Sleeping alone outdoors
There are many benefits sleeping outdoors. In general we sleep much better (once we get used to it), we reset broken sleeping patterns and releases stress. To some, it's no big deal. But for others, the step, between the bed and the sleeping bag in the woods, is a huge one to take. In my last post I shared some practical skills on sleeping outdoors when it's cold. This time we take a look at mental skills.
Difficult to make it happen at all?
If you're not used to, or never have been sleeping outdoors before - it's easy to make it a bigger project than it needs to be. One good way to prepare yourself is to pack your things ahead of time. Write a list with everything you want to bring and check once an item is in the bag. Simply knowing that you've got things in order can do wonders.
Hard to fall asleep?
It's very common to sleep light or bad the first night on a hike. It usually takes 2-3 nights before the body has adapted. If your back or hips hurt when sleeping on the ground, it might be a good idea to try an inflatable mattress or a hammock.
Necessity knows no law
Please, break the illusion that you'll be abel to sleep when you need to pee. Get up, do what you need to, then you can snuggle back in the sleeping bag. It'll feel so much better, I promise, it simply takes some self-disciplin.
With some practice int he shower back home, you can learn how to pee in a container in your sleeping bag. Like a bottle with wide opening, a small plastic bucket or a she-wee.
This usually happens either as a reaction to stress or because we're cold and the pressure on our bladder increases. This is due to blood from your hands, feet, arms and legs are reorganizing in order to keep vital organs in your torso alive. Very practical body function, indeed. You can read more about how to keep warm here.
Photografer 1, 2 & 4: Erik Stormark
Wild animals and weird sounds
Most creatures living int he swedish woods are more affraid of you than you're affraid of them. The exception would be a horny capercaillie, a hungry mouse och a curious fox cub. In general, we humans make a lot of noise, so wild animals are well aware that there's a human in their forest and stay away.
Roe deer barks like dogs with a flue, sharp and short. Foxes bark are more withdrawn "huäääh". Barn owl, sounds like - well excuse the expression - a maltreated cat from a horror movie. If sleeping in the woods in spring and there are bangs, hissing and clicking sounds, you might have set camp close to a capercaillie lekk. Google animal- and birdsounds before your trip, make it a game listening and trying to figure out what it is!
Snapping twigs and bangs in the woods at night does'nt necessary mean that there's something big moving around or that it's close. In the dark it's much harder to judge the distance of such, especially if you're already abit stressed. A good way to get around this, is to get to know the sounds of the place in daylight. Close your eyes and listen for a while. Look and then try to recognize what's making which sounds. When I live in a tipi and the storms of early spring kept me awake (it sounded as if the tipi would fly away or break), I used this method on windy days.
Fear of strangers
Are you born with uterus and find it scary to sleep alone outdoors? Sorry to say, but you're not alone. And forest-brothers, please keep reading, for better understanding what your friends or sisters might be dealing with. Generaly speaking, people percepted to be male are fear wild animals, people percepted as a woman may fear the beasts to - but they also carry the fear of being abused, raped or murdered - by a man. It's not some silly chimeara unique to the indivivual. Nor is it some ancient inherited herd instinct. These last 10 years, I've not met a singel cis man in the outdoors, being afraid of getting abused, raped or murdered when sleeping alone in the woods. Even without having any science behind it, I can't help but making the conclusion that this is a social problem. Those percepted as cis women at birth, learns from early age by their social environment that being alone in the dark - is dangerous. Not only in the outdoors, but in everyday life. Some write on the internet things like "you don't have to be affraid in the forest, it's more dangerous in town". It's written with good intention and in Sweden it's true. Compared with hiking in the USA where women have disappeared for good from the trails, the Swedish woods are pretty safe, no matter how you identify. Well, we know that it's pretty safe, but how do we over come this fear?
If you feel unsafe sleeping outdoors on your own, split it into baby steps. Start sleeping close to or in your car. Or bring a friend and sleep with some distance apart from each other. Some start sleeping outdoors on their balcony or in their garden. Some feels safer putting up their camp on an island, or a hundred meters away from the local windshelter or hiking trail. In a way I'm feel happy that people find solutions making them feel safe. But it also makes me sad, thinking that not even the outdoors is equal ground for every one to enjoy.
My experience and mental training hacks
I've been outdoors a lot since childhood, lived alone in a tipi a few years and made a few solotrips. Some years ago I was sincerely suprised and even irritated when people asked if I was scared of wild animals or "what if some one drops by" (read: what if your abused, raped or murdered) .
But nowadays, I can also feel the stress and fear when sleeping alone in the woods. Espescially if I haven't done it for a while or if I hear the voices of strangers. I use to cope by focusing on my breath and trying to look at my own thoughts with some distance. State : " okey, now I'm thinking these kind of thoughts. It will pass." Instead of allowing the stress/fear to get hold of me. I also remind myself that sounds travel very far at night, if I simply wait for a while and they didn't get closer, it's easier to relax. But one really has to catch those thoughts before they spin the wheel. I've heard some people watch a movie on their phone or read to calm themselves through distraction. A fire is also great company.
Okay, I tried and I'm still super stressed and can't sleep. What should I do?
Well, there are two ways to handle it.
One: be kind to yourself. If you've been awake for hours, just call it a wrap and go home. There's no shame in it, there's no competition. Be proud that you dared trying. You can go back anytime and try again. One beautiful morning you will rock it.
Two: be hard on yourself. Stay put and wait for dawn. It's different from person to person what actually works. For some the only thing that works in the long run, is to wait out ones brain, allow it to understand that nothing dangerous will happen tonight. One beautiful morning you will rock it.
To all outdoor-brothers out there
(and especially you who are thinking in terms like "Not ALL men" or "I'm a good guy")
Please, remember that it's Not about you personally when someone shy or looks uncomfortable, it's a structural problem - but you can be a part of the solution. If you meet a solo-hiking woman by the windshelter or on the trail: simply say Hi in a kind way and leave her alone. Don't take for granted that she sees you as The knight in shining armor. If she wants help, she'll ask. If she wants company she'll talk to you. Together we can make the outdoors life safe for everyone.
Are you scared of sleeping outdoors? And if so, how do you handle it? Please, share with us in the comments below or on Instagram! Please, tag us @tracelessintiveden, so that we may spread some more kindness and support to those who longs to be outdoors, but don't dare to.
Snuggle in peace and take care!