Picture from my first day on my first solo hike. The fall colors were fantastic!
The first several backpacking trips I did were with my brother, and I really enjoyed doing the trips with him. However, I got to the point where I had enough vacation and the finances to be able to do a second trip each year, and I knew my brother wouldn’t be able to join me for that second trip. Thus, I had a decision to make: was I willing to do a backpacking trip solo? There were definitely some things I thought would be nice about it, but I was also fairly nervous about it. I decided to go ahead and give it a try, and back on this day in 2018 I started my first solo trip. You can read about the trip here. I have done three more solo trips since. So with several trips with my brother, as well as solo, what do I prefer? Before I answer that, let me list off my main pros and cons with solo backpacking.
I can go when I want. I don’t have to work out the logistics of going with someone else. I don’t have to try and find a time that works for someone else. I can plan a trip when it works best for me and go.
I can go my own pace. When we aren’t going uphill, my brother will generally keep up with me. However, I generally go uphill faster than him, and he is generally slower than I am at crossing creeks (taking shoes off, crossing, putting shoes back on). I’m also willing to do more miles in a day on my solo trips than with my brother. Most of the time it’s not a big deal, but occasionally I’ll get a bit annoyed having to wait on him. On the flip side, I’m often stopping to take pictures, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets annoyed sometimes from that. So it’s definitely nice solo hiking to be able to go as fast or as slow as I want (or stop for as many pictures as I want).
Free to do what I want. I’m big into photography, and my brother is big into fishing. Thus, when I’m on a trip with him, I generally try to plan camp spots next to a lake so he can get in some fishing. When I’m on a solo trip, I don’t have to worry about that, although I generally try to camp next to lakes anyway since they often make good photo ops. Haha. It’s also nice to be able to leave when I want, stop when I want, etc. My brother is really good about going along with my plan, but I’m likely willing to do some stuff solo that I wouldn’t do with him along.
More room in the tent. Even on my solo trips I take along the two person tent my brother and I use on our trips. It is so nice to have the extra room in the tent for sprawling out a bit more while sleeping, and for storing gear.
Different experience. There is just something different about getting out into the wilderness alone, especially in an area where you don’t see anybody for days. It probably isn’t for everybody. Even as someone who spends a lot of time alone normally, it can be a little uncomfortable at times.
Can’t split up gear. While I don’t save a whole lot of weight or room in my pack when my brother and I go on a trip, I know I save some. Every little bit of weight I can save is definitely a bonus.
Nobody to share the experience with. When I get to the top of a pass, camp at a beautiful lake, see a herd of elk, etc., it’s a bummer not to have somebody to share the experience with. I love having those shared memories with my brother.
It can get lonely. Particularly at camp. Being alone while I’m hiking doesn’t generally bug me. However, I tend to get to camp early in the afternoon, and spending the rest of the day at camp alone can definitely get lonely. This can obviously depend on the trip. If you’re hiking somewhere popular, you may see a lot of people hiking and be camped around other people. If you’re like me and try to avoid popular areas, you may go days without seeing anybody.
Bigger safety risk. This was my main concern when I was debating whether to solo hike. The only time I really feel less safe solo hiking is when I’m in grizzly territory. Outside of that, I don’t feel like there is significantly more chances of things going wrong while solo hiking. The bigger issue comes up when something does go wrong when solo hiking. I have started taking a Garmin InReach so I can check in each evening, and at least have the ability to send an SOS if something goes terribly wrong. Between my experience solo hiking and having the InReach, this concern has weakened some.
So which is my favorite? Both. I love having the experience of doing a trip with someone, and getting in a solo trip, each year. I definitely understand the solo thing isn’t for everybody though. And honestly, if I absolutely had to choose one, I would choose to have somebody along for the adventure. But don’t be afraid to at least give solo backpacking a shot. You’ll get a lot of crazy looks when you tell people you’re going alone!