Learn how to safely camp alone.

The Definitive Guide To Solo Camping for Women

If you have ever though about camping by yourself, you may have wondered...

Is it safe to camp alone? 

Are female campers more vulnerable than male campers?

Is it responsible for a woman to be venturing out into the wilderness alone?

Despite what you may have heard or been told, the truth is that it is extremely safe to camp alone as a woman when you have the right knowledge and skills.

While there are definitely real (and some serious) risks involved in camping alone, they are far outweighed by the benefits.

I don’t believe that women should have to rely on anyone else in order to go on an adventure, and I hope the information in this guide empowers you to get out on your own terms.

The Definitive Guide to Solo Female Camping

The following is a comprehensive guide to solo camping that I have written based off of my own extensive experience camping alone over the last 15 years.

This guide was specifically written for:

  1. women who have never been camping alone and are curious about trying it
  2. women who have camped alone before and want to grow their skillset in order to become safer and more confident solo campers

It covers nearly everything you need to know to start planning a successful trip, including mindset, safety, planning, and more. I hope you refer to it regularly as you grow your outdoor skills.

If you got value from this article, please support my work by sharing it - or you can buy me a coffee.

I currently do NOT use affiliate links or receive compensation for products I recommend. I do this so my work stays honest and in line with my values. I only recommend gear that I personally use and believe is the best.

Is it safe to camp alone as a woman?

Woman sitting on a rock outside of her tent at a campsite.

While my mom might adamantly disagree, it absolutely is safe for a woman to camp alone - provided that she is knowledgeable and competent with all of the outdoor skills necessary to plan and execute a safe trip. 

I know this because I have personally camped alone countless times over the last decade, and I have known and met many other women who have done the same.

The data also strongly supports this, as the murder and rape rate on federal land (like NPS, BLM, NFS land where most people camp), is astronomically low compared to these rates in metropolitan areas.

While your friends and family will be uncomfortable with and even try to stop you from adventuring solo, much of their fear is based on a lack of understanding about the risks. 

Their intentions are good, but in my opinion, the benefits (see below) far outweigh the risks. 

That being said, it is important for you to understand that there are extra risks involved when you camp alone than when camping with a group.

And I’m not going to lie and say that women don’t deal with more risks than men. 

But, with the right training and experience, you can mitigate these risks in a way that highly reduces your chances of getting hurt.

The keys to a successful solo female camping trip

Tent overlooking the mountains.

There are several keys to success that I have found as a woman camping alone 

1. You can never be too cautious

Whether you are interacting with strangers or encountering bad weather, you can never be too cautious.

When you are out on your own, you will be relying entirely on your best judgment.

Whenever you make a decision, always choose the safest option, even if it's not according to your original plan.

For example, if the weather is forecasted to be bad, consider changing the dates of your trip or finding an alternative place to sleep other than a tent (e.g. your car).

This seems like a simple concept that is easy to follow, but most of us make decisions based on emotion rather than facts.

2. You can never be overprepared

When it comes to preparing for and planning your trip, you can never go overboard. 

Most adventurers will tell you that things don’t always go as planned. 

The better you know an area in advance, the more prepared you will be to deal with any unexpected situation that arises. 

Carrying extra water, food, clothes, propane, maps, and other important gear is always a good idea.

3. Always trust your intuition and follow your instincts

If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. 

If you get a bad vibe from a stranger or feel unsafe in a particular situation, trust your intuition and adjust accordingly.

Never try to convince yourself that you are feeling overly paranoid if something just doesn’t feel right.

Depending on the situation, your intuition may tell you to move your campsite to avoid a person or abandon your trip altogether. 

If you don’t trust the location, your gear, the weather, a person, or feel unsafe in any way, err on the side of caution and make an adjustment.

Your intuition could be wrong, but the cliche, “it is always better to be safe than sorry,” applies more than ever when you are adventuring alone.

When you listen to your intuition and trust your instincts, you will typically make the right decisions that will keep you out of trouble.

4. Learn, build, and practice outdoor skills

You don’t have to be an expert to go adventuring alone, but the more you know, the safer and more successful your trips will be. 

Make learning outdoor safety skills a priority. An overview of the essential safety skills you must learn is outlined later in this article.

Getting back home unharmed (and hopefully with amazing experiences) should be the main goal of every solo adventure.

You should also work to develop the following core skills which every outdoorswoman should be competent in:

  • How to set up a campsite
  • How to navigate with a map and compass
  • How to meal plan camp meals
  • How to cook at your campsite and clean your dishes
  • How to build a fire
  • How to store food at your campsite properly
  • How to treat water if you need clean drinking water
  • How to use a first aid kit and practice wilderness first aid

I have spent many years developing the skills I need to safely camp alone, and you can no doubt develop these skills too. 

Take courses, join outdoor clubs, and find mentors who will help you gain the skills and confidence to safely adventure alone.

How to prepare yourself mentally to camp alone

Woman sitting at a campsite looking at the mountains.

