Female Solo Backpacker

9:05 p.m. on October 7, 2007 (EDT)
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I pursued the "solo backpacking" adventure last year for the first time and have gone on 3 trips since by myself. I wanted to get any females perspective on the ability to sleep at night alone in the woods. I have had 1-2 experiences where I actually slept decently, other than that I have been shaking in my sleeping bag from the noises that keep me awake. I hate to have to rely on other people to go with me but I am afraid I may have just finished my last solo trip, which was wonderful but not sure worth the risk or the lack of sleep and anxiety during the night! During the day I am fine and it's perfect but when the sun goes down my heart speeds up...

9:55 p.m. on October 7, 2007 (EDT)
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Hi Mandy,

I think it's great that you've gone out solo by yourself. I wish more women would get out into the backcountry like you (solo, with a partner, or in group, however they like). But obviously you want to feel comfortable with whatever you choose to do.

First off, you can rest assured that you're not the only person (female or male) to ever feel skittish at night in the woods. Even when backpacking with my husband and son I am the ONLY one who wakes up for any noises, which can seem a little lonely in the middle of the night.

I'm assuming you use a tent when backpacking, right? Because I know personally that being in a tent gives me a greater feeling of comfort (rational or not) than being exposed in a tarp, lean-to, or nothing.

If you are using a tent, is it just the typical night noises you don't like (rustlings and so on) or do you have any specific fears? If so are those fears of animals or other humans? For what it's worth, I've been far more uneasy sleeping alone near a group of rowdy, drunk young men lighting bonfires at a campground than in the backcountry. (However, everyone should know that you're far safer from other people in the backcountry than most other locations.)

Are you okay once you fall asleep for good? Maybe a good distracting book to read until you're tired is the answer. Avoid caffeine at night. Go to bed only when truly tired. Maybe listen to an iPod while waiting to fall asleep.

Do you feel more comfortable in places you've visited or camped at before? More or less comfortable sleeping where there are other tent sites with fellow backpackers or a ranger relatively nearby? Of course, if you're going solo you probably want to avoid other people for the most part.

I know I've just raised a lot of questions here, but hopefully if you pinpoint what specifically freaks you out then maybe you can minimize those issues and avoid them. And if you can find a few things that make you more comfortable you can stick to them.

Going with a partner and solo both have their pros and cons. Ultimately you should choose to do what you want to do and what you enjoy doing.

10:44 a.m. on October 8, 2007 (EDT)
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Mandy -

Figure out what you're afraid of and why, then take a rational look at the causes behind your fear - if they're logical try to find a strategy to ease or eliminate them - if they're irrational, try to find a way to work through them -

If you can borrow a pair of night vision goggles you may enjoy spending a night awake in the woods (a bright, full moon can be a fair substitute), observing the critters who make the noises that keep you awake - perhaps by knowing what's out there you'll be more comfortable in being there -if you're going to try this I'd suggest getting a good "days" sleep and then wandering into the woods as the sun is setting - oh - and don't be surprised if you fall asleep leaning against a tree .....

You're much safer in the wilderness than on a city street -

7:10 p.m. on October 8, 2007 (EDT)
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It's definitely animals, I'm more afraid of someone breaking into my house than I am of being attacked while in the backcountry. And who knows, it could just be a raccoon or opossum but in my mind it's a coyote or bear that wants to attack me and my dog. I sleep lightly in the tent and maybe the problem is I can't see out of my tent, I always use the rain fly as I am always cold and there is no visibility out of it. I jolt up at the slightest sound and want to celebrate in the morning that I am still alive. I've tried hitting the tent, zipping and unzipping my bag, coughing, clearing my throat...some animals move away others don't seem to care. And I have to think that the animals that is actually outside my tent is much smaller than the one I imagine it to be. I know its all in my head and thanks for the tips, I am done for this year but will keep them in mind for the spring!

7:57 p.m. on October 8, 2007 (EDT)
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I'm a big 200+ pound 55 year old guy who has just finished my first overnighter. I have a lot of respect for firstly, you doing it at all, and secondly, admitting your feelings about what you are experiencing.

