I'll take a home in the woods by myself, if I can
April 22, 2015 2:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm a fairly experienced camper, but I've never gone alone, so I booked a solo trip to spend a week in the woods this summer. I have some stuff (lantern, propane stove, mess kit, sleeping bag) but I'm missing most of the basics: a single person tent, mattress pad, food, mosquito gear. What do I need? What will I want? Once I get out there, what will I be shaking my fist at the uncaring sky for if I forget to bring it along?

The location is rural and densely wooded with wildly variable temperatures -- 70s-80s and maybe even 90F+ during the day, possibly down to freezing at night -- but I'm not, like, heading out onto the Appalachian Trail where I need to pack ultra-light on one of those aluminum frame thingies and I won't see another soul for days. Rather, I'll be setting up and camping by myself... amidst a bunch of other campers, at an established campground. There will be potable water available but no indoor plumbing. I won't have any problem at all asking anyone for help if I really need it, but I'd really love to be self-sufficient!

My main concerns:
  • Setting up the tent by myself. I am embarrassingly easily frustrated and equally embarrassingly inept at anything that requires manual dexterity. Is there a single person tent that goes up with the press of a button?
  • There will be LOTS of mosquitoes. I am extremely allergic to skeeto bites (half-dollar-sized welts, torpor, swollen lymph nodes) but plan on treating my tent and gear with permethrin and myself with lemon eucalyptus and calamine lotion to try to minimize my suffering. Should I get a pre-treated mosquito bed net? Some of those burning coils? I will be in a place where West Nile virus is endemic.
  • Showers: Unsure how this works, as all of my previous camping trips have (purposely) been to sites that offered indoor showers/plumbing but this place will not have anything like that, so I'm clueless on how to keep myself remotely clean. Solar shower? Moist towelettes? Standing outside in thunderstorms?
  • Speaking of: Rain. I've been enormously spoiled by my outdoor adventuring thus far and have never had to camp in the rain, but it's a distinct possibility on this outing. What do I need to do to ensure I stay warm and dry, or at least dry? How do I stay on top of the dreaded intra-tent condensation?
  • FOOD. I'm vegan (this is non-negotiable, I'd rather go hungry than break edge for convenience) and I usually cook awesome and fairly elaborate meals from scratch while I'm camping but I've never been away from civilization for this long, so I'm not sure how to plan for an entire week of nonperishable meals. I won't have access to any kind of refrigeration, let alone a convenience store, although I'll have a cooler with ice for at least the first day or two. What should I bring? Infinite nuts and jerky? Has anyone tried any 'just add water' stuff like this or this?
  • I will have a car but I'll have to park in a lot a couple of miles away from the campground and hike out to my site. Is there anything I can stash in the car that will provide instant comfort if I feel like taking a break from the woods?
OK, I think that's it. I'm obsessed with planning way, way ahead, so I would love to have all my ducks in a row a long while before I head out into the wilderness. Any recommendations you might have would be much appreciated. Thanks as always, AskMe!
posted by divined by radio to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (26 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
The last edition is over 10 years old at this point, but The Complete Walker is the bible on the subject. While you could supplement it with more modern reviews online for a few of the details about specific products to buy, it's a comprehensive guide to camping and hiking, including packing lists. If you're obsessed with the details, you'll love it.

If you need details on the campsite amenities (you don't mention what the protocol is for restroom facilities for instance), you can always call the park/campground and ask.
posted by zachlipton at 2:10 PM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Stuff to build a fire. Camping isn't worth it if you can't sit next to a nice campfire every night. Kindling, paper, matches, firewood... an axe would also be a good idea. Oh, and a camp chair. Because sitting on the ground by the fire just isn't as comfortable.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:16 PM on April 22, 2015

A dog. It's an all-terrain entertainment device that also performs alarm functions.
posted by sageleaf at 2:21 PM on April 22, 2015 [10 favorites]

I've taken 1-man tents on backpacking trips before where weight was an issue, but if you're car camping you probably want at least a 2-man tent. Those little 1-man tents are tiny and claustrophobic, especially if you are hanging out in them during rain storms. Most regular tents are actually pretty quick and easy to set up by yourself, but even if you're a pro tent-set-upper you should always practice at home first. If you're still concerned about it, though, there is such as thing as "instant" or "pop-up" tents that basically just require you to pull the tent out of a stuff sack.

