5 Benefits of Solo Hiking

Trail TalkAli Becker
Benefits Solo Hiking Backpacking Why How


The idea of solo hiking used to scare me, which is precisely why I knew I needed to do more of it. When I finally mustered up enough courage to take to the trails by myself, I discovered how much I enjoyed spending time alone in nature, and how beneficial it was for an extrovert like me to do so. 

While there are countless good reasons to try solo hiking, I narrowed this list down to the top five ways that adventuring alone in the woods has helped me heal my mind, body and soul.



1. Building Confidence and Courage

Benefits Solo Hiking Backpacking Why How


My first solo backpacking trip was a real eye-opener for me because it showed me how much I relied on the presence of someone else to make me feel safe in my surroundings.

Being alone revealed my fear of wildlife encounters, getting lost on the trail, and things that go bump in the middle of the night. It was overwhelming at first, but this awareness helped me shoulder the real responsibilities of adventure, and learn to become more mindful of my environment. 

I started to keep better track of time and trail markers. I paid more attention to weather patterns and rustling bushes. When spending the night, I set up my tent as soon as I got to base camp, and then crawled under the covers well before the spooky things came out to play. (Side note: they never did.)

Taking on this new sense of responsibility gave me a feeling of confidence, courage and self-reliance. I realized that I was the only one in control of my actions, and reactions — and I ought to exercise this empowered independence whether hiking alone or with another person. 

The best part was that these positive attributes spilled over into my life off the trail as well, which as you can imagine, has been extremely beneficial.


2. Learning to Trust Your Judgment

Benefits Solo Hiking Backpacking Why How


Should I stop here? Set up my tent there? Hang my food now? All of the questions and concerns that encompass an adventure eventually come to the forefront, and when you’re solo hiking, you are the only one there to make the call. This is exciting because it gives you ultimate freedom, but it can be nerve-wracking because if you wake up to find your tent in a rain puddle, it’s your own damn fault. 

Learning to trust my own judgement showed me that for much of my life, I hadn’t. For a long time, I relied on sources outside myself to guide my decisions. This meant I didn't actually have that much practice making calls for myself. Solo adventuring was my opportunity to turn that all around! 

On many occasions I figured out the hard way whether or not I had made the optimal choice. These learning experiences quickly turned into sound wisdom that I could carry with me for the rest of my days and share with others who care to hear about it.



3. Choose Your Own Adventure

Benefits Solo Hiking Backpacking Why How


Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of solo hiking is that it allows you the freedom to choose the location, duration, pace and departure of your adventure. Not having to rely on matching your schedule or stride with a partner, friends or colleagues means you are free to do as you please. 

How far do you want to go? What route do you want to take? Do you want to stop for a break? Should you run the whole way down? It’s all entirely up to you. You are the decider of your adventure destiny and that’s empowering. 

This freedom to choose is interconnected with learning to trust your judgement, and while personal responsibility can seem daunting at first, and decision fatigue can be a real thing, I believe the pay off is an even greater sense of achievement when you accomplish your pursuit.

 


4. Seeking Solitude 

Benefits Solo Hiking Backpacking Why How


Most of us live a stimulated, distracted, hyper-connected life. We rarely get time alone, to just hang out with our thoughts. Heck, even bathroom breaks have turned into opportunities to scroll the feed or text a friend. When’s the last time we just sat in silence and let our minds wander?  

I’ve found solo hiking to be the perfect place to reconnect with my thoughts and allow for self-reflection. When we go it alone, it seems to change what our brain focuses on and thinks about. We don’t have to listen to someone else's banter or come up with responses to their questions; we just get to be ourselves, and be with ourselves. 

This can be a hard task for those of us who don’t spend much time in solitude (hands up). Speaking from experience, this exercise can actually reveal the toxic or repetitive nature of our thoughts; but I believe that this awareness can also provide a valuable opportunity to get to know ourselves better. From here we can accept where we are at and figure out what changes need to be made in order to move forward in a better direction.


5. Connecting With Others

Benefits Solo Hiking Backpacking Why How


Solo hiking most definitely makes me more outgoing. I find I’m likely to have longer and more meaningful conversations with the people I encounter along the way. These connections are exciting and illuminating because they provide opportunities to be exposed to new ideas, hear different voices and perhaps even make a new friend. 

I think we live in a day and age where it would do us all well to be a little more open and interconnected with the physical world around us, and right in front of us. How can we meaningfully engage with people, with each other?  


A Final Word: Know Your Limit, Adventure Well Within It!

