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Your first solo overnight trip?

A recent post reminded me of my first overnight trip.  I was 14 or 15 and I spent the night on a hill in some logging land above Ravensdale, WA where I lived.  I had to ride my bike to get there.  My husky dog Athena (RIP) kept watch with me as the campfire burned.  A 14 year old's imagination can invent a lot of boogeymen in the shadows of the night.  Athena kept patrolling the perimeter of the firelight and I slept great. 

Anyone else care to share their memory of their first solo over-nighter?

I used to backpack with my best friend starting at age 12.  Then in college I went with one other good friend. The first solo trip overnight was not until forestry school at UW.  I took my trusty dog Blue into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness many times on solo trips.  I can remember being in Enchanted Lakes Basin sleeping without a tent and watching the cloud formations fly past the full moon.  There is a certain maturation process that goes with those trips. They are a big deal Jeff. 

Ah fun topic! My first solo wasn't until my mid thirties (I'm 43 now). I planned an overly ambitious three night trip to the Smokies starting on Gabes Mountain trail / Sugar Cove camp. I brought so many useless things it boggles the mind now (a Wal-Mart canvas chair that I never sat in? really?). I had a hand me down kids tent but never found the rain fly. :)

I was not in hiking shape and especially not in 60 pound+ backpack shape. That trail is nothing to me now but at that time it totally destroyed me physically, just hiking the 6 miles (or whatever it was) to the campsite. I remember stopping and resting back against trees every 100 feet or so to catch my breath.

Upon reaching the campsite the creek was a tad high; I rock hopped in a certain spot that put me right next to a large black snake that lifted up off the ground like a cobra and started hissing at me! That totally freaked me out and set the tone for an frightening evening.

After eating and setting camp I lay back in my kids tent (with no rain fly) on my giant five pound Coleman sleeping pad.

I soon heard unmistakable heavy footsteps. I got up on my knees and looked through the mesh band of the tent to see a huge black bear in camp with me! It groused around and sniffed about for what seemed like hours and hours. I couldn't sleep after that, startling and coming fully awake with every little sound in the forest. At that point I was just waiting for day light so I could get the heck out of there.

The next morning, I took my beat-up, sleep deprived, shamed and whipped butt back to the car. The worst was trying to explain to my wife why I was home two days early; uh, because I'm a

But even after that experience I was still smitten with the activity for some reason and haven't stopped going since, averaging 30 to 40 solo trips per year for the last 8 or so now. Ah memories....

If you bring a dog you aren't solo :p

Patrick you are to be commended for not ending your camping career right there. Pretty sure if that had happened on my first night it would have been the end for me heh. Now I just grumble at animals for waking me up, think it was a coyote last week but didn't sound quite right so may have been a banshee or hell hound of some sort. Either way it ticked me off that it had to howl just as I was dozing off. I zipped up the open screen on my tent to keep whatever it was from licking my face and curled up to sleep.

Not certain, but I think my first real solo backpacking trip was a three night Porcupine Mts loop with almost no gear and less sense. Hitchhiked up from college in Green Bay after a long night of drinking and putting down my buddy's scoot giving me some awesome road rash. Too exhausted to worry about the dark as I recall, with not enough brains to be scared, I crashed each night as soon as it got dark and didn't get to meet any bears. We had packs stolen on group trips previously so I know they were there, probably laughing at me.

The title of this thread inquires about first time solo, but the OP goes on to describe his first overnighter.  Perhaps for him they were one and the same, but that is not my experience, so I share both my first overnighter and first solo.

First camping trip
My first overnighter was with the Boy Scouts, in California's San Bernardino Mountains to Holcomb Valley, near Big Bear Lake.  I recall only a few details, but due to the passage of time as well as the fact that milestone experiences tend to be experienced like being carried off in a whirlwind, overwhelming and impossible to remember in detail.  But what I do remember made me wonder why I would ever want to venture out again.

The scout master did his part to prepare me, visiting our house two weeks before the trip, making sure I was as prepared as possible.  I had a borrowed Boy Scout Yucca Pack, which I forever after remember as the "yuck-a-pack" because of its rustic amenities and poor ergonomics. It totally lacked padding on the shoulder and waist straps.  But its real downfall was a crossbar running along the bottom of the pack that pressed against my spine.  By the time we crawled into camp I had bruised the area, and took ten days to mend.  Then there was the food.  Back in the day there were no freeze dried foods, and little variety of dehydrated foods for backcountry hikers.  What was available was largely inedible, and augmented with provisions in #10 (half gallon) size cans.  But mostly I remember my sleep kit, a slumber party sleep bag that weighed eight pounds, and a mildewy army surplus pup tent.  The night seemed eternally long, as I lay there with a sore back, with no padding whatsoever under me, excepting the content of that sleeping bag.  My thoughts were mostly: what do these boys see in this all of this suffering, just to be in some trees.  Now don't get me wrong, I have always loved the mountains and outdoors, so my musing serve to underscore just how uncomfortable I was that night.

