It’s a dilemma we’ve all contemplated: TO invite friends or seek true isolation in the wilderness.
A bond forged between friends while adventuring through a mountain forest has an unmatched purity and strength, but truly experiencing the solitude of the wild — alone — is essential to self-reflection and personal growth. When deciding the number in your party, pros and cons need to be weighed carefully. Because feeling lonely in the woods or annoyed by company … either can ruin any trip to these sacred places.
Start this process by asking yourself a few questions. What do you want to get out this backpacking adventure? In what ways do you want to be challenged? Safety factors, like how experienced you are compared to how rugged the terrain and conditions will be, might help your decision as well. But really it comes down to what you seek. Because if you’re feeling excited to push yourself with a solo trip, skill levels and trip duration can always be adjusted to get you out there exploring alone.
“A man can be himself only so long as he is alone … if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.” Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea, 1818
For some, there is nothing better than a quiet night alone beneath the stars. For others, that may be a cold, dark nightmare. If you start feeling the call to push out on your own, listen to that voice. It’s daunting, that first step, but the path, you’ll discover, empowers your spirit and makes it all worth it. That quiet rhythm of hiking, the overwhelmingly silent views from a ridge — these spaces let us process our thoughts. It’s a chance for our inner voice to speak, and we have no one to distract us from listening.
Going SOLO: The Joy of Isolation
Isolation is often given a negative connotation. The psychological harm of continued isolation is well-documented, but what if you just need some time away? If you’ve recently caught yourself daydreaming or tuning out of habitual “water cooler” talk, maybe it’s time for personal space.
Being alone in the woods builds resilience, mastering our skills through experience. It’s an opportunity to accept our strengths and weaknesses. We must confront our fears, find our true self, and trust that we are capable to be responsible for our own safety. Learning outdoor skills, like how to read a map and compass, build a fire, tie knots, or create an emergency shelter, gives us confidence on the trail and in life. It’s here that we allow space for our skills to developed and enjoy the experience of solo adventuring.
Some quality time alone can also help with concentration and boost high-level creative thinking. Extended periods void of distractions offer the space needed for self-reflection and problem-solving. In an interview with The Atlantic, Jack Fong, a sociologist at California State Polytechnic University, states:
“Taking these moments to explore their solitude, not only will they be forced to confront who they are, they just might learn a little bit about how to out-maneuver some of the toxicity that surrounds them in a social setting.”
You may find the seclusion centering. Just getting some distance from it all removes distractions and helps us get to the core of our thoughts. The physical activity is invigorating, the quiet solitude offers a meditative space. It all convenes at an incredible view and a strong sense of accomplishment.
If you’re ready to go solo, start small with a short hike, eventually working into longer adventures. It is important to have a plan for self-defense against threats, natural or other. Bear spray goes a long way in adding security, whether you are alone or with a friend. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the process by using an inert bear spray training canister. Stick to trails you are familiar with and confident you can navigate. Get comfortable with being alone, it’s a beautiful experience.
Going solo, you never have to worry whether you are hiking too fast or too slow for your partner. Rest at your discretion. Conversations are not forced. It’s just you and the mountains. Listen to where your mind goes while you walk through the wilderness.
Going Duo: An Adventure in Unity
Safety is obviously one of the most positive benefits of backpacking with friends. Accidents can happen, and it’s never a bad thing to have some backup. Even something mellow like twisting a knee can get painful over many miles, so having a friend to help carry a little more weight can really bring the joy back. Something worse, and deep in the backcountry, it can save a life.
But the greatest aspect of having an adventure partner is the camaraderie. A beautiful venue to reconnect with an old friend, an extended stretch of uninterrupted time, surrounded by the sounds of nature, and some crisp, fresh air — not much strengthens a friendship more. You will learn to work better as a team, as something is bound to happen along the way. If it’s a big adventure like a thru-hike, it will be an experience you’ll both be able to remember for a lifetime. As we seek more unfiltered and authentic experiences, hiking with friends and family is a pastime like no other.
Another consideration is that having a partner on a longer trek can help keep spirits high. Those lulls and feelings of beatdown can be quickly erased with some good laughs. Similarly, a short hike goes by in a flash when talking with a good friend the whole way up a mountain.
Lastly, you’ll share camp duties. Taking a night off from getting water, cooking dinner, or setting up a tent can make that evening just a bit more relaxing and recharging. Divvy out shared gear to lighten your pack or allow room for a few extra goodies. Our ultralight backpacking tents, like Hornet™, Hornet Elite™, and Dagger™ all include our unique Divvy™ dual stage stuff sack to make it easy to divide the load with your partner.
Flip a Coin?
If you want a hiking buddy and don’t know anyone personally, there are a bunch of websites out there to help you find fellow hikers with similar goals. Here is a great guide to get you started. There are many regional hiking groups or clubs to join, just do a web search for one in your region. If you still can’t find anyone to hike with, you may quickly meet other hikers on the trail. If you’re ready to hike alone in the wild, give it a go.
In the end, it really comes down to knowing what you want out of your adventure and making the right adjustments. Either way, you really can’t go wrong. Buddies or no buddies, the hike will always be worth it. Get out there and absorb the beauty all around you!