Solo Hiking: Is one better than two?

Discussion in 'Hiking Chat' started by Tim Savage, Mar 1, 2017.

  1. Tim Savage

    Tim Savage Summit Camper

    For those of you who don’t know me I am a hiker of two halves. The first is the sensible average hiker who walks with (and behind) his wife at a normal, if slightly fast pace, usually for no more than 15-20 km at a time except in rare exceptions, and usually for no more than 6-7 hours a day.

    The second is the fanatical solo hiker who challenges himself to the point of ‘crazy’ and will regularly hike up to 50 km+ over a 12-15 hours in a single day; then do it all over again the next day.

    I enjoy both types of hiking for very different reasons.

    This article looks at the differences between solo and group hiking including the pros and cons, we identify the skills that are essential to be able to hike safely, and finally discuss when you shouldn’t solo hike.

    What is Solo Hiking?
    While the term is pretty self-explanatory, solo hiking is hiking by yourself. There are different degrees of solo hiking. Doing a 3 km solo hike in an area you know well as opposed to doing a six week through-hike in a new area are two totally different creatures.

    When you first start solo hiking start small. Do small day hikes; build up to simple overnight hikes before progressing to multiday overnight hikes. While skills gained hiking in a group are transferable there are new skills, including mental toughness that need to be developed.

    Advantages/benefits of Solo Hiking
    Solo hiking has a number of advantages and the following are just a few.

    • Solitude
      • For most of us we are rarely ever truly alone. We work with, live with and socialise with people and while we have quiet periods, humans are group animals.The ability to truly be alone is a rare thing and I must admit not something that everyone likes. However, for me I relish those periods when it’s just me. Solo hiking allows me to withdraw into myself, not in a negative way, but in a way that allows me to really think. I was late to life as a university student and most of my ideas for my assignments, as well as most of my ideas for articles for this blog come when I’m by myself.
    • You choose when to socialise
      • If you are solo hiking it doesn’t mean you don’t talk to anyone, ever. What it does mean is that you can choose to be sociable if you want to be and talk to other hikers as you feel the need for human contact. As a large adult male I am aware I can present an imposing presence particularly to females. As I have gotten older I have found that people feel less threatened and more likely to talk to me than when I was younger, or if I was traveling in a group.
    • Hike your own hike (HYOH)
      • You set the pace
        • It wasn’t until I started doing long distances by myself that I realised the pace and ability I had when hiking with my wife were limits imposed by the group situation. I can, and do occasionally hike 50 km+ in a day when I solo hike. As a couple that is something we have never done and while I haven’t directly asked, I know it’s not something that interests my wife. Also being 20 cm taller, my longer legs allow me to take much fewer steps to achieve the same distance so when I’m by myself I can stride out if I choose.
      • You make all the decisions
        • Its 6:00am. Is it time to get up now? Is it time for breakfast? Where do you want to go today? What’s for dinner? Oh that’s right its just me, I don’t have to discuss anything, its my choice.
    • Challenge yourself
      • For me one of the reasons I solo hike is to challenge myself. In the past few months I have done two ‘crazy’ hikes, which has included a single day hike to Mt Bimberi of 54 km, and a three-day hike on the 145 km Canberra Centenary Trail.Not something that interests my wife. For me this was a challenge to see what I was capable of and to help plan some long distance thru-hikes I will be doing over the next five years. It was also because I just wanted to see what I could do!Just because I’m over 50 years of age doesn’t mean I can’t do crazy things. While I don’t mend as quickly as I did when I was younger I have more experience, know my body much better and am mentally much stronger. Age is not an excuse for not doing things. If you want to solo hike the Pacific Crest Trail in the USA, then do it. This particular hike is on my bucket list but not for at least another ten years; I have too much to do between now and then.
    • You see more
      • The smaller the group, the less the noise. The less the noise the less likely that wildlife will be scared away. Having said that on our recent Overland Track trip we were one of the smaller groups (two) and from what I can tell the only group that didn’t see Tiger snakes.
    Shingleback Lizard just sitting in the path

    Disadvantages/drawbacks of Solo Hiking
    While there are many benefits to solo hiking there are also a number of drawbacks as well.