First Solo trip
Obviously I did return to the BC, initially spurned on by male vanity (if they can do it so can I!) fortunately augmented with better equipment and more knowledge how to comfortably and correctly go about this rustic exercise in self abuse. 

In high school I had done a fair amount of camping, including about a half dozen youth only trips, the highlight being a week long section hike along the JMT.  But the first solo trip did not occur until my college days.  I attended the Claremont Colleges, which are located at the feet of Mt Baldly, centerpiece of the San Gabriel Mountains above Los Angeles.  I was experiencing some youthful angst, regarding campus life, and decided I had to get away.  I simply packed a smallish over night kit and hitch hiked a ride up the mountain.  (Hitch hiking was more acceptable in the 1960s.)  My hike on trail was just long enough to get me up into some seclusion to a spot known as Cedar Glen.  I was the only camper present.  As the sun set, the few passing day hikers were replaced by dear seeking a drink from the nearby seasonal runoff creek.  As the night wore on I witnessed additional deer and many different creatures that one normally doesn't see when camping with others, due to humans' noisy, social nature.  I slept under the star - there is NOTHING like soloing and sleeping under the stars.  In the morning I awoke to observe a lone coyote just yards away, meandering about the glen.  El Lobo  appeared well fed and in good health, thus was not desperate for my trash or a handout.  He knew I was there and he knew I saw him; nevertheless he loitered for about twenty minutes.  I just very slowly went about fixing breakfast, and avoided protracted staring which may scare him off.  The thing that I enjoyed most, however, was the company of the ever present stellar jays, squawking and jeering from the surrounding pines.  I have forever since adored jays wherever I find them.

My most memorable solo trips have been BC skiing in the Sierra, but that is a different topic.






Patrick deserves the tough guy award for not giving up on the sport entirely. Everyone has some good stories, and I hope they keep coming.  What would it be like to have one's first backpacking trip at age 30?  Most serious outdoor people get an early start.

It is amazing how vivid some of those memories are from 1961. Like the time the twin brothers brought a frozen pizza for dinner, and one of them dropped it face down in the pine needles. They both started crying.  We went over and washed it off for them and they ate it anyway. 

Or our first day with a trap line.  First trip without adults. Overnight hunting trips when we got out of elementary school.  First trip to Yellowstone at age 5. Nothing really compares to the first solo trip.

My first overnight solo was in the Delta National Forest in Mississippi when I was probably 13. This is a hardwood swamp, one of the last in the country if memory serves.

Anyway, it was rabbit season and I was out hunting. I hung a hammock in a somewhat dry area probably 150 yards from the swamp and ended up barely sleeping because of the incredibly loud bull frogs and other random creature of the swamp...not to mention the bugs! It was a great trip, but I quickly learned that ear plugs make a good addition to your pack because you just never know, that and to ensure you have plenty of bug repellant.

On the other hand, that trip made me fall in love with backpacking. As loud as it was, it was like a beautiful chorus. Such things have grown on me over the years, and I can now sleep through any symphony that Mother Nature decides to play be it animal or weather.

I had planned to go backpacking with a friend in the Alleghany national Forest for the Fourth of July weekend.  However, my friend backed out at the last minute.  Determined not to let that stop me, I set out for my first "solo" over night trip. 

Originally the plan was to do a straight line on the North Country Trail where my friend and I would do a car drop off and start at the other end, but that itinerary was now shot.  Instead my plan changed to doing the Tracy Ridge Trail loop.  I had day hiked sections before and was familiar with the trail, which I decided would ease my worries of going alone.  The hike was fun, and eventually I set up camp near the reservoir area. 

If you have ever been to the Forest and Reservoir there are some great views, and many boaters.  I hadn't thought that there would be people who would want to party through the night on their boats while being docked near shore. There were large campfires, loud noise, and fireworks on the first night. I was more worried about the humans than I would be of any wildlife.  My biggest concern would be they would get so drunk and forget to pack up their snack and attract the bear population. But, again, I'm sure the loud fireworks might have scared any animals away. 

