Have you ever gone hiking in the backcountry with a large, conversational group of buddies and thought to yourself, “I love my friends, but I really wish I had the time and space to enjoy this by myself?” At the same time, why is it that we can feel so comfortable going for a walk in the local park by ourselves yet when it comes to solo hiking, we think twice?
Solo hiking is such a great form of relaxation but it does come with some unique challenges. Here at The Adventure Junkies, we understand you might be hesitant. That’s why we’ve put together this fantastic FAQ to answer all your questions and get you out on the trail by yourself in no time at all!
1. WHAT IS SOLO HIKING?
Solo hiking is no different at all to regular hiking, except you’re out there doing it by yourself! It doesn’t matter whether it’s a quick jaunt through your local nature park or a 12-day trek out in the wilds. If you’re hiking alone, then it’s a solo hike.
2. WHAT IS DIFFERENT ABOUT SOLO HIKING COMPARED TO NORMAL HIKING?
The physical act of solo hiking is not really any different to when you hike with your partner or a group friends. You put on your boots, strap on your pack and follow that trail.
The difference lies on your mindset and approach to managing risk. When you’re hiking by yourself, you don’t have a support network.
There isn’t someone else who can provide advice or seek assistance in an emergency. You are entirely reliant on your mental strength, experience and practical skills to get yourself from point A to B safely.
But you know what? It’s exactly that challenge that makes solo hiking so rewarding. It is such a feeling of accomplishment to know you’ve tested yourself and emerged a stronger, more resilient person!
3. WHY SHOULD I GO SOLO HIKING?
There are many reasons why you might consider solo hiking. It may be to escape the rat race and enjoy the quiet and solitude of the backtrail. For some, it’s the enjoyment they get out of successfully challenging themselves physically and mentally.
Then there are those who simply prefer their own company to that of others — the introverts of the world. All are equally valid explanations, and there is no doubt there are many other reasons out there!
4. WHERE CAN I GO SOLO HIKING?
Anywhere! If you can hike it as a group then you can hike it by yourself. Of course, there are a few extra considerations when hiking alone but there are very few trails out there that you won’t be able to overcome by yourself.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
5. IS IT SAFE TO GO SOLO HIKING?
Yes, absolutely! But…there are a few extra things to consider.
TELL SOMEONE YOUR PLANS
Sadly, many hiker injuries and fatalities could have been prevented if only they told someone of their plans before setting out. Let a close friend know which trail you’re hiking and that if they haven’t heard from you by a certain date or time, they should get in touch with the authorities.
REGISTER YOUR HIKE
Some of the longer trails will have a registration form that can be filled out at the trailhead or at a ranger’s station. This is a great way of letting rangers know of your planned movements and expected return date.
CHECK THE WEATHER
When you’re by yourself, you don’t have the benefit of another hiker to help you erect a tent in stormy conditions or to help find ways to keep warm in an emergency. If you know the weather forecast, then you can ensure to pack the right gear to get you through the worst of it.
KNOW YOUR ABILITIES
If your cell phone battery died, would you know how to navigate with a map and compass? Could you ford that river safely by yourself after heavy rains? Have you ever hiked a trail as long as this before with a group?
It is critical that you don’t overestimate your own abilities, and that you have the confidence you will be able to handle any eventuality.
You can’t share the load, so the key to a fun solo hike is to pack as light and as smart as possible. Take reusable items, buy gear made of lightweight materials and pack only the minimum you’ll need while still staying safe.
PLAN FOR THE “WHAT IFS”
Before deciding to tackle a trail in solo mode, do your research and think about everything that could realistically go wrong. Is your tent waterproof?
What would you do if a snake bit you? Would you know what to do if you got lost? Thinking these scenarios through and writing up a response plan is an effective way of assuring yourself that you can handle the hike.
6. HOW SHOULD I PREPARE FOR A SOLO HIKE?
There are some essential skills that every solo hiker needs to have a safe hike.
Knowing how to navigate with a map and compass is critical. Your cell phone may die on you, or you might find there is no GPS signal on the trail.
Do you know your gear inside out, and can you use it in adverse conditions? Putting up your tent at home in the dark is an excellent way of practicing and honing these skills.
Rather than tackle a trail by yourself for the first time, why not hike it with a friend first and get familiar with the challenges that might come your way? While you’re at it, don’t go thinking that your first solo hike should be a three-week monster. Start short, and build from there!
7. DO YOU NEED TO BE YOUNG TO GO SOLO HIKING?
No! Anyone with reasonable mobility can go solo hiking. The key isn’t in age, but in experience and preparation.
8. DO YOU NEED TO BE SUPER FIT TO GO SOLO HIKING?
Definitely not. The key here is in your trail selection. Understanding your own physical capabilities, and then choosing a trail at the right time of year that doesn’t exceed those capabilities is really important.
9. WHAT HAPPENS IF I GET LOST?
Getting lost is a real concern that many of us have.
Firstly, don’t stress, that feeling is completely normal!
Second, do the preparation to stop yourself from getting lost in the first place, and make sure you’ve got the skills (ie. use of a map and compass!) to get yourself back on track with a minimum of fuss. For more help with this, we strongly encourage you to read our Backcountry Navigation FAQ.
10. ARE WOMEN AT GREATER RISK WHEN SOLO HIKING?
No. While there aren’t a lot of statistics available on crimes specifically targeting women in the backcountry, there are studies that show the chances of anyone experiencing a crime while hiking is thousands of times lower than if you had gone for a walk through your home town.
Photo by istockphoto.com/portfolio/remains
11. DO I NEED SPECIAL GEAR TO GO SOLO HIKING?
If you’ve got the right gear to go hiking in a group, then that’s all you need. However, from a safety perspective it is critical that all your gear has been inspected and confirmed to be in good condition.
We recommend as a minimum that solo hikers invest in a whistle, first aid kit, cell phone with GPS, a quality topographic map and a compass. For multi-day hikes in a remote terrain, you should also purchase or hire a personal safety beacon as this can direct emergency services to your exact location when an injury is time critical.
In addition, you may want to think about purchasing a GPS unit.
12. WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT SOLO HIKING?
The easiest place to find information on solo hiking is on the internet. There are dozens of hiking websites and outdoors magazines with plenty of great tips and advice for the solo hiker.
Here at The Adventure Junkies, we love hiking and we’ve put together this guide on How to Plan a Backpacking Trip that we recommend you read.
Wherever you find hikers, you will also find solo hikers! Get in touch with your local hiking club or outdoors association and find out whether there are any events or educational sessions planned. There are so many seasoned professionals out there and they all have fantastic real-world experiences to share with you.