Mental preparation is an overlooked but important skill that you should develop before you even leave home.

It is likely that you will feel scared (or very scared) at some point while camping alone. 

Most people are at least a little bit afraid when sleeping alone in the outdoors - anyone who says otherwise is probably not being entirely honest.

It’s important to know that it's normal and okay to be afraid, especially when you are new to camping solo. 

Fear is not necessarily a reason to bail. In fact, overcoming your fear will help you build your confidence and grow as a person.

As long as you follow the best safety practices, use common sense, and listen to your intuition, you will most likely be fine.

Breathing exercises like box breathing, meditation, and learning how to manage your self-talk will all help you deal with the mental challenges associated with camping alone.

Learning how to believe in yourself and your capabilities is extremely important as well.

When you anticipate the fear and develop strategies (like breathing) to deal with your fear, you will be more likely to have an enjoyable, safe adventure.

How to plan your trip

Map, compass, and camping gear.

Step 1: Decide where you want to go.

The first step in planning your solo trip is figuring out where you want to go.

Start by picking a general region (e.g. Desert Southwest, Rocky Mountains, Pacific Northwest), and then start to narrow down your desired destination from there. 

Is there a specific peak you want to climb? 

A particular skill you want to develop? 

A famous location you want to photograph at sunrise? 

These questions can all guide you towards narrowing your campsite location.

I like to get ideas and inspiration for my next camping trip by looking through guidebooks, trail apps (e.g. AllTrails and Gaia), and recommendations from online resources like blogs and magazines. 

If you are looking for some ideas for your next camping trip, I’ve compiled a huge list of outdoor adventure ideas to help you find some inspiration. 

If you are new to camping and just starting to build your knowledge and skills, I recommend choosing a place close to home.

Step 2: Set your trip dates

The location that you pick for your adventure will influence the time of year and dates that you choose to go on your trip. 

For example, you won't want to visit Utah in the middle of the summer when it is extremely hot, and you might not want to visit Alaska in January if you hate the cold.

You might also consider visiting a region during a special season, such as the Rocky Mountains when the aspen leaves change color in autumn.

Step 3: Decide what type of camping you want to do

There are many different types of camping that you can look into, which can be divided into two main categories: frontcountry, backcountry, and dispersed camping.

Frontcountry Camping

When you frontcountry camp, you drive to an established campground and park at your campsite.

Most frontcountry campsites are managed by federal agencies like the National Park Service or by privately owned small businesses.

There are often amenities such as toilets, running water, dumpsters, trash cans, electrical and/or water hookups (for RVs), picnic tables, fire rings, bear boxes, camp stores, and possibly showers.

Some campgrounds are more primitive than others - think pit toilets versus flushing toilets - but they are all generally well maintained.

While some campsites in frontcountry campgrounds are first come first serve, most are often reservable online at sites like recreation.gov or hipcamp.com. They can cost anywhere from a few dollars a night to $35 or more depending on who owns the campground and how many amenities they offer.

Common types of frontcountry camping:

  • car camping - probably the most popular type of camping, car camping involves loading your car up with all of your camping gear, driving to a campsite, and pitching your tent in a designated tent area. It can also mean sleeping in your car or truck if you have the proper setup. Most people car camp in national and state parks, or in areas that allow dispersed camping (see below).
  • RV camping - with RV camping, you drive up to an RV-specific campsite which often has an electric and water hookup. You can pitch a tent in the designed tent area or sleep in your RV.
  • Van Camping - van camping is almost like a mix of car and RV camping. You can sleep in your van or in a tent, but you don’t need to park in an RV-specific site.

Pros of frontcountry camping:

  • Having lots of people around can help you feel safe
  • Amenities can be nice to have, especially if you aren’t interested in roughing it. 
  • Easier access to services in case of emergency.
  • Fire pits mean s'mores. Lots of s'mores. 

Cons of frontcountry camping:

  • Having lots of people around means more noise and the chance of irritating (i.e. drunk) neighbors and screaming children. 
  • You won’t find as much solitude in nature, especially at national park campgrounds.
  • Can be loud and take away from the camping experience. 
Backcountry Camping

Sometimes called wilderness camping, backcountry camping lacks all of the amenities of frontcountry camping but is the ideal way to find peace and solitude in nature.

Backcountry camping involves camping at designated campsites, which are established tent sites in remote areas, or in areas where dispersed camping (see below) is allowed.

You won’t find running water, toilets, or other conveniences at backcountry campsites, but you will find space from other people and a much quieter environment. Backcountry camping requires much more skill and experience to master than frontcountry camping, such as how to purify water, wilderness first aid, navigation skills, and more.

