“Distrusting our capacity to be alone, we too quickly look to others to save us, often from ourselves,” writes Sarvananda in Solitude and Loneliness: A Buddhist View.
Hiking alone often gets a bad rap. What if something bad happens? Well, what if it doesn’t? Some of my most memorable and meaningful hikes have been solo. In the wilderness, with only yourself and the land to think about, you quickly master the art of “being present”, something that is way too easy to avoid these days.
The upsides to hiking alone are many, and powerful. I didn’t realize this until after my first major solo hike. That experience came about largely by accident, when I was sent to Phoenix on a business trip. I had been doing quite a bit of day hiking with friends, and figured while I was in the area that I would take advantage of it and do some hiking in Arizona. I quickly decided I wanted to see Sedona, a place I had always heard great things about. Once I started consulting maps, I realized that I would also be within reach of the Grand Canyon, another place I hadn’t yet been.
So I planned and executed a trip and my trip went exactly as planned, maybe even better. I chatted with people along Bear Mountain in Sedona who told me their son was working at the Grand Canyon and did the route I was planning. They bolstered my confidence that I could do it. Along my hike up Bright Angel Trail, I met another solo hiker who was doing the same route I was. We started chatting and ended up finishing the hike together. If I had been hiking with others, I doubt we would have stopped to chat with other people and I would have missed the opportunity to connect with someone doing the same unusual thing I was doing at the same time on the same day.
So, based on personal experience, here are my top 5 reasons you should (sometimes) hike alone:
- Because you get to control EVERYTHING! The itinerary, where you eat, what time you leave, how many times you stop to take pictures. All of it…yours!
- Because other people sometimes make you have to change your plans. They get sick, they chicken out, they lose their job. 2 of those 3 things are probably not their fault, but it can certainly ruin or cancel your trip.
- Because you’ve traveled by yourself before and you have hiked before. None of this is out of your skill set. Don’t let the combination scare you.
- Because traveling somewhere new shouldn’t be dependent on having someone to go with you. Just go, already!
- Because it will build your confidence and lead to even bigger, better adventures!
Those things being said, keeping a few things in mind will greatly ease the stress of your first solo hiking/camping trip!
- Know your skill level and stick to things within that level. Meaning, if you are not intimately familiar with all the gear and skills needed for backcountry camping (water finding and filtration, setting up a tent, using a camp stove), stick to day hikes.
- Know your physical fitness level. If you are a couch potato and rarely venture into the wilderness, pick easy hikes. If you are a marathon runner, challenge yourself appropriately. Plan for the conditions and know how they affect your body.
- Know your mental preparedness level. There are people (I am one of them) who have practiced mind over matter and pure grit on a regular basis and know how to apply those skills when things go wrong. You might not be that person, and that is okay. If you aren’t, definitely pick your route based on knowing that if things go wrong, you might not have the mentality to get out of a sticky situation. That means maybe picking a slightly easy route to build your confidence and give you some practice.
Spending time with just yourself is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. It will provide confidence, time to think, and it will also make your coupled up friends jealous. It may just also make you appreciate your time spent with others a little bit more!
Enjoy the Adventure!