Every year I make a point to go on at least one solo backpacking trip. While I generally prefer hiking with friends, I also enjoy traveling alone in the wilderness. It’s a unique experience, and one that I recommend to anybody who wants to grow their confidence and improve their backcountry skills. Here are the eight ways that I find solo backpacking to be beneficial.
1. You discover your weaknesses. There’s no better way than solo hiking to find out where your backcountry skill set is lacking the most. If you typically rely on partners to navigate, set up the tent or operate the stove, this will force you to learn those things and make you a more well-rounded backpacker and a more desirable teammate. If you’re particularly unsure of yourself with any one skill, be sure to practice it at home before your trip.
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2. You will improve your self confidence. Once you’ve pulled off a successful solo trip in the backcountry, you start to feel like you can pull off anything or any adventure—within reason—by yourself. It’s empowering!
3. You will learn about yourself. Ask yourself this: When was the last time you spent over 24 hours by yourself? If it’s been a while, don’t feel bad. Extended periods of solitude are surprisingly rare these days and they will certainly pull you out of your comfort zone. You’ll probably start to think and behave differently, and I believe it’s important for a person to know how they react to being alone and potentially afraid—which is normal, legitimate and totally okay. Personally, I become very objective-oriented.
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4. You will let your mind wander. Without non-stop trail banter, you’ll be left to your own devices. Ideally, not mobile devices. As much as I love hiking, it can be monotonous, and those are the best times for free-flowing thought. I’ve had some of my very best ideas and epiphanies for both work and personal life while getting lost in thought on the trail.
5. You discover your gear kit’s weaknesses. Many of us become reliant on dispersing shared gear like stoves, shelters and first aid. Having to carry each and every piece of your own gear will help you identify what you need to buy or upgrade first. First thing to check: Does everything fit in your backpack? If you’ve never solo hiked before, be warned—you’ll be carrying a little more than you’re used to.
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6. You will move at your perfect pace. When hiking with others, we don’t move at our ideal pace, we move at the group’s ideal pace. But by yourself, you can go exactly as fast or as slow as you want, taking as few or as many breaks as you want. Most people will probably find that they travel faster than they expected, simply by cutting out time spent waiting for partners.
7. You will appreciate nature even more. When hiking alone, I find that I’m even more appreciative and aware of the natural world around me. I pick out details in the scenery that I might not have noticed while hiking with friends and enjoy them that much more. And because I’m on my own schedule, I’ll have as much time as I want to focus on photography or watching wildlife.
8. You will impress people. Okay, maybe that’s an arguable benefit. But it’s worth noting that you’ll probably sound slightly more badass while recapping the story of a solo trip than a group outing.
Have I piqued your interest? Then it’s time to get planning, which, is much easier than coordinating a group outing! Simply put something on the calendar for next month and hold yourself accountable to it. I promise you’ll find it worthwhile and fulfilling. Have fun and be safe out there!