Common types of backcountry camping:

  • Backpacking - Backpacking involves loading up a backpacking pack with everything you need to survive in the wilderness, hiking to remote locations, and camping in a designated site or dispersed camping site (see below) for at least one night. Despite how intense this sounds, you don’t have to hike too far from a trailhead to camp in the backcountry.  In many popular areas, backpacking campsites require permits, so make sure that you check the rules and regulations of the area you plan on backpacking in before heading out.
  • Overlanding - Overlanding is like backpacking, but instead of hiking with everything on your back, you go off-roading into the backcountry with everything in your car. Overlanding requires a vehicle that is able to handle rough terrain (e.g. high clearance, four-wheel drive) and is equipped with repair tools and gear to help you get home in the event you break down or get stuck.

Pros: 

  • You can access some of the most beautiful places that most people will never see
  • Best way to find solitude in nature and avoid other people
  • More freedom to choose the campsite you want
  • It is extremely rewarding to learn how to be self-sufficient in the wilderness

Cons:

  • This style of remote camping means you are far (or very far) from services in case there is an emergency. There is more danger and risk involved.
  • You have to carry all of your gear with you, which can be tedious and very challenging 
  • Takes time to master backcountry skills
  • Fires are not usually allowed in the backcountry out West where forest fires are common.
Dispersed Camping
Dispersed camping in the desert.
Photo: Ethan Dow

Dispersed camping is a type of camping in which you set up your camp in an area that does not have designated campsites (i.e. pre-established campsites that have obvious evidence of having been camped at and are often numbered).

This is a more remote style of camping than typical backcountry camping that is typically allowed on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the United States Forest Service (USFS).

Dispersed camping can be done in an area that you backpack to or drive to (usually with some kind of overlanding or 4x4 vehicle).

It’s usually free and doesn't require a permit, but there are rules and regulations about where you can camp. Their rules will be different in every location, but they will probably include:

  • Camp 100 feet from a water source (e.g. lake, river, stream)
  • Pack out human waste
  • Fire restrictions (e.g. no campfires, stoves only)
  • Leave No Trace rules

Dispersed camping is the most primitive type of camping, as there are no amenities like toilets, trash collection, fire pits, or running water.

Pros: 

  • One of the best ways to avoid crowded campgrounds and find solitude
  • Best way to find campsites last minute without a reservation
  • Often in pristine wilderness areas that most people never get to see
  • It’s free, which is great if you spend a lot of time camping

Cons: 

  • Requires you to be entirely self-sufficient and carry everything you need to survive in your pack our car.
  • Remote style of camping means no access to services in case of an emergency
  • Fires are not usually allowed in the backcountry out West where forest fires are common. 
  • Since you won’t be pitching your tent in a designated campsite, it can be trickier to choose a campsite.

Step 4: Choose your campsite or desired camping location

How you choose a campsite will depend on what type of camping you plan on doing (see step 3).

There are two main ways to pick a campsite: reserve in advance or first come first serve.

Reserve campsites in advance - for the camper that likes to plan

If you don’t plan on dispersed camping and you are planning your trip far enough in advance, you may be able to reserve a campsite or apply for a permit online.

I often find this the best way to go because it takes the uncertainty out of where you will be staying and will eliminate the need to go hunting for a campsite if you arrive at your desired camping area and everything is taken.

You can book a car, RV, and van campsites almost like you would book a hotel room. Permits require more hoops to jump through, and the process to get one will vary depending on where you want to camp.

How to find and book a car, RV, or van campsite

The website recreation.gov is the place you will want to go to reserve your campsite online for a federally managed campground. 

For state parks, each state usually has a reservation system through their parks department website. 

Here are some other great websites where you can search for and book campsites on private land:

How to reserve a backcountry campsite

Backcountry campsites are typically reserved by permits, which you may have to apply for and go through a process to get.

Permits are like reservations that hold your campsite for the night. 

The get a permit for the area you want to camp in, call or visit the website of the local agency that manages the land you want to camp on. 

The process to apply for a permit will be different depending on the specific guidelines established by the local land management agency. 

The difficulty in acquiring a backcountry permit will likely depend on the popularity of the area and how sensitive it is to human recreation.

For example, a permit to camp at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon can take years of calling the National Park Service very early in the morning on the first of the month, just to be entered into a lottery for the permit with hundreds of other people.

In contrast, a simple online application with your dates and desired campsite is only needed to apply for some permits.

In national forests, getting a permit can be as easy as walking up to the trailhead and filling one before you embark on your hike.

First come first serve campsites - for the camper that that likes to “wing it”

Despite the peace of mind that reserving a campsite in advance creates, some of my best trips have been last-minute, unplanned excursions where I have stayed at a first-come-first-serve campsite or dispersed camping area.

The key is to have some general idea of the campsite you want, and a backup plan if necessary.

How to find areas that allow dispersed camping

The best way to find dispersed camping areas is to look at a map showing the public lands near the area you want to visit. Then and look for areas marked on the map as BLM or National Forest Land. A simple google search of “name of national forest” + “dispersed camping” will usually result in a USFS website with that particular forest’s rules about dispersed camping. 

