If you have read of my trip reports, you probably noticed that I rarely hike with others. And last year I posted an article titled, Solo Backpacking: Crazy and Dangerous?
Recently I read an article by someone who likes to hike solo, except in winter, where for him, it makes sense to hike with others. Nothing wrong with that. But in this article he explains that planning a trip required conference calls, agendas, posted gear lists and itineraries on Google Docs, and all kinds of collaborative endeavors. Seems like a lot of work and aggravation to go on a weekend hike. Giving it some thought, I realized that solo hikers generally need a certain type of personality to enjoy solo backpacking. This personality type is not superior to those who like to hike in groups. It is just what it is, and we would all probably be hard pressed to change our personality – or so to speak, to change who we are.
This is not meant to be an article encouraging people to hike solo, nor a “how to” on solo backpacking. Just some random thoughts on the subject. Remember, solo backpacking is definitely not for everyone.
I have been backpacking for over 40 years and probably have only backpacked with 10 other people in my lifetime. This started in the 60’s when my hiking friend started using drugs. I really didn’t want to hang out with him anymore, and I didn’t know anyone else who backpacked so I started taking trips on my own. And I found I preferred to hike alone.
Now many folks will talk about the spiritualness or self-reliance of solo backpacking, but to me that is mostly rubbish. To enjoy hiking alone one must have the personality to do so. When I was younger my schools would give us aptitude tests, and mine always came back that I should be an accountant, mechanic, computer programmer or similar task-oriented profession. Basically I am task-oriented rather than people-oriented. This does not mean I am a recluse or have difficulty interacting with other people, I just have a preference for goal and task oriented activities.
Backpacking is task oriented. Planning, getting to planned locations, walking, cooking, obtaining water, repairing gear are all tasks that take up a good portion of a day’s hiking. Of course I do find time to inspect trees and plants, watch insects and birds, and engage in general cloud observations. By hiking alone I am not responsible for someone else’s well being, I am not held back by someone’s slower pace, or even have the need to keep up with speedy Gonzales. I can do what I want, when I want to do it. Plus I do not have to go through the agonizing pain of collaborating with others to decide where to go, when to go, and the other excess baggage that groups seem to generate.
I do not get lonely when hiking alone, even during long winter nights. There always seems to be so much to do or explore. I don’t take reading material or music with me, there is that much out there to be inspected and reviewed.
I don’t take a cell phone. Hopefully where I go, there is no cell phone coverage. I don’t own a personal beacon locator either. And I don’t rely on the possibility that should an emergency occur, someone will come along and rescue me. I measure the success of my trips in inverse proportion to the number of people I encounter. My most successful trips are the one where I do not meet a single person.
I do leave a trip plan with my wife and occasionally stick to it. Problem is that remote canyons and other places continually beckon me to deviate from the plan. But I am cautious and careful on my solo trips.
I would enjoy taking my wife backpacking, but she doesn’t want to go backpacking. She does enjoy long hikes in the wilderness and we often do that, returning to the comfort of our tent trailer after a long day of hiking. These are the best hikes.
If safety is of supreme importance to you don’t take solo backpacking trips, do day hikes alone, cross the street against a red light, ride a motorcycle, rollerblade, sky dive, hang glide, run, insure all your possessions, and never go outside at night.
Bottom line: if you prefer to hike with others, that is fine and by all means do so. If your personality is of the type that likes tasks and challenges, then you might like solo backpacking. But if it is not intuitively obvious that you like to be alone, then don’t even try it. There is nothing superior about solo backpacking; it just suits a few people.