Story by Tom Freismuth

Solo Camping: Go It Alone, Why Not?

Solo camping can be peaceful and rewarding with the right preparation.

Getting off the grid and in nature is perhaps one of the best ways to relax, reconnect with yourself, and reset yourself mentally. There’s something about nature that is awe inspiring. Maybe you are watching an incredible sunset while snow quietly falls around you, or perhaps you are canyoneering in Moab with the red rocks as your backdrop. Experiences like these are amazing and some of the most beautiful sites seen camping have been on solo expeditions. However, traveling solo, especially camping, requires adequate planning and preparation. To reap the peaceful reward, you must put in the effort before you hit the road.

Reminder to always check tires and fluids to make sure your vehicle is ready for your trip.

Most of us are familiar with the term “preparedness,” meaning having what you need for what you’ll be doing. Some of us have heard the phrase “2 is 1 and 1 is none.” This is especially important if you are going to be remote and away from services and stores. When you build your travel kit you should build in redundancies, especially in the case of important or lifesaving equipment and tools.

Take a lighter for example. If you are camping in cold weather or plan to cook your food over a fire, you’ll need a way to build a fire. If you have one lighter and it stops working, you may be in for a very cold night. Redundancy is key. Have an alternate way to build a fire. Buy a second lighter or all-weather matches to keep in your kit. It is important to think ahead before setting out on any camping trip—especially if you are going to be flying solo.

Before you set out into nature, it is important to consider the following tips.

Outline your Trip

Create and Stick To A Route Plan

The first thing I do when I plan an expedition is write out an outline of where I am going and how I’ll get there. I research the route and the destination. Know the fuel range and capabilities of your vehicle, it’s important. Plan your gas stops and the stops you need to make for supplies. Save these stops in your GPS and stick to them. This will help ensure your travel doesn’t have any unexpected issues or delays. It can be tempting to push through and skip a gas stop because you think you will be able to save time to get to your destination faster. However, when in more remote locations skipping a stop can be the difference between having gas or not.

Personally, when I travel long distances by vehicle, I don’t let my gas tank drop much below 1/2 a tank. I remember my dad always saying, “It’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.” Unexpected things happen while traveling. Sticking to fuel stops is important for safety, and it is also a good opportunity to stretch your legs. Plan your stops for fuel and other essentials you’ll need and stick to them. The journey can be just as fulfilling as the destination.

Never box yourself in. Always leave yourself a clear exit route back to the trail.

The Garmin 66i GPS and Satellite communicator

You can position your vehicle to be more closed off from other travelers on the trail which will help conceal the fact that you are traveling alone. You can set up camp behind your vehicle using your vehicle to block you from view.

Make Reservations

If you are going to an established campground, check for availability of campsites and reserve yours in advance to make sure you don’t show up to find there aren’t any spaces left. This could lead you to having to make last minute adjustments that deviate from your plan, and it’s usually in these deviations that issues come up you aren’t prepared for.

In short, know where you are going and what it takes to get there. Make a plan and stick to it. In your outline, include the supplies you’ll need and where you’ll get them from. Remember redundancies of essential equipment.

It is always a good idea to share your travel outline with a family member or close friend so that they know where you’ll be and when they should expect a check-in from you. This falls into safety and security which we’ll touch on more.

A well-planned trip will help ensure you have a fun and relaxing trip.

Services At The Ready


Once you know your destination, research services available in the area. One of the first things I look at is my cell carrier coverage map. Unfortunately, these are not 100% accurate and you may find yourself in a pocket of “No Service.” Generally, if the map shows your service works in the area, you’ll be able to find signal close to where you are if you need to reach help.

When traveling with a firearm, check laws and carry legally.

Right now, I know some of you are thinking: “but I go off grid so that I can disconnect from everything.” This goes back to my dad’s lesson of having it and not needing it than needing it and not having it. Afford yourself the luxury of calling for help if you need it and leave your phone turned off the rest of the time. Being able to connect to help is especially important when traveling alone.

For those that travel to very remote locations without any kind of service I suggest a satellite communicator. There are a few options on the market, such as the popular Garmin inReach, Spot, or Zoleo. They will cost you a few hundred bucks and a service fee, but you’ll have that added safety element of being able to reach out for help if you need it. Some like the Zoleo offer the ability to see a breadcrumb trail to bring peace of mind to those keeping an eye on your travels. Some cell phones are also adding built in satellite communicators.

