Pros and Cons of Hiking Solo
What does it really mean that you are alone?
Before you head off to your first solo adventure, it's worth going through some pros and cons. I love hiking solo and am a big supporter of the idea. But it's best to be prepared and know what you are getting yourself into. Below are various possible cons and pros - they don't work that way for all but read them all to see if hiking solo is for you!
In the typical case of "good and bad news" I'll start with the cons:
All the cons of hiking by yourself
It's you and whatever you packed with you
You are all on your own. You have to carry all your stuff on you, no way to divide shelter or camping kitchen gear - it's all on you. If you forget or lose anything - there is no buddy to lend you theirs.
You have to make all the decisions: you can't blame anyone for mistakes; you can't just go along with what someone else decides. If you are unsure of the trail - there is no one to ask but yourself and the map.
You have to do everything by yourself
How nice would it be to sometimes divide the chores? One person pitches the tent, another goes to filter water for the meal and yet another does the cleaning after... I must admit - it's hard sometimes to do it all when you are tired after a whole day of hiking. And when the morning is nasty and cold, wouldn't it be nice to take turns in preparing breakfast so you can emerge from your warm sleeping bag only after your coffee is made?
Safety concerns when hiking alone
Safety concerns are probably the big con - if any serious injury happens, there is no one to help with calling for help, carrying your stuff or yourself. There is a reason why it's traditionally recommended to hike in a group of four, so if anything happens, one person stays with the injured person and two can go and get help. I am fully aware of this issue and I try to assess risk level objectively. I pick easier trails and never go very far into the wilderness. I also generally pick places that have cell phone coverage - so I can use my phone to call mountain rescue if anything happened to me.
So if anything happens - you are on your own. It does not matter if you can't stand blood - you have to patch yourself up, use your skills and common sense to make the best choices in a given situation.
In the safety section there is also the interaction with wild life and other human beings. There is no way to deny it - there is strength (and safety) in a group. Group makes noise and scares any wildlife away (a pro and a con). A human with bad intentions might also avoid attacking/robbing a group of people. This is not the same with a solo hiker, who makes much less noise and does not look very scary to a surprised animal. All the more so with the bad humans. The good thing is, far on a trail you rarely meet people with bad intentions. The risk of facing such is much higher in any given town or a city.
It can get lonely if you don't normally spend much time by yourself. I don't really know that feeling, because I enjoy being alone. But for extroverts, it might be something to get used to. If you just begin your solo adventure, start small and see if you like it. And get used to being on your own with your thoughts. You might actually love it!
Facing your fears
If there is any weird noise outside of your tent in the night, you can't count on your brave partner to check it or someone calm you down. It can get scary sometimes when your mind races and brings the worst explanations!
Budget for one - budget for more
In many cases, traveling alone can get actually more expensive than when you have someone to split the expenses. If you look for accommodation, most hotels don't have single rooms but doubles - and you have to pay for the room. Some campsites have the tariff of X for a tent + X for each person. So if you are with two friends in a 3 person tent - you split the cost of a tent by 3!
You are your only motivator
When everything goes wrong, the weather is nasty, you are tired, and your feet are covered in blisters, a good friend with the right moral boosting speech can do miracles. On your own, you are your only support, coach, and a cheerleader. Sometimes seeing that your friend keeps going can motivate you to keep pushing. On your own, it takes much more strength to keep going when you just don't feel it.
Taking photos when hiking alone
It's definitely much easier to ask someone to take a photo of you than to do a selfie. Our arms are only so long and it's not always easy to find a natural tripod (a rock or a stump).
I do want to have myself in my photos (at least in some) so I take quite a lot of selfies. Most of them are simply taken with my outstretched arm. Whenever I can, I use natural support - like a rock or a wall. In my case, because of my social anxiety, the photos I took by myself are much more natural, I even act a bit, pretending to look natural, walk the trail and such, to make the photos look candid. I would never do that with people around! My anxiety would make my head explode. I could take an arm-selfie with other people there but I would be too embarrassed to do the "let's pretend it's a candid pic" kind of photo.
Potential for not enough rest
Depending on the group you would walk with, you might have not appropriate amount of rest. During the hike - you might not want to stop when you should because you don't want to stop the others or you feel embarrassed you need a rest "again". In the evening - you might want to turn in early but your buddies want to chat into the night - and because it might actually be fun, you stay with them much longer than you should.
Getting up early in the morning when you want to keep sleeping just to stay on group schedule? It would be so hard to me! I love to sleep in and have a lazy morning; I hate being rushed early on!
It might also be that your way of resting is just not the style of what the others consider "resting". You might want to do nothing, read a book, or sit alone by a lake and others could consider it rude or aloof.
The pro sides of hiking and camping solo
You have to make all the decisions - obviously, this was also a con. Sometimes, we just want someone else to lead. On the other hand, we can finally do whatever we really want! Go wherever our heart desires, no matter if it would be boring, too difficult, too easy or whatever for our potential partners. We are the queens of our trails!
We can go as fast or as slow as we wish or need. That's one of the most important pros to me - I would be crazy anxious if walking with someone else. Either, that I slow them down, or stop too often (all those photos I take!), or need to eat again, etc. Or - the opposite, that I want to move on, go faster, don't feel the need to take a break and so on. When I hike by myself I hike at the exact pace that is needed. I don't compare to anyone, so I don't know if it's faster or slower than average. I don't have to know. I am doing me and it is truly liberating.
No judging, no comparing
You don't have to care about your look or smell. You don't have to worry that you sleep in the same tent and you are far from fresh. Who cares? We get used to our own smell pretty fast, so no one is hurt in the process.