Benefits Solo Hiking Backpacking Why How


All this said, solo hiking and adventuring comes with heightened risks and challenges, and it’s necessary to be aware of the specific risks and challenges associated with any given adventure. 
 

Choosing routes and activities well within your abilities (versus pushing the envelope) can be a good idea when going at it alone. It provides wiggle room and more options if something unexpected does come up. 

Also, be sure to let someone know your plan, where you are heading, how long you’ll be away and when you’re expecting to return home. 

I make sure to bring a satellite communication device (with an activated plan!). And, if I’m going to be in cell service, my smartphone comes too. 

A fully loaded first aid kit lives in my backpack, along with my bear spray; and I bring them both with me always, even on day hikes and smaller adventures. 

It’s good to pack a few spare snacks, more water than you think you’ll need, extra layers and a solid understanding of where you’re going, and how to get out if things go awry. 

Solo hiking doesn’t have to be scary or unsafe, and not having an adventure companion doesn't have to stop you from experiencing the wonderful majesty of nature. 

On the contrary, it can be one of the most freeing, empowering, confidence-building exercises you’ve ever experienced. Simply put, you won’t know how much you love it until you go it alone. 

Benefits Solo Hiking Backpacking Why How

 


Ali Becker is a freelance adventure writer and narrative storyteller who shares compelling conversations about personal transformations, overcoming limitations, wellness education and adventurous situations. You can follow her rambling adventures on social at @thisisalibecker or at her blog thisisalibecker.com.

Trail talk

5 comments

HillSlug

HillSlug

My first solo overnight was back in the late 1990s. I was on a trail I knew well. As I was heading up, I chatted with a man I met heading down. After a short, pleasant conversation, we continued in our respective directions. As I hiked along the spur trail to the place I would spend the night, I found myself overly worried about that man. What if he followed me? What if he snuck into my camp at night & attacked me? What if what if what if….?

At some point, a voice that I’ve come to call my Inner Coach stopped me. You did everything right. You told him some faster friends were hiking up to meet you the next morning. (A lie, but it tells a potential predator someone will miss you.) You told him you were heading to Copper Lake – also a lie. Your gut didn’t give you any creeper vibes from the guy. You didn’t project the body language of a victim. You spoke with confidence. You’ve done everything right. That man is a wildcard. It’s always possible he might track you down, but you cannot live your life based upon a wildcard.

That has ALWAYS stayed with me: Do not live your life based on the wildcard.

Fast forward about a half-dozen years. I’ve told this story to a friend. My then-fiancé – now husband – was with me. After I told the story, he said, “Y’know, I’ve heard you tell this story a few times, and the more I think about it the more I’m convinced I’m the guy you chatted with on the trail.” We compared notes, and my vague recollection of the physical appearance of the man is that it could have been him. So, dear reader, he may still prove to be a creepy stalker dude, but thus far things are working out okay. The longest solo I’ve done to date is seven days, and when my work schedule allows I plan to solo hike the PCT through Oregon.

Never let the wildcard control your life.

Nancy P

Nancy P

Most of my day hikes are solo, because I am naturally slow and careful (translation: counteracting my klutzy tendencies), and because I can spend time taking photographs of vistas, flowers, mushrooms, and whatever else strikes my fancy, without feeling like I am holding up someone else. Call me the Turtle!

Kristine S

Kristine S

I just started doing solo canoe trips 2 years ago to celebrate my 56th birthday. now my goal is to spend every birthday on a solo trip and use it to reflect and rejuvenate. After a near miss injury, I learned to better judge my body and travel with more caution and appreciation for what was around me. I learned to lighten my load which has then translated into group trips also be more enjoyable as we carried less. I still love my family trips, but I look forward to my solo trips and all I learn about myself. Thanks for a great article. I hope more women take the plunge of trying a solo trip as a result.

Janet S

Janet S

I love to hike alone; I get to fully enjoy nature, and I find the peace refreshing. Relying entirely on my route finding skills and making decisions alone are scary and make me proud of myself.

Russell Anton

Russell Anton

I’d say about 70-80% of my hiking, kayaking and cycling is solo. I heartily agree with everything she says. I especially appreciate how going solo has boosted my confidence in my ability to handle most everything I encounter, whether that’s a sting ray sting in my foot on a deserted island in the Gulf, or torn ligaments from a fall climbing boulders on Isle Royale. Even the every day stuff, like setting up camp, pitching a tarp, starting a fire. I also like the total freedom to make decisions, no one to consult with, or impose on. It makes those times I’m doing things with others seem almost luxurious. You really appreciate having someone around to help out, share the load, for comfort in the storm. Going solo is my favorite way to go.

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