I found myself doing exactly as you describe. I felt not so much threatened by the animals, but mostly bothered by the idea they were going to try to get at my gear inside the tent or under my fly. I felt these were probably going to be squirrels, mice, or something along that order. I wasn't really afraid, I just didn't want them gnawing through my tent. When I awoke the next morning, I realized that most of what I heard all through the night was more than likely sticks, nuts, acorns, things like that falling out of the trees. The only thing I really recognized was an owl hooting, which I was sort of happy to hear. I was sure it was sprinkling rain on and off throughout the night, or at least a real heavy dew was falling and dripping off of the limbs. It was very humid that day. The morning brought a very dry fly. The only moisture was inside where I didn't open enough vents. The fly must have acted as an amplifier, as the sounds were pretty close sounding.

I will definitely go again. I'm sure men have less to fear than women out there, so I can't put myself in your shoes. But I'm not sure a well prepared hiker risks a lot more that just being on the streets in some cities. I felt very in-my-world while hiking alone. I may have felt differently if I had seen others, but I like being alone sometimes.

You speak as though you really like hiking and backpacking. It would be ashame to give it up for whatever reason since you are so fond of it. Why else would you have gone 4 times while having these feelings? I can only suggest that you do your homework before leaving upon a hike. Find out from any source available (rangers, friends, hiking clubs) what type of bear reports have been filed. Get a current update on hunting laws for the area. Some areas are more likely to have animal problems than others, and this is something you can research. I actually worry about skunks, as that's the only thing I have ever ran into during my car camping days.

And lastly, if you are determined to continue, which I think you should, try and find a buddy to hike with, at least until you get over this. This forum is a great place to start when looking for trail pals. The nice thing about this forum is that you can ask others here about anyone that may sound like a possible candidate, eliminating some of the doubt about a new partner. You may only need to go once non-solo to get over this. Spend time outside your tent once it gets dark so you can get used to the sounds of that campsite. Try using a candle lantern for a limited amount of light so that you can stay adjusted to the dark. If you find a partner, by all means, use them as a gadget to keep your mind off of the unknowns while talking outside your tents after dark. Having someone close by in another tent should be a little reassuring.

OK, enough wind. I just hope you continue in what ever way you decide to participate. Good luck with the fears, and I hope they go away soon. As a pilot, I never got over the fear of getting lost up there, and never really sweated the takeoffs and landings like I was supposed to. Never got lost, BTW, but had some non-great landings. But the nice thing about it, whether hiking or flying, once I got on the trail or into the air, I found I had to face it one inch at a time, and really enjoyed the 'just being there'.

Be well,


12:56 p.m. on October 9, 2007 (EDT)
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After reading that article in Backpacker about the female hiker killed near that indian reservation I felt even stronger about my being prepared for people, not animal, encounters in the backcountry. I don't think women are uncapable of taking care of themselves on solo trips by ANY means, but one must real when considering the likelihood of a woman being able to fight off a man out in the woods. I suppose I'm looking at it through my point of view, if my GF wanted to go solo I would tell her no way, that would just worry me wayyy to much. If you are a female and insist on going by yourself consider taking some defense classes, carry a radio/phone, and when encountering people on the trail, male or female, tell them you are with a group or friend. Just be careful!

1:10 p.m. on October 9, 2007 (EDT)
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I'd like to follow up with the fact that people I meet in the backcountry, or even most campgrounds for that matter, are like the people on this website and are typically nice and courteous. I've only had one bad experience, but it taught me to be prepared.

1:44 p.m. on October 9, 2007 (EDT)
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Those animals may be looking for food, but they're not looking to a human as a food source (I mean the person, not the food they've carried into the woods, which most animals will trot off with, grinning!)- I'm going to make what may seem like an irrational and stupid suggestion - go into the woods somewhere near to where you live with a tarp, a ground sheet, a pad and a sleeping bag. Get rid of the walls for a night or two and the noises won't seem so foreign.

Ever sit in an old house during the day without a TV or radio on, by yourself? Lots of noises (creaking, groaning) but typically - no sense of panic. Do the same in the dead of night and you end up telling ghost stories.

