(8/22/07) I hear it all the time by other backpackers in the group, "You backpacked by yourself? I couldn't do it." Don't you get lonely? Aren't you afraid of getting hurt and nobody being around to help? You went through all this trouble in setting up a backpacking club so people wouldn't have to backpack alone... so why would you even consider backpacking alone?
Because I enjoy it.
I enjoy my alone time. I think all of us to some extent enjoy our alone time. It gives us time to reflect, to do whatever we want, and to accomplish things, that are well... better suited doing alone.
We drive alone, read alone, watch TV alone, eat alone, shop alone, exercise alone, and so on. So why not backpack alone?
Imagine being able to wake up in the morning in the backcountry and not have to do what the trip leader or group wants you to do. You can sleep another couple hours if you want, start hiking earlier if you can't sleep, or just decide at the last minute that you're just going to fish all day and cover double the distance the next day. You can have the whole tent to yourself and not be bothered by tent mates. You can spend more time at certain locations to further explore or take your time taking Ansel Adam like photographs. Nobody in your group has the potential to bug you because there is nobody else in your group.
Also imagine the ultimate opportunity to test your hiking and backpacking skills. There is nobody around to tell you your navigation is off or to suggest where you're next water source may be. Its all up to you. And like leaving your parent's nest for the first time or relocating to a new city by yourself, what can be more of a gesture of independence and freedom than backpacking alone in a vast wilderness where the wild creatures rule.
Alone in the wilderness, you will notice more wildlife roaming more freely around you, which quickly run out of site as you hear a large backpack group approach in the distance. And as you become more experienced in backpacking alone, you learn not to fear wild life and mother nature, but instead, to respect and understand her.
Backpacking, even in groups, is in itself a risky activity. Gear breaks, weather can turn sour without notice, you can land in poison oak, be stung by a bee, or sprain an ankle. Your risk is greater while backpacking alone, but your risk can be significantly reduced by a few simple steps:
- Be Prepared
Backpacking alone requires being even more prepared, knowing what to do in the event of an emergency, making sure you have checked through everything in your checklist, bringing the right gear to deal with various circumstances that may arise, making sure you have checked weather conditions, and studying your topo and trip plan. Again, you have no back-up. Its easy to relax in a group of backpackers. When you forget to bring something for instance, somebody always seems to have a spare. Its easier to follow somebody else who is better at navigation, or let somebody else handle first aid. You have much less wiggle room for mistakes backpacking alone. You must be prepared. If you're not ready quite yet in dealing with all aspects of backpacking alone, then stick to a group until you're ready.
- Tell Someone Your Itinerary
The single most important thing you must do in backpacking or hiking alone is letting somebody know your itinerary. That one single step can be your ticket to survival especially in a remote backcountry area.
- Stick to the Trails
One last rule I personally try to stick to when backpacking alone is not doing any cross-country hiking. If you do get hurt or can't move, it will be a lot easier for search and rescue, or other hikers for that matter, to find you if you are on a trail.
Backpacking alone can be a very enriching and rewarding experience. It can provide a great opportunity for connecting with your inner self, engage in some intense soul searching, to improve and become more self-sufficient in your backpacking skills and knowledge, and become more one with the wilderness and beauty that surrounds you. Backpacking alone does not have to be a high risk activity. Being prepared, telling someone your itinerary, and sticking to the trails, can go a long way in keeping you safe in the backcountry.
This article was inspired by my recent four day solo backpack through Sequoia National Park's remote Mineral King area. To view pictures of my trip, click on the photos link above.