When the empty, open trail beckons you, and you feel inspired to take on the challenge, then a solo backpacking adventure is the perfect opportunity to explore the backcountry on your own terms.
But here’s the kicker: backpacking alone isn’t for beginners. It can be physically, mentally, and emotionally grueling. And the thought of navigating the remote backcountry by yourself can be a daunting one, especially for those who may feel unsafe or unwelcome in the outdoors, such as women, people with disabilities, and others.
While a solo sojourn has its risks, it’s a glorious pursuit that will help you self-reflect, escape the distractions of everyday life, commune with nature, and explore places that many can only dream of.
Below, we’ve put together the most comprehensive solo backpacking guide you’ll ever need—taking a deeper look at everything from managing risks and making preparations to your must-have gear list and how to overcome loneliness.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Although backpacking solo can be physically and mentally straining, there’s a lot to gain from a solitary wilderness adventure. Here are five benefits of backpacking alone:
The problem with group adventures is that you can only move as fast as the slowest member. This can be pretty frustrating if you have a bigger stride than your backpacking pals or you’re constantly struggling to catch up. When backpacking solo, you can move at your own pace without upsetting others or getting frustrated yourself.
Sometimes we want a partner or group with whom we can explore the backcountry together. But it’s not always easy to find someone with the same aspirations, skill level, timeline, and budget as you. With solo travel, your dreams don’t have to be put on hold because you don’t have company.
On a solo trip, you can do exactly what you want to do all the time. Whether you want to stop and take lots of wildlife pictures, have a nap on the trail, turn around and head home, or push beyond your initial target, you can do it without inconveniencing others.
Traveling alone in the backcountry is a great test of your own strength and resilience. And since you rely on your wits and strength in every step of the adventure, you gain vital skills that will help you become more confident and independent in your day-to-day life.
Without the trail banter of a group or partner, you’ll pick out details in the scenery that you can’t notice when you hike with friends. You’ll be more aware of the natural world around you, catch every sound, smell, view, and even animal tracks, making your experience more thrilling.
If you’re feeling like hiking and sleeping in the wild without company is risky, you’re not wrong. It definitely can be, but then again, group day hikes can equally be dangerous if you don’t take the necessary precautions. Your first step to overcoming the fear of spending time alone in the woods is to understand and weigh the actual risks of solo backpacking.
Here are four common dangers first-time solo backpackers need to be aware of and prepare for:
Straying off the beaten path is one of the gravest dangers for solo backpackers. It’s easy to get lost when the weather hampers your visibility, overgrown vegetation obscures your view, or when your navigation devices fail you. That’s why you should always rely on the time-tested map and compass. And it’s also always a good idea to stay on designated paths if you can, especially if you are a beginner.
Heavy rains, strong winds, deep snow, floods, falling rocks, and wildfire are some of the natural threats you should be aware of when hiking and camping. Avoid going for a hike alone in places that experience extreme weather conditions, and never camp close to cliffs, under dead trees, or too close to a river.
Injuries are always a real possibility whenever you lace up your hiking shoes and strap on your backpack. But they become a major threat whenever you decide to backpack alone, as there will be no one to help when something goes wrong. Be extra cautious when stepping on slippery ground, crossing water bodies, climbing rocks, and even while cooking.
Danger from other humans is rare in the remote backcountry, but you still need to keep your guard up and your eyes open, especially if you decide to backpack close to urban areas or in a place where people are more likely to experience discrimination. Animal attacks are perhaps a more common threat, depending on where you are hiking. To avoid animal attacks, pick trails with few large animals, follow food storage protocols, and be a noisy hiker.
At this point you may be starting to rethink your plans for a solo trip, but it’s important to remember that you can take steps to be safe on the trails. Plus, statistically, you’re safer strolling alone in the backcountry than you are in an urban area.
Here are six steps you can take to manage the above risks, stay safe, and give your loved ones some peace of mind:
Share all the details of your plans, including the destination, route, campsite, what you’ll be wearing, length of your trip, and how often they should expect your call to check in. When you set off, sign in and out at every trail register, and consider leaving a copy of your plans together with your emergency contacts at the ranger station.