The Gaia GPS app is great for viewing maps of public lands. The Dyrt Pro is also a great app that will show you exactly where you can disperse camp.

How to choose dispersed and backcountry campsites

Once you have found a legal place to disperse or backcountry camp, you will need to find the ideal place to pitch your tent and set up your camp.

Here are some guidelines to help you choose the best backcountry campsite while adhering to LNT principles:

  • Look for level ground - if your tent is on even just a slight slope, you will probably slide down the slope while you are in your sleeping bag.
  • Avoid camping under dead or damaged trees - in many parts of western North America, the mountain pine beetle has killed millions of acres of pine trees. When the tree dies, it is left standing, but it can fall at any time. Although it's extremely rare, campers have been killed or severely injured from trees falling on their tents while they were inside of them.
  • Follow the 200-foot rule - if you aren’t camping in a designated site, camp at least 200 feet (70 large steps) away from any natural source of water.
  • Look for a site with good drainage - avoid places that will collect with water if it rains like low-lying areas.
  • If it's cold outside, don’t sleep on a valley floor - cold air sinks, so camping at least 20 feet above the valley floor will keep you warmer in your tent at night.
  • Camp uphill from rivers - in the event of heavy rains and flash floods, you will be safer camping on higher ground above a river or stream. 
  • Find an area that will protect you from wind and storms - boulders, trees, and other natural features of the landscape can block heavy winds and inclement weather. Don’t camp at the very top of ridgelines and mountains since it will expose your camp to the damaging effects of storms if they move through. 

Step 5: Plan Your Meals

As you might imagine, meal planning for camping is a huge topic that many books and websites have covered in depth. 

Everyone’s food preferences and daily energy requirements are different, so the meals you plan for yourself will be unique to you.

My goal here is to give you a general overview and guidelines on how to plan your meals and cook while camping. and specific recommendations for solo female camping trips.

Like with other camping techniques you learn, cooking in the frontcountry will require different techniques and strategies than cooking in the backcountry.

Frontcountry meal planning

You will have a lot more variety and options for your food and meal choices when frontcountry camping because you will have the luxury of using larger camping stoves, coolers to store fresh (perishable) food, and even running water to clean dishes.

You may even have the opportunity to run to a nearby town to pick up food and other ingredients if you forget them.

This means that planning your meals for a frontcountry camping trip can be much easier and less stressful than planning them for a backcountry trip.

Frontcountry meal planning can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.

If you love to cook and create recipes, the sky is the limit in terms of what you can create. See “food planning tips and resources” below for the best places to find camping recipes.

I prefer to keep cooking as simple as possible. This is because I am exhausted at the end of the day and don’t have the energy to cook or clean up.

Guidelines for planning frountcountry meals 

  • Bring enough breakfasts, lunches, dinners, desserts, and snacks so that you have at least 2,000 calories of food per day, or your daily estimated caloric expenditure while active (factor in exercise). See food planning tips and resources section below for how much food to bring camping. 
  • Make sure all of the perishable, temperature-sensitive food you plan to bring will fit inside your cooler. (note: to keep your food safe, your cooler should have an internal temperature that does not go above 40° F.)
  • Choose recipes with a mix of shelf-stable ingredients like pasta and fresh ingredients like fresh vegetables so that you aren’t overloading your cooler.
  • Do all of the prep work at home. If you are planning on bringing raw meat to cook for a meal, cut the meat in advance to avoid cutting raw meat in your camp kitchen and cross-contamination. Cut your veggies other ingredients in advance to make life way easier when cooking at your campsite.
  • Consider making meals at home and then storing them in your cooler. This can be a life-saver if you get back to your camp late or are too tired to cook. All you have to do is quickly reheat your meal on a stove and you are ready to eat.
  • Think about cleanup in advance. I recommend avoiding recipes that would obviously make it difficult to clean up your dishes, pots, and utensils afterward.
Backcountry meal planning

In the backcountry, you do not have the luxuries of frontcountry camping like two-burner stoves and electric camping coolers.

Food needs to be: 

  • Lightweight: backpackers will be carrying everything on their backs, so food needs to be light - especially if you are backpacking solo and can’t split the weight with others.
  • Shelf-stable: since you won’t have access to a refrigerator or cooler, you need to bring food that is safe to eat when stored above 40° F. 
  • Calorie dense: you need a lot of calories when you are outside spending energy all day. Calorie-dense foods are often higher in fats and have a high calorie to weight ratio.
  • Nutritious: when you are active outside all day, nutrient-dense food will help you recover faster, give you more energy, and help you feel better.
  • Easy to make and cleanup: with no running water and other kitchen essentials, you will be glad you kept it simple.

Your options become even more limited the longer you stay out, as even some perishable fresh food that has a longer shelf life (like bananas and avocados) can go bad after a few days outside.

Since you will likely be exhausted and starving at the end of a day of backpacking, I recommend packing dehydrated food that you can either purchase at an outdoor retailer (or direct for the manufacturer), or you can make your own.

