I do my share of solo hiking and backpacking. It’s not for everyone, but I enjoy the added self-reliance required.
All of the decisions are mine alone to make. There are no social distractions, enabling a deeper connection to the forest and landscape around me. Increasingly, I wander off trail on many hikes to seek a better view or explore a feature on the map. I am less hurried, knowing that I have time for detours without having to justify them or keep to a fixed schedule.
I see and hear more animals when I am alone. Birdsong is amplified. I hear the flight of a bull frog in the weeds or the slither of a snake. Mice visit my camp. I sit and watch turkey vultures soaring on the thermals and wait out a chipmunk until he reappears. I scout out beaver lodges. Once in a while I see a moose before he sees me.
The lack of conversation helps me savor the little tasks in camp: staking out my tarp, gathering sticks for my wood stove, lighting a fire, waiting for my food to rehydrate, writing in my journal. The evening is consumed by chores until the sun sets. I awake later in moonlight and look at the stars.
When I wake up the next morning, I like to lie in my sleeping bag and think of nothing for an hour or so. I am not fully awake but not asleep either. It’s an extremely peaceful time of the day that I treasure. I break camp when I’m ready.
Backpacking alone can be spooky, especially in more urban areas where shelters are easily accessible to roads. I avoid these and camp out in the woods if I feel creeped out. I never worry about animals (what few we have on the east coast) and use ear plugs to block out the night sounds when I go to bed
Hiking alone makes meeting others on the trail more relaxed. People stop and chat along the trail. Conversations in shelters are all-inclusive, without having to break through group boundaries. People eat dinner together and go to sleep at the same time.
Hiking alone is much simpler to organize than a group hike.I negotiate some free time with my wife, write up a trip plan to leave with her, and off I go. No group coordination, no last-minute cancellations by others, no shuttles or carpooling to figure out.
I still like hiking with others and lead a lot of group hiking trips because I like to spend time with friends that way. But I reserve about half of my non-winter day hikes and backpacking trips to reconnect with myself and the land.