When I was younger I was often asked if I was scared to go camping alone. Luckily I am with my family now. However, the question does still arise on occasion. I do find that sometimes I am still scared to sleep out in the woods by myself. Most of the time though I feel more comfortable outdoors than in. That is because I follow these tips to feel safe while I’m camping.
I spent most of my childhood outside with various groups. Nearly every summer I would head off to a camp somewhere and test my outdoor skills. There are still times though when an animal noise or some creepy people I met on a trail scare me. That isn’t a problem in most cases as long as I recognize it. With all of the experience I have, I thought I would share some of the things that I do to make myself feel more comfortable. Especially if you are off on your own.
1. Campsite Selection
If you are looking to be a bit more adventurous and not stay in a campground then here is a list of the best things to consider when making your selection on a backcountry site.
- Pre-plan your camping spots as best as possible on topo maps and leave a map of anticipated sites behind just in case
- Consider the orientation of your site to the rising or setting sun
- Do not camp directly next to water or in low-lying areas to avoid potential swamping of your tent
- Consider what weather you may face and the type of protection you need. This includes the sun! Shade trees are always welcome.
- Always look above you to see if there are branches that may fall
- Give as much distance as possible to other campers, not at your party. Don’t be like this! Also consider roads
- Follow all forest service or national park permit requirements
- Look for places with natural tables, where available, like stone ledges
- Try and find a flatter site or orient your tent so that your head is uphill
- Consider how you will pack out all of your trash
- Expect to see insects and animals galore. Have a plan to protect yourself and your food.
These are all important things to pay attention to when you’re pitching your tent. You want to create a natural and mental barrier to others that may come up at night on the trail. This will help you feel comfortable and secure.
2. Secure Your Gear
If you are car camping this may be easier than out on the trail. Place any valuable gear into your locked vehicle during the night while you are camping. The hard sides of the vehicle will give you added protection. Not to mention it will be very clear, sound-wise at least if someone or something tries to break in.
If you are out in the backcountry though it may be a bit more difficult. I know that while I am sleeping at night I don’t want to have to worry about all of my gear. Whether it is animals getting into it or nosy people. Therefore, you should bring everything into the tent with you if there is space. A full backpack may not fit. So bring the small valuables into the tent. I like to lock my pack to a tree. In some more popular areas, I will actually rig my pack up into the branches so that it is hidden.
Doing these things helps me sleep a whole lot better knowing that all of my gear will still be there in the morning.
3. Secure Your Food
Now that you know how and where your gear is going to be safe for the night you should consider where your food storage will be. I have on occasion when I was younger found out the hard way that animals love human food. I should have listened but I didn’t!
You want to make sure that your food is stored somewhere far away from where you are sleeping. This is a serious tip and is especially true if you are camping where there is plentiful wildlife. You don’t want to meet a hungry bear or raccoon while you sleep. So find an area away from your camp to store your food. If possible raise the food up into the trees to make it harder for animals to reach.
4. Tent Orientation
The next item to feel safe is all about how you orient your tent. The way your tent faces can give you an amazing mental advantage during the night. No matter where you decide is the best campsite you want to make sure that you have great sight lines from the tent. This means ensuring your door is facing the most likely direction that people and animals may be coming. This may not be practical on some sites so do your best to find the best direction.
Another consideration is the actual surroundings. If you are in a rocky area with some steep drop-offs then you should place the back of the tent towards the drop-off. This will prevent late-night accidents. If there is a particular part of the woods giving you creepy feelings then you have another great candidate for the back of the tent. Don’t forget to give yourself views from your tent windows as well.
Having great lines of sight will ensure that if you do hear something go bump in the night you can see whatever it is coming. In doing so your comfort level should increase.
5. Tent Feng Shui
In our homes, there is a thought that proper arrangement of furniture helps us to be happy, healthy, and wealthy. This is called Feng Shui. I like to take this concept outdoors with me as well. Just like we set up the tent to have great sight lines we want the inside of the tent to be just as comfortable. You will want to set your gear up in such a way that you can easily enter and exit the tent. Not to mention reach all of the gear that you may need in the middle of the night.
I again like to place my head towards the most concerning part of the campsite. If it is just me I will sleep along the back side of the tent with my gear between me and the door. This helps to provide a physical barrier for anything coming through the zipper. I always try to leave a clear path near my feet though so I can easily navigate in the dark if I need to. Doing this helps to make me feel comfortable while I sleep and reduces my nighttime anxiety.
This may seem like tedium to set up your tent this way but anything I can do, no matter how small, to feel safe I will take it.
6. Don’t Build a Campfire
I do a lot of camping in the west where it is dry all the time. I don’t build a lot of campfires anymore because of the high fire danger. It is one of the things that I don’t want to have to worry about as I sleep. In some cases though, having a campfire is all that you can do. So the tip to feel safe while camping here is to ensure your campfire is completely put out.
Having a campfire always increases my anxiety. This is because I am always concerned whether I have drowned the fire enough to prevent spark-ups. Even though I use gallons of water I still wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. I avoid this and feel safer while camping by just not having a fire.
The other thing about fires that I learned at a young age is that we have very limited night vision. Fires ruin this night vision even further. After about five minutes of staring at a fire our distance vision in the dark drops drastically. Good luck telling what just crept at the edge of the forest after warming yourself by the campfire!
One of the best tips that I can give you is to listen. This is a two-fold tip. You want to listen to your surroundings first during the daytime. If you hear constant scrabbling of leaves it is likely there are squirrels. You may hear branches cracking in the woods. These sounds are all okay and if you hear similar ones at night then you will know what they are. It will help you better understand the sounds that are out of place. Those are the ones you should be concerned with. Take time to practice some mindfulness and just sit quietly listening to your surroundings.
The other way you need to listen is to your own internal voice. If there is something screaming at you that something is off. Listen to it. It may mean that you need to call for help or find a different place to sleep for the night. Your instincts may be telling you that there is a wild animal nearby. Worse yet maybe you crossed paths with a stranger on the trail. Whatever you feel in your gut trust that instinct. Much like this pair.
8. Get Inside
The next of my tips to feel safe while camping is to get inside before it gets dark. As I mentioned before we have very limited night vision. Humans were not built to be nocturnal predators. We are completely out of our element at night time and in the wilderness, we are no longer at the top of the food chain. That is why if you feel nervous about being outside camping you should get inside before dark. Once inside your little cocoon of a tent, you should feel safer. Just make sure you have everything you need for the night.
This also means to make sure you do your business before entering the tent. Once inside you don’t want to have to come out in the middle of the night unless it is an emergency.
9. Practice Often
The final of my tips to feel safe while camping is something I repeat often on this site. Practice. Then practice some more. First practice setting your gear up. Then practice your cooking skills. Practice your campfire building. Practice your first aid skills. The more you practice in low-stress situations the better you are going to be when it comes to actually camp out in the wilderness. Test yourself in a controlled environment and you will learn to be comfortable no matter what is going on.
Final Thoughts on Tips to Feel Safe While Camping
Everyone is different in the way that they approach to fear and stress. While not all of these tips will work for everyone completely, they will hopefully start to ease your camping anxiety. At the very least these tips to feel safe while camping will help you to feel more comfortable with your future camping excursions. Remember to practice, listen, and set your site upright.
Camping doesn’t have to be a scary thing. You don’t have to always be on your guard. Being able to release some of those fear will help make the whole experience that much more enjoyable. So give it a shot. Get outside and enjoy everything that nature has to offer. If you control your fear you will have an amazing time either solo, with family, or with friends.