Bring several good books/magazines for tent reading during rainstorms and after dark. Headlamps are great and so much better than flashlights. Toilet paper. Constellation chart for star mapping. Comfortable camp chair. A hammock if the campground allows it. A tub for washing dishes. I've always thought the best part about solo camping was that you didn't have to take a shower, but maybe that's just me.
posted by shornco at 2:29 PM on April 22, 2015 [7 favorites]

First of all, you want this tent. I have an older version, but it is the easiest tent to set up. The mesh reduces condensation, and the rain fly has vents to prevent condensation even when raining. I have used mine for years in just about every weather condition possible including rain, snow, hail, and thunderstorms that included tornadoes. For any tent, though: always use your rainfly, and always stake down your tent. If you need these things later, it will probably be too late to set them up.

Mosquitoes: Permethrin is good, but for your person unless you have problems with it I would just go for DEET in the way of repellent. It is nasty smelling and not enviro friendly, but it works. It's also a lot easier to keep mosquitoes off one person than keep them out of an area.

Showers: Personally, I wouldn't bother for a solo trip but that's up to you. When needed, I just washed in whatever water source was available. With no one else there, I didn't think it was a big deal.

Rain: Rain fly on the tent is awesome, but if you want to spend time outside I would set up some kind of shelter or canopy. This can be as simple as a tarp strung between trees or an entire free-standing canopy. Either way, it gives you a dry space that's not your tent. Keep in mind that these set-ups are vulnerable to wind, and plan accordingly.

Food: I'm not a vegan, but I do have a few suggestions. Peanut butter and jelly is easy to prepare and requires no refrigeration for the time span you're talking about. You can include fresh fruit in the sandwiches as well. For other meals, oatmeal makes a good breakfast and only requires boiling water. Root veggies of all sorts will last longer than non-root veggies without refrigeration. Anything with a good thick peel or rind will survive better as well.

Depending on location, you may want to bring a bear-proof container to store your food. Even without bears, raccoons, coyotes, and ravens are very clever at getting into things. You may wish to keep the food in the car if it's close enough to walk to regularly.

Car comfort: lots of towels, if you're going to be in a rainy area. Being able to get dry can be a luxury.
posted by Gneisskate at 2:38 PM on April 22, 2015 [6 favorites]

a single person tent, mattress pad, food, mosquito gear. What do I need? What will I want?

So, you're car camping. Not backpacking. This changes things, because you can fit a lot in a car and make a few trips if you want.

Bug spray works really well for mosquitoes. Bring a lot of it. Also, discipline about the tent door. Open door, through door, close door. One will get in, and it will wake you up with buzzing at about 2:47am. But mostly, if you are diligent and fast, bugs in the tent should be a non-issue. Bugs outside.... Well, you're in their house.

Personally, I prefer blankets to a sleeping bag. Spend the money on a good sleeping pad. If you are willing to make 2-3 trips back and forth, then you should also bring your pillow. Personally, to me, a good pillow makes all the difference.

Tents are not hard to set up. Practice a couple times in your yard, but once you do it a couple times, you'll have more confidence. A bigger tent will be more resistant to condensation - and venting is your friend. The biggest problem you may have isn't the rain it's the drainage and water through the floor. Also, separate rain fly. I've never had very good luck with single layer tents.

I've really enjoyed the backpackers pantry stuff. Reasonably tasty, and easy to make. Get
biodgradable soap for dishes.

A solar shower is nice. They work really well. Otherwise - baby wipes are fantastic and a godsend. Good for a first pass on dishes, so you can conserve water.

Bring extra socks and shoes even if you leave them in the car. Warm Dry feet makes everything sucks less.

Buy a 50' section of nylon rope and a good folding knife. Great for drying out wet things, or making a makeshift belt. The knife.... It's mans first tool for a reason.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:40 PM on April 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

Cetirizine or another 24-hour antihistamine significantly reduces my bug-bite-induced misery when taken beforehand. Lemon eucalyptus does nothing for me - I use 20%+ DEET and wear pants and long sleeves, pants tucked into socks, even in 90+F weather. I get bitten through shirts, but it helps.
posted by momus_window at 2:40 PM on April 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

If the campsite is pack-in/pack-out (ie you have to hike to the parking lot to throw anything away) a plan for waste storage will be good to have.
posted by frobozz at 2:57 PM on April 22, 2015

Have a large jug for water storage to prevent multiple trips to the water supply area.
posted by TDIpod at 3:03 PM on April 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Your 2-3 mile hike in (say about an hour at an easy pace) means you're somewhere between car camping and backpacking. You can afford some luxuries of convenience but it's not time to bring the EZ-Up and the ice chest. That's ok.

