Pros & Cons Of Hiking Solo
Know before you go. Here’s what you need to consider before heading out on the trails as a party of one.
Last summer I got to be a reverse snowbird.
When your significant other comes home from work one day and announces, “I’m moving to Colorado. Are you in?” The only sensible response is, “Um… yes?”
We love hiking, which is a challenging hobby to have when you live in Florida. Reasonable solution? Move west.
After some deliberation we decided we were actually going to do this, but just for the summer. We realized we still have a ton of attachments to the city we’ve both called home for 20 years. And ultimately had to rule out living in Colorado full-time because nobody wants uncoordinated people on skis.
And so began our first attempt at being (reverse) snowbirds, leaving our permanent southern residence to escape northwest for the summer.
What you learn really quickly living in Denver in the summer is that if you want to get to a trail, you better be on the road before 6am. And even on a good day you’ll still end up in traffic, battling crowds, and fighting for parking.
One of us (not me) immediately became frustrated with the process and declared that he was giving up. So one month into what was meant to be a #couplegoals summer of adventure, I found myself with two choices: miss out, or start hiking on my own.
I had some amazing experiences and some humbling ones. I met some pretty incredible people and learned a lot by trial and error. Hiking solo can be a totally rewarding experience (hello – you get to channel your inner Cheryl Strayed). But there are definitely benefits to not going it alone.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HIKING ALONE
PRO: YOU ARE ALONE WITH YOUR THOUGHTS
We don’t give ourselves enough quiet time to actually listen to our thoughts. There’s always a Netflix series in the background, a YouTube video to watch, a Podcast in your earbuds, or a text pinging that demands immediate attention. Hiking becomes a moving meditation where you can use the silence to pay attention to what’s really going on inside your head.
CON: YOU ARE ALONE WITH YOUR THOUGHTS
Listening to your inner dialogue can make you really uncomfortable, really quickly. You want adventure therapy? This is it.
PRO: IT ENCOURAGES YOU TO MAKE FRIENDS ON THE TRAIL*Like the awesome ladies I met at Mt. Audubon who embrace retirement by hiking together at least twice a week. Thanks Nancy and Sue for letting me tag along on your journey that day!
PRO: YOU CAN MAKE ALL THE DECISIONS YOURSELF
You decide where to go, when to take a break, how long that break needs to be, and when to turn around.
PRO: IT’S EMPOWERING
We all get a little ego boost from accomplishing something perceived as scary or challenging – especially when the only encouragement you get has to come from within.
CON: THERE’S NO ONE TO PUSH YOU PAST YOUR COMFORT ZONEMy Mt. Sherman support system. A huge thanks to these gals, Ashley and Michelle, who just happened to start the trail the same time I did. They helped encourage me while we battled 50+mph winds to get to the top of my first 14er!
CON: IF YOU FIND YOURSELF LOST…YIKES
You have no one to consult but yourself. Hopefully, you’ve downloaded the AllTrails App and an offline Google map of the area.
PRO: YOU GO AT YOUR OWN PACE
There are a lot of factors to consider. Altitude can affect everyone differently, and you might have to take more breaks than you anticipated. General athletic ability and training can make a difference. And maybe your goal isn’t to get up and down the mountain as fast as possible, but to “stop and smell the roses” along the way. If you’re alone, you don’t have to compromise or push yourself too much based on someone else’s agenda or ability.
CON: IF YOU FORGOT SOMETHING, YOU’RE SCREWED
CON: THERE’S NO ONE TO BE ON THE LOOKOUT WHEN NATURE CALLS
It sounds funny, but this was the most unexpected challenge I had the first time I hiked alone. I was so used to hiking with friends that I took for granted the convenience of having someone hold your bag during a pee break, and keep an eye out for anyone approaching on the trail. The struggle is real!
PRO: IT FORCES YOU TO BE MORE PREPARED
I’ve spent countless hours researching where to go, when to go, what I would need, and how to be respectful of the environment. You have to learn to take complete accountability for taking care of yourself.
CON: YOU’RE FORCED TO TAKE SELFIESOr get really good at propping your phone up on stuff. I still haven’t mastered the art. In my case this is definitely a con. So awkward.
CON: NO CAR POOLING
Gas money and/or park entry fees are all on you.
PRO: YOU CAN BE MORE PRESENT AND CONNECT TO NATURE
Getting “grounded” is a phrase you hear a lot in yoga classes, meditations, and therapy sessions. It’s a way to calm anxiety, be present, and feel part of something bigger. What’s the fastest way to do that? Go outside. Literally put your feet on the earth. Surround yourself with trees. Feel the wind and the sun on your face.
PRO: BEING ALONE ON THE TOP OF A MOUNTAIN IS AWESOME
This doesn’t always happen, especially if you are on a busy trail. But it is an indescribable life experience.
CON: IT CAN GET LONELY
Being alone with your thoughts is totally beneficial. But we humans love connection, and sometimes you just want to share whatever beautiful experience you are having with someone.
CON: TALKING WITH OTHERS IS THE #1 WAY TO KEEP MOST DANGEROUS ANIMALS AWAY
Any time you are in an area where there could be dangerous wildlife, please do your research. Talk to a park ranger if possible. Know how to protect yourself while being respectful of the animals and their natural habitats.
CON: YOU MISS OUT ON BONDING WITH YOUR TRIBEThis might be one of the few experiences left in life where we take the time to enjoy the company of the people we’re with, without everyone looking at their phones every 3 minutes. Without all the distractions your conversations become so much more in depth, meaningful, or downright hilarious. Hiking friends = family.
After I made this list, I was surprised to see that hiking solo doesn’t have as many pros as I thought. These experiences were truly life-altering for me, and in a lot of ways, the best therapy I’ve ever had.
Hiking with others offers extra safety, peace of mind, and human connection.
Hiking alone can really show you what you’re made of. It pushes you out of your comfort zones physically, mentally, and emotionally. It can be an incredibly powerful tool for growth, and getting closer to whatever “spiritual enlightenment” means to you.
Either way, I hope to see you out there.