Anyone who has read the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed (no a major film starring Reese Witherspoon) will have pondered whether solo hiking is the single best or worst opportunity for adventure out there.
She took on one of the world’s longest trails, The Pacific Crest Trail, with no experience, limited knowledge of what lay ahead and had grossly over-packed.
But if you know the story, then you know the spectacular outcome.
Hiking alone is an incredible challenge that is grueling but can be utterly rewarding.
Don’t be put off by the horror stories or hiking myths, the mishaps are few and far between.
Those who have tried it find it empowering, peaceful and the best way to get closer to nature, as well as themselves.
With no-one else to talk to or worry about, it is an opportunity to push out all the noise and clutter of modern times and get back to basics.
It is worth noting that hiking alone is never truly a solo experience.
You’ll be surprised at how many people you meet along the way – both individuals and groups.
Therein lies the beauty of longer hikes – you run into the same people again and again as you leapfrog along the route.
People are always keen to swap stories, offer you snacks or walk a stretch together.
The camaraderie is unrivaled, but equally you can choose to have moments to yourself or catch some downtime at the end of a long day.
Another bonus of solo hiking is that you’re in charge.
You can hike at your own pace and stop for photos, food and water as often as you want.
There is something freeing about not constantly walking in someone’s shadow or having to worry about others in your group.
Lastly, you are a one-man band and have to depend on yourself.
There’s no easy way out or taking a back seat.
You have to trust your instincts as well as your mental and physical strength.
Although this can seem incredibly daunting, it creates a new stamina, self-confidence and inner strength that you might never otherwise discover.
That said, hiking solo certainly has its drawbacks.
It can sometimes be a lonely experience, with no-one to share the dizzying highs and crashing lows with.
Special moments are yours and yours alone, but when the going gets tough you have to be strong enough to keep trudging forwards – come rain, wind or shine.
But perhaps the most important consideration is your health and safety.
If you suffer an injury or get lost in the wilderness, there may be no-one for miles around that can rush to your aid.
With that in mind, here are our top tips for staying safe out on the trails when going it alone:
- Brush up on your skills
Know how to set up your tent, camping stove and bedding.
The last thing you want to realise is that you are not sure how to setup a key item.
- Start small and build up to longer trails.
Opt for a half-day hike to start with and before long you’ll be able to take on multi-day treks.
You will be pleasantly surprised how quickly you’ll gain knowledge and confidence.
Learn more about getting fit for the trail.
- Carry a mobile phone and portable charger
Both of these allow you to keep in touch with family and friends or call for help in an emergency.
If you are taking just a mobile phone, be sure to take a power bank with you to ensure you have some back-up juice if you need it!
- Be prepared for all sorts of weather conditions
Take lots of water and carry a small first aid kit at all times.
You never know when your first blister from hiking will crop up. And that’s bad news!
It goes without saying that although it might seem like unnecessary bulk, always be sure to have enough water and high-energy food in your pack.
- Stick to the trails
Following well-marked trails will stop you from getting lost and vastly improve your rescue time should anything go wrong.
This way you’ll also cross paths with other solo hikers, with whom you can trade tips/stories or continue your hike with.
- Educate yourself about the environment you’re heading into
What animals will there be? Are the rivers prone to flooding?
Lives are lost when people underestimate the weather conditions, the terrain and the distance.
- Know your limits
Technical trails are best done in groups, or with a guide.
If you’re starting to struggle or the weather is closing in then don’t be too proud to turn back.
So there you have it – the pros and cons of hiking solo.
Maybe you want to test yourself. Maybe you just can’t find anyone else to take the time out to go hiking with.
Whatever the reason, seize the moment and get out there.
It might turn out to be the best decision you’ve ever made.