Making your own dehydrated backpacking meals will require more work up front, but it will also save you a lot of money - especially if you backpack a lot.

Guidelines for planning backcountry meals:

  • Bring enough breakfasts, lunches, dinners, desserts, and snacks for at least 2,000 calories of food per day. You will need to bring more than this if you plan on backpacking or doing other strenuous activities. See the food planning tips and resources section below for how much food to bring camping.
  • Keep it as simple as possible. Cooking in the backcountry can be as simple as boiling water, adding it to your food, and waiting 15 minutes to eat.
  • Bring no-cook healthy foods to add to your meals like whole grain tortillas and bread, avocados, nuts, and seeds. These will add calories and make dehydrated food taste more like “real” food. For example, cook a bag of dehydrated bean chili, and then add some avocado slices and wrap it in a tortilla.
How much food should you bring camping?

The amount of food you will want to bring will roughly match your expected total daily caloric expenditure.

This will depend on your metabolism, your weight, and the total amount of physical activity you are doing over the course of a day. 

Due to their differences in metabolism and physiology, women typically burn fewer calories per day than men.

As a solo female camper, you will only need to worry about your own daily requirements, which makes it much easier to calculate how much food to bring.

Your daily caloric intake should be based on your unique physiologic needs, which you can approximate using the following formula: 

Basal metabolic rate + calories burned through exercise = minimum daily caloric intake

To calculate roughly how many calories you need to pack for each day of camping

  1. Calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is the number of calories your body burns just to keep your basic bodily functions working. There are many calculators online  - like this one - that can help you easily calculate your BMR.
  2. Calculate how many calories you plan on burning through physical activity. Again, an online calculator like this can help you calculate how much you will burn through hiking, backpacking, or other activities. Don’t forget to add in the calories you will burn throughout the day on lighter activities like setting up your camp.
  3. Combine your BMR and expected calories burned through exercise. This will be your expected total daily caloric expenditure and the absolute minimum calories you should plan to bring per day. I recommend you add at least a few hundred calories to this total for some insurance in case you feel like you are still hungry.

You will want to do this calculation for each day of your trip, and then create a meal plan of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, desserts, and snacks that add up to your expected daily caloric expenditure for each day. 

Food planning tips and resources

Meal planning often requires a lot of trial and error, so give yourself time to practice and learn what works for you. 

With the right tools and some planning, you can create amazing food while camping.

Remember: food handling and safety rules apply when you cook and store food while camping. Keep these rules in mind when planning your meals.

Camping and backpacking recipe resources
My favorite brands for store-bought premade meals

These companies offer food that meets the requirements listed above (i.e. lightweight, nutritious, calorie-dense, easy cleanup, shelf-stable). Most of their meals are super delicious, too.

Camping Essentials for Women

Assortment of camping gear laid out on a sleeping pad.

In order to have a successful camping experience, you will need to get the right equipment. 

The gear you need will depend on the type of camping you will be doing.

The gear you need for backpacking will be very different than the gear you need for car camping, but all trips will have these essentials in common:

  1. Shelter - whether it's an ultralight backpacking tent or a camper in the bed of a pickup truck, you will always need or have access to shelter when camping. Even if you plan on cowboy camping (sleeping on the ground without a tent or shelter), you should always bring at least a minimalist waterproof shelter such as the Hyperlite Mountain Gear ultralight tarp or this Go Time Gear emergency tent. Solo female campers who plan on sleeping in a tent will want a 1 or 2 person tent. Anything bigger is a waste of space, weight, and money. 
  2. Sleeping bag - sleeping bags are designed to trap your body heat and keep you warm and comfortable when sleeping outside. There are many different types of sleeping bags, from very heavy and thick RV or camper sleeping bags like this Teton Sports sleeping bag that I use to sleep in my truck, to ultralight backpacking sleeping bags this Feathered Friends lightweight sleeping bag (my absolute favorite) that I use for backpacking trips. Choose a sleeping bag that is women-specific - most come in a women-specific model.
  3. Food - learning the right food to bring for camping, and how to cook and store camp food, is an essential skill for any outdoorswoman that is beyond the scope of this article. Cooking in the frontcountry where you can use fresh food and heaving camping stoves is very different from cooking in the backcountry where your options will likely be limited to freeze-dried and dehydrated food cooked on a backpacking stove.
  4. Cooking system - almost every type of camping will require some form of heat source to cook your food. This could be anything from a car camping stove or backpacking stove, to a campfire that you can cook your food on. The cooking system you bring will need to be suitable for the meals you plan on bringing (see “meal planning” section above). I recommend using the Jetboil Genesis Basecamp camp stove for car camping and the Jetboil Minimo for backpacking. Those are my two personal favorites.
  5. Water - the availability of water will be different depending on where and how you camp. If you are frontcountry camping in a state or national park, there will likely be a source of potable water provided to campers. If you are dispersed camping, backpacking, overlanding, or doing any other type of backcountry camping, you will need to plan on treating your water by filtering or purifying it so that it is safe to drink. If you are camping out of a vehicle, I always recommend that you keep a backup supply of clean water in your car, RV, van, or truck. I use and love this Reliance Aqua-Tainer water jug to hold up to 4 gallons of water in my truck.
  6. Proper clothing - learning how to layer your clothes properly is another essential skill that outdoorswomen should learn in order to stay safe and comfortable while camping. This involves choosing the right base layer, midlayer(s), and shell.  Outdoor clothing manufacturers offer women-specific versions of these layers which are designed to be optimal for women’s anatomy and physiology.
  7. Source of light - since it is typically pitch black (if the moon isn’t out) at night when you are camping, a source of light is absolutely critical to your safety.  The best way to see at night is to use a headlamp, but there are many options when it comes to a light source when you are camping, such as lanterns and flashlights.
  8. First aid kit - it is important to always have a first aid kit near you at all times in case of an emergency. Keep one in your vehicle and one in your backpack if you are out in the wilderness.