The same applies to the woods. Darkness is a foreign concept to most of us citified folk - we're accustomed to having light either on or available - it makes us feel safe and like we're in control. Get used to the darkness and it'll open up a whole new world for you.

I applaud you for heading into the woods by yourself - it's one of my personal favorite ways to explore. Alone I don't need to worry about slowing the group by taking time to see what's over here or there and I don't need to worry about them 'keeping up' when I'm in the mood to make some miles. There are 'dangers' out there - but unless you coat yourself with 'eau du bologna' and wander through bear country, you should be just fine.

As for women being more afraid than men - sorry - I don't buy it. For us to survive as a species we all needed to be about equal in the fear department. In fact, in most small societies the women take on more responsibility than the men do (according to the long suffering woman who's had the misfortune to be married to me,the same is true in "modern" societies as well).

As for human predators and the like - a can of bear spray is supposed to be very effective - but nasty people in the woods are the exception, not the norm.

3:24 p.m. on October 10, 2007 (EDT)
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Hello Mandy...I am not a female so I cant give you a female perpective. However, I ride my bike to work and back each day and I leave the house during the winter well before the sun is up. I was attacked by a dog one morning which because of the darkness, I didnt even see it coming until the animal was upon me. It took me quite sometime for my fear to subside. I was even fearful during night fall on my backpacking trips after the attack. But I took back to the bike riding several days later and I am still riding to and from work to this day in the dark. I believe my fear subsided due to the fact that I kept myself getting back into the saddle and riding. Perhaps this would work for you also. Take precautions when you leave on a solo trip such as, leave an intenary with someone you trust, dont let people you dont know that you are solo-ing,
perhaps carry some bear spray, perhaps even an PLB, keep a clean camp site, no food in your tent, change into clean cloths when you go to bed at night, perhaps hang 2 or three chemical sticks up around your tent so that you can see around your tent area in the dark. Perhaps only go to the trails that you know you can get cell phone coverage so you can bring your cell phone. Perhaps even looking at a dog as a companion.

10:24 a.m. on October 11, 2007 (EDT)
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I'm a guy, so I can't give you a female perspective either. However, as a few others have mentioned, what you experienced isn't confined to females, nor is it unusual.

I find myself reacting to noises I hear during the night. As Blackbeard described, it's mostly a case of wondering if it's an animal trying to get into my food or gear (or occasionally, even my tent). What I find, though, is that the more I'm out there, the more I get used to the different sounds, and the less I notice them, or at least I'm less bothered by them, and tend to sleep better.

I think to a certain extent the "concern" is a good thing, as it keeps us somewhat vigilant. If there were a bear, for example, we might actually have to take action, so it's a good thing that we "respond" and don't just blissfully sleep.

As you're out there more, you'll probably find the noises bother you less. You'll get used to them, and you can think about them for what they are, "e.g. ok, it's just a little animal, and they run around in the woods at night - it's no big deal". After a while you'll realize that's really true and it won't bother you so much.

As others pointed out, it's often the two legged creatures you (we) need to worry about more than anything else - whether we're in the woods or in a city.

1:19 a.m. on October 18, 2007 (EDT)
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HI Mandy,
First let me say that I applaud your courage and stick-to-it-if-ness! As a 56 year old hiker with medical hindrances, I now can only use a base camp and day 1/2 hike (1/2 in and 1/2 out). I am a retired NYC EMS Paramedic with 27 years of experience. The reason I am mentioning this is that solo hiking has a danger that no one has touched upon in their replies. When I was a medic I worked some of the worst areas in NYC. BUT, there were always two of us. I say this because we supported each other. And we were the unspoken safety net for each other. Going into a abandoned building is much like walking alone in the woods. Its the unknown.

