Solo Hiking Risks and Rewards
While I do enjoy hiking with others, I find myself planning many adventures without ever contemplating who I'm going to hike with. Whether it be a challenging day hike or a multi-day trip, solo hiking is an experience I crave.
Hike Your Own Hike- Without Restriction
With a partner you need to be mindful of their needs when planning your hike as well as on the trail. You need to compromise with your daily mileage, pace, camping preferences, and more. What if one of you gets sick? What will you do if you feel great and want to push on, but your partner or group wants to make camp? As a solo hiker you have much more freedom to hike as you please. If you want to spend thirty minutes trying to get that perfect shot of a wildflower, you won't see anyone crossed armed, tapping their foot behind you! You can make changes to your day on the spot without holding anyone back or pushing anyone too far. Do your thing!
Get Social! Only If You Want To…
I find I'm more social when I solo hike as I am more approachable to other hikers than if I am in a group. Any day on the trail I could choose to hike or camp with others. There are days where I'd hike with someone for an hour and then continue on my own. Other days I end up spending a whole afternoon hiking with a temporary partner.
New Friends on Glen Pass
Get in Your Head
I like solo hiking for a little "me time". It's refreshing to be on the trail and simply walk. You can sort things out that you may brush aside during your hectic everyday life. You can also choose to hike in silence and take in your surroundings. Solo hiking is a life changer.
Solo hiking requires that you have the necessary backcountry skills. You only have yourself to rely on and that is pretty empowering! Know that your attitude and preparedness will be major factors that contribute to your success.
My hiking partner for the day: Gossamer Gear Gorilla
Did I just claim you will be less stressed hiking in the woods by yourself? I sure did! If you plan on hiking a trail with permit requirements, you'll have a much easier time getting your ideal start date and location for one person. You also don't need to compromise or factor anyone else into your plans. What about on the trail? If you have a shelter for one, you'll likely have many optimal camp spots to choose from. No worrying about how many tents a space may hold or splitting up into multiple locations.
You are much more likely to encounter wildlife hiking solo. I've seen fox, moose, and other various creatures solo hiking. During a solo Presidential Traverse (in New Hampshire's White Mountains) I came across two ravens atop Mount Monroe and an owl near Mount Pierce!
How do you get started? Here are just a few tips. Think of this as a starting point to your planning. We're lucky to have so many wonderful resources online and books to get you ready.
Solo Hiking Tips
- Before your hike, you may hear countless horror stories from people, specifically from those who aren't hikers trying to scare you out of going solo. This is especially true for women. I cannot tell you how many people have looked at me like I have three heads, either for day hiking in NH's White Mountains or solo hiking the John Muir Trail (one of the most popular hiking trails in the U.S.). Even once I returned a family friend said I was lucky… I'm still not sure exactly what she meant. Ignore the naysayers.
- Take Wilderness First Aid. I found this course especially helpful in learning how I could use what I already carry to aid myself and possibly others in the woods as well as how to properly evaluation a situation to make smart choices.
- Start small. Hike local trails you are familiar with and go camping by yourself. It's better to face your fears before taking on a big trip like the JMT and learn what you should bring or leave behind, what makes you uncomfortable, and any other information that may be helpful for planning such as your pace or preferred food on the trail.
- Get in shape by hiking. Your training hikes will serve as a way to sort your gear needs as well as get you physically and mentally prepared for a larger trip. This may be a more advanced day hike or a goal of solo hiking the PCT. Whatever your goals may be, get moving!
- Be realistic about your skills. This should be considered when hiking with someone, but you need to make sure you know yourself.
- Practice hiking in bad weather and familiarize yourself with your rain gear. Nothing worse than a storm rolling in, and you are not prepared to deal with wind and rain. Bad conditions can be very mentally tasking on an unseasoned hiker. Practicing these skills can mean the success of your hiking trip!
Some Things to Consider
- Solo hiking can be mentally challenging. You don't have the external support of someone else to push you up those last few switchbacks. It can be easier to sleep in too late, give into your fears, or have one to many breaks for the day.
- Be aware. It's easy to get lost in your own head and continue too far down a particular route. With no one to confirm the route or poke fun of you for not paying attention, you need to be aware of all intersections and your planned route. You navigation skills should be solid.
- The same holds true for animal encounters and natural disasters. You need to be knowledgeable of what to do if you encounter a bear or see a storm approaching.
- Most of the time you will encounter extremely friendly and helpful people on the trail. After all, they're there for the same reasons you are! You will, on occasion, run into someone who rubs you the wrong way. This may be a bigger issues closer to trail towns or more populated areas. At times I've mentioned my hiking partner is shortly behind. In other scenarios I confidently hike on. It's a rare occurrence, but have a game plan if it does.
With proper planning and training, solo hiking can be extremely rewarding! I hope you get a chance to experience the freedom and independence you can only feel from solo hiking. Happy Trails!
This post was contributed by former Trail Ambassador Allison Nadler and Editor.