Sleeping outside by yourself is scary, right?

This is a question I often get asked when I tell people about my weekend plans. How is it that one of the most basic and natural of things for a human being to do has become not only “scary” but intimidating to the point of hesitation? I get it though, I honestly used to feel the same way. As a kid who grew up mostly outside, I still felt nervous before heading out into the backcountry for what would be my first time sleeping outside by myself. I suppose my fear came from two things: not being prepared and well, bears. Now with over 400 nights spent sleeping in the thickly wooded forests of Maine or on the high mountain tops of the Sierra Nevada, I have come to realize my misconceptions and misguided fears about the outdoors could have not only prevented me from sleeping outside, but from having some of the best nights of my life.

So if you’re feeling nervous about getting out there, here are 5 myths you no longer need to worry about when setting out to camp under the stars:

1. Wildlife Wants To Bother You

This is hardly ever the case. For the most part, interacting with wildlife is an intimate experience to be cherished, not feared. For some people, like myself, these fears go away with time. I still remember a sleepless night spent in Shenandoah National Park, listening to the shaking of branches in a tree where my food bag hung. I laid awake all night certain the accused black bear tearing through my food bag would soon finish my ramen and chocolate bars and come for me next. When morning arrived I peered out of my tent to find no signs of any such bear, my food bag mostly intact and a few scattered footprints of what appeared to be a disgruntled raccoon. Three years later with twenty or so non-exciting bear encounters under my belt I now find myself disappointed if unable to see one on a weekend adventure. Wildlife is part of the experience of sleeping in the woods, so if you follow the recommended protocols from park rangers in the area, you can relax in knowing most creatures are much more afraid of you then you will be of them.

2. Great Adventures Are Always Big Adventures

Just like anything else, adventure comes in all shapes and sizes. Sleeping in the backyard as a kid was fun and there’s no reason it still can’t be! If you are new to sleeping outside, why not start small? Maybe you haven’t explored the river valley that’s walking distance from your home and you’ve always wondered what it would be like to sleep underneath those big oak trees. You don’t have to be out of cell range to be on an adventure. Nature is all around you the minute you step out your door. Working yourself up to your dream overnight adventure is a great way to remove the hesitation and make you feel more empowered.

3. You Must Bring Everything That You Possibly Can

I see this time and time again in the outdoors—folks too tired to go on because their backpacks are too heavy or their feet are too sore. Many first time backpackers are convinced it is necessary to bring an item for every possible scenario on their overnight trip. A heavy pack loaded up with too much non-essential gear and possessions can feel overwhelming. I believe a lighter pack makes for a lighter mind and a bigger smile. Part of the draw to going outside to spend time in the wilderness is to be more connected with nature. The more stuff you bring, the more distance you put between you and the very thing you are trying to connect with.

4. You Need To Be An Experienced Outdoors Person

As someone who spent their first night sleeping outside alone on the Appalachian Trail, I can attest that all it takes to sleep outdoors by yourself is a willingness to do so. You will never forget that first night you overcome your fears and conquer sleeping under the stars. I’ve met many first time campers out on epic adventures who are having the time of their lives; everything is new and exciting when it’s your first go! No matter where I pitch my tent these days I can honestly say that nothing will compare to those first few nights ripping off the bandaid on the Appalachian Trail. While it is true that you don’t have to be experienced to sleep alone in nature, it is still critical that you do what you can to be prepared. Be sure to always check the weather forecast and bring your 10 essentials before heading out to your camp spot. If you have a significant walk back to the trailhead you’ll need to be prepared to take shelter in case the weather becomes undesirable. Be sure to always tell a friend or family member where your headed and when you plan to return!

5. Cowboy Camping Is Just For Cowboys

For many of us, the sleeping outside part of your backcountry adventure is the best part. Feeling well rested and rejuvenated by nature is key, and probably the reason we headed outside in the first place. So why not sleep with an unobstructed view of the milky way or your favorite constellation? With the right sleeping pad and sleeping bag, you can ditch the tent and feel empowered to spend a night truly under the stars. Weather permitting I never miss an opportunity to feel the warm night breeze on my face or wake up to the creeping dawn, there’s nothing like it. If you are worried about changing weather overnight, simply set up your tent nearby for reassurance!