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How To: Prepare for Your First Solo Camping Trip

Your first solo camping trip is a rite of passage: It’s a test of whether you have the wherewithal and fortitude to not only survive, but also thrive alone in the wild. Preparation is key. Pack the wrong gear or sally forth with bad information, and you’ll find yourself up a creek without a paddle (maybe literally).

The key here is preparation. You're not scaling Everest or anything, but for the general "into the wilderness" trip, here’s how to best ready yourself:

Build Stems

If you haven’t exercised in awhile, lugging a heavy pack miles into the woods will kick your butt—and your first camping trip will be your last. A few weeks before your overnighter, take a few hikes while wearing a loaded pack. Throw a brick or two in the bag for extra weight—it’ll increase your cardio and get your muscles used to carrying a hefty load.

Bring the Essentials

Over-pack and your hike up to camp will be brutal. Under-pack and things will be rough once you reach your destination. So bring what you need and not much else. Besides a backpack that fits essentials—for an overnighter, 30-50 lbs. is a good weight —here are a few things you can’t forget to pack:
Small first aid kit
• Long-reach lighter (and backup waterproof matches)
• Sleeping bag, mat, and waterproof tent
• Food, water and a filter
Waterproof Jacket
Flask (if you’re so inclined)
• Bug spray
• Pocketknife
• Your cell phone (Keep it on Airplane mode. Use only for photos and emergencies.)
• Breathable clothing (Shorts are best in warm weather. Avoid cotton shirts.)
• Proper footwear (If your trail is especially rocky, wear boots with high ankles and cushioned insoles.)
Backpacking stove

Pick A Destination

Find a happy medium between something so far removed that if things go wrong, you’ll be in trouble, and somewhere where you can still hear civilization. How to find that place? Do research online, and read reviews (also keep in mind that some backcountry areas require a permit). Then explore the area on Google maps. Be sure to print a topographic map of the area, in case you get lost. Also check the weather report and pack accordingly.

Test Your Gear

The weekend before you head out on your own, go through the motions. Set up your tent, and fire up your camp stove. Check the batteries in your headlamp. Pack everything into your backpack, put it on, and walk around for a while to get a sense of how to evenly distribute the weight.

Find the Spot

Your hike is done. You’ve reached the general area where you want to set up camp (hopefully with a couple hours of light to spare). Now what? Base your selection on proximity to water (within 200 ft. is ideal). A flat spot for your tent increases the comfort of your bed, and pitching by a big tree or boulder provides shelter from the wind and sun.

—Michael Beck

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