Hiking solo: Essential tips & preparation guide

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.

29 thoughts on “Hiking solo: Essential tips & preparation guide”

  1. 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.

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