Generally speaking, how bad of an idea is it to go "car camping" alone?
March 19, 2014 10:20 AM   Subscribe

Would it be filed under "Bad Idea", "Proceed With Caution" or "Good Idea"?

I'm just thinking about easing into camping when the weather gets warm, but since my weekend is Sun-Mon instead of Sat-Sun, I wouldn't always be able to get others to join me. I'm just wondering if it sounds like just a bad idea to go alone, or if it's generally OK (obviously no one could say with certainity it would be 100% safe). And, if it is something you have experience with, what are some safety precautions you have taken? I'm talking about car camping in particular. And I realize it could vary depending on location - think Northeast US. Thank you!
posted by Shadow Boxer to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (39 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Good idea. Don't worry. Just go!
(tell somebody where you are going and when you expect to be back).
posted by spudsilo at 10:22 AM on March 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Good idea. Just leave details of your trip back home with someone you trust: your camp location and when they should expect you back. I'm sure it's not without its risks, but I've gone car camping and backpacking many times as a single female with no issues.
posted by shornco at 10:23 AM on March 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

I've known lots of people (women people especially) who camp alone, both back country and car. On preview: Yeah, just tell someone where you're going and when you expect to be back.
posted by rtha at 10:23 AM on March 19, 2014

This obviously depends some on your location and quite a bit on your personal comfort levels. I would have no hesitation about car camping or backpacking alone in Colorado. Safety precautions are what you would expect, don't leave valuables lying out, lock your car, etc. Let someone else know about your plans and when to start worrying. Keep your food packed in your car to keep it away from curious critters. I wouldn't worry about carrying defensive things like pepper spray/bear spray, but if it gives you peace of mind, go for it.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:24 AM on March 19, 2014

I wouldn't worry much about it. In addition to the where and when contact, I carry a very loud whistle in case I break my leg and need help. I also wear a RoadID as an attached form of ID that no one would care to steal.
posted by advicepig at 10:25 AM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've done this quite a bit. Go, and enjoy it!

Obvs, make sure that someone knows where you're going and when you'll be back.
If you're going into the backcountry by yourself (leaving the car), leave a note on your car dashboard (so that you can see it from outside) saying the trail you're taking and the time that you left.
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:28 AM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah assuming you're talking about a USFS-like campsite and not off-roading or something I would just take the normal precautions that go with traveling alone somewhere without reliable cell service.
posted by PMdixon at 10:31 AM on March 19, 2014

Yes, I've done this quite a bit, had fun, had no trouble at all. Actually felt safer than many times running around town. Female, if it matters.
posted by Houstonian at 10:31 AM on March 19, 2014

I have done it many times. I never had a problem.
posted by Flood at 10:39 AM on March 19, 2014

Definitely do it as long as someone home knows where you went and for how long! Its even better with a dog (if you have a dog into it!)
posted by WeekendJen at 10:41 AM on March 19, 2014

I'd feel quite safe camping alone at any state or national park campground, which is what I picture when you say "car camping."
posted by Kriesa at 10:44 AM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Told it's not safe. Did it all the time (with dog.)

Will be jealous the rest of the day. Off-peak camping is the best.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:46 AM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What are your specific concerns?

I've done this quite a bit throughout the US, camping in official campgrounds (of both the KOA and national park variety) and in random empty wilderness. The only time where I got into trouble was hiking too far from my car in the desert without enough water. Which isn't a risk inherent in "car camping alone", it's a risk inherent in "being dumb and hiking into the desert without enough water." So don't do that.