You want easy fire. Ditch the minimalist flint and steel and bring a Zippo and a couple Sternos, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to grab a pack of those slow-burn fire starters that start even when damp. I say a Zippo specifically because it stays lit without your thumb perilously close to the flame.

You'll also want shelter beyond your tent in case of rain. If you can pitch the tent between two trees, lay a large squarish tarp diagonally over a line between them and stake it out on either side, you can avoid using your tent's rain fly in weather short of a storm. Keeps your tent comfortable and keeps you dry without being confined to the tent itself, although you may be more exposed to bugs in that case (see recs upthread for DEET based sprays). If it doesn't rain, you have a shady shelter that you can put your chair/hammock underneath for an enviable reading spot.

Definitely bring the moist towelettes that are OK for your face AND your nethers (Burt's Bees among others)— it's extremely welcome to quickly wipe your face of sweat and camping grime. Similarly, unscented deodorant is less likely to attract insects and helps keep you from repelling humans. Unscented sunscreen, too.

I like to have multiple lighting options: this Snow Peak hanging lantern, a headlamp, and a flashlight. All three of mine are dimmable, and the headlamp has a red mode that I frequently use because sometimes you don't want a ton of light.

Whether or not detaching from the grid is your goal, it wouldn't be a bad idea to have one of those tiny lipstick-sized external battery chargers in case you get in a bad spot and need to make a 911 call.
posted by a halcyon day at 3:13 PM on April 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm not even kidding.

Also tampons. They're useful for nosebleeds (and my word do some Mosquitos love a good nosebleed!) but also for standard lady business. If you menstruate, you know this. If you Do not menstruate, see above regarding nosebleeds. But also fellow campers who find themselves bleeding might think to ask you for a tampon.
posted by bilabial at 3:14 PM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

A chair. Sitting on logs and rocks gets uncomfortable after a while. For backpacking I've got one that my thermarest slips into. For car camping I just throw a couple cheap folding chairs in the back of the truck. Also, get a bad ass cooler for car camping that will hold ice for a few days. Then fill it with beer.
posted by trbrts at 3:24 PM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a 2 person tent and a 6 person tent that I use while camping alone. The 6 person one is pretty nice if you don't want to have to go outside to get dressed and all that. It's like a small house.

I use the little one for quick trips that are, for all practical purposes, suburban (campgrounds near towns, etc.) It's better for star gazing and morning bird watching.

With both of them, I set them up in my living room before I go, just to make sure I can do it alone and that there aren't any holes that need repair.

I also bring a pretty hefty mattress because lack of sleep is my main problem with camping. I also bring a hot water bottle for the same reason.

Hooray for car camping! If you're going to be staying in the same spot for the whole time, you can make a couple trips back and forth to the car. If you're going to be moving around my plan won't work.

Also, I never bother with the campfire. I know people love them but for me they're an added stresser for no benefit. I don't like smores. They don't keep mosquitoes away until they're so smoky they choke you. You have to bank them like crazy each night or worry about sparks long past when I want to be asleep. I hate packing firewood and you really are only supposed to use local stuff anyway for pest control reasons. We use a wood stove to heat our house, though, and I grew up with a fireplace, so maybe I've satisfied my inner firebug that way.

I wouldn't bother with a shower, but then I always camp near water and have a daily swim. And if I'm not near water, I'm in the desert and I just do catbaths.

If you're staying at a campground with no amenities, I'd worry most about bear cannisters and clean water.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:30 PM on April 22, 2015

Are there toilets? Make sure to take some spare toilet paper along.