Rangers and Emergency Services

If you are traveling into a state or national park, I suggest stopping at the ranger station and getting a map and any info you can from them about the area. You can let them know the areas you plan to explore and camp and how long you’ll be there for. It’s a good idea to get on their radar. I’ve gotten cell phone numbers for patrol supervisors promising only to call in an emergency situation. If you camp in Bureau of Land Management (BLM) area, you can usually find information about the local rangers office or a phone number for the rangers that patrol that area online.

Recovery Services

Knowing the capabilities of your vehicle is important, and if you are camping solo, I advise that you don’t push yourself beyond what you know you can do. This being said, the possibility of vehicle or terrain issues exist. In remote areas there may be limited (or no) recovery services. The more popular off-road areas will usually have one or two tow services that will charge an arm and a leg to come to your aid. Research these services before your trip and save the numbers.

Having equipment with you that can help you self-recover is recommended. For those of you that don’t have a winch there are other more cost-effective items you can buy. Recovery boards, like MaxTrax, are great for getting out of sand, mud, and snow. HiLift jacks can give the clearance needed to change a flat tire. Make sure to train with whatever you have onboard. It’s best to know how to use these tools before you are in a situation of needing to use them. Solo travel self-recovery can be extremely difficult even when you know what you are doing.

Having equipment with you that can help you self-recover is recommended. 

Security and Safety

Security, safety, and self-defense are often overlooked when camping solo. The last thing we want to think about when going into the wilderness is the possibility that harm could come to us at the hand of another human. The reality is that most people are good, but an equal reality is that there are some very evil people in the world. This should not deter you from traveling but should make you more aware as you think about ways to protect yourself while you are alone (or with a group for that matter).

Security, safety, and self-defense are often overlooked when camping solo.


When in remote areas, help can be hours away, so in the event you find yourself in a bad situation, you will need to rely on your own ability to defend yourself. The concept of self-defense can be intimidating and putting yourself in the mindset of different scenarios can be unpleasant. However, it is important to have a defensive plan and to train on how you would react to a situation, if you ever needed to.

There are many companies that train people in defensive tactics in outdoor and off-grid settings. A web search will yield a large amount of courses you can take to help you be more physically and mentally prepared if you find yourself in a situation that requires you to defend yourself. Having the right training and mindset will give you confidence.

Physical Defense – Pepper Spray and Bear Spray

My first layer of physical defense are canisters of pepper spray and bear spray. Bear spray is not intended for human use. Like my airhorns, I keep one in my vehicle and one in my tent separate from each other, so I don’t get them confused. Keep in mind, if you deploy bear or pepper spray the aerosol will put particles into the air that can blow back on to you and it can be quite unpleasant. Be aware of your environment so you don’t expose yourself to the spray.

Some people have small pepper spray canisters on their keychains. These are better than nothing, but in general, they aren’t good enough to deter a human and I wouldn’t trust it to have any effect on a bear. These usually aren’t aerosol based and are more pump based, meaning you need to depress the button repeatedly to continue the spray. Aerosol based pepper and bear spray are ideal. You press the button, and the stream continues until you stop. The distance the spray travels is more effective and better with aerosol products. These products usually are non-lethal, meaning it gives you time to escape while only causing discomfort to the animal or human you used it on.

Physical Defense – Weapons

My second layer of defense is for more serious situations. I usually have a knife clipped onto one pocket or worn on my belt, and I have a firearm readily available. This includes while I am sleeping. Proficient use and safe handling of firearms requires training. Firearms are a force multiplier and have been called the great equalizer. While I hope nobody ever has to use a firearm in self-defense, if the situation is life or death, I would do whatever is necessary to keep myself alive.

Firearms can be intimidating if you have never trained with one before. Nearly 45% of my students are females who have never shot before, and the majority have commented to me that they found the training to be enjoyable and valuable. If you are interested in learning, seek out training and become proficient. A firearm demands respect and safe handling but ultimately becomes another valuable defensive tool. Before carrying a firearm check your local laws and carry legally.

