In all honesty, I started going on overnight hikes by myself simply because I didn’t have any friends. At least, I didn’t have any friends that liked hiking. But I’ve got a stubborn independent streak that’s a mile-long, so I wasn’t going to let that prevent me from getting outside. Since I made that decision, I’ve gone on a dozen solo overnighters. Even though I have found friends that like to go hiking, I will often choose to go solo because of the challenge it brings, the mental clarity I find out there, and the feeling of being truly alone.
My dad is an avid hiker and mountaineer who took me outdoors when I was a teenager. On my first overnight hike near my home in Vancouver, BC, I was in awe of the beautiful alpine meadows that had carpets of wildflowers and jagged mountains which picturesquely framed the aquamarine lakes. However, the busy pace of daily life got in the way, and hiking trips with my dad became few and far between.
But then, three years ago, everything changed. I was questioning my career choice and feeling a little lost. I was on another overnighter, and I stared out of my tent suddenly everything I was worried about — my job, future, relationships — stopped being so important. It was as if I had seen them through a magnifying glass, making them seem so large and scary, but being in the mountains allowed me to put the magnifying glass down and realize how small those problems actually were. The shift in perspective and clarity that came with it was exhilarating. I knew I wanted more, and that only meant more time in the mountains.
I quit my job, abandoned my career, found a job at an outdoor retailer to help me learn more about gear, and got in the outdoors however I could. I started going on day hikes alone which eventually progressed to my first solo overnighter on a local mountain that had cell service. When I got to my campsite, I realized I didn’t know how to stake down a tent in the snow and forgot to bring breakfast. On top of that, my socks were soaking wet, but I had a smile plastered on my face the entire time. I was hooked.
Many of the lessons I’ve learned outside apply to life at sea-level and I’ve had some of the best (and worst) experiences by dragging my butt up a mountain alone. If you’re contemplating solo camping, I say go for it. It might change your life. So, here are a few ways to prepare for your own solo adventure — and not die while doing it.
Tips for Your Best Solo Adventure
Research Your Location and Plan AheadPlanning is the most important part of preparing for a backcountry trip, especially when you’re going alone. You’ve only got yourself to rely on, so research the area ahead of time in order to know what to expect, what you should bring, and which routes or campsites are best. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a specific trail, get a map of the area, and read about it in a hiking book or trail guide for the necessary information. Before heading out, you should always know what exactly you’ll be getting into, so always look for the following:
- Elevation gain
- Terrain difficulty
- The best time to go and how many daylight hours are available
- Water sources
- Campsite locations
Always check the weather conditions and make sure there aren’t any warnings before you go. I like to use mountain-forecast.com for an accurate forecast that also factors in elevation. Mountain weather is notoriously temperamental and can change on a dime (something I’ve learned the hard way), so it’s best to do your research ahead of time — it might just help you avoid dealing with a leaking tent at 9 P.M. in the middle of a thunderstorm.
Get Your Gear Dialed
Once you’ve got the details, you can start to plan what gear to bring. There’s a saying that I love that goes, “there is no bad weather, only bad gear.” While I do believe that is such a thing as bad weather, having the right gear will keep you comfy and dry, and ensure a more enjoyable trip overall.
Bring the gear that will match the conditions, terrain, and your fitness level. Since you can’t split the load with anyone else and you won’t need much else beyond your own essentials, don’t bring a 4-person front country tent on a 7-hour-long hike in the backcountry. You’re out there to enjoy yourself, hopefully, so try and find a good balance between weight and comfort that works for you. Plus, a few creature comforts wouldn’t hurt, too. After all, it is a solo trip… I brought along this gear:
Dagger 2P: It’s roomy enough inside to hang out in, that’s lightweight enough for multi-day trips
Jam 30°: A spoon-shaped sleeping bag adds some softness and cushion where it counts. This bag is great for side-sleepers, uneven surfaces, or both!
Tensor Insulated: A backcountry essential when you want a durable sleeping pad that won’t be noisy when you shift around.
Fillo Elite: This pillow packs down as small as a lime, but delivers in a big way when it comes to comfort.
Share Your Plans With a Loved OneNow that you’ve got your plans laid out, finished your research, and packed your bag, share your trip plans with someone who cares whether you live or die. Tell them all the details of your hike, such as,
- Location of the trailhead
- The vehicle make and plate number
- What you’ll be wearing (so it’s easy to identify you)
- Your planned route and campsites
- A timeframe during which you will contact them when you get service
All of this is critical information to help Search and Rescue teams locate you quickly, whether you get into an accident driving to the trailhead or take a wrong turn in the backcountry.
Make sure that whoever you share your trip plan with is prepared to take action if you don’t make contact within the expected timeframe. This means alerting Search and Rescue, park rangers, or the police. Having a reliable person to count on can make all the difference whether you’re just in a pickle or far worse.
Psych Yourself Up!
There’s just one last thing to prep before you go out there on your own: your mental state. That might sound ridiculous but the whole point of going hiking solo is to embrace the freedom, relish the challenge, and exult in your own awesome solitude. But if you’re scared shitless of bears, freaking out about the clouds building up in the distance, and doubting whether or not you should’ve ever listened to an online article telling you to go out in the wilderness alone, you’ll only be miserable.
Be prepared to spend time alone with your thoughts, feelings, and not much else. Actually, don’t just be prepared, try to look forward to being by yourself — maybe, you’ll even enjoy your own company. It may not be for everyone, but I believe you can learn to love the solitude. Trust your planning, your skills, and most importantly, trust in yourself. Confidence will only come with experience and even then, it’s not always a cakewalk. If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, take a moment to get some perspective. And maybe have a snack.
For example, the most recent solo trip I took required some bushwhacking and route-finding, which was something I hadn’t done much of, but figured I could do. Thirty minutes in, and I was nearly in tears stumbling through bushes, climbing over fallen trees, and trekking through streams. So, I stopped, had a snack, and realized that it didn’t matter if it took me an extra hour or two or even three to get to where I wanted to go. I was confident that eventually, I would get there.
Take Your Time and Take It All InAnother form of trail entertainment (as if the stunning views weren’t enough) is to be observant of everything. I will stop at any moment to watch a cool insect for four minutes straight. Other times, I’ll listen to a bird call to try to pinpoint where it’s coming from and what’s making the sound. I will literally stop and smell the flowers. If you’ve planned properly and given yourself plenty of time to make it to camp, you can stop whenever you want and just enjoy being outside. Because after all, that’s the whole point of this thing.
Have Fun and Be Ready for Anything
If you always wait for the right time, place, and people to go on an adventure with, then you might be missing out on a lot while you’re waiting. The moment will never be perfect — neither will the trip — and that’s half the fun.
Solo adventures can be challenging, both physically and mentally, and you might ask yourself, “why the hell am I doing this?!” But I can tell you that at the end of the day if you’re prepared, you’re going to have a good time. It’s the ups and downs, challenges and obstacles that turn a good experience into a great one. So go on and get out there. Be safe, be smart, and most of all, have fun.
Megan Voigt is a photographer and hiker that moved from the big city of Vancouver to the small mountain town of Revelstoke, British Columbia. She is often out on the trails in Roger's Pass, always with her camera, tripod, and probably too many snacks.