Is Hiking Solo for You?

Human’s are social animals and most of us want nothing more than to be surrounded by others.

Believe it or not there are in fact a few of us (myself included) who prefer their own company and actually enjoy the solitude offered when you are by yourself. Being alone, hiking solo, on the trail is an amazing experience and one that I personally enjoy as well as being with others.

If the empty, open trail beckons you, then solo hiking might be what you’re looking for.

I must preface this by saying that it is not recommended, by various authorities, that you hike alone for obvious reasons such as safety and survival. However, deciding to hike solo or not is completely your decision to make and a decision you should not take lightly. Whether you go out alone, with a couple of friends, or with a large group there are potential consequences with which you need to prepare for.

There are a lot of perfectly good reasons to ‘go solo’:

  • Spiritual well-being and self awareness
  • Improved outdoor and navigation skills
  • Ability to set your own pace
  • Flexibility of route and timing
  • Personal challenge
  • Helps to face and overcome fears
  • Experience nature
  • Reward through accomplishment

Solo Hiking Tips

  • Be realistic about your skills, pain threshold, endurance, and what you enjoy. If group hiking is more fun, stick with that.
  • Think of yourself in the third person – you are not alone, you are with yourself! You can share the nature you see, hear, taste, and feel. You will carry the memories of your experiences forever. Often when walking in a group you become distracted by conversation. Personally I find my recollection of a group hike is not that strong as it is when solo.
  • Know the area where you will hike – research weather patterns, trails, bailout points, wildlife, elevations, water sources, private properties.
  • Stay on the Trail – cross-country travel can be exciting but damages the environment and makes it difficult to find you, just in case.
  • Take baby steps – short day hikes, overnighter trips, weekend outings, week-long backpacking, then long distance treks as your abilities and confidence increases.
  • Become confident – not arrogant. Arrogance is an attitude of superiority while confidence is faith that you will act in the right way because you have skills. Read, ask questions, practice skills, take baby steps, know how to use your gear, and finally take longer hikes.
  • Think through “What If” scenarios – what if the campsite is occupied, the stove breaks, the water filter breaks, my foot breaks, I lose my map or drop my compass, a dingo, fox, crazed wombat crosses my path or enters camp, the trail is closed, it rains for 1, 2, 3, 4 days, it snows, … Don’t waste time on far-fetched scenarios, like chances of snow in Central Australia but work your way through everything you can think of that might go wrong.
  • Make detailed plans – trail maps, weather forecast and seasonal weather, food requirements, expected mileage, and day-to-day plans will ensure you have longer hikes well planned.
  • Leave a travel itinerary with someone back home. Check in with a ranger station or other land manager at or near the trailhead and tell them your plans.
  • Think each trip through in your mind – using topo maps or Google Earth, visualize how you’ll be hiking along, where the steep sections are, where there’s dense bush, open grass land, rivers and rock ledges, when you’ll be on a windy, open ridge or in a sheltered gully.
  • Get a feel for direction – at any point in time, you should be able to say, “North is that way” and be generally correct. Feeling the time of day and general direction of the sun is all it takes. Understanding where you are on your map, knowing where you want to be going, and having a feel for your direction will alert you to “something’s not right” quickly if you take a wrong turn.
  • This sense of direction is very difficult for some – if you loose your way when you walk out your front gate you might be better off not going solo.
  • Read trail journals of past hikers. Learn from their experiences and try to visualize yourself in their situations.
  • Use a tracking or signaling device. There are a range of electronic devices emerging that tell people back home where you are and allow you to send Check-In or Help messages.

Best advice I can offer is to be prepared. Follow this advice and you dramatically reduce the risk of anything not going to plan.

Author: Darren Edwards – Trail Hiking Australia



28 thoughts on “Hiking Solo

  1. Good stuff.

    You really do have to be conscious and constantly evaluating yourself.

    That third person trick comes up a lot in the first 1-2 weeks that you don’t see others. You’re looking over your shoulder for someone to share experiences with. Then it goes away and become more emerged in the moment. Easier for introverts in general though.

    Small example, you may be dehydrated. Without others there to see your shift in consciousness level you have to do this yourself, while perhaps not being able to rely on your own cognition.

    You pick up tricks and develop as skills help here. Such as realising those cramps in your hands aren’t the weather but instead dehydration, or (for dehydration or hypothermia) touching your thumb to pinkie occasionally to test your potentially flawed assessment.

    When it comes to maps in NSW, I find the Series 1 topo to be invaluable in combination with Series 3. There are many old markings taken off later maps, for example trails in parks for which access is permitted but use has been discouraged or where land-use changed. A good QGIS (open source GIS software) setup with the government MapServers goes a long way.

  2. I find solo hiking meditative. After a few hours my mind quietens and I become aware of every sound and notice my feet making contact with the earth. Even if I’m booting up a mountain I feel a sense of calm and connection to my surrounds. I love it.

    1. Katie Dee couldn’t agree more! All my walks/hikes are solo and I find I work out so many problems, worries or some up with ideas when I am out. Often if I’m trying to come up with ideas and feel stuck, I’ll go for a walk and have the solution by the end.

  3. My big long distance hikes have been solo, and I can’t imagine having it otherwise. I’m happy to hike with others for shorter distances or day hikes, assuming those others know when to keep quiet and soak it all in. Nothing spoils a hike quicker than loud voices.

  4. Hi Darren,
    Great article & tips, im a late starter to hiking and being solo in nature is the main reason. I can be the friendliest person in Company, but i also happy by myself. Having a ‘risk engr’ background, i follow all your tips. Starting baby steps, build up exp & skills in navigation, carry the ‘what if’ backup items, have a plb and plan to get a garmin inreach mini as i explore longer trips. I think for difficult hiked it might be prudent to go with some experienced, so as you say, know your limits, all the best, Mike

  5. I find when I hike on my own I get so much more out of it. A better connection with nature, a better appreciation of my surroundings, and as bushwalking is a main exercise option for me, I tend to move faster and push myself more alone than with others 🙂

  6. Travel light, travel fast. I find other people always slow me down. I enjoy showing my local area to other people but I also like the freedoms going solo affords, such as setting up and breaking camp on my own terms and not having to wait for other people to do the same.

  7. Helpful tips. Thank you, much appreciated.
    I recently found my passion..now I enjoy every bit of hiking, alone.
    Simply because my alone time is for everyone else’s benefit 🙂

Leave a Reply