Sorry for being wordy. What no one has mentioned is what if you got hurt. Nothing major just a bad sprain. What if the bad sprain got ugly and hampered your walking or carrying a pack?
God forbid you slipped / fell and you were completely unable to walk. Remember the abandoned building I talked about earlier? Its the same thing. You are in a familiar environment ( a house ) in your case a forest, but you don’t have a buddy to say "what do you think we should do".
Remember it's not so much the solo hiking that’s dangerous, but the lack of a support mechanism that’s dangerous.
All the planning, first aid kits, and fancy stoves that some hikers carry wont get them out of the forest if their injured.
As a backpacker I started out with a canvas tent, candle lantern, and a metal canteen, but nothing was more supportive that my hiking buddy. I just fear that you or myself for that matter might get into a jam where we need a helping hand. It could be as simple as a voice from another tent saying "go to sleep it's only a raccoon". But that voice is there.
Living in Staten Island, New York, that last thing that people here have on there mind is leaving their Lexus or Mercedes and going into the woods with a shovel and a roll of toilet paper. So I haven’t got a hiking buddy either.
In your heart keep the love of the outdoors alive. Let it embrace you.

But there is no shame in cabin hiking or using a pop up as a base camp and day hiking. Heck I have base camped and did several mini hikes and saw something different each time during my outings.
We all have our dreams but these dreams must be attained with some fore thought that will enable us to go out there and hike another day.
I have found it is better to modify my love for the outdoors than to have that dream taken away.
Please keep going out there but be thoughtful of what you might need to go hiking again and again.
Thank you for reading this.

7:55 a.m. on October 18, 2007 (EDT)
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Val: Thank you for your service as a EMT. My wife is a paid for medic. I know where you are coming from. My wife is made to wear black BDU pants, high ankle boots, 2" belt, and a black shirt with a badge. So many people mistake them for LEO's. My wife and her partner has been shot at, physically attacked and ran off the road. It is a very demanding profession and often a thankless job.

I did mention in my post that a PLB (personal locator becon) and a cell phone with an area with "known" good coverage. After a couple of late returns on my solo's (I dont carry a cell) my wife had bought me a PLB. It isnt the "total answer", but it is a nice piece of techonlogy to have on ones self if soloing. I solo hike, solo climb and solo SCUBA. By proper planning, proper equipment and proper training, soloing is really a safe avenue. IF someone feels uneasy with soloing, then they should look at what is lacking for them to feel that way and dont venture out until they feel comfortable by getting the proper training, planning and equipment needed.

9:13 a.m. on October 18, 2007 (EDT)

My 74 year old mother had to fight off an over-amorous date in a town centre car park. When she was only a youngster of 69 she broke her arm when she was knocked over by a horse she was holding for my sister. Life is dangerous!

I have camped in Borneo rainforests, African desserts and on Austrian glaciers. The only times I have problems sleeping are when I’ve had an easy day. If you’re tired enough you can sleep through anything.

Alternatively, get a camera with a good flash unit. You’ll be so busy trying to get good photos of the animals your only worry will be about missing them!

I’ve been stung by wasps, bitten by spiders, and snakes, had sticks thrown at me by orang utans – but only in daylight. My only attack at night was by a leech in Borneo that had a meal from my big toe! What’s one leech bite at night compared to the number I’ve had in daytime? My only worry about camping is the possibility of having to get up to go to the toilet at night – it is ALWAYS cold out whatever country you are in!

10:57 a.m. on October 18, 2007 (EDT)
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Phil Wrote:

Life is dangerous!

If you’re tired enough you can sleep through anything.

You’ll be so busy trying to get good photos of the animals your only worry will be about missing them!



Danger/risk is a perceived notion. What is dangerous to one person, may very well be just a hobby to another person.
A lot of people,myself include, enjoys the outdoors in our own pace. Depending on the trip, I may very well want not to sleep very heavy, such as taking 10 scouts out backpacking. Or having enough reserve to do a few night dives. Also, with a camera, one must be congnize of his/her surrondings, particular with photographing wild animals.

This is the wonderful part of being outdoors. There is always something for someone. No matter your skill sets, equipment or someones comfort zone.


