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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.

solo hiking

 

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.

Glen Pass

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.

Be Independent

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.

Gossamer Gear Gorilla

My hiking partner for the day: Gossamer Gear Gorilla

 

Stress Less

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.

 

Experience More

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!

wildlife

 

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.

15 Responses to Solo Hiking Risks and Rewards

  1. JerryW January 6, 2015 at 8:33 am #

    When I am walking on my own I become one with the environment, part of the landscape. Wild animals look at you, but often don’t run.. it can be a truly magical experience. As soon as there are others, no matter how many, you then carry your own environment with you and you cannot escape it.
    Do please try walking on your own. Humans are social animals nowadays, and it is getting more difficult all the time for us to want to truly stand on our own feet. Try it though, you won’t ever regret it. Start with a day walk and then a weekend, and build…
    As for the risks, if you go into town on your own then statistically, you are at a far higher risk of harm. And I mean *far* higher.

  2. Jarrett January 6, 2015 at 10:54 am #

    I don’t know if it still counts, but i love solo hiking with my dog. On appropriate trails we are free to hike how we want and not worry about others in our group. It’s just a nice break sometimes.

  3. Allison nadler January 6, 2015 at 1:22 pm #

    Well said Jerry. I agree that solo hiking has its own sort of magic! Jarrett- I say it counts! Unless your dog decided the routes, pace, and you two have great conversations… oh wait! 🙂

  4. Rambling Hemlock January 6, 2015 at 2:16 pm #

    You sure capture what is special about solo hiking. I see more wildlife and really appreciate the experience of going on my own.

    Thanks for writing this article- wish I’d had these guidelines when I was working up to doing my solo trips. I really had to ease into it because I’d heard so many stories that scared me off for a long time.

  5. Allison Nadler January 6, 2015 at 5:14 pm #

    Thank you! Happy trails Rambling (Solo) Hemlock!

  6. HikingDiva January 7, 2015 at 10:23 pm #

    I hike/backpack solo 95% of the time (and occasionally with my cat). I enjoy, no, I relish, the solitude, being able to take whatever spur I want, to go at the pace I want, and not having to deal with others’ complaints, limitations.

    I used to be a trip leader for hiking group but got so tired of everyone…it was anything but serene. I just spent 2 weeks btwn Xmas and New Years in TN backpacking, hiking, car camping and it was perfect. Long winter nights with my tablet lets me catch up on reading.

    I live in GA where a single female hiker was abducted and brutally murdered several years ago – I hear about that all the time. Thing is, I feel a lot safer out in the woods than I do in the city. No, I don’t carry a gun, but I am armed with bear spray and common sense.

  7. Allison Nadler January 9, 2015 at 1:00 pm #

    I hear ya! I love leading hikes, but sometimes just need a solo hike. Keep rocking the trail HikingDiva!

  8. Fireweed January 9, 2015 at 1:10 pm #

    Thanks for this article–it needs to be shared widely, especially with women. I, also, backpack solo 95% of the time. I actually lose the trail less when hiking by myself on challenging trails, because I am not distracted by constant relating and talking to another person. I have been hiking solo since the 70’s. I make concessions to being a lone female–I don’t camp at obvious party spots at the ends of roads and try to minimize hitchhiking. I usually use trail angels, buses, trains and local professional shuttles for transport to and from trailheads. It is much easier to plan a hike on your own, too, like you said.

    • Allison Nadler January 12, 2015 at 11:36 am #

      Very true Fireweed! I do have to admit missing an intersection because I got distracted talking!!

      I didn’t write this article for women as I think women don’t specifically need this information. There’s a lot of strong independent gals on the trail, but still this perception that solo hiking is dangerous for women. Thanks for sharing your experience and tips 🙂

  9. Vandy January 9, 2015 at 3:10 pm #

    My work schedule dictates when I get time off to go hiking, and I can rarely coordinate my hiking time with others, so hiking solo is my default. Your article, “nice article, thanks”, reflects what I’ve learned and enjoy about hiking solo. Boy scouting and spelunking replaced fear with preparedness, so I’m quite comfortable hiking solo. Day hiking local trails with hills, 4-16 miles when I can afford it, helps me to prepare for multi-day hiking trips, and sorts out my backpacking gear – what works, and what doesn’t work – and makes me more aware of ultralight advantages. Being part of the hiking environment – no music, listening and aware of the surroundings, observing wildlife, terrain and weather, and where you are (map and compass) – is enjoyable and entertaining enough for me. Stopping to enjoy the scenery, taking pictures and notes, resting your feet (foot care), and talking with hikers you meet along the way – at your pace, when you want – adds to the enjoyment. I think everyone should try solo hiking a few times; it wouldn’t be comfortable or desirable for everyone, but it can be a learning experience.

    • Allison Nadler January 12, 2015 at 11:27 am #

      I agree Vandy! I know a gal who solo hiked Mount Katahdin’s Knife Edge as she couldn’t coordinate with others and being her first solo hike, she finished saying she’d never solo hike again. I find it’s important to know what trails and distances are good for you as an individual to go solo on.

  10. rustmd January 9, 2015 at 5:05 pm #

    Solo hiking requires a certain skill-set acquired overtime. I believe I have those skills and enjoy my solo hikes as chance to use those type of skills out on the Trails.

  11. danthewanderer January 11, 2015 at 3:06 am #

    Great article – well said, especially with regards to sighting more wildlife! For multi-day walks I tend to mix it up, a combination of solo walks & walks with friends. On my last solo walk over nearly 3 weeks, I got some great ‘thinking’ time, not to mention some great reading time, neither of which would have happened otherwise.

    • Allison Nadler January 12, 2015 at 11:22 am #

      And I find constantly engaging in conversation with others tiring! 😉

  12. Walt December 30, 2015 at 6:02 pm #

    Allison: A most thoughtful and insightful article. Last year on the PCT (section hiked) I was hiking north in southern Oregon and took a side trail by mistake, which ended after a half mile on a steep cliff. Lots of fog. After backtracking, I returned to the trail but ended up hiking back south about 3 miles to a road crossing, which I recognized instantly because of the road crew working on it I had seen the first time I passed them! Geesh. I felt foolish.

    But the more positive aspects of going solo you have mentioned, as well as the other responders, make it very worthwhile. When I hiked the Collegiate Loop in Colorado this past summer with a friend, the difference was profound. Until one tries it, it’s surprising how different it is hiking solo and hiking with just one other. I found myself frequently lagging behind for the solitude, and then meeting up at water sources or at lunch break. I don’t think group hiking is for me. There’s just something special hiking the back country alone. No Ties.

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