Petty theft can be an issue in some campgrounds; leave valuables out of sight and locked in your car rather than in your tent. Keep all food locked in the car too, never in your tent, as I learned the hard way. (Mice, not bears.)
posted by ook at 10:49 AM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've done this quite happily and successfully (female travelling alone).
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:50 AM on March 19, 2014

Best answer: Did it a lot as a female traveling alone even staying in rest areas and not just campsites. General precautionary measures

- make sure someone knows where you are more or less and when you'll be back
- make sure you have a cell phone charged and handy
- bring spare food/water/warm clothes
- YMMV about this but if I was camping near my car I don't think I'd lock my car in case I needed to get into it in a hurry
- pay attention to your spidey sense and feel okay moving on if something or someone seems weird or off
- whistle and other good first aid emergency stuff which you should bring if you're alone or with someone
- pay close attention to the weather because in the northeast it can change quick
- consider carrying a GPS of some kind with you if you go out on long hikes
posted by jessamyn at 11:05 AM on March 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a middle-aged female person, and I just went on a Road Trip, car camped in national and state parks, and slept in the minivan in lots of urban and other locations. I made sure I knew where the keyfob and its alarm button was, and never had occasion to use it, except for turning off the alarm when the car thought I shouldn't have opened the locked door.

I've learned that one can get tents that go on the liftback door of a van or hatchback, and now I want to make one.
posted by theora55 at 11:07 AM on March 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your answers so far!

Sorry if I wasn't specific in my safety a female I was thinking particularly of the risk of being vulnerable to any sort of predatory humans (as opposed to animals)...but also curious about any other risks I didn't think of.
posted by Shadow Boxer at 11:12 AM on March 19, 2014

I go motorcycle camping as a solo female often. It is awesome. Go for it!
posted by mollymayhem at 11:16 AM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have done this. I've also backpacked alone many miles from anybody. Mostly it's boring once you've set up camp and you're alone for the night. If you're the type to get spooked over every noise you hear, there's that too.

As others have said, take general safety precautions. Make sure someone knows where you are. A whistle around your neck is probably more useful than a cell phone in that situation. Usually campgrounds, at least in the busy season, have caretakers who will roam around at night, collect fees, and generally keep an eye on things.

In bear country most established sites have bear boxes for food, or they just advise you to keep stuff in your car. Most of the other animals are harmless, unless you hit a moose on the road. I once had a fox steal my Tevas though. I found one about 100 yards away and the other maybe 100 feet beyond that.

It is my generally feeling that one is safer alone in the woods than they are walking around an average American town at night, at least in terms of worrying about dangerous people. This is just my feeling though, I have no actual data to back it up.
posted by bondcliff at 11:23 AM on March 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you feel worried, change locations and sleep in a tent. Then nobody knows the tent doesn't contain two massive men.
posted by salvia at 11:24 AM on March 19, 2014

(But I hitchhiked and camped alone as a19-y.o. female, without a tent, and it was fine.)
posted by salvia at 11:27 AM on March 19, 2014

Don't lock your keys in your car.
posted by oceanjesse at 11:38 AM on March 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sorry if I wasn't specific in my safety a female I was thinking particularly of the risk of being vulnerable to any sort of predatory humans (as opposed to animals)

Yes, bad idea- I wouldn't recommend a lone female camping out on her own unless you are very comfortable with self-protection techniques.

I'm a lifelong camper. The #1 threat is never an animal, but another human being. In the great outdoors, there is a unique vulnerability because of both the lack of lots of people and the presence of certain others. Those who are up to no good know there is isolation, lack of law enforcement, poor audible conditions, and can take advantage of first timers. Go with someone you know - even 1 person makes a difference. I'm male and this is some of the best advice I got when first starting out.
posted by Kruger5 at 11:42 AM on March 19, 2014

Best answer: Good idea! I do it all the time. Especially if it's a state or national park campground, you'll never be totally alone as there will be a park host. If the campground is really empty you can pick a spot closer to them if it will make you feel more comfortable. But I've never had the least tiny cause for concern. Probably hiking alone is a lot more dangerous but I don't worry about that either. I mean, basically everything is more dangerous if you're a woman but if you start thinking about it too much you'll never do anything. Go, have fun!
posted by HotToddy at 12:09 PM on March 19, 2014

One thing to do is check the reviews (if any) of whatever campgrounds you're thinking of using: some may be more partyparty!, some may be favorites of families with little kids, etc. If it's a state or national park, you can always call the ranger station and talk to them about things to watch out for in the area (like bears, fire danger). One thing for sure: you are in much greater danger driving to the campground than you are once you are there.
posted by rtha at 12:15 PM on March 19, 2014

If you're going into the backcountry by yourself (leaving the car), leave a note on your car dashboard (so that you can see it from outside) saying the trail you're taking and the time that you left.

