Solo Hiking: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
First of all, let me come clean and tell you I solo hike a lot. 95% of my hikes are solitary. Aside from the reasons below, I have one very crucial reason for hiking alone, I record
my hikes for YouTube, (Check out my channel, Amputee Outdoors).
I will stop frequently and spend several minutes setting up my tripod, framing the shot, shooting the sequence 2-3 times, etc. I’ve found that most people get really tired of my doing that very quickly. Aside from my particular example, there are lots of good reasons to hike alone, several reasons you shouldn’t, and a few where it’s risky. Let’s start with the good.
Setting your own pace. As mentioned above, I have a specific reason for hiking an extra hour or so. This is also true for a lot of other folks. You may have a pace that is slower or faster than others. You may like to take frequent breaks. Viewpoints that others may think are so-so, you may think to deserve a longer look. When it's just you, there’s no worrying about annoying anyone by slowing them down or making them feel like they are the slow ones.
Peace and quiet. For many folks, the absence of conversation is a highly sought-after joy. The chance to just walk along a trail and let your mind wander, with no one asking you questions, talking about work, the kids, the budget, etc., is a wonderful thing. It’s sort of like meditating but you’re getting a workout.
Logistics. I don’t know about you, but if I’m hiking with others, I find myself worrying if they’ve brought enough food and water. I’ll pack along extra just in case and that’s extra weight. There’s also the problem of meeting at the trailhead at a designated time and you’re running late (or they are) and there’s no cell phone reception in the mountains to let them know.
Confidence building. You’ve planned, practiced, and packed the right gear for the environment and weather. A few challenges came your way and you, all by yourself, were able to overcome them. The feeling of accomplishment and confidence that comes from that fills the soul.
Changing your trail. There’s been plenty of times when I’ve been hiking along, found a crossing trail, checked it out on the map, and decided to take a detour. No need to discuss and agree with anyone else. You may find yourself on a trail and for you, the conditions indicate it’s time to turn back. That’s your decision, no need to feel like you need to continue on because your hiking buddies feel like they can.
Wasting time. There’s been plenty of trails where I’ve stopped for a while and played around with different ways to set up my hammock and rainfly. Or practiced fire starting. Whatever I want. I’m just playing about with no concern for how long I might take to do it.
It can get lonely. For those that are more social, solo hiking is a bit of a strain. Having no one to talk with is unsettling and when you do find someone on the trail to talk with, you might find yourself overdoing it. Sitting around a campfire, drinking a beer, and eating freeze-dried food all by yourself can be pretty dull. Having friends sitting around that campfire with you is a lot more fun.
You have to carry more. Hiking and backpacking with a group means that gear can be spread across two or more backpacks. If it’s just you, you’re carrying the whole tent, all the food, the water filtration system, the bear barrel, etc.
No one to share the joy with. The bonding experience of hiking up to a peak and marveling at the view with your friends is like no other. It’s a shared memory that you and your friends will treasure forever. Not going to get that all by yourself.
Your friends can reality-check you. I’ve fallen victim to the “I can do this” thinking once or twice and really wish I’d had a friend with me to provide a more reasoned opinion. With a group of friends on a trail you have a mix of experiences and skills that can provide insight into a situation that you alone might not have.
It’s all on you. You’re setting up the tent, building the fire, rigging up the bear bag, filtering the water, cooking the food, chopping the wood, etc. Just you. Dividing that work among friends gets it all done sooner and you all move onto the camaraderie being out in nature together brings.
No one to help you if you’re injured or sick. This is the worst-case scenario. You’ve cut your hand, broken a leg, drank some unfiltered water, whatever the case is, there’s no one to help you. Knowing this is a possibility, as a solo hiker, you have to take it into consideration. Plan for this. This will mean that your First Aid kit is a little larger than if you were with others. It also means that you must be honest about your abilities and limitations and by doing so, prevent problems. Is that stream flowing fast? Don’t cross it. Is it getting late? Set up camp now, it’s going to take longer by yourself. Is the trail steeper and muddier/icier than you planned? Time to turn back.
Help! I’m lost! Even the most experienced hikers can get lost and one person alone in the woods is vulnerable. Don’t let those shows on the Discovery channel tell you otherwise! You have fewer resources, collective knowledge, and experience. Combine being lost with an injury and you’re very close to being on the news for the wrong reasons. Again, prevention is the key to making this problem not happen. A map, compass, and navigation app on your phone or a dedicated GPS device should be part of your gear every time you hit the trail. Check your map or navigation app frequently. On many trails, I will check my location at every junction, stream crossing, or landmark just to confirm I’m where I’m supposed to be.
Whether you are solo hiking or with friends, preparation is key. Know where you’re going, and what the conditions will be like, review recent hiking reports, check your gear for wear and tear, make sure you’re taking the right gear for the conditions and environment, and most importantly, know yourself.