You have probably seen movies of people hiking in groups or have been hiking with your friends and family and have started to wonder about solo hiking trips. As someone who started hiking with my friends, I also wondered is it weird to hike alone?
Absolutely no. It is not weird to go hiking by yourself. Hiking alone has many benefits from being able to pick your destination, the ability to set your own pace, choose your breaks, and provides a time of solitude and reflection.
While I do enjoy hiking with friends and family, there are also wonderful solo hikes I have been on that I think about from time to time. Hiking alone is a wonderful activity, however, there are a few things you should keep in mind before, during, and after your solo hike.
The benefits of Hiking Alone
Hiking Your Hike
If you are hiking with others and trying to plan a hiking trip then you need to come to an agreement on which trail to hike. This could restrict a lot of hikes as some hikes could be too challenging or uninteresting to others in your group. However, when you are solo hiking you get to pick any hiking trail you want. This is great because you can pick the one-off or more challenging trails that you have been meaning to try for years but haven’t been able to due to your hiking group.
When you hike with others in the group you are only as fast as the slowest person. Hiking with others you need to be mindful of the pace of the group and you need to agree on break times, otherwise, you will be hiking like a group in traffic where the fastest person is always waiting for the slowest person. As you hike alone you only need to be mindful of your own pace and be able to see how fast or slow you actually are on the trail. You can also set your own snack and water breaks which is different for everyone.
By embarking on a hike by yourself, you will be able to get much-needed time for solitude. While it’s great to be able to hike with friends and converse about various topics, you just won’t have the time to yourself to be able to reflect and internalize the current things going on in your life.
Since you are solo hiking you also get the opportunity to stop and smell the roses. Generally, when I hike with my friends, we are usually too focused on group pacing and the destination as opposed to the journey. Hiking alone helps you be more meditative and just be present. You get to focus on your breath, the small details of the trail, and the energy of the outdoors.
Before your solo hike, you can pick more challenging hikes to push yourself. Hiking more challenging hikes can be an exciting effort to reflect and learn how far you have come as a hiker since you started. Since there are no other people in your party then you can monitor your progress on the more challenging trail without having to think about others in your group.
One of my favorite solo hikes was to El Capitan in Yosemite. This was a grueling 17-mile day hike to the top of El Capitan. During this hike, I got to push myself to the absolute limits and see how much I have learned as a hiker and how much I could handle. It was a wonderful time and something you can experience yourself on your next solo hike.
As someone who is about to venture on the trails alone, you are now solely responsible for your safety, well-being, and energy levels. That means you need to account for how much water to bring, what snacks to carry, and any food. These decisions will determine your energy levels on the trails. You will also be determining your trail start time and goal end-time. This is important for the pacing you set for yourself.
What to Consider Before Hiking Alone
Now that you know the benefits of hiking alone and the many advantages, the first thing you need to do is pick a trail. Research which area you want to hike in and determine if you want to hike a more challenging hike, a new scenic hike, or repeat a previously done trail. Picking a trail is the most important thing to consider before you lace up your hiking boots and take off.
As you narrow down the trail you want to hike on, the most important thing to consider is the difficulty of the trail. Is the trail-rated as easy, moderate, or strenuous? Take note of the elevation gain and the elevation changes throughout the trail. If you are trying to challenge yourself then compare this hike to something you have previously hiked so that you aren’t going too crazy with a challenge. Work your way up over time as you start your solo hiking adventures.
What to Do Before Hiking Alone
Share Your Trip Details
Once you have decided and chosen a trail to hike, the first thing you want to do is tell a family member and a close friend what your plans are. Let them know the trail, trailhead, trail distance, when you are going, when you plan on starting, and an estimate of when you would be done. These are important details to share with others just in case of an emergency.
By sharing these details they will have a rough itinerary of your hiking trip and will be able to find you or know when to expect you after your trip. Don’t be like that guy from the movie 127 hours who didn’t tell anyone where he was going and he ended up trapped in a canyon! Even if you are doing a short local hike, you should still share these details with others in the event of an emergency.
Prepare Your Gear
The next thing you want to do is prepare your hiking gear. Generally, when you hike in a group, out of habit, you may rely on others to have certain gear items that you don’t have. Or if you split the weight with your friends and they carry one item and you carry another, then you want to make sure that you have everything you need.
The first thing you want to check for is if you have the ten essentials to help you in the event of an emergency. You want to have gear items to help you with navigation such as a GPS or a compass, a headlamp or flashlight, sun protection, first aid, a knife, matches or a lighter, emergency shelter, enough food, enough water, and a clothing layer system to keep you warm and dry.
If you have these ten essentials then you should be well prepared in the event of an emergency, which will give you peace of mind as you hike alone. This way you can focus on enjoying the hike instead of wondering if you forgot something at home.
What to Do While Hiking Alone
Now that you have your trail chosen, your gear is prepared, and someone else has your hiking plan, you are ready to hit the trail! As you hike by yourself be mindful of your pace so that you can maintain your pace and energy through the duration of the hike. There have been times where I was hiking alone and went full-speed at the start of the hike, only to slow to a crawl at the end since I had no energy left. Hiking with others is much easier to manage pace since you are checking in with others during intermittent breaks.
Throughout your hike, as you are watching your pace and enjoying the trail. be sure to keep watch for the time and how you are doing. This is important if you want to get out of there before sundown or if you have an appointment later in the day. Checking in time and watching your pace throughout your hike will be a learning process.
Another thing to do while you are solo hiking is to schedule breaks for yourself. Find a good balance of water breaks and snack breaks so that you stay hydrated and energized during the duration of the hike. It is easy to want to put your head down and hike on by yourself, but breaks are important to help you finish the hike.
What to Do After Hiking Alone
When you are finished with your hike and back at your car, stop and take time to appreciate that you were able to hike alone, sustain yourself, and be able to reflect during your hike. Once you gather yourself be sure to reach out to whomever you told about your hike that you are safe and finished. Don’t forget, otherwise your friends or family may be worried!
As you were hiking and taking a break you likely accumulated wrappers or crumbs in your pack, so the next thing you should do is clear out your pack of any trash or unwanted items. Doing this immediately is helpful because there have been many times where I’ve found an old rotting banana peel that I totally forgot about weeks or even months later in my pack!
As you can see hiking alone is not weird and has many great benefits. Though since you are going off on your own there are many things to think about so that you can be better prepared before taking off on your hike. There are also small things to keep in mind as you are hiking your hike so that you can sustain your energy to complete the hike. The more sol hikes you do the more you will learn about yourself and the more skills you will build. These skills and lessons will help you when you rejoin your hiking group and hit the trails with them.