    • Solitude
      • Hang on wasn’t this an advantage? Solitude is a big advantage, at least for me but for many there is a limit. Doing short distance solo hikes while presenting a mental challenge is in reach of most people. Doing long distance solo thru-hikes over 2-6 months where you spend large amounts of time by yourself is another kettle of fish altogether. The ability to cope with being alone for long periods when you may not see anyone for days on end is a challenge for many people and one some people just can’t do. There is some debate on what the limiting factor is on a long distance thru-hike. An example of this is the already mentioned Pacific Crest Trail where only 25% of those who start the 4,265 km (2,650 miles) trip actually complete the full trip. There are two schools of thought on why. The first is that physical fitness is the limiting factor. The second school of thought, and the one that I subscribe to is that mental fitness is the liming factor.
    • You’re it!
      • Traditional hiking wisdom is that the minimum groups size is four people. This works on the assumptions that if one person is injured then another person can stay with them while two people hike out to seek help. This system means that no one is left alone but makes the awfully big assumption that only one person is injured in a group at any one time. A good comparison here is that most people can change a flat tyre but what do we do when you have two flat tyres at the same time? This is a generalisation but the larger the group the bigger the division of labour and the greater the potential (and I do say potential) skill set. When you travel in a group you can always ask someone when something is not quite right e.g. are we lost? Or you need a helping hand with something. You may be getting heat exhaustion but can you tell. If in doubt, STOP.
    • Wildlife
      • Australia doesn’t have much in the way of large predators such as bears or lions to worry about. Our biggest issue with wildlife is snakes and a large group of hikers will make a lot of noise at least from a snake’s perspective. I expect to see more snakes traveling solo and this is usually the case in the areas I hike.
    • Sharing the load
      • The ability to share equipment such as stoves, tents and other gear is an advantage for a hiking couple whereas solo hikers will carry everything. A good example here is the shelter. The difference between a one person version of a shelter and the same two person version is not double.
    Red Bellied Black snake. I almost trod on this specimen and at no stage was it aware that I was there as it was preoccupied with hunting food.

    Essential skills/abilities/steps for Solo Hiking
    • Let someone know what your plan is, where you will be, and if you change your plan let them know the new plan. Also let this person know when you are back
    • Be fit enough for what you have planned
    • Fill out trail log books if they exist
    • Know how to use a compass and map
      • You may not need it but in case of an emergency it may be critical
    • Carry a GPS
      • A GPS will provide a reasonably surefire ability to locate yourself on a map and to get you back to the end point/start point of the trail
    • Carry a Personal Locator Beacon
      • I currently carry two beacons. A straight PLB as well as a SPOT. The SPOT is ideal for letting a loved one know you are OK as it allows you to send messages. They can also monitor you in real time. There are devices on the market that do both functions but they chew through the battery power, which can be an issue in an emergency
    • Know your limits
      • Be self aware. PAY ATTENTION
        • Look where you walk and don’t loose focus. When you start loosing focus on the trail as a solo hiker it’s time to stop.
        • Know your abilities and skills well enough to know when its time to stop for the day regardless of what you have planned
        • Know your abilities and skills well enough to know when to call it quits and stop the hike. Better to be disappointed than injured
        • Know when its time to set off the PLB. Serious injury is usually pretty obvious. But is a broken ankle serious or life threatening? It can be and if you are solo hiking it may be something you may need to consider
        • For female solo hikers safety on the trail this is something that may be more on your mind as opposed to a male solo hiker. Practice situational awareness regardless of your gender. If you feel uncomfortable remove yourself from the situation
      • Have appropriate first aid training to deal with injuries, potentially with you as the patient. Carry an appropriate first aid kit.
    • Know the environment
      • Dry creek beds in central Australia in particular can experience flash flooding. Know the weather forecasts and know the dangers. Rainfall events 50-100 km away can affect you in your current location.
      • Be aware of any issue with wildlife such as snakes, ticks, spiders etc. and plan for potential eventualities.
      • Be prepared, gear wise for possible eventualities. For most hikes I am prepared for -7 degrees Celsius with my clothing layering system. I’m also prepared for wet conditions and wind chill.
    So if you think that solo hiking may be something you are keen to try out, I suggest starting out with small non complex hikes first before building on the complexity, length and duration of a hike. Use these smaller hikes to increase your skills and fitness and who knows, you may become hooked and decide that indeed one is better than two, at least some of the time!

    If you want to listen to the podcast version of Solo hiking go to this link

    Garmin eTrax 20 GPS

    Tim Savage
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  2. Enzo

    Enzo Thru Hiker

    I'm very much a solo hiker for the same reasons.
    I'm booked into the trail walker 100km walk again this July which is very much a group event, might be a challenge for me, I find it excruciating to sandbag.
    Tim Savage likes this.
  3. Shewie

    Shewie Administrator Staff Member

    Nice article Tim

    I don't do a great deal of solo hiking trips, plenty of day walks but not extended trips, I think I actually prefer to share the experience with a friend or hiking partner.