While this list above covers the absolute essentials, you will need a bit more gear if you want a comfortable, enjoyable, and safe camping experience.

To help you pack all of the necessary gear for your camping trip, I have created both a backpacking and car camping checklist.

Should you buy or rent camping gear?

The answer to this question will depend on your level of experience and your budget.

If you are new to camping, it may be wise to rent some of your major, more expensive equipment like your tent and sleeping bag.

This way, you can see what you like and what you don’t before you make a purchase.

At the very least, purchase your gear from a store like REI that has a generous return policy. That way if it truly isn’t working for you, you can return it as a last resort. 

Gear can often be rented from outdoor retailers, especially in touristy outdoor recreation areas. REI has an amazing selection of gear rentals if you live near one.

If you have a smaller budget, the best way to go is to buy high-quality used gear.

Buying used gear is environmentally friendly and a good zero waste practice.

There are many fantastic ways to buy used gear, and if you know where to look you can find amazing deals on nearly brand new, high-end clothing and equipment.

Here are the top ways to look for and find used gear:

Is expensive outdoor gear worth the price?

Quality gear is expensive, and with outdoor gear, you usually get what you pay for.

If you can, it's worth investing in high-quality gear because it will last you much longer.

High-end brands also often offer a lifetime warranty, making the investment worth it in the long run.

Investing in high-quality equipment and used gear is also better for the planet.

The clothing industry is a HUGE contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

You will end up purchasing less gear and getting rid of less gear, which keeps less waste out of the environment.

How to stay safe while camping alone as a woman

Campfire at a campsite in the mountains.

The most important outdoor skill set you can learn is how to stay safe.

While it might feel very dangerous to venture out alone, the truth is that (and federally published crime statistics support) you are actually safer in nature - assuming you learn basic safety skills - than you are in a big city.

Safety is about assessing and managing risk. You shouldn’t be any more afraid of adventuring outdoors than you are walking down the street of your neighborhood. 

This section covers the main ways to stay safe, whether you are in the front or backcountry.

1. Share your plan

Before you head out on your camping trip, you always want to give at least one person your itinerary.

Ideally, this will be a family member or close friend who will definitely follow up if you do not call or return when you say you will.

Write down the exact dates and locations you plan on camping.  Include the exact date and general time you plan on returning from your trip. If your plan changes, try to get in touch with your contact and notify them of the change.

You will also want to write this information down on a piece of paper and leave it in your car. This way, if something happens to you, the authorities will know right away where to look for you.

2. Always carry the Ten Essentials

One of the fundamental concepts in outdoor safety is known as the Ten Essentials which is a list of equipment and guidelines designed to help outdoor adventurers pack the key items of gear necessary to survive at least one night outside.

Everything on this list is intended to be the bare minimum essentials that will get you through an emergency.

For this reason, whether you are car camping or backpacking, you should always have at least the 10 essentials with you at all times.

  1. Navigation equipment: a physical (not digital) map and compass should always be with you. GPS device and personal locator beacon (see below) are also highly recommended. You must also know how to use all of this equipment - otherwise, it is useless.
  2. Headlamp: a source of light plus extra batteries
  3. Sun protection: sunscreen, sun-protective clothes (especially a hat), and sunglasses
  4. First aid kit: at the minimum, it should include blister treatment, bandages and gauze, pain killers, and disinfectant. Again, know how to use it, or else it's useless. First aid is discussed more below.
  5. Knife: the most versatile tool. I recommend keeping one on you at all times. A multitool with a knife (like a Leatherman) is also a great option.
  6. Fire: always carry tools to ignite a fire (e.g. lighter, matches), fire starters, and backup fire igniters. Whether you are lighting a campfire or a cooking stove, a fire starter is essential.
  7. Shelter: you should always carry a shelter like a tent and perhaps a backup shelter like a bivy sack or emergency tent.
  8. Extra food: once you plan out your meals, bring extra non-perishable food to have as a backup. Great options are energy bars, trail mix, nuts, dried fruit, canned food, and backpacking meals.
  9. Extra water: the amount of extra water you can carry will depend on the type of camping you are doing, but the goal should be never run out. I try to never even get close to running out unless I’m 100% sure I know where to access more water.
  10. Extra clothes: weather and temperature changes can be unpredictable, even when you do have the forecast. Err on the side of being overprepared and bringing more layers than you think you will need. More often than not, you will thank yourself for doing so.