Not a wise thing to do. You are letting any potential thieves know that you are not there and that you won't be back for hours. Better to leave no note. If you do leave one, use "We" and "Us" and not "I" or "Me" in it. I normally open the glovebox, console lid, or anything I can to illustrate that there isn't anything of value in the vehicle.

As a guy, I have gone car camping and had no issues. At one place there were two 20ish women next to me doing the same thing. Have fun.
posted by Leenie at 12:34 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm quite surprised at the suggestions to leave food in your car, because bears are more than capable of happily destroying your car. Here's what Yosemite has to say.

I love car camping, have never had any trouble of any kind. It is more fun with a dog.
posted by sageleaf at 12:42 PM on March 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

In the great outdoors, there is a unique vulnerability because of both the lack of lots of people and the presence of certain others. Those who are up to no good know there is isolation, lack of law enforcement, poor audible conditions, and can take advantage of first timers.

These are normally legitimate reasons to be concerned, but, depending on the location, don't actually bear out in reality. First, you're probably some distance from civilization, meaning that the vast majority of people out there are people engaging in similar activities to what you're doing. Is someone really going to drive all the way out into the woods or other wilderness just to find an easy mark? No. Seriously, who's thinking "I have to do some evil tonight, better drive an hour and a half out to where 10 people might be hanging around in open country where campsites are 50 feet apart and the neighboring site will easily be able to tell what I'm doing"? Nobody. Second, developed campgrounds (like in national forests and state and national parks) are fairly controlled spaces with entrance fees of some sort and usually have some sort of campground host or ranger posted in them. Even on off times, there'll be a bunch of other people out there that will be able to tell if something is amiss and report anything off. Rangers these days are basically cops. Third, there's no way someone's going to know whether a camper is experienced or a first-timer.

Frankly, I'd be more concerned about someone jacking your stuff while you're out on a hike, but I've gone car camping and backpacking all kinds of places and left things unattended for hours at a time and never had any sort of problem leaving my tent and all my stuff sitting out.
posted by LionIndex at 1:18 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Great idea, done it many a time. Having a dog along is extra fun.
posted by The otter lady at 1:18 PM on March 19, 2014

Yeah, put me in the Very Good Idea camp. If you're nervous about criminals I would start out going to places like state parks that have busy, well-populated campgrounds, instead of places like state/national forests where you'd be more isolated.
posted by gerstle at 1:36 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I go bike camping by myself often, and it's wonderful. I often encounter other solo female campers, too. My people are always concerned about me traveling as a solo female, but I make sure to let them know of my plans, and try to keep my phone charged enough (via a small backup battery if necessary) that I can notify them of any major changes, even if I have to wait until I'm back in a place with cell signal. Even if you're not willing to bring a mobile phone, or will mostly be a place without signal, I wouldn't worry much. Just let people know your expected route, planned stops, and expected return time.

I do also bring a loud rescue whistle with me, in case something happens (I'm worried more about incapacitating injury than attack, though) when I'm alone and need to signal for help. If you do this, and if heavens forbid you need to use it, it's three blasts on the whistle to signal for help.

It can also be helpful to check in with a ranger, if you're camping in a place with a one of those, just so someone else has seen your face.

The only other precautions I'd suggest are the obvious things:

-Be conscientious about where you leave your stuff unattended
-Make sure you have enough food and water, since there won't be anyone else to share theirs with you in case of emergency, and same goes for basic first aid and repair kits. Since you'll have a car, you'll have the luxury of being able to overpack a little.
-If someone's behavior is making you uncomfortable, get the heck out of there and get to a public place, even if it's just someone else's campsite.

Mostly, though, just be prepared and have fun!
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:36 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Bears can destroy your car to get to you food, but it's generally only an issue where they are very acclimated to people. Squirrels, however, cannot. The A+ way to protect your food is to hang food in bear barrels, but that's overkill for most people.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:04 PM on March 19, 2014

Best answer: Another someone who as a young female went car camping alone - Great Idea!

