Why I’m better off hiking alone and why you might be too
Never hike alone in the backcountry, find someone to hike with. This is what you read in any publication that offers hiking advice. You might run into a grizzly, be attacked by a cougar, slip on the trail and get injured, or you get terribly lost. Many reviews about hiking make this a fair statement; never hike alone.
The dangers of hiking alone never kept me away from the trails and the unknown. Still, promoting solo hiking was never on my mind; why would anybody want to hike alone (apart from me)?
One day during a hike in the Monashee Mountains I changed my mind about this, about telling my readers not to hike alone. I shouldn’t have been out on the trail that day. Every hiker knows that it is vital to be fit and rested and prepared to head into the mountains. I wasn’t rested at all after only a couple of hours of sleep. I wasn’t fit, with still a swollen, bruised leg from my last Monashee hike ten days earlier, when I slipped on the trail.
Why did I go hiking that day?
Simple, backcountry hiking is a passion of mine, but finding a hiking partner is often pretty impossible. This means, whenever I get an opportunity to go for a backcountry hike with someone, I take it.
So, off I went on this hot day in July with a hiking party of three, arriving at the trailhead around 11 am, just when the heat of the day started to burn. I wasn’t walking for long before I started to suffer and when it hit me, that I didn’t eat breakfast that morning. No wonder my energy level was down and my walking speed was geared to low. Hiking itself wasn’t the problem. I got along well at my own pace and like always, enjoyed the wild surroundings I was in. Unfortunately, soon I realized that I was left behind by my hiking buddies which took away some of the joy of this particular hike.
Being left behind
Of course, my hiking buddies waited for me to catch up once in a while. The fact that they had to wait made me feel stressed. That’s the independent person I am who hates to be a nuisance to anyone. About halfway on the trail when I caught up again at a little mountain stream, a perfect place to stop and fill the water bottle, I suggested to my hiker friends just to walk along to the destination and that we would meet at the lake. And off they went.
What a relief this was for me! I rested for a few minutes, splashed my hot face with the cold water from the stream, had a snack and shot some pictures. That was just when two women backpackers came along and we chatted for a while. They were off to spend a couple of days in the high mountains.
From that point on, I had fun again and I was fully back in my hiking mood, at my own pace, relieved from the worries of having to catch up. I just enjoyed myself.
At the lake, an idyllic place like out of a picture book with towering mountains as a backdrop, we all met up and enjoyed our picnic lunch.
On my way back to the trailhead
My hiker friends were already out of sight when I met the park warden hiking towards the provincial campsite to check on things and stopping for a chat. Later in the day, I met another solo woman backpacker on the trail heading for the lake for an overnight stay. At this point, my awareness kicked in that hiking alone might be more common than I ever imagined.
Moving along I took in the solitude, the wild surroundings, majestic mountains, and the smell of the forest. My mind was clear, my thoughts pure and it all was obvious, I liked hiking alone. Not having to push for mileage, to be free to take in the pleasures along the way, appreciate nature, that’s what it is all about.
My hiking friends waited for me at the trailhead.
Tips for staying safe when hiking alone
Venturing into the wilderness has its risks. Most safety advice for hiking is valued whether you hike alone or with a partner, whether you go on a day hike or multi-day trek. When you do hike alone, all the tips and precautions get more vital.
Take the time to plan.
Be prepared for the trip, have a good night sleep the night before and eat a healthy breakfast.
Practice skills and know how to use your gear.
Learn about bear safety and cougar safety. Take a bear spray along.
Get a topo map, study the landscape and get to know the area.
Find out about the condition of the road to the trailhead. Do you need a 4WD to get there?
Gravel roads to the trailhead are common and often in bad shape, especially in spring.
Make sure your vehicle is in good condition; you don’t want to risk breaking down.
Tell someone about your plan, your route and when you expect to be back
Choose a well-used trail and stay on the path, no short-cuts, please. Don’t risk getting lost.
Don’t count on trails being well signposted.
If you hike in national parks, check in at the park ranger station and tell them where you are going and stick with the plan.
Know your physical limits and your skills and choose your route accordingly.
Start off slowly; get some experience under your belt before heading out on a multi-day trek.
Talk to the hikers heading back your way and ask about the trail conditions ahead.
Do not panic; keep a clear head in any situation.
Use a tracking device such as a Spot Messenger. This device tells people back home where you are and lets you send check-in or help messages.