If not, pack a shovel for digging a small latrine. A folding camp shovel is useful for plenty of other things, too.
posted by jquinby at 4:06 PM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Food: my vegetarian wife and I have had a lot of success with Lipsmackin' Vegetarian Backpackin', but it doesn't really pay off unless you have a food dehydrator and a ton of time to prepare stuff ahead of your trip. Basically, you're making your own dried food, so first you're making whatever recipe almost to completion, and then waiting you're waiting for it to dry out. You save a ton of money over buying packaged freeze-dried stuff, but the time gets you. Even so, many of the oatmeal breakfasts are pretty easy and just involve dumping ingredients in a bag that you later pour boiling water into (note: also involves investment in quality freezer sealable bags). If you just want to buy stuff anyway, MaryJane's Farm products are almost entirely vegetarian, with a fair portion of vegan options, and they're clearly labeled as to what's what. We have yet to be disappointed by anything we've bought, but they're $6-7 a pop. If you're going to be cooking non-freeze dried stuff, you may want to pick up some little containers for spices and oil and whatnot. Backpacking stores will sell them as a set and should have a squeeze bottle or something similar for oil or other liquids.

I'd second the recommendation for a 2-person tent, because why the hell not? If you do go smaller, there are a lot of little tents that aren't "free-standing", meaning that they have to be staked out properly to actually stand up. You might not want to deal with that. Most 2-persons are some kind of dome that will stay upright once you get the poles installed.

I like having a flashlight (usually a AA-powered maglight) and a headlamp. Headlamp for cooking and reading, flashlight for walking. Since the headlamp beam is emanating almost directly from your eyes, there won't be any shadows cast by it (as far as you can tell) which makes navigating terrain at night more interesting than it needs to be.
posted by LionIndex at 4:12 PM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've been camping all my life- since the late 1950's- in a variety of situations. If you're resourceful you'll get by OK, and even a little suffering won't be all that bad, because it gives your stories a little more spice. Tom Stienstra's books on camping will have a lot of good advice if you can find them- they're a little old now, but camping doesn't change too much over time. Even in the introduction of books like "California Camping" you will find useful hints.

Vegan food should not be too difficult if you bring a pot for boiling water . It's carnivores that have trouble with fresh food when camping. But lentils and mung beans cook up in the same time as brown rice, and with some miso and root veggies like carrots, onions, potatoes, and parsnips to go along you won't go hungry.

Sidebar: is it high elevation? That changes the game- prep time for beans and grains is a lot longer because the boiling temp of water may be reduced. At 5K feet you will notice some slight extended cooking time. At 11K feet you cannot cook starchy things like rice, beans, and potatoes without a pressure cooker. (ref http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-altitude_cooking) At high altitudes you may have to bring precooked food in pouches (trader joe's has precooked brown rice, for example) rather than depend on cooking grains etc. Maybe more nuts and dried fruit, cheese and crackers, canned cooked veggies.

Practically speaking, tea is a lot easier than coffee to feed your caffeine addiction. A lot more caffeine pound for pound, and can brew in cold water over time if you don't want to light a fire. "sun tea" does not require sunlight.

I like steel-cut oats in the morning, - they're more compact than rolled oats, and if you can start soaking them in boiling water at dinnertime, they will be ready to eat by morning and only need a bit of warming. Add peanut butter and raisins, and you're golden. On a morning when you don't light a fire, "moon tea" soaked overnight, with Cliff bars and some gorp and fruit will get you hiking without too much delay.

Showers- an enclosed screen house if mosquitoes are a problem, and a bucket of clean warm water and another that nests with the first to catch the rinse water, and a cup for dipping. Use your rinse water to wash out your socks and small-clothes. You might keep your extra water in your car along with these amenities somewhere the sun will warm them up during the day, like on the front seat of a south-facing car, and plan your bucket shower in the parking lot in mid-afternoon.

The benedryl is a great idea- topical cream for your bites; orally it will help you sleep if your bed is not as comfy as you could wish, and further suppress your histamine reactions. Add some neosporin to your first-aid stash for small injuries and for chapped lips too in a pinch, especially if they're cracked.

Plan on drinking water BEFORE you're thirsty- if you don't drink a gallon a day (including tea and other drinks) maybe you're not getting enough. You should feel the need to pee every four hours or so; if not, drink more. Even borderline dehydration will make you headachy and nautious, sap your energy and make you miserable and hung-over; and we don't need to get into the advanced symptoms.

LED lanterns are way lighter, more rugged, and safer than the old propane ones- include one that can be recharged by cranking- I have one that is feather light and will glow a decent time on 120 cranks, and will not let you down in case batteries run out.