    When I've hiked solo there's more emphasis on achieving goals or pushing yourself that little bit harder/further, it's a very different mentality and perhaps a more blinkered approach. When I'm out hiking with the wife it's a much more relaxed pace (hope she doesn't read that :)) and we'll discuss the surroundings more, take relaxing breaks and take in the scenery more.

    So to answer your question, I don't think either is better, just different

    Snakes :yuck:
  4. Rog Tallbloke

    Rog Tallbloke Thru Hiker

    I used to like solo trips more than I do now. Maybe that's partly because I'm not as quick as I used to be, so I don't feel slowed down by others. But mostly I enjoy the shared experience, conversation and of course having a foreground subject for the photographs.
    Tim Savage likes this.
  5. edh

    edh Thru Hiker

    I tend to do most walking solo.

    Or with El.

    Basically the same :angelic:
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  6. Munro277

    Munro277 Thru Hiker

    ive done lots and lots of solo trips but for last 5 years ish since meeting up with peeps of twitter,i think I now prefer the company and craic,but I still do the odd trip on my own ...both different both good but think im more alert and push harder if on my own I don't have someone to remind me that im not 30 anymore and that extra hill or super steep,pathless descent isn't the best idea..but hell it is shorter :)
    Tim Savage likes this.
  7. tom

    tom Thru Hiker

    Good article - thanks
    I enjoy both but other than day walks do lots more solo hikes. Love the HYOH but on solo hikes also often end up walking for a day or two with nice people met on trail. I just don`t quite get the technology - beacons and such - but maybe in Australia? To me, HYOH includes being self- reliant and hiking or mountaineering tends to be safer than crossing a road anyway... Technology is very useful and welcome but not essential. In the 1970ties, we couldn`t gets maps in the Himalayas and it wasn`t a big deal - always found a way eventually.
    Tim Savage likes this.
  8. Scotty Von Porkchop

    Scotty Von Porkchop Ultralighter

    Great article Tim.
    I like solo best until it's awful weather: I soon start to grumble swear words to myself when I'm out on trips solo. Though I tend to sing and talk at my coffee too so maybe it's just the old head injuries coming back to haunt.
    Mole and Tim Savage like this.
  9. gixer

    gixer Thru Hiker

    Can't say as i've put much thought into it.

    Never real worried about how many people i've hiked with, more important to me is WHO i hike with.

    Don't really like camping on my own, but i'd sooner camp on my own than with a twonk.

    Mind you i wouldn't really fancy sharing a tent with most of my mates either :whistling:

    Day hikes,
    Some days i prefer my own company, other days a good chat.

    It's one them there "it is what it is" things.
    Tim Savage, Teepee, edh and 2 others like this.
  10. Padstowe

    Padstowe Section Hiker

    I prefer solo for camping & company for day walks, only cause it lets me choose what I want to do when i want, I always feel more pressure in company like maybe someones looking to achieve something that you might be holding them back from or vice versa. Who am I kidding, am just a grumpy git.
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  11. Ken T.

    Ken T. Section Hiker

    Totally agree with Gixer.

    My work is fairly solitary. I enjoy going with people I enjoy.

    Lots of places you hike solo, but are far from being alone.

    I do not consider a PLB or GPS as essentials. A note left with a responsible person has done me fine for decades.
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2017
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  12. Enzo

    Enzo Thru Hiker

    My work is pretty solitary, turns out I like my free time the same way!
    I'm not as grumpy as that sounds as I find I'm much more likely to meet people if I'm hiking solo.
    Lady Grey and Tim Savage like this.
  13. Tim Savage

    Tim Savage Summit Camper

    Still tossing up if I do the trail walker
  14. Tim Savage

    Tim Savage Summit Camper

  15. Tim Savage

    Tim Savage Summit Camper

    Technology not essential but when your are miles away in the middle of nowhere its handy for the rescue helicopter to know exactly where you are is need be. My wife also likes to keep tabs on me so it gives her piece of mind
  16. el manana

    el manana Thru Hiker


    You're slipping, surely this thread was the ideal opportunity to mention Dr delightful...
    yet again....
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  17. rorymax

    rorymax Section Hiker

    fluffkitten, Mole, edh and 2 others like this.
  18. edh

    edh Thru Hiker

    Well, I don't want her getting jealous of Dr Deliciosa :rolleyes:
    Mole likes this.
  19. rorymax

    rorymax Section Hiker

    You rascal, but I understand.