For a more detailed description and explanation of the Ten Essentials to help you better prepare, see my complete guide here.

An important safety tip related to gear, especially the Ten Essentials: always test your gear before you head out on a trip. You never want to show up to camp and find that your tent, headlamp, or other essential gear is damaged. This is even more important to do before a backcountry trip where you will not have the option to run to a nearby town and pick up supplies or gear if you need it.

The 11th essential - personal locator beacon

While not part of the official list of essentials, I would argue that a personal locator beacon (PLB) is one of the most important pieces of gear that every female camper should have.

If you are in distress, a PLB will allow you to press a button and send an SOS signal to the nearest search and rescue agency. The signal will send your exact location, and a rescue team will be dispatched to find you.

A PLB sends signals via satellite, you do not need cell service to use it. You can be completely off the grid, and a rescue team should still receive your SOS signal and location.

I believe that this device is extremely important to have if you are alone because you will not have anyone to help you in the event of an emergency.

I always carry the Garmin InReach on every adventure that I do. It’s not only a PBL that can send SOS signals, but it is also a satellite messenger that will allow you to send text messages without sell service.

The device has tons of other amazing features that will help you stay safe, like weather forecasts and maps.

3. Vehicle Safety

If you are heading out alone on a car camping trip or doing any type of camping that involves transportation via a motorized vehicle, there are certain precautions you should take before you leave home in order to stay safe on the road.

All women should know how to deal with basic car issues like flat tires and dead batteries, especially if they are traveling solo.

Too often, women rely on men to help them with car stuff, but this is the mentality that will keep you helpless and get you into a potentially dangerous situation if you are traveling alone in remote locations (as campgrounds and trailheads often are).

It’s time for all of us to take accountability for the health, performance, and safety of our vehicles, and the following checklist is the best place to start.

Here is a list of the essentials you must know,  and the tools you must bring with you, in case you have any problems with your vehicle.

Vehicle pre-departure safety checklist
  • Check the most important fluids in your vehicle that are necessary for it to operate properly. These include engine oil (the most important), antifreeze, and windshield wiper fluid. Store extra bottles of these fluids in your vehicle in case you start to get low while on the road.
  • Check your tires. This includes tire pressure tread depth. Look for cracks, nails, puncture marks, or any other damage. If your tire pressure is low, go to the nearest gas station and fill it. There are usually free air pumps at gas stations.
  • Ensure that your tires are appropriate for the right season. For example, summer tires should not be used in snowy conditions.
  • Know how to use jumper cables, change a tire, a tow strap, and chains.
  • Know how to drive in the snow and get your car unstuck from the mud or snow.
  • Fill your tank with gas and aim to keep it above ⅓ to ½ tank at all times.
Tools to keep these in your vehicle at all times
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Spare tire
  • Jumper cables
  • Chains
  • Tow strap
  • Extra fluids like engine oil, antifreeze, and windshield wiper fluid.
  • Extra food and water.
  • Traction devices like floor mats, towels, yoga mats, or specialized traction equipment to place under your tires if you get stuck in mud, snow, or sand.
  • Extra gallons of gas if you are going to be in very remote locations. 
  • AAA card
  • An SOS device/GPS messenger like a SPOT or Garmin InReach. Optional but highly recommended.

If you don’t know how to do something on this checklist or how to use any of the tools mentioned (e.g. jumper cables, jack, tow strap), ask a friend or family member to teach you. Visit a mechanic shop and ask them for help. There are tons of online resources where you can learn these skills, YouTube probably being the best.

Safety around people

The fear of being harmed by other humans - sketchy men in particular - is probably at the top of the list of most womens’ fears about camping alone.

Whether you are in the wilderness or in your hometown, the unfortunate reality is that malicious people are always a threat to your safety.

However, the truth is that a woman’s risk of being sexually assaulted or harmed by another person while in a national park, national forest, or other federally managed land used for recreational purposes is extremely low.

According to the United States rape and murder statistics published by the FBI, it turns out that you are significantly safer camping on federal land than living in a city. 

When it comes to keeping yourself safe, much of the same common sense applies to the wilderness as it does to the city.