Hiking and camping by yourself gives you the freedom to wander off the beaten path. But you shouldn’t significantly alter your plans. Traveling far from where you planned in your travel itinerary will make it much more difficult for a rescue team to locate you if something happens.
Go ahead and challenge yourself, but that doesn’t mean covering more ground than is typical for you, hiking in rough weather, or trying to get to the campsite at record speed. Backpacking alone for the first time is itself an enormous challenge, so take it easy. Once you learn the ropes, you can push your comfort levels and abilities on the next solo backpack trip.
If something goes awry, you’ll truly appreciate the value of adding the ten essentials to your solo backpacking gear list. They’ll save your life in a survival situation. We explain more about what to pack below.
Instinct is a survival mechanism that you shouldn’t ignore, especially when you venture off on your own. If your gut tells you something just isn’t right, listen and do what that little voice tells you. That feeling is there to steer you away from danger, so don’t hesitate to turn back if your instincts dictate it.
Whether you’re on a busy hiking trail or a remote location, walk confidently and with a sense of direction. It’s the perfect technique to deter unwanted attention, and it may also intimidate animals you encounter on the trail.
Some places are easier and safer to explore alone than others. But how do you narrow down your options? Use these tips when selecting a destination for your first solo backpacking outing:
Going into the backcountry alone means you are your only lifeline. You can’t count on anyone else to make critical decisions or save you during an emergency. Therefore, research and planning are key. If you’re new to exploring the outdoors on foot, start with these steps to make sure you're prepared for your first solo sojourn in the wilderness.
Expertise and experience are the best ways to remain safe in the remote backcountry. The more outdoor skills you have, the more rewarding and safer the outing will be. Learn how to use a map and compass, take a first aid course, go through survival situation resources, and practice predicting the weather using nature signs.
Before you attempt to sleep in the wilderness all alone, you need a decent amount of experience hiking and camping with other people. You’ll pick up some vital safety tips and practical skills. Make sure you learn how to pitch a tent on your own, cross a stream safely, pace yourself, and how to pack like a pro. If you can’t find mentors you know, look for backpacking groups and guided trips to introduce you to the outdoors.
Before going solo, do lots of research about your destination to know what exactly you’ll be getting into. Learn the elevation gain, the exact number of miles you’ll cover, terrain difficulty, best month to visit, water sources, and best campsites. And keep a close eye on the weather before you set off.
The friendly folks in the hats know the parks and trails inside and out. You can ask them about trail conditions, the animal situation, park restrictions, and the best routes and campsites.
As you prepare your body to handle the long treks, don’t forget that backpacking solo needs significant mental stamina. Mother nature is unforgiving, and if your mindset isn’t ready to handle what she may throw at you, you’ll find yourself quitting at the first signs of heavy clouds on the horizon.
Having the wide-open spaces all to yourself and relying on your skills to navigate the remote backcountry sounds heroic. But gathering the courage to go solo isn’t always easy, even for seasoned backpackers. Try these steps to build your confidence before hiking alone:
To get a feel for camping alone, go camping with your motorcycle or car. You’ll have the solitude you want and the choice to leave at a moment’s notice in case you have second thoughts. It’s also an excellent opportunity to test your outdoor organization skills. By the end of the trip, you’ll have more practice using every piece of camping gear and preparing meals outdoors, and you'll learn what items you can’t afford to forget on your next trip.
Before you decide to go for an overnight wilderness adventure by yourself, attempt several solo day hikes. This will gradually sharpen your decision-making abilities, and you’ll learn how to rely on yourself to navigate, handle rough weather, and find your ideal pace.
It’s important to disclose your plans to a reliable person, but that doesn’t mean you should share them with everyone. If you have a friend or family member who is usually unrealistically worried, consider withholding your plans from them. It may cause added stress for you and them.
Talk to a seasoned solo backpacker to get advice and suggestions that will help you traverse the wilderness with ease. If you don’t personally know anyone who backpacks solo, try searching online. There are many forums you can join to connect with solo hikers.
