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Related to this question, if I'm camping and hiking on my own, I'm obviously at more of a risk than if I were with someone, and some key tasks will definitely be harder with no-one to assist (such as putting up a tent).

If I were planning such a trip, what should I be aware of and therefore practice or train? I'm thinking both in terms of safety (such as learning basic first aid) and practicalities (such as learning how to quickly erect a tent on your own).

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I already practise setting up a tent on my own before I buy it at the shop. If I can't do that in <5 minutes in a shop, I wouldn't want to do it in bad weather conditions outdoors. –  Sdry Oct 14 '13 at 9:53
    
regarding communication with SAR, I don't know about in other countries, but in the uk you can register with the emergency services to be able to send a text message which will be of advantage in low signal areas as a text requires less of a signal to send. Added to that is the text will be prioritised to bypass standard text traffic, all you need to do is text register to 999 and follow the instructions of the reply you will receive. this was originally for the disabled who where unable to use a voice service but it was also found to be of advantage to hikers, rock climbers, etc. –  Scout leader Apr 30 at 1:36

5 Answers 5

up vote 11 down vote accepted
  • Have an emergency kit, and a first aid kit. Keep both of these on your person at all times, but at a minimum, keep the emergency kit on you. People have died less than a mile from camp because they left all their gear at the tent and went for a "short hike"
  • Set up a some sort of check in system. These range from the simple cell phone to the fancy (and pricey) GPS Search and Rescue systems which can send short pre-programmed emails.
  • Tell someone when you are leaving, your route, and your expected return. Do this even if you have the fancy S&R system.

Gear

  • Carry backup water purification in case your primary fails.
  • Ditto for fire and cutting tool

Behavior & Knowledge

  • Move slower and more carefully; no one is going to be there to go for help if you get hurt.
  • Camp off trail, preferably out of sight. Two legged animals are the most dangerous and a hiker alone is more at risk.
  • Do NOT put yourself at risk for hypothermia. It's incredibly hard to self rescue or self aid when under the affects of hypothermia.
  • Make more noise. A group will make a ton of noise (comparatively) and scare off bears, dogs, snakes, etc. As an individual you are more likely to startle something which can hurt you.

(I'm trying to restrict this to just things that are different when alone, as opposed to a catch-all "safety" answer)

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There is implicitly more dangerous about camping on your own. That is to say that the probability of something going wrong is no worse than with more than one person, in fact one person is less likely to encounter a problem than two from a pure probability theory perspective. The exception is a collaborative exercise like a river crossing, but that's another matter.

The thing we have to consider when we're on our own is the impact of something going wrong. That is to say how bad it is. When something does go wrong on your own, there is nobody to help you lower the impact of a problem.

From a risk management perspective we would therefore want to:

  1. Reduce probability of incident
  2. Reduce impact of incident

The incidents that are more likely to occur when camping are:

  1. getting lost
  2. injury

To reduce the probability of getting lost, ensure that you have a good plan, map, compass and keep a constant log of where you are and where you're heading. If you can plan to reduce the likelihood of getting lost by choosing routes with more well defined paths or more obvious landscape features (mountains and water normally), then all the better. This strategy is based around you reducing your exposure to the chances of getting lost. Clearly the purest strategy is to camp next to roads, but that's pretty boring. However, camping on a route which is perpendicular to (say South of) a straight (East/West) road will give you the opportunity to head in one direction (North) and return to that road no matter how East/West you are of your intended course.

To reduce the probability of injury, good quality equipment appropriate for the terrain will be ideal. Clearly, reducing exposure to high risk features such and fast flowing water and steep, loose rock faces will reduce the chances of injury. Strategies such as grass disturbance mentioned by another poster will also help.

To reduce the impact of injury a good first aid kit is essential. As a small cut (low impact generally) can soon become infected (high impact) if not treated. More immediately life threatening injuries can sometimes be managed personally, but loss of mobility and consciousness will often be what prevents you from self help in these situations.

You will need to have an idea how "far from help" you are. This is more of a time than distance issue. Time can increase the impact of injury and injury can increase the time it takes to help yourself, specifically in terms of self extraction.

Remember, help can only come if they know you need it and they will also need to know where your position. If you cannot readily communicate and you do not have a good idea of your position if you can communicate, then you will increase the time it takes to find you and thus increase the impact of the original incident. You should have a good idea about the mechanisms of communication available in your area and the available SAR services.

If you know your communication is patchy, they you can employ a "lack of communication is a problem" strategy having known check in points to a third party who knows your plan and who will communicate with rescue services on your behalf if you do not check in.

With this in mind, it's worth noting that if you have made a plan, you should stick to it. If you want to change your plan, you should let someone know. That way when the threshold of lack of communication happens and SAR gets involved, they will have the best idea where you are.

It may be that you are in a region where other people are about which you could signal to. In this case, a whistle (on your person) is a great tool as it requires little effort to blow and get at least some distance, which is nice if you've cracked your ribs for instance.

Time compounds the impact of getting lost where lack of water and food can become an issue. In these cases, you must plan for the worst. Even a one day hike can become a night camp if you get lost, so don't forget that torch.