Luckily it started to rain on the second day and I was able to find a more secluded area along the reservoir for the night.  Due to the rain there was lots of mist around and the scenery was so great to be a part of.  Instead of making a fire I decided to crawl into my tent and read a book. Of course I managed to fall asleep while reading. During the night  I woke up, and in my half awake state, started to freak out because it looked like someone was shining lights towards my tent.  All I could think of was the drunkards found me and were going to cause me troubles. 

Once I started to get more awake the realization hit me that it was not flashlights but the light from fireflies landing on my tent.  I sat there staring at the top of my tent looking at the lights going on and off, and could hear the sounds of fireworks going off in the distance.  That moment of my natural fireworks display has been one of the most "magical" nights I have ever had, and I can still picture it vividly in my mind. 

For my first solo overnight I found out that even though I wasn't "alone" I was more terrified of the humans, and less worried about the woods.  Since then I have done many more solo trips, and each one is just as special.

wow I don't think I can remember back that I was very young and it was right around when the Suzuki quadrunners hit the US market I rode it up to Warriors Path State Park to night fish and camp. Throughout the night family members did come and check on me. I was 12 or 13 before I hiked in somewhere with a pack and solo camped. I did grow to love solo camping,I find the time alone very relaxing. 

My first solo camping trip was as a child of about 9 years old. I had a "fort" built it the woods behind our house in upstate New York near Lake Ontario. It was a lean-to my brother had taught me to make of sticks and rope. I used to sleep out in it alone almost every night during the summers. I would make a sack lunch just as I would for school and sometimes my mother would give me a slice of ham, a couple eggs and I would fry them over a campfire.

I became at a very early age confident in living in the out of doors. 

I even would go out there some nights after I had gone to bed in the house, because I felt more comfortable camping. I still do. I love the outdoors and in the last 39 years have spent an average of 180 days/nights a year outdoors whether on foot, hitchhiking, backpacking or bicycle touring. 

It is a common theme that people with outdoor careers spent a lot of time sleeping outside "in the woods behind the house all summer."  I have met several professional cowboys that tell the same story.

Relatively speaking, my first true solo trip was fairly recent.  When we moved to Visalia in 2000, I was in Sequoia NP, and looking southeast from Moro Rock, I spotted Sawtooth Peak and decided that it would be my next summit. 

I first tried it as a dayhike with someone else I convinced to come along.  It turned out that he was in pretty poor physical shape and he gave up about halfway up the sand/gravel slopes above Monarch Lake.  Patrick can probably imagine what going up that slope means - 1200' vertical on a sand/gravel slope, from 10,400' to 11,600', to Sawtooth Pass.  A lot of huffing and puffing for someone who lives 300' above sea level.  Anyway, I continued to Sawtooth Pass, then started the traverse up to the summit.  I had misread the trip reports and stayed right at the top of the ridge, running into one dead end after another.  About halfway along the ridge to the summit, I looked at my watch - 3PM, alone, and my friend waiting patiently below.  I decided to come back another day.

A month or so later I went back alone and camped at Monarch Lake.  That night, the wind picked up into a fierce gusting monster.  At times my tent was lifting off the ground with me in it.  I started to wonder what I was doing there.  But the next morning dawned clear and calm, and I made it to the summit in short order.  Since then I have been on top of Sawtooth a number of times, and it may be my favorite summit. 

I prefer solo trips.  It's where and how I find solace.  Those short jaunts recharge the spirit.

My son takes of for a solo overnighter on New Years eve.  Pretty cool tradition.

Just catching up on this all the stories. I guess I have two first solo trips so to speak...very first was unplanned as a buddy had to cancel a weekend trip on the AT in sophomore year of high school. Ended up a good but rainy trip where I discovered a leak in my old and extremely cheap tent (you remember the old A frames?), so I camped at the shelters and had company both nights. Nothing really terrible to describe as I had been easing into the pastime with multiple scout trips. I ended up soaked due to my poncho not doing well in the wind and rain (the early days of 30 years of lessons learned the hard way). Last day I rigged a makeshift shelter out of the poncho to heat some soup and warm up thinking I had a couple of hours of hiking left to the car. Finished up and felt rejuvenated and totally competent in handling the wet and cold, only to walk about 5 minutes and realize I had misread the map and was at the trailhead!