A camp stool for these old bones is a God-send. Maybe you will appreciate one too. A tent which is high enough to allow you to sit up and at least crouch to dress without looking like Houdini getting out of a straight jacket increases your comfort a lot.
posted by halhurst at 4:50 PM on April 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am a big fan of the DEET insect-repellent wipes that are individually packaged (like "moist towelettes".) They're very lightweight to carry, won't leak into your pack like DEET in a bottle might, and you can always keep a couple stashed in a pocket of your pack. By all means go with your Plan A for repelling insects but I strongly advise throwing a couple of the DEET wipes in your pack just in case you need a Plan B because nothing will ruin a trip faster than maddening swarms of insects you are not able to deal with.
posted by Nerd of the North at 5:55 PM on April 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

A book. A journal and/or sketchbook if you are so inclined. A musical instrument. A printed guide to making baskets out of branches, or something crafty like that. Essentially, things to do when you are done with running around the woods and want some more sedentary activities to occupy your time.

My personal solution to crappy camping mattresses is a Hennesey hammock. Bug-proof, rain-proof, super comfy, sets up in under a minute. Combine this with a storage/hang out area made from a large tarp for sun/rain protection and a big mosquito net. Put a camp chair in there and you will approach Jedi-levels of camping awesomeness.

Did you know they make clothing and socks with built-in odorless insect repellent?

Oh, and marshmallows. Because, obviously.
posted by ananci at 7:08 PM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I forgot to add, the hammock can get cold since you are above ground. Pack a good sleeping bag and a Thermarest or other inflatable pad to help retain your body heat and you will be fine.
posted by ananci at 7:16 PM on April 22, 2015

If it gets down to freezing at night, it's gonna be mighty chilly when you open your eyes in the morn. Bring gloves! And a winter hat (wool or similar).
posted by scratch at 8:59 PM on April 22, 2015

For food, the TastyBites Indian meals (or similar brands, probably) that come in little packets are delicious and easy to make while camping.
posted by three_red_balloons at 11:13 PM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

A journal. Days are surprisingly long when you're alone in the woods. It's nice to have something to focus your thoughts on.
posted by kanewai at 1:27 AM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have seen freeze dried split pea soup and refried beans at several food co-ops in their bulk sections. Visit the bulk section for further inspiration.
posted by aniola at 7:58 AM on April 23, 2015

As far as cleaning with no plumbed shower, the saying goes "pits, bits, tits & mitts."
posted by aniola at 8:01 AM on April 23, 2015

Be very careful with any DEET-containing bug spray; it will degrade/melt your tent and any gear made with that tent-y material.
posted by Weeping_angel at 8:13 AM on April 23, 2015

three_red_balloons, this is a superb suggestion. I'm an omnivore and I eat TastyBites because they're super yummy. My favorites are the channa masala and Madras lentils. My local Costco stocks them.

There are some little features on tents that make a big difference in how easy they are to set up. My trusty REI tent (a 10-year-old Half Dome 2) has a color-coded footprint tarp, tent body and rain fly. That's to say, the grommets the poles go through? On one end of the tent the grommet tape is orange; on the other end of the tent the tape is black (see a picture here.) That way you know THIS end of the footprint goes under THIS end of the tent, which goes under THIS end of the rain fly. I've never tried to put the tent together wrong. The only time my tent has ever gotten damp inside, I hadn't properly staked out my rain fly. The air gap between tent body and fly is what keeps condensation from building up, so make sure the fly touches the tent body as little as possible.

Whichever tent you end up with, pitch it and strike it a couple of times at home (in daylight, in dry weather) so you'll be comfortable with it at your campsite. As a rule, don't ever take new, unfamiliar equipment with you on a trip. Fool around with it at home first, or do an overnight shakedown trip to test everything.

As for the mosquitoes, I suggest a mosquito head net (and a hat to hang it on). You'll look like a beekeeper but they are the only thing to keep mosquitoes and gnats from getting in your eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Combine this with my favorite bug spray, 3M Ultrathon, and you should be reasonably well protected. Oral antihistamines will help control itching from any bugs that get through to you.
posted by workerant at 12:37 PM on April 23, 2015

« Older Gallbladder removal laparoscopically due to...   |   Yet another "what car should I buy?" question. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.