What are the Dangers when hiking alone?
Solo travel is a scary thought for many people, and hiking alone sounds even scarier. Why is that? Hiking happens in a wild environment and you’re on your own. Wilderness dangers are out there, whether you’re alone or not.
Hiking alone makes you a more vulnerable target to wild animals like bears and cougars, moose, elk. If you’re in a group it’s nosier and wild animals attack you less likely. Make noise as you hike. Take a bear spray and an air horn and know what to do in case of an encounter.
There are always news stories about hikers getting lost and hurt. It mostly happens because people go off trail or twist an ankle. Don’t take any risks.
Bad weather, early darkness or an injury can turn an easy hike into a scary situation. This can happen to anybody!
Depending on the terrain, try to watch the ground and where you put your feet. Stop when looking at the scenery or taking pictures. It is easy to slip on steep mountain trails. That’s what happened to me during my last hike. I starred at the magnificent mountain range while descending a steep trail and I slipped. Try NOT to do that.
And there are the mosquitoes and the black flies and other dangers.
Truth is: Being unprepared in the wilderness can cause your death.
Enjoy the benefits of hiking alone
Feeling – Hiking a trail by yourself gives you a magical feel.
Spiritual – Solitude and wilderness allow for self-examination and a look inside our soul.
Own Pace – Move as fast as you want and adjust your pace whenever you want.
Flexibility – Enjoy flexibility, choose your route, rest when you feel like it, and hike your own hike.
Confidence and Independence – Hiking solo will give you both.
Outdoor Skills – Rely on your own skills and knowledge. Practice before you go solo.
Responsibility – You’re responsible for your hike and the success of the adventure.
Yrene lives in the Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada, and is the founder of BackcountryCanadaTravel.com. She was born in Switzerland, lived and worked on different continents and has travelled the world. Yes, that's me, an Entrepreneur, wilderness nut and animal lover who prefers off-the-beaten-track places. I write about things I love. Mostely.
Ive lived in Vernon for two years now and I just now found your site. Thank you for your information on good trails, I as well find it hard to find fit and like minded hikers who want to explore a little further into the backcountry, your info is valuable, thanks for sharing, I’m basically using your top ten list as a to-do list!
I’m glad my information is useful. You’re right, it’s hard to find hiking partners. From all the places I’ve seen, the Monashee area is one of my favourites. Watch out for bears though!
Agreed about hiking alone. Not only is it HARD to find someone ready, willing, and able to go hiking. But if you want to do something a little ‘beyond’ in terms of the difficulty of the hike or something that is ‘out of the norm’ (ie high alpine hikes vs front country walks in the woods), good luck finding anyone at all. Hiking groups, you say? Maybe if you are one of those hyper social types who actually LIKES to hike with 15 other people. Otherwise, having to go with a group is going to be more of a turnoff than anything else.
Of course, none of this (or anything mentioned in this piece) takes into consideration all the other annoyances associated with hiking with others. This includes such things as having to drive 50 miles out of your way to pick up your hiking partner, having to start earlier/later than you would like, having to cut things short to be back before a certain time because your partner demands it, Or feeling obligated to chit-chat the whole time to keep your partner entertained. Let’s face it. Hiking alone RULES!
Thanks for all the additional valuable points you mentioned. All the to you and enjoy the trails!
All agreed. Yes,Hiking alone rules!!
I am hiking alone since two years ago.
I went to PCT alone Mar 2020 alone too.
Thanks for reaching out. Yes, once you get used to hiking and travelling alone it is pretty cool. PCT trail sounds amazing. How far did you hike? Happy trails!
I am nearing 76 years old. Fifty years ago, I spent the summers of ’71 and ’72 solo backpacking in the Bitterroot Wilderness of Idaho. Being from California at the time, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I had incredible experiences in that country, with its cougars, moose and bears, that I cherish to this day. Hiking and camping by myself brought all my physical senses to life like never before. After the summer of ’72, life with a career in another state, marriage and family, took over. Now, the only thing on my bucket list is to hopefully repeat those earlier wilderness experiences. Hiking with others causes me to focus more on them than on my surroundings. Hiking alone lets me immerse myself in the physical and spiritual cathedral of wilderness, which is why I do it in the first place! Knowing that, on a solo trip, everything is up to me causes me to be more cautious and focused than I would be otherwise, making it in some ways a safer experience.
Thank you for your story, Robert. Us wilderness lovers have many great stories to tell!