Solo Backpacking - Four Reasons, Eight Tips
By Steven Gillman
backpacking? To be honest, one of the reasons I sometimes go alone
is simply that it's tough to find people to go with, especially on
short-notice. So reason number one is just the sheer necessity. But
that is not the only reason to enter the wilderness by yourself.
Another reason to backpack alone is related to the
first: simplicity. For example, if you like to go light, you may
have conflicts with friends who want to share the weight of heavy
cooking gear and tents. You may prefer cheaper trips, rather than
joining others on a flight to some distant locale that isn't any
more beautiful than the trails within hours of you. In other words,
you might not want to trade three affordable adventures for one
Going solo gives you freedom as well. Even the
best hiking partners will not need breaks at the same time, get
hungry at the same time, want to hike the same distance each day or
do the exact same things. When you're alone in the wilderness, there
is a natural rhythm that can never be there when several people's
needs have to be taken into account, and you are free to follow that
Finally, if you have ever wanted to "commune with
nature," or have a more spiritual experience in the wilderness,
backpacking solo is the way to go. Most of us cannot help but talk
too much when we're with others. Of course, that scares off
wildlife, but it is also true that when alone most people just plain
notice the environment more.
Being alone can deepen certain experiences. There
is nobody there to define you - just you and the nature around you.
If you've ever sat quietly and enjoyed a great view, you know that
it is a different experience than when you sit there talking with
someone about it. And while some friends can sit in silence for long
stretches while sharing the sun set or the cloud-shadows passing
over the mountains, it isn't common.
Alone, you begin to realize how entirely
indifferent - but not hostile - the wilderness is. Whether you take
this trail or that one doesn't matter to anything or anyone but you.
Whether you stay warm or get cold, live or die, is a matter that is
mostly irrelevant to everything around you. Yet as a human we are
actually equipped to survive here.
On a solo backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevadas,
I ate my fill of wild currants at 13,000 feet. As I walked by small
lakes the trout scattered. Sunshine warmed me as I took naps on soft
grass, and moonlight lit my way during night hikes. It is true that
a misstep here or there could lead to death, that lightning could
strike me down, or rain could soak me and make me hypothermic. But
because of this I pay attention when I am alone out there.
Alone, you become very aware of your surroundings,
of the clouds forming in the sky, of any little pain in your foot or
back. It is an awareness without worry. This in-the-moment
experience is worth having.
Solo Backpacking - Some Tips
Fortunately it has become much safer to get out
there alone. This is because of technologies that can turn what
would have been a disaster in the past into an inconvenience. Lose
your maps? Just turn on the GPS unit on and find the landmark
setting for your car to get out. Break your ankle? Turn on the
emergency locator beacon or get out your cell phone.
To make it safe without giving up the experience
of solitude, then, start by leaving the cell phone charged but off.
Don't allow calls to you and don't call a soul unless you have a
serious problem. As mentioned, a locator beacon is another safety
option, but don't let such safety devices lure you into a false
sense of security that gets you into trouble. Leave your basic
itinerary with a trusted friend or family member, so they'll know
when to call for a search if you don't return.
If you have a
GPS unit, be
sure to "mark" the car or trailhead before hiking in isolated areas
- especially in difficult terrain. I recently was in an area where
it took three hours (no trails) to travel a bit over a half-mile to
the car. Without the GPS it would have been easy to get lost.
Finally, learn some skills to make solo
backpacking safer. Being able to make a fire in any conditions is a
good place to start. Knowing how to construct a few different kinds
of emergency shelters is a good idea too. Also, while food is not
usually the first concern in a wilderness emergency, it can't hurt
to be familiar with a few wild edibles. And learn how to treat the
most common injuries and illnesses you might encounter out there.
Copyright Steve Gillman. To learn more Solo
Backpacking Skills, and get the ebook "Ultralight Backpacking
Secrets (And Wilderness Survival Tips)" for FREE, as well as photos,
gear recommendations, and a new wilderness survival section, visit:
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