Porkchop has seen quite a few misadventures already, and he is slowly becoming indispensable for our outings. Maybe it is time for the park ranger beaver to get out there and do his job.  And maybe it is time for him to get a name……though I shudder to think what my son would recommend.  He named a stuffed walrus Idaho. Because that's what you name walruses apparently.

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