In addition to the defensive considerations discussed above, I suggest a set of good battery-powered, motion-activated magnetic LED spotlights. You can find these online. These can be set on a table or even attached to the side of your vehicle. They will offer a little extra lighting while you move around camp at night, as well as alert you to movement in your camp while you are sleeping. Keep your keys readily available as well. Most vehicles have panic buttons on the key fob and activating your vehicle alarm can be a good way to ward off any unwanted two- or four-legged visitors.

Final advice 

Trust your gut. If something feels off and makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, don’t ignore it. As humans we have incredible intuitive ability. It’s especially important to be aware and trust yourself when camping solo.

Carry a good knife. It can be used for self-defense and many other functions, such as fire starting, cutting, cooking, and so on.

Be situationally aware while you travel and avoid campsites or areas that feel off or uncomfortable. Be aware of who is at neighboring campsites and give yourself space. Pack out what you pack in and leave no trace. The most important thing is enjoying your time, so consider all your needs and prepare for them. If you are new to camping or overlanding, there are many friendly groups you can find online that bring solo travelers together. Check them out and say hello. The world is big and ready to explore!

Having bear spray in reach may prove necessary if you get visitors in the middle of the night.

It is smart to keep personal defense items, like a firearm and pepper spray, in easy reach while sleeping.

Tom Freismuth is owner and operator of SKILLSET Defense Academy in San Diego, California. To learn more about safety and defense training, you can find him @Mad_Yeti_ or @Instructor_Yeti.

Plan your trip and route. Download maps and establish your travel plans. A well-planned trip will help mitigate unexpected issues from coming up due to lack of planning.

Safety and Security Plan

Here some tactics you can use to be more situationally aware and prepared so that you can focus on enjoying your trip knowing you’ve got your safety and security plan properly in place.

Do not advertise that you are traveling alone.

As you approach your destination and are stopping for fuel or any last-minute supplies, do not advertise that you are camping solo. Even as a burley bearded, well-armed, 6’7” man I don’t advertise where I am going or that I’ll be alone. I’ve been in stores or come across other overland travelers on the trail that casually ask me where I’m camping, who I am with, or if I am alone to which I always answer with “we” statements or that I am linking up with friends just up the trail. Remember: Most people are good, but you never know who you are talking to. Networking with other travelers can be useful, but you don’t need to share your specifics.

Close yourself off to other travelers.

When you set up your camp there are ways to appear open and inviting to other travelers and ways that make you appear closed off and not wanting visitors. To appear more closed off you can position the front of your vehicle at a slight angle facing the trail or route other travelers may be using to pass your camp. You can set up your camp behind your vehicle using your vehicle to give you more privacy from people passing by. This generally will give a less inviting posture of your camp to everyday campers around you and will help conceal that you are camping solo.

The position of your vehicle facing the trail, or the exit route, will also make an emergency departure easier. You can just jump in the driver seat and go. To expand on this, trust your gut. If you ever feel uncomfortable, just go. Anything you leave behind can be retrieved later or replaced. If you camp in a roof top tent, I suggest waiting until just before bedtime to deploy it.

Carry a whistle or airhorn.

While relaxing at camp there are a few tools you can have that will help scare off predator animals and signal to other campers in the area that you need help. I usually carry a whistle and a few airhorns. I keep one airhorn in my vehicle and one in my tent.

Additional security and safety tips

  1. Check your vehicle to make sure services are up to date and that it’s in good operating condition. Check tires and fluids before all trips.
  2. Bring a first aid kit.
  3. Check the weather forecast and prepare for inclement conditions.
  4. If you leave your site to hike, secure valuables and lock your vehicle.
  5. Don’t post on social media about where you are until you have already left. It may be tempting to post that perfect photo from your campsite, but it can wait until you are further down the trail.
  6. Check in at predetermined times with a family member or loved one. Have a plan on what they should do if they don’t hear from you at one of your check-in times.
  7. Arrive at your campsite before dark so you can assess the area and make sure it is suitable.
  8. Leave yourself a clear exit and don’t block yourself in.
  9. A dog can make a great solo camping companion as well as be an early alert to something prowling around in the dark.
  10. Stay clear headed and aware. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a cocktail at camp, but keep your wits about you.

Editor’s Note: A version of this story previously appeared in the March/April 2023 print issue of Tread Magazine.

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