In summary, reduce the probability of incident by reducing exposure through planning and by using good quality equipment, a plan and a log. Reduce the impact of incident by keeping essential equipment on your person and having enough equipment for survival based on how far from help you are. Have a communication strategy and stick to the plan.

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I guess the only difference when traveling alone is that everything is more dangerous, difficult and time-consuming. :D

Here are some things I did before undertaking my last long trip alone.

  1. Did some research on local wildlife: snakes, bears, wolves. Based on the research, practiced a drill in case a snake bites me, so that I have a chance to act adequately when I am panicked, scared, and tired at a moment of incident.

  2. Brought a turned-off cell phone.

  3. When camping, stayed as close as possible to my fire. Had a prepared fast burning fuel, e.g. a dry branch with the leaves still on. When this thing is thrown into the fire a fireball results for several seconds that may scare off animals and lights the entire immediate area. Had а prepared knife at my immediate reach.

  4. When camping, placed the food and any smelly things about ten meters from the tent.

  5. Used a staff not only as a walking aid, but also to disturb high vegetation before I step in it. Also carried high boots in the summer.(*)

  6. Was suspecting of strangers.

And some mistakes I made:

  1. Not enough water. Water is a heavy substance and I always liked to believe that I will find a stream soon, no need to carry too much. Wrong. Had whole days without water. Always check the map and/or talk to people who have been there to know how often you will find water. Less of a problem in the spring or winter. Spring is especially merciful, as you can melt snow in a bottle in the sun or on your backpack.

  2. Lost my gear. Yeah, sounds scary. Having a heavy backpack and being quite tired a couple of times I decided to go scouting "just a hundred meters" in a circle around my backpack. Never, never, never again. If you are with people, they can scream and jump. Anything you leave in the forest should be considered lost and only happy coincidence if it is found.

  3. Carried monotonous food. I had a good deal of dried meat, bread, and several other things. A bad idea. After several days only meat and bread were left and after two days of eating only this I began feeling my energy leaving me. Carry as many different foods as possible.

(*) Note: this is not reliable. Only very high and reasonably thick boots can protect from a snakebite. Regarding disturbing the grass: when I met a snake I decided to test this. I approached the snake—it didn't move. I raised the staff and hit the ground several centimeters form the snake. Still nothing. The damn thing was probably thinking it was hiding from me.

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Youch on the days without water bit... –  berry120 Jun 1 '12 at 12:10
    
There were some blueberries. Saver, and are very tasty. And I was without water because I left my last water "just for a minute" in the grass. –  Vorac Jun 1 '12 at 12:15

I would not recommend camping alone if you have not camped before. There is quite a lot of multitasking - in a group of 4 adults often every single one works simultaneously for an hour or so when we reach a campsite - and you could find yourself trying to do things in the dark (which is dangerous) or when you're too hungry to think straight. Next thing you know you've tripped over something and sprained an ankle, or burned yourself, and you don't have any help.

Make sure you're capable of putting up your tent and that you know how long it takes. Make sure you're capable of lighting your stove. (You can practice these in the backyard or possibly in a park, though you might get a visit from someone who thinks you're trying to actually camp and tells you to move on.) Make sure you stop early enough each day to do everything that has to be done before dark. When planning your route, take into account that you may walk more slowly (carrying a heavier load) or need more trips across portages. You may also just stop to stare from a lookout, or to watch some wildlife, or various things that you wouldn't do if you were with someone. You should know what order things have to be done: unrolling your sleeping pad and bag and getting your flashlight out of the pack can wait until after you've made dinner, but getting a tarp up to protect from the rain that's coming probably can't.

Also, imagine you're canoeing with a partner and you suddenly need to pee. You and your partner paddle to shore, you jump out and go as far inland as water protection and privacy require, then you come back. 5 minutes. But if you're alone, you'll need to find a place where you can tie up the canoe and leave it unattended without having it tipped by waves or washed away. Maybe pull it up on shore a bit. You'll need to dig out some rope to tie it to a tree. This all takes time. Same when you're at a campsite, you can't just pop out to gather some wood for a fire, you have to secure the campsite (at least to stop stuff blowing away) and pick up the things you need to take with you (cell phone, emergency kit) rather than just coming and going as you please and yelling for help if you need it.

Most people who go camping suffer nothing worse than blisters and sunburn. I find that if people are going to get hurt more seriously, it's when they're tired, hungry, grumpy from their blisters and sunburn, or when it's dark. Going alone significantly raises the chances of all those things. So allow more time, and look after yourself.

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One thing that should be obvious, but still is worth repeating: If you’re out alone, make sure you can get help when you need it. I recently went on a solo trip into the mountains in the winter and realized that something like hurting your knee in the deep snow can happen quite quickly and if you can’t get help, in the winter you’re in big trouble.

Which is why you should always carry a working phone, make sure the battery does not run out during the trip and make sure if there’s carrier signal. Certainly it doesn’t hurt if somebody reliable knows where you’re going and when to ring the alarm if you’re not back.

cf. 127 Hours :-)

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Argh, why is that not on netflix instant watch!! –  Russell Steen May 13 '12 at 18:49
    
127 Hours is one of the most unpleasant movies I have ever watched. –  gerrit Jul 31 '12 at 14:53

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