Hiking: Solo vs. Groups

Daniela Baker is a social media advocate at CreditDonkey, where travelers can compare airline credit card deals to prepare for next summer.  As someone who’s been bitten by the travel bug at an early age, she hopes this post will help other fellow travel enthusiasts and backpackers.

“I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time.  To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating.  I love to be alone.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854

For many people, the idea of solitude is enough to make them entirely uneasy.  Not for nothing is solitary confinement considered a punishment.  Hiking in solitude must seem to these people the activity of the mentally unstable!  Hiking solo versus hiking in a group is no choice at all to so many people, however if approached in an intelligent manner, the choice can open up different worlds of hiking enjoyment.

I learned my hiking and enjoyment of the outdoors as a teenager.  Our parents might not always have been happy with the way I applied their lessons, however.  My friends, all between the ages of 15 and 18, decided early on that we didn’t have much place in the forming of younger scouts.  After one unfortunate incident involving matches, Coleman lighter fuel, and several sleeping bags, our parents agreed.  On campouts and hikes, we were allowed to do pretty much as we pleased.

This independent spirit followed me to college and beyond.  If I felt the need to go hiking and there was no one available to accompany me, I simply grabbed my boots and went by myself.  Conversely, if there were a group forming for a trek up one of the mountains that are nearby to almost everywhere on the East Coast, I joined that, too.  As time went on and the miles added up, I began to prefer solo hiking in most cases.  I found I came more and more to embrace Thoreau’s sentiments.

Hiking alone carries one overriding challenge: the fact that you are alone.  This is often seen as solo hiking’s greatest drawback, but it can also be solo hiking’s greatest benefit.  Nature can be very rewarding as an escape from everyday life.  The rewards can be somewhat muted if you’re sharing them with several people, some of whose enjoyment of nature takes on a different pace, a different noise level, and a different speed than your own.  Also, it is worthwhile for a backpacker to carry a cinch up backpack with them in these situations. It just makes things a bit easier.

Granted, if you get lost, there is no one to help you find your way.  If you get injured, there is no one to help rescue you.  Unless you take precautions to counter these types of potential problems, you’re putting yourself, as well as the people who may have to come and get you, at risk.  Be honest with yourself: “it will never happen to me” is almost the surest way to ensure that fate will strike you down at the first opportunity.

I’m doubtful whether anyone who has seriously considered hiking alone wouldn’t have already considered these points, and wouldn’t have a modicum of experience to mitigate them.  It goes without saying (although I’ll say it anyway) that any solo hiking trip requires both experience and planning.

There is a trade-off here: safety in numbers, as it were, versus being your own boss.  Hopefully, you will find a happy medium, or at the very least hiking companions who share both your views and your pace.  There is a place for hiking solo and for hiking in a group, as I’ve said before.  Embrace the situation, use common sense, and hopefully the times you find yourself weary and dissipated (with apologies to Thoreau) will be few.