Here are some of the top precautions you can take to protect yourself from dangerous strangers:

  • Follow your instincts. If you have a bad feeling about someone or something, you are probably right. Avoid people and places that look and feel dangerous.
  • Stay in well-lit areas or carry adequate lighting (e.g. headlamp and lantern) with you when it is dark.
  • Carry a loud emergency whistle like this.
  • Show confidence and make eye contact with strangers. If you feel or act vulnerable, you are going to appear more vulnerable.
  • Carry at least one weapon. This may include a knife, mace, bear mace, or stun gun. Important: check local laws to see if any of these weapons are illegal in the state you are in.
  • Consider getting your concealed carry license and carrying a concealed firearm with you when camping. Important: If you plan on carrying a firearm, learn how to use it and practice using it at a gun range. Always check local gun laws. If you get a concealed carry license, check its reciprocity in other states.
  • Take self-defense classes and learn how to protect yourself if you are attacked by a person.
  • If you are ever attacked, scream as loud as possible and run to the nearest road, building, or person. Fight for your life and never let someone take you to a second location
  • Tell a friend or family member exactly where you plan on camping and a daily itinerary for your trip. Give specific locations and dates for your arrival and departure. 

H4. Safety around wildlife

The types of wildlife that you might encounter on a camping trip will vary depending on the area you are camping in. 

For example, you won’t encounter grizzly bears in the Grand Canyon, but you might in Yellowstone. 

For that reason, it’s up to you to do your research in advance of your trip to determine what wildlife you could potentially encounter.

For each potential animal you might encounter, you also need to learn the proper response to an encounter (i.e. how to protect yourself and the animal).

Large predators like bears and mountain lions are usually of the greatest concern for women camping in the wild, but (according to statistics) they pose very little threat to your safety, especially if you know what to do if you see one.

Large, seemingly docile herbivores like elk, moose, and bison can also harm you if they are approached, so don’t take encounters with these animals lightly either.

Here are some general guidelines that will keep you safe if you encounter any type of wildlife:

  1. Never feed wildlife: no matter what. Even if it's a cute, innocent-looking ground squirrel begging for your lunch, you never want to feed wildlife. Feeding wildlife not only sets you up for an injury (or worse), it also harms the animal being fed.
  2. Keep your distance: create lots of space between you and an animal. Most national parks require you to stay at least 25 yards away from most wildlife and 100 yards from predators like bears. Always try to maintain these distances whenever possible.
  3. Never try to touch an animal: this goes along with the previous point, but it is worth reiterating - never get too close.
  4. Try to not sneak up on, surprise, or provoke an animal: this especially applies to a mother with her babies. Remember that if you see wildlife, you are in their home.
  5. Carry bear spray: this one is important, particularly if you are in “bear country.” Bear spray is a type of pepper spray that will irritate a bear’s eyes and respiratory system. It is the best way to defend yourself if a bear tries to attack you. It can also be used as self-defense against any predator that tries to attack you.

In most cases, wildlife encounters are harmless if you follow these guidelines and use common sense.

First aid and physical safety

Solo female campers must be knowledgeable enough to be their own first responders in the event they get injured or have a medical emergency.

There are many things that can harm or even kill you when camping, from severe weather to animals, but your risk of injury gets extremely low as you learn the right first aid and safety skills.

Wilderness first aid is a huge topic that is way beyond the scope of this guide, but it is something that you must take the time to learn and understand.

Learn First Aid

If you have no first aid training or experience, I highly recommend that you take a basic first aid and CPR course in your hometown. 

You can find many companies in most cities that offer first aid courses and certifications. Some of the most popular ones are offered by the American Red Cross.

If you only plan on doing frontcountry camping, basic first aid is a great place to start.

The skillset you need to perform first aid in the backcountry is much more advanced than basic first aid, as professional first responders are much further away and a variety of environmental factors can make a medical emergency much more difficult to respond to.

You can find all kinds of wilderness first aid courses, but NOLS and Outward Bound are the leaders in this field.

If you plan on spending time backcountry camping, you should seriously consider getting your Wilderness First Aid (WFA) or Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification by taking a course from an accredited institution like NOLS.

These courses are time-intensive, pricey, and in locations that are typically less convenient to access from your home, but the training you will receive could be the difference between life or death in the wilderness if you are in an emergency.

There are also a few great books on the topic of wilderness first aid that will help you start learning:

Carry a First Aid Kit 

You should always have a first aid kit on you when you are camping or participating in any kind of outdoor adventure.

The size and contents of your first aid kit will depend on the type of camping or activity you are doing, and the length of time you will be out on a trip.

A first aid kit is essentially useless if you don’t know how to use it.

This is where your first aid training (see above) comes in. You will not only learn how to stock a first aid kit properly, but you will also learn how to use the equipment inside.

There are two ways you can go about acquiring the right first aid kit for your trip:

  1. Purchase one at an outdoor or sporting goods retailer
  2. Build your own
  3. The first option is easier, but the second will save you money and allow you to customize your kit.
  4. My favorite first aid kits are made by Adventure Medical Kits, a company that makes great kits for virtually any type of adventure. I always have a larger first aid kit in my truck, and I also have multiple kits for different activities (e.g. backpacking, hiking, mountain biking, etc.).