I remember how liberating was the decision to not take any kind of make-up cosmetics with me when I went to Scotland. The idea that a woman who "takes care of herself" must use make up, must care that her skin is even-toned, and her mascara on, etc. was so internalized that even for a woman like me, who was far from the beauty world, it was hard to just go with a face moisturizer only.
And then I looked on a photo of me with no make-up and I absolutely fell in love with it. Since I returned from Scotland, I've never used a BB cream or a foundation again. I use only mascara for work and don't feel there is anything wrong when I go outdoors with no make-up on.
No witnesses to any mistakes
I make a lot of mistakes when I hike. I stumble, I miss the turn or can't find the proper trail. I misread directions, change plans, and do all kind of random silly stuff. But I and only I decide which of those ever get public - I decide if to talk about them, show photos or anything of that kind. I am sometimes annoyed with myself that I missed a turning point being lost in thoughts or too lazy to check a map. But I am never embarrassed because of those mistakes, never anxious. They just are and I accept them. But if I do that with people around, my anxiety is just suffocating. I know that others don't feel that way if they don't suffer from social anxiety but it's a big one for me.
Hiking solo allows me to do all the mistakes or decisions in the comfort of solitude. I can stop and think about my next stop as long as I want. I can read a map for as long as I need and take all the time I want to analyze a particular problem. I don't have to decide within X seconds because my partner is waiting for my opinion or decision. Sometimes it takes me a lot of time to find the right spot for my tent - but it's OK if I'm alone. No one there to roll their eyes, saying "come on, decide finally!", and *judge*.
You, your trail, and Nature. Perfection.
You can be just with yourself, Nature, and the sounds around you. The moment there is another human being with us, we have the need to talk to each other - which can be great sometimes, I admit. But we do need some time to just let our thoughts run freely, think about everything and anything or nothing. Analyse what see, coming on it in our heads - and see what we think about it before we ask someone else's opinion.
There is time to ruminate, go deep into old memories or jump from one thing to another through free associations that we don't need to control. Sometimes I "talk" to someone in my head - that's how my mind lives through the moment, it describes what I see or go through as if I reported it to someone. Sometimes it's going through some hurtful stuff from my past, some that need to be worked through, some that I regret they came up.
When we walk alone, we don't make as much noise as when we are with a group. We can stand still and listen to birds or wind. Just be.
It's all about some forced healthy selfishness. Me, me, me!
We do what we want. We stop when we want, we sleep as long as we wish, we eat whatever we feel like... no judging, no anxiety, nothing. It's all about me, me, me! I think for women, in particular, this is quite needed. We are socialized to put others ahead of us - think about the needs of others, submit our needs to theirs. It's liberating to put your own needs and wants at the front - because there are no one else's. Sometimes we don't even know what our needs are because we've spent all our lives suppressing them. It might be the best opportunity for realization of what we really need, what we really want. I believe it's a necessary exercise in getting more self-confident, assertive, and self-loving.
The biggest boost in self-confidence, ever!
You realize what a bad-ass you are. With no one around, you are the best of the best. There is no one to put your achievement in perspective - you are the beast! As I am not a world class speed hiker, I know reaching the goal for the day would dump my joy if I were much behind a friend. But when I'm alone, I'm the fastest of my group. Isn't it awesome? I am proud of my achievements - no matter how small they seem. If I reported on them to someone they would sound pathetic, but at the moment when I had a hard time navigating a particularly big and nasty black mud patch or crossing a stream in spite? I was my own biggest hero.
You pin-point your gear exactly to your own needs
When you share cooking with someone you need to compromise. You might be fine with going only with dry foods and boiling water but your hiking partner(s) might want a bit more complex meals needing extra pan or pot. Or maybe the other way around - you love to make gourmet camping dishes and don't mind carrying extra weight to have the fancy meal. You decide what style, kind or type of gear would suit your needs best. Tent, hammock or a bivvy? YOU decide.
Getting to know other hikers or travelers
Believe or not, it's actually easier to get to know new people when you are alone. Groups tend to stick together and it's hard for someone from outside to strike a conversation. But when you are alone and you want to chat with someone - it's much easier when you run solo.
I've hiked hundreds of hours alone and I'm an introvert so I don't mind it. But I loved the conversations I had at random places with other hikers. At bothies, campsites or break stops. But it was mostly with fellow solo hikers. I was sometimes surprised with myself when I could talk for hours with someone - as my social batteries were fresh and fully loaded after long hours in solitude. I could enjoy other people's company much better in such cases.
Budgeting is always fair and always depending on you
Budget can be a source of annoyance or even some unpleasant conversation between group members. If you are a long-term couple it might be easier as you already share a budget. But what if it's just a group of friends going for a trip? It can be hard to figure out the system to break expenses so it's fair. Everyone pays for him/herself? What about groceries and gas fuel? Was one person buying all the gear others also use? What if someone has a higher income and would love to stop at every restaurant you pass, while you just can afford it? It can get hairy and uncomfortable or awkward pretty soon. On your own you decide where you save and where to splurge. You know if you can afford a night at a hotel or if you can only eat your home-made food. No guilty feelings and no surprises.
Easier logistics when hiking alone
It's not that easy to get a few people on a same schedule. We have work, family or other responsibilities and some are less flexible with dates than others. The amazingly cheap tickets you just found could be right for you - but your best buddy can't make it on that date. By yourself you are more flexible and even spontaneous (if that's your thing). You see an opportunity - and you seize it, without the need to ask anyone for opinion.
What are your pros and cons of hiking alone?
Which ones win?