G. K. Chesterton:
An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.

1:29 p.m. on October 18, 2007 (EDT)
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I'm a male in my fifties with much solo experience in the Adirondacks, four season, night hiking, No tent, you name it and though any individual may have some of their own fears brought on by whatever, sleeping in the woods can be a bit scary because you aren't in your own bed and not sleeping as well no matter how tired you are and you can't see far even on a clear night and there is no light switch to reach for or refrigerator to run to [normal everyday security blankets of modern man].
There are things out there, some possibly harmful/most not at all and there is nothing wrong with being afraid if it doesn't overwhelm you.
Being afraid may actually be more like being extra cautious. Heck when your alarms go off you should pay attention but you do need to get control of yourself so you can check things out intelligently and then go back to sleep.
I'm curious if you have much experience camping with others, since, like I believe Fred said, getting use to sounds that occur nightly in the woods [moving leaves and branches, the wind etc] take some getting use to.
Its possible you in particular can't get use to it alone or,[I've met men that couldn't] maybe you should try camping with others but in your own tent and see if things [your feelings] change.
And if you don't live in the city, ever try sleeping in your back yard?
Good luck.

3:42 p.m. on October 18, 2007 (EDT)
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Thank you for additional views to my post.
BTW I was a Full time New York Fire Dept Paramedic for 27 years.
Thanks again for the additional thoughts to my post.

7:48 p.m. on October 18, 2007 (EDT)
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I will add a few comments as an ancient GreyBeard who grew up in a family that spent much time in the outdoors. Part of the problem is that we now live mostly in an urban environment and most people are not familiar with the "wilderness" that you see when hiking and backpacking. As VAL indicated, the urban environment can be really dangerous, too. Here in the SFBay Area, I sometimes have to wonder, while watching the 10 oclock news, why people are so concerned about the death and injury rate in Iraq when we hear of nightly drive-by shootings that kill a half-dozen people at a time and our roads are littered with crashed and burning cars and maimed bodies. Plus the many injuries and deaths of those who, like VAL put their lives on the line in burning and collapsed buildings to save the rest of us.

As has been mentioned in this website before, how risky and how actually dangerous an activity is depends on how well you are trained, how experienced you are, and how well equipped you are ("equipped" means more than how much gear you carry, it means how well you can use what you have, including your training and experience (as Aldous Huxley said, "Experience is not what happens to you. Experience is what you do with what happens to you.") While you have to beware of hubris and just generally becoming complacent through familiarity, you can learn to be comfortable with being alone and self-reliant in the hills and woods. I will assume you have read Thoreau, Muir, and a number of the other writers on being in wilderness. You may well learn, as I (and my father, mother, and sister, as well as my wife, Barb) did, to get great joy and excitement in being alone in nature ("alone" does NOT equate to being "lonely").

In my acquaintance, there are many women who go into the woods alone. Some take a dog as a companion (a well-trained dog can be an asset to anyone spending much time in the woods). Based on this, I do not believe that there is anything other than the way people, especially women, are raised in our current urban society. As several posters noted, many men are apprehensive about the strange noises and lurking dangers, as well as women. So part of it is knowing what the dangers and risks are and how to deal with them - precautions to minimize the risk and ways to deal with the dangers should they appear. Yes, you can break a leg somewhere where no one can find you (and, as described in the book The Last Summer, maybe not find the body of even an extremely experienced backcountry ranger for several years). But that can even happen in an urban environment (several recent cases around here where someone drove off a well-travelled road in an urban area into a ditch or brush and it took days to find them).

The fears that seem to be posted on this site most concern bears, with malicious humans in second place. Yet when I was growing up in the Arizona desert (in a tiny village on a reservation), our most deadly critters were rattlesnakes and scorpions (my sister almost died from a scorpion bite, though not out on the desert - rather, in the lab where she was working as a grad student, and it was a South American scorpion, not a native Arizona variety). When camping, we always made sure to shake out our boots in the morning to get rid of any scorpions and we looked around cautiously to make sure that there were no reptilians that had decided to share the warmth of our beds. Yeah, we had critters like coyote (we knew the coyote as "Little Brother"). And when we went to the higher elevations in the northern part of the state, we had puma and bear. But somehow, we never had trouble with them, just the rattlers and scorpions. My sister likes to tell the tale of how I started to kill a scorpion by stomping on it - in my bare feet. She yelled for our mother who prevented me from doing this. It was later that I got my rattlesnake bite. But that's another story (snake died, by the way ... yes, for real, not a joke).