My planned first solo came a couple of weeks later, as I really liked the freedom of the unplanned trip above on the AT. So I decided on a 3 day trip to the Cohutta wilderness on the GA TN border. As usual for me back then (1983), I packed about 40 lbs of gear (in my Jansport external frame). I had been hiking a few times in scouts but hadn't learned many lessons yet about paring down the weight. A challenging trip with what I recall now as about 20 large stream crossings but I am sure it was less. Saw more wildlife that weekend than all my other trips combined due to walking in silence. From then on, solo was my first choice... I was hooked.


summiting sawtooth with you remains one of my fondest trip memories....(despite our, uh, moments of excitement on that loose gravel)

and the "sand glissade" down that slope was tremendous, lol  


you can easily do 20 large crossings in the Cohutta, Jacks river alone has 39 ( I did 20 of them last fall) I can't remember ho many the Conasauga (sp) has


My first solo over night I decided to travel a local trail. It was about 11 miles round trip, so i figured I would hike out one day, and back the next. I will never forget getting to camp and standing absolutely baffled. "Where do i start?" That was absolutely the singular most scary night of my life. I was 18 years old I believe at the time. Every single sound, rustle, crack, or call from even the smallest of animals had me wide awake. I dont think i slept a single second. I remember it being soo soo hot out... and me, being afraid of the night at the time... I made sure to put on my rain fly and close it up tight so nothing could get it. Only to wake up in the morning in a sauna. I remember being so scared to get up in the middle of the night to go pee, thinking there had to be a bear out there ready and waiting. I think I just about floated out of my tent before I decided this was somewhat of a good idea. More than ten years later, i end up hiking most of my miles in limited light. Often times not setting up camp until hours after sundown. Heading out hours before sun up. The woods hands down is now where, without question, i sleep the best. The way the sounds have changed. I remember setting my camp up at night that that time, and even my pant legs rubbing together had me jumping. Literally. 


Thanks for confirming my memory on the crossings. My main memory of many trips to the Cohuttas is wet feet!

Overcoming fear stops a lot of people from ever going on a solo trip. You have to like yourself as company.  My brother has been involved for years in a "spiritual quest" program.  People go out for 3 days solo with a jug of water and a sleeping bag and little else.  For the average person this is a profound experience.  They are alone with their thoughts and no electronics maybe for the first time in their lives  Some cannot make it 3 days.  Some do not want to come back.  Then they have a group meeting in a tipi and talk about their experiences.

Backpackers typically have these experiences to draw on.  I find the TV show "Alone" to be very interesting. They are at the 3 week mark now.  That is a much different experience than the typical 3 day overnight most people go on.


Around 2006 went out purchaced a kelty red hawk backpack put in all my heavy gear and my Walmart 20 year old tent and 30deg bag and headed to Clayton Ga. Figured I'd start out with an 18 mile hike out of war woman dell. Well I stopped at the ranger station for advice an directions. He told me about the fire ban. Well it was going to be below freezing that nite and I said not gonna happen mans gotta have fire, so I got back in the truck and drove across the state to Vogle St park a beautiful place I'd seen, figured I'd just rent a site and camp for the nite. Found out they had trails but alas it was close to dark and by then I'd already spent over 5 hours on the road so just went ahead with the site. And this flat lander got a fist rate education that nite. I had been out many times hunting in that tent and bag but here's where the fun part began. I learn that it's a hell of a lot harder to get a fire started in the mountains than a 500ft in elevation even almost blew up my Coleman hiking stove trying but finally after much frustration got it done fixed supper then shortly there after because it was sooo cold went to bed in my summer single wall tent and summer bag from wall mart well I damn near froze to death the truck was 25 feet away and a very nice heated bath room was about 75ft away and I have serious thought to taking up residence in one of them. But I was determined to prove to myself that I was tuff enough to handle it. Burrrr damn that was a miserable miserable nite. only was I made it thru was with my 3n1 jacket and double layer socks. And I was still cold miserably so. I use a pad now LOL. Next morning this tired exhausted flat lander figured he had better get some more appropriate gear for the task at hand And headed home. But I made it thru and went back and hiked about 3 miles with better gear and then proceeded to learn about the affects of even a little altitude on a flat lander But I made it and learned something good this time on the way out with my 1000lb load. Tired exhausted beat down it began to rain very hard very cold and I learned right then and there that rain is my friend it came down and invigorated me. I love hiking in the rain on the last day of a hike. I Made it.

and I didnt even know there were bears in Ga yet other than a few strays you live you learn.  Now I buy the very best gear I can find and try to get there a day in advance or do just a few miles to get my cardio going for day 2. And it is getting better and better

August 3, 2020
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