Why I Love Hiking Alone

Abby Evans

Abby Evans hiking alone in snow

When I first got into hiking, I was terrified to go alone. It seemed like all my friends and just about every stranger I met believed I would instantly be eaten by a bear or kidnapped if I took one step into the woods by myself. However, when I started flirting with the idea of a 2,198.4 mile long thru-hike, I realized there was no one else I could find that was crazy enough to drop their current stable life and start it with me.

So one day, when I was 21 and couldn’t find anyone else to come on a day hike with me — I went on my own. It changed the way I looked at hiking. Soon afterwards, I went on my first solo overnight backpacking trip. A year after that, I found myself at the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Going solo allowed me to discover the freedom of self-reliance and so much more. 


When I hike or backpack alone, I don’t have to worry about slowing someone down or struggling to keep up. When I go on a backpacking trip with friends, I find myself frequently getting frustrated at their pace. Sometimes I’ll want to stop to observe a salamander crossing the trail for a while, stretch my feet out with my cork rollerball or have an early lunch. Even if my friends don’t voice any annoyance, I sometimes still get worried that they’ll want to push on or are getting impatient. It can make me feel rushed. I’m not able to wonder at the tiny anatomy of a salamander as much because I’m worried that my friend wants to crush the next five miles. 

Abby Evans hiking solo on Appalachian Trail mountains

Just because you set off on a backpacking trip with a friend or start hiking with a trail family does not mean you have to stay with them 24/7. Hiking solo can allow you to appreciate the time you do spend with one another even more when you can talk about different experiences that happened throughout your day. 

On a thru-hike or a backpacking trip, trying to keep the same pace as a friend that is faster than you can lead to injuries. It can mean the end of a thru-hike. It’s important to maintain a spirit of independence when hiking a long trail in order to preserve your physical well-being. Just because a member of your trail family is doing the four state challenge (hiking from the VA/WV border, hiking through West Virginia and Maryland, and ending in Pennsylvania — 43.4 miles) does not mean you have to do it too. This could mean that you’re no longer a member of a trail family. However, in my experience, there are always other fun hikers just behind or ahead of you, depending upon if your pace is slower or faster. The right people will always find you, or you will find more comfort in solitude — something just as worthwhile.


abby evans hiking solo on a mountain range

There’s going to be very few times in your life you’ll find someone else willing to walk 2,000+ miles with you. Or even go for a short backpacking trip over the weekend with you. When I started to go out on my own, I realized I could go out every weekend when I had free time. I solo section hiked all of Southern Virginia in backpacking trips and day hikes over the weekends before my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. 

Before my first solo day hike, I had wanted to go hike at Grayson Highlands in Virginia for months to see the wild ponies. I’d never been able to find someone who wanted to clear their schedule for for the three hour car ride all the way out to Grayson Highlands. When I finally did go, it was the most beautiful hike I’d ever been on. A baby pony followed me for a mile, I got lost, and a thru-hiker helped me find my way back to the parking lot, and then to top it off, I ate lunch with a herd of long-horned cattle. If I had stayed home and waited until someone was able to go with me, I would’ve missed out on all the experiences I had out on my own.


abby evans hiking alone selfie in mountains appalachian trail

There are few things that rattle my nerves more than darkness settling in on trail and realizing there’s no other hikers around to camp near. However, out of the three times I camped alone on my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, I found each one to be a transformative learning experience.

The first time I found myself in the middle of a violent 40 degree rainstorm, trying to throw a bear line up into a tree to hang my food, only to have my tent collapse on me moments later when I crawled inside. Despite all these frustrations, I still got some sleep and was just fine the next morning. Another time, my headlamp wouldn’t switch off of the red setting in my last mile to camp, and I had to hike in near-complete darkness to the shelter where I spent the night. I was too scared to eat dinner and went to sleep hungry — only to wake up the next morning, cook a ramen bomb for breakfast and laugh at how silly the evening was. 

Each time, I grew more confident in myself. Even though it scared me to go to sleep alone in the middle of the woods, I woke up the next morning perfectly fine and reassured in my outdoor abilities. 

Unexpected Friends

It’s typically easier to make friends when you’re hiking alone. When you’re already hiking with a set group, you won’t get the same experience of a trail family organically forming around you. I started my thru-hike and had three to four different trail families throughout the hike and met countless friends along the way. I found that the environment of the trail made it easy to strike up a conversation with strangers. We could talk about our tiny toothbrushes, what food we’re craving, or how pooping in the woods is going. When you’re hiking alone and run into new friends, you can devote as much time as you want to getting to know them. And if they’re not worth more than your solitude is to you, then you can leave.

On trail, I’ve had a war veteran paint my fingernails and have been duped out of five dollars by a tic-tac-toe game with a five year old — all in the same day. The outdoors unites backpackers. Out there, we’re all in similar grimy trail runners, have permanent dirt smudges on the insides of our calves and are all slightly sunburned. It makes it easy to talk to each other — so why not make some new friends along the way?

Moments of Reflection

I never needed to convince anyone but myself to go see sunrises and sunsets when I was on my own. Sometimes I would cut a 20 mile day short and set up camp at a meadow overlooking the mountains simply because I thought it was a beautiful place to watch the sunset. 

Abby Evans backpacking solo with sunset on Appalachian Trail

Hiking alone allowed me to have time to myself to think. It’s serene to walk in the early mornings and observe the way sunlight filters through the trees and gets caught in spiderwebs. It made me realize that happiness isn’t something that was going to just happen someday — nor was it something I had to wait until I was older to feel. I could feel it every day of my life with a simple walk outside where I appreciated the world around me and my small role in it, or with a 2,000 mile long thru-hike. Solitude allowed me to become more comfortable in my own body. I realized it was the only permanent home I would ever have — so it was in my best interest to care for it as best I could.

These moments would have been pleasant with friends, but I wouldn’t have been able to connect as deeply with myself. I believe it’s important to achieve a balance when hiking. If you hike with people all the time, you’ll never realize how beautiful it is to hike alone. If you hike alone all the time, you’ll never be able to share the beauty around you with a friend.

abby evans hiking solo on a mountain top view

Final Thoughts

Anytime you go hiking alone, make sure to plan your trip properly, make wise decisions, and be prepared. The outdoors can be unpredictable and wild, and not every stranger you encounter will be a friend. If you feel uncomfortable in a situation, trust your gut and leave it. Bear spray isn’t just for defending against bears. Make sure you tell a friend you’re leaving and potentially bring a personal locator beacon. Most importantly — get out there. Even if you’re nervous, the potential self-discoveries are worth it. The only way to find out what adventure lies ahead is to take the first step — even (and especially) if it’s on your own.


Abby Evans, or S.W. Fireball Queen of the Salamanders, enjoys thru-hiking, jumping in mud puddles and catching salamanders. When they're not doing these three things, they love to write about their on-foot adventures. They recently finished the Appalachian Trail, and they're looking forward to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this year!

Trail talk




This article came at the perfect time. I had just realized that the group I joined on face book was too advanced for me. I made a comment about it and was met with well I do this and I have a blog for beginners and yet another poked fun at me for being low (elevation) and slow. I can do this hike and/or backpack at my own pace going low and slow . I’ll get there someday (high/fast/long) or maybe never or somewhere in between. I love LOVE you article. Thank you..many of use needed this article to let us know it’s ok to be who we are and where we are in our hiking/backpacking adventures. Hope to meet you on the trail someday…to give you a hug or to just heaps tons of praise on you. J



Love this!! I’ve gotten comfortable going on day hikes solo and am working up the courage to do a backpacking trip solo. Definitely inspiring to hear about their nerves and going for it anyway.

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