If you're a real newbie or otherwise nervous, stay at a well-trafficked campground that's staffed (some private campgrounds are, as are some of the bigger state park sites). This is what I did - safety in numbers, right?

If you rock up to an unstaffed, small, isolated site and there's just one other person camping there feel free to leave, esp if it's a creepy dude. Common sense, right? Remember that at any time it is perfectly ok to sleep locked in your car and/or just leave.

Really though, most campgrounds will have other people in them. You're all, for the most part, in tents. If you scream or blow an emergency whistel, someone will hear you. I feel safer camping like this than I would living alone in the 'burbs.

And yes - bears will absolutely break into your car for food... or scented markers, or toothpaste, or... follow all park advice/protocols. It varies by area how much and how confident bears/raccoons/etc. are.

Oh, practice setting up your tent by yourself a few times first, and arrive before dark... unlike I did the first time! ;)
posted by jrobin276 at 3:20 PM on March 19, 2014

I've also done this many times, literally all across the U.S (female). I have used various kinds of Forest Service land, National and local parks, and private campgrounds. I've never had a problem with other people. In fact, I've mostly found them helpful and friendly. Especially that time with the tornadoes, but I digress. I agree that this is a fantastic thing to do, with the reasonable safety precautions suggested above.
posted by Gneisskate at 3:41 PM on March 19, 2014

Best answer: Just chiming in to say that going camping alone is one of my absolute favorite activities (female). I have already picked out a few camping spots in Virginia and Maryland parks for when the weather gets better, and I have a reservation for beach camping in August. Cooking dinner on a campfire and waking up to bird song in the woods is well worth the potential risk. I have the same philosophy as LionIndex - I feel way safer camping alone than I do when walking around alone at night in the city.

Yes, let people know where you are going and when you'll be back. It's also probably a good idea to start out at a well established campsite until you feel comfortable. You will have to pay a small fee, but that also means that there is a ranger checking people in and keeping an eye on stuff over night. Make sure you have a whistle handy in your tent (I keep mine on a lanyard hanging from the ceiling), and be aware of your surroundings - including your neighboring campsites and campers. Keeping stuff in your locked car rather than in the tent is good for any time when you are out hiking and not around. Trust your instincts - if you feel unsafe due to unwanted attention from another camper, leave. (This has never happened to me, though, for the record.)

Go for it. It's wonderful, and if you take reasonable precautions you should be fine. Wow, I can't WAIT for winter to be over so I can get out in a tent again.
posted by gemmy at 8:44 PM on March 19, 2014

Should be fine, have fun! You just have to play a bit safer when you're by yourself.

Weather must be an important consideration when solo camping. Windy conditions are a problem - you won't have a second person to help you tie things down. Do not camp solo in avalanche country. Be conservative and turn back early in poor conditions.

Always carry the ten essentials while hiking. Try to hike on trails that see some traffic in case you get injured and need help. Again, be conservative and turn back early in case of fatigue, darkness, or weather. As others suggest, leave an itinerary with destination, route, time of departure and anticipated return.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:52 PM on March 19, 2014

Best answer: Visit or call the USFS offices for areas you are interested in. Ask them if there are any campgrounds with stewards where you can camp, and ask them about the best ways to stay safe. They will know more about your local area than anyone else.

Hide a door key somewhere on the outside of the car just in case, trunk key too. Hide an ignition key somewhere inside the car.

If you feel unsafe, don't feel shy about tossing your things in your car and driving away.
posted by yohko at 3:31 AM on March 20, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I'm thinking to start out at established campgrounds where you pay a fee - I've done this a handful of times with others so thats where my comfort level is - and will ressearch and talk to campground staff when planning my trip. I know there's no way to be 100% safe with anything you do, but I don't like to live my life in fear...I'm happy to read all your advice and to see that there are others (especially womena) out there who don't think it's such a bad idea afterall.
posted by Shadow Boxer at 5:20 AM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

If we can believe serial killer Israel Keyes, solo campers were among his favorite prey. The odds of running into someone like Keyes are pretty slim, but if you're planning to hike beyond populated trails, you really ought to find a buddy.
posted by Scram at 1:33 PM on March 21, 2014

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