Women shop alone, drive alone, or eat alone, but what if they plan to hike alone? Lots of people asking now, but is it safe? Carys writes regularly in her Blog about her experience on female solo wild camping. Highlander Outdoor would like to encourage more women to get out and enjoy the great outdoors, so we brought in Carys (@this.girlwalks) to share her advice for other female hikers and solo campers to cover the most important topics.
You’re not going on your own, are you? Is that safe? What if something happens? Won’t you be scared? These are just some of the questions I get asked when I go on a solo wild camp. Of course, they’re all valid and I completely understand where they’re coming from. Women are programmed from a young age never to go anywhere alone. Most of us have that little voice that I think all women have, the voice that keeps us safe and tries to keep us away from danger. We constantly hear these terrible stories and so it’s no surprise that women may have reservations about venturing off alone with a tent, away from people, and in isolation.
So why do I do it? It’s empowering and peaceful. When all the hikers have gone home, you have the mountain to yourself to watch the sun disappear behind the peaks and a beautiful blanket of stars fill the dark night sky. In the morning you unzip your tent to watch the sky almost on fire at first light before the sun rises. It’s just magical.
But isn’t wild camping illegal I hear you cry? Well, no. It is actually legal in Scotland and also Dartmoor, and while not technically illegal in the rest of England and Wales, it is a civil offence unless you get the landowner's permission. However, it is generally tolerated as long as you camp respectfully and leave no trace.
Sleep. I’m going, to be frank, don’t expect the most restful night’s sleep. The more you do it, the better you will get at it but for the first couple of camps you will wake up a lot and you’ll probably convince yourself that, that gust of wind that just blew against your tent was actually some crazed lunatic trying to get in. I was once woken up by what I believed was some kind of monster outside trying to eat me when in fact it was one of the horses that roam the Brecon Beacons munching down on the grass just a little too close to my tent for my liking.
You should arrive late and leave early. Camp away from paths and water sources and this goes without saying, take your litter home with you.
Finding the right kit is half the battle and honestly, I’m still working on it. Each time I camp I come back with a list of things I could do better, don’t need to bring, or things I wish I’d brought. The main things that I consider when buying or packing kit are weight and warmth and I think, besides safety, this is the main barrier for women when wild camping – “How am I going to carry all that up a mountain”.
I’m not going to lie and tell you that it’s easy because it isn’t but there are things that you can do to make it easier. My recommendation of what to pack for a solo camp:
1. Backpack: First things first, get a good backpack that is actually designed for women. I started off with a unisex one which was just a little too wide for my back and I ended up really hurting my shoulder. You’ll need to get a minimum of 60L which sounds a lot but trust me, you will soon fill it.
2. Tent: Next on the list is a lightweight one-man tent. Look for something 1kg-2kg in weight that ideally packs down small. I have a Highlander Blackthorn tent which is perfect, it comes in two sizes weighing 1.5kg – 1.85kg depending on which one you go for.
4. Walking poles: are an absolute game changer and will help get you up those inclines as well as keep you steady coming down them too.
5. Food: Don’t light a fire but instead bring a small stove or a compact boiler to make your meals. I eat mostly dehydrated meals when I’m out camping and bring some snacks along with me.
6. Torch: The final essential item, in my humble opinion, of course, is a torch to light the way when nature calls in the middle of the night!
7. Safety: Ok, so let’s talk about safety, I am all about empowering women to go out and experience the great outdoors and there is a big difference between loneliness and solitude. Don’t spend your life waiting for someone to be available to go with you, I promise, you will never regret being brave.
There are of course things you can do to reassure not only you but your family and friends. Let them know your plans and send them your live location. If the mobile signal is sketchy you can also get mini satellite communicators which allow you to send messages to loved ones as well as the emergency services. Also, carry a whistle so that if you are injured you’ll be able to attract attention to yourself.
8. Prepare your route: Make sure you know your route and feel comfortable navigating in the dark just in case. I pick my camp spots while I’m out hiking and sometimes I will walk it several times before I actually camp there. Ensure you have enough light for the route that you’ve picked and if you feel yourself running out of time, maybe reassess and see if you can camp where you are. I’m sure this goes without saying but avoid any extreme weather – there is no shame in turning back if the weather turns.
9. Enjoy! Maybe you’ll love it, maybe you won’t but you won’t know until you’ve at least tried it. It is now one of my favourite things to do and I cannot wait for the lighter evenings so that I can get out after work and sleep in the safety of the hills.