Point is, over the years, I gained experience, mostly by having good mentors. And now I, and many of my friends, head into the hills by myself, summer and winter, clear weather and blizzard. I have learned the risks and dangers and developed skills and experience, and I observe my limits. And, very important, I choose my locations and times. That time alone with Nature is important, precious, and exciting.

Again, it has nothing to do with whether you are a man or woman. It has everything to do with how you approach the environment you are in. Frankly, I am much more uncomfortable with many cities than in the woods.

Having said that, if a particular environment makes you uncomfortable, the thing to do is either stay away from that environment, or find a knowledgable and experienced mentor to lead you through developing the skills and experience. There are plenty of women who do venture alone into the wilderness and would be willing to help you. A couple of organizations that have women only programs to develop wilderness skills are NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership Schools) and the Appalachian Mountain Club. NOLS is based in the Rockies, and the AMC in New England. If you were into climbing, I would suggest Chicks With Picks, based in Colorado, if I recall correctly (the name implies ice climbing, but they do all sorts of mountaineering and climbing).

12:51 a.m. on October 19, 2007 (EDT)

For what its worth, here are my thoughts as an experienced, male, solo packer:
Nobody, male or female, should have to feel intimidated in the back country. Recognize that in some country, like the Wind Rivers or Yellowstone, you are not at the top of the food chain--Griz and Lions pose a threat, and you have to take appropriate precautions. But nobody should have to feel threatened by homo sapiens. Most human predators never venture past the trailhead parking lot, and the best defense is avoidance; I usually sleep in a hammock off the trail, where nobody else ever goes. If that's not enough, go prepared to defend yourself: (Brace yourself)...carry a handgun. As the old bumper sticker says, "You can't rape a .38". Get a weapon, get training, practice, get comfortable with your ability to use it, and get over the primal fear of being alone and vulnerable in the wilderness. After that, it's all beauty. God forbid you ever have to use it, but just as God made men and women, Doc Winchester made them equal. Nobody in their right mind goes to the wilderness seeking violence, but if violence comes to you, be prepared to defend yourself, and carry the means to even up the fight. Merely the confidence you display will fend off all but the most psychopathic predators; beyond that, it's down to the fundamentals of violence, and that's where preparation, training and a mental determination to survive will get you through. Who Dares, Wins.

3:03 a.m. on October 19, 2007 (EDT)
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If animals ate people regularly enough to be a problem, we would have gotten rid of them a long time ago. Except for mosquitoes, there are no human predators in the lower 48.

One thing you can do that might be not be much of interest to you is to get away from your tent with your sleeping bag/pad and a strong flash light.

Prop yourself up against a tree and watch what is going on at night. If you feel uncomfortable, shine a light in the direction you think they are coming from. After a bit, you will be intrigued by the animals that might be out there. What you might see mostly will be owls and perhaps a rodent or hopefully a deer. Bear or cats would be rare, but raccoons and opossums are a certainty if they are in the area. A skunk would be something you would want to stay quiet about. The others will be taken care of by a movement or a noise that will scare them off.

You might get to where you enjoy seeing that other side of life and sleep during the day when it is warm and hike or watch at night.

Worked for me when I was very much like you when young.

9:47 p.m. on October 19, 2007 (EDT)
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Last night, I asked Barb to give me her perspective on this question. She noted that there is the "unfamiliar location" effect that affects most people. First night (or several nights) in a new location, most people do not sleep as well as they typically do at home. There are new and different sounds (happens here in California for a few nights after our occasional earthquakes, too), and often different lighting. Our million-year-old biologies stay on the alert and trigger at anything "different" - it's part of the "fight or flight" reaction - should I prepare to fight this unknown threat or run away from it or what? After a night or two in the same location, things seem more familiar, and we recognize that we can cross them off the "threat" list. Barb noted that camping near a stream with its fairly continuous burbling and "white noise" is usually pretty conducive to sleeping well (but she and her family also had the experience of having a flash flood arrive in the wash next to them in the middle of one night - woke them all up rather suddenly, so they quickly got prepared to depart, though it turned out they had wisely chosen high enough ground). Generally, she likes to pick campsites close to streams (at the 200 foot LNT-recommended minimum distance, of course) because of that soothing sound.

