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
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
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
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
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
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!
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.
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.