No one likes to talk about it (or even admit they’ve experienced it), but it’s real…very real! Something about hunting and the outdoors tends to bring out our most puffed-out-chest, manly-man, I-can-handle-anything versions of ourselves, and so we minimize those parts of us that feel like we can’t handle anything. And because of that phenomenon, no one wants to talk about how frightening it can be to find yourself alone in the backcountry. All by yourself, not another human for miles, just you and whatever you can’t see out there in the dark…I don’t care who you are, some part of you is going to be afraid.
I’ll never forget the first time I ever went truly solo on a backpacking trip…let’s just say that after the sun went down, I was anything but manly. (If you want to hear the story, you can watch me tell it below…trust me, it’ll make you feel much better about any fear you may have dealt with). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Bt5c-6dkRs. Now, that story happened on my first solo trip into the backcountry…surely, as the years have gone by and I’ve been on plenty of solo excursions, that kind of thing doesn’t happen anymore, right? Doesn’t the fear eventually just disappear? Well, you would think so, but I have found it likes to linger for a while. And since there aren’t a ton of people talking about this stuff, it can catch a guy totally off-guard when he gets out there for the first time. I’ll never forget the heart-breaking email I got from a guy who poured months of planning and money into his first-ever solo hunt, got out there the night before opening day, and had an intense wave of anxiety wash over him that had him back at his truck driving home that very night.
Listen, I’ve been there, and I don’t judge anyone who finds themselves in that boat. Fear and anxiety are very real, and they drive us to do things we don’t necessarily want to do (honestly, that’s why God built them into us in the first place). But, I don’t want to see fear hold anybody back from chasing their dream. So, even though I still wrestle with this when I’m all alone in the backcountry, let me offer a few tips I’ve been using that help me settle down and get some sleep. Because let’s face it, if fear keeps you up all night or convinces you to hike out of there…you’re not going to be all that successful as a hunter.
Tools of the Trade
There are more than a few different items you can utilize that will help you sleep better and be more at ease in the backcountry, so spend the little bit of extra money or the extra couple ounces in your pack if it means less fear and better rest.
Good Sleep System
As far as I’m concerned, sleep is the best remedy to fear. If you can fall (and stay) asleep, fear is irrelevant because you’re not conscious to realize you’re afraid…it’s science. And once that sun starts to peek over the horizon, it’s amazing how fear disappears altogether. We’ll talk about ways to get to sleep in a minute, but even if you use a bull tranquilizer on yourself (which I don’t recommend under any circumstances, for the record), it won’t make much of a difference if you sleep setup is so uncomfortable that you wake up to change positions every hour anyway. A decent pad and a warm enough sleeping bag are necessities!!! We can have a whole conversation about the pros and cons of different pads another time, but if the one you’re currently using has you up half the night…get a different one.
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