She also noted that changes in noises during the night can awaken you - which made me recall one memorable night in grad school when I suddenly awoke in my apartment next to the San Diego Freeway (hey, it was priced at grad student cheap rates!) to dead silence instead of the fairly steady 24-hour rush of traffic. Turned out someone had lost control of their car a half mile or so up the freeway, crashing in such a way to block all the traffic. So suddenly there was no more traffic sound.

Barb also noted that when one or the other of us is gone on a trip, she has a less restful sleep the first night or two (doesn't matter whether she is the one travelling or staying home). Is that noise a burglar breaking in (Palo Alto Police Dept refers to our neighborhood as "Sleepy Hollow" because there is so little crime of any kind, including parking violations or loud parties), or just the termites finishing another off another wall stud, or maybe a minor earthquake?

So yes, it is that age-old instinct for both women and men that produces the sudden awakenings at the unfamiliar sounds, whether at home or in a hotel or in the woods?

You are perfectly normal, Mandy. And you can, if you want, learn to sleep in the hills on solo backpacks just fine.

2:21 p.m. on October 24, 2007 (EDT)
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Hi Mandy,

Good for you, going out alone. I've been doing it for years, and here are a few things I've learned:
1) Well used campsites are usually fairly well populated with field mice, which sound a lot bigger than they are at night. For this reason alone, I never camp at a well used campsite.

2) An occasional breeze on a calm night will generate a lot of noises, but after a little experience, you will subconsciously develop the ability to distinguish wind generated noises from animal generated noises. In the near term, those wind generated noises will awake you with a start.

3) As long as you don't camp near populated areas or well used campsites, very few animals will be present at night. I have never seen any sign of a field mouse when camping at seldom used campsites, I suppose they can't survive on the detritus from just an occasional camper. I have occasionally heard deer, footfalls, whistling, and snorting, but the range of sounds they make is limited and you should become familiar with them fairly quickly.

4) Bears. I've only seen bears on about a dozen or so occasions in the 25 years I've been backpacking, and only once have I heard one at night. It was just passing by, about 50 yards away. In that 25 years, I've spent at least 200 nights in the woods, so the chance of hearing a bear at night is remote. Many of my nights were in northcentral Pennsylvania, which is teeming with bears.

5) Coyotes. I've heard coyotes many times, often sounding like they were within 50-100 yards, but I don't recall ever actually seeing one. Coyotes are no threat to people, but it is enjoyable to hear them calling, and especially to hear pups asking mom for supper.

6) Dogs. If you have a dog with you, it will serve you well be it's ability to sort out the different noises and distinguish those that represent actual threats. If your dog awakes and starts to growl, it is earning it's keep. The dog is a nice security item.

7) I carry a little can of Halt!, which is pepper spray for protection from dogs. Letter carriers carry it. I carry it for the remote possibility that I might inadvertently box in a bear when hiking through dense vegetation. I've never used the pepper spray in all these years - never even reached for it.

8) Don't worry about people. I've met a lot of people out in the woods and have never encountered anyone whom I would have considered to be even a remote danger to anyone, especially at night.

Btw, I never use a full fledged tent with a floor and often sleep out in the open. I like the fresh air, the view of the stars, and the opportunity to see any source of noise.

Good luck and happy trails!


7:21 p.m. on October 24, 2007 (EDT)
9 reviewer rep
8 forum posts

I solo backpack as a matter of preference. One important aspect of your 'situation' is your problem sleeping. From my experience it is imperitive to be warm while sleeping. If I am even a little chilly in my bag, I toss and turn all night and never feel rested. In that condition I am suseptible to all kinds of mental wanderings, including overereacting to every little noise outside my tent. I carry two "Therm-A-Rest" self inflating matresses and use the best Down bag that I can afford. I wear long underwear and socks when sleeping in even cool nights. I frequently hike in bear country and my greatest weapon against fear is knowledge. The more I know about my environment and the critters in it, the more confident I am that I will be able to cope with whatever 'crisis'is encountered. I look forward to all of the little encounters in the backcountry, imagined or real, now, because I have learned that those are the reasons that I go solo! Please don't give up on your solo trips, for the rewards are remarkable!

April 24, 2018
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