While it’s normal to worry about things like injuries, weather, and wildlife when you’re hiking and camping alone, you should train your mind to look at the positive side of things and not dwell in the what-ifs. Also, think of every possible scenario and practice what to do to tackle any threat. You’ll set off knowing that even if the uncertain happens, you are prepared and will know how to overcome the challenge.
If you haven’t been hiking for some time or consider yourself out of shape, you need to regain your fitness before traveling alone. You’ll be more confident of your abilities when in peak shape, as you’ll know you have the stamina to conquer the trail.
You need to pack all the gear you bring on regular backpacking trips, plus a few extras to help you become more self-reliant. The most important thing is to remember when you’re backpacking by yourself, you won’t have the chance to borrow something from a friend or other hikers, so you can’t afford to leave anything behind.
Here’s a list of 10 must-have items that every backpacker should carry regardless of the terrain you are exploring.
Solitary backpacking can be an absolute blast, but it can also be intimidating. To enjoy your first solo trip without compromising your health and safety, we’ve put together the following five tips.
Before you officially head out on a trip, make sure you lay all items on the ground and use a checklist to tick off all of your solo camping essentials. Do this at least a few days in advance in case you need to go to the store to grab some extra items.
Before packing, test every piece of gear to make sure it’s in perfect condition. Feel whether those old hiking shoes fit right, make sure your tent is in perfect shape, and confirm whether your map is up to date. If you recently bought any new outdoor equipment, first use it on a day hike to determine whether it’s right for you.
When hiking alone, there’s no one to share the backpack load with, so it will likely be heavier than normal. But you can still shave some weight off by leaving behind luxury items, replacing glass food jars with lighter containers, and packing digital audiobooks instead of huge novels.
If you feel you need extra protection or companionship, go ahead and bring your dog on your trip. Your furry friend is one of the best protectors you can have. A dog will alert you of any danger, scare off most wildlife predators, and even defend you when you’re in trouble. You can also carry pepper spray and bear spray.
To protect the wilderness and ensure future generations enjoy it in its rawest, purest form, adopt the leave no trace principles. This means striving to leave nature exactly how you found it. Read the 7 principles to learn how you can minimize your impact.
Sometimes, we all get pretty caught up in all the obvious, physical aspects of backpacking. And we forget the essence of the trip is to have fun and connect with nature. So what can you do to make solo hiking and camping more entertaining? Here are five suggestions.
Remember, your solo travel in the backcountry isn’t just about conquering your fears and challenging yourself. The point is to enjoy being outside. Take every opportunity to listen, observe, and soak in the sights and sounds of nature. Smell the flowers, listen to the birds call, and stop every few miles to take in the landscape.
There’s no doubt that the beauties and challenges of the trek will occupy your mind throughout the day. But when it’s time to crawl into the tent at night, things can get lonely or even creepy. Bring a book, kindle, one-player game, or musical instrument, and you won’t have time to overthink the cracking twigs and howling wind.
After a long trek to the campsite, prepare a nice meal to refuel and treat your body. Bring some favorite spices and ingredients. The time it takes to cook a tasty meal is enough to keep you calm and distract you from the hair-raising noises of the forest.
When your belly is full and it’s still too early to catch some sleep, grab a dead stick and use the blade of your toolkit to carve it into something interesting. You can create some sporks, chopsticks, or even a miniature animal.
Your first solo backpacking trip can indeed get quite lonely. But the good news is you don’t need to avoid others. If you happen to encounter other lone hikers, don’t hesitate to strike up a conversation. You’ll make new friends and learn something new about traveling alone.
Solo backpacking may sound out of your league initially, but it’s completely doable. The ups and downs, the freedom, and the thrill it offers is what makes it so fascinating and impossible to resist once you get the hang of it.
Just make sure you research your location carefully, plan diligently, pack the right gear, and share your itinerary with someone you trust. Then the next time the trail summons you, you won’t have to put your trip on hold just because you can’t find the right people to go on an adventure with—you’ll have yourself.
We hope you’ve learned some new tricks that you can apply on your first solo outing. Did we leave out your favorite solo-backpacking tip? Or is there a safety precaution you want to learn more about? Feel free to share it in the comments below.
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