Have you ever gone solo backpacking? If you have, you’ll probably agree that it isn’t a matter of it being better or worse than backpacking with friends. It’s just a different activity altogether.
When you go backpacking with others, it’s a social event. You enjoy the scenery, feel good hiking the trails, and you get to know people in a different setting than usual. There’s usually a lot of talking, and you feel relatively safe as part of a group. It’s a good experience.
Solo Backpacking Trips
When you are alone in the wilderness, it’s different. There is a peacefulness that can never be there when you’re with others. With nobody to talk to, you stop defining everything and start seeing things more directly.
I remember sitting by an alpine lake at 12,000 feet in the Sierra Nevadas, after not seeing anyone for two days. The sun was shining, and the silence was broken only by the clatter of rocks falling from the cliffs above. I was relaxed, and I felt like it was the most beautiful place on earth. It isn’t the same when I’m with friends.
It’s also true that there’s an “edge” to solo backpacking. There is nobody there to help you if you run into trouble. The grizzly outside my tent in Wyoming, or the rockslide in front of me in Colorado – these things were felt viscerally. You become very aware of how vulnerable you are. This is an interesting experience – but not a bad one.
My favorite aspect of hiking solo, is that all action is more natural. We are social animals without a doubt, but when with others, our decisions and actions are made as part of a group. There is always a little tension involved in balancing all the individual needs.
Consider something as simple as resting alongside the trail for ten minutes. Even while it is a needed rest for one, it can be an unatural break in the rhythm for another, and yet a decision must be made to stop or not. On the other hand, decisions flow almost without thought when you are alone. What a wonderful relief from the complications of ordinary life.
If you haven’t yet tried solo backpacking, get out there and do it. At least go for an over-nighter. How often do you actually spend a day without seeing another person? You’ll appreciate the experience. (Watch for my article on solo backpacking tips.)