    Much better to have two doctors attend to your infirmities than just one.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2017
    Mole, murpharoo and edh like this.
  20. Max

    Max Ultralighter

    Nice write up Tim.
    I'm a solo walker and like to push myself at times. For me 50k is at my upper limit, although I did do a 63k day in 12 hours walking, 2 hours resting last year. My favourite distance is around about 35k .I can do multiple 40k days with no problems, if I try doing more than one 50k day in a row my body lets me know about it. These distances are moot if walking technical sections I just go by hours travelled then.
    Friends ask me do I get lonely going off for months at a time, simple answer is; I don't. there are always people to meet, some for just an hour or so, others I can walk with for several days, just depends on the vibe. Sometimes if I feel like company I will visit a village or town and try out my ****-poor Spanish or my even crappier French, there's always someone to chat to in a bar.
    Tim Savage likes this.
  21. edh

    edh Thru Hiker

    Distance is a funny thing, I did a few 46km days in the US, but am happier around 30km.
    One guy i hiked with for a (short) while went on to do 21 back-to-back 50km days :eek:
    Tim Savage likes this.
  22. Max

    Max Ultralighter

    21 50k days in a row I would be in tendonitis hell.
  23. Toot

    Toot Summit Camper

    Surely a personal thing, based on personal inclinations and findings. I reckon over 95% of my hikes have been solo over 45 years. By inclination that's what I prefer. I am never bored - never - even alone my brain can always find something to occupy it. Outdoors, there is never nothing to be interested in.

    Planning a hike has thus been based on where I want to go, when how and why I want to, for 99% of the time. On local Dartmoor trips not even I know my route or hour/day of return, so no-one can be told of it. The only duty my trip imposes is upon myself, which is a self-reliance and freedom I find an encouraging - that may be an advantage in solo travel. Selfish? Not if you're going to be on your own... Antisocial? If I wanted to be social I'd go to the pub. Irresponsible and risky? Well, what fear brings that thought or words, and what will you do about it? Being alone encourages looking after yourself - you're aware you're in charge of your own comfort and destiny, self-reliant, and that brings thoughts and action to occupy anyone who doesn't assume responsibility for them is someone else's duty. I don't think those inclined to explore have ever focused only on the fear of what could go wrong and stayed at home, but thought of what could go right and trotted off with mind open and alert to try it. Whatever could occur, be prepared to deal with it yourself - good general advice I reckon. Where I'm going will affect how I approach any trip and the original article reflects the same. Such considerations are another interest in being outdoors.

    Thinking of companions, they can be demanding irritations. Just depends on their personality. Skill or fitness differences I can deal with - grouches moaners and fools I find draining. That said, a nice place, and activity there, is somehow nicer when two minds appreciate it at the same time. People with an identical ability to do so are rare in my experience but the ones there are seem improve the surroundings and experience - sharing a nice thing is one more pleasure I suppose. I still don't feel the need to look for companions on a hike, but I know just a few who are a pleasure and a stimulation I don't mind having along. That can be an advantage of other than solo travel - sharing good fun. you can't share good fun on your own in the same way.

    In recent times I have taken to some travels with others again. That may require me to plan - it's an additional task but also another potential enjoyment. Other times I can go with the flow and discover more who I'm with. Some folks I have clicked with and camped alongside more than once, others less so. If you're with people inclined to be out anyway there tends to be agreement in interests rather than conflict and that makes for an interesting day. I'll go on doing it just to see what happens, but still my tendency will be for solo travel. There's another option, that's all. I don't see four as a minimum group number and I doubt Andrew Skurka does either. Even in a group, self-reliance is my focus. It may well be I'm simply not used to considering the alternative.

    The article suggests solitude can be a problem. I don't find it so. Some folks confuse solitude with loneliness - the two are not the same and pre-judged fear that they are is misplaced. Some people don't like solitude and can't deal with it, I do and can. I find solitude is having a bigger space to stretch yourself out in and explore if that's what you want. It allows utter self-indulgence and maximum freedom. I look at a journey and end of it as somewhere I put myself and must reach by myself - no point moaning about it, no point getting down, you have to keep going so may as well make the best of it. A few times I have thought "never again". Every time that thought has been forgotten!

    I don't look at going out as a race with anyone, even myself. If I want to go fast or need to then I will, if I don't I wont. I never set out with the purpose of defeating a challenge I have set, but enjoying it. If it takes longer, it does. If I want to change direction, I do. Again that's freedom, which is what I'm out for. I don't weigh every gram nor set a weight limit so I can claim title as an ultra-lighter or anything like it - I take what I have as I think I need it. Sure, when I buy gear I'll look at its weight, but weight is rarely, if ever, the determining factor in a purchase - performance is primary. If I go a bit slower or use a bit more effort due to an extra 500gm of insulation I'd rather have that disadvantage but be warm rather than cold.

    I suppose what has kept me going out is the gratification I get from doing so, however it is gained. Solo or in a group, that is a driving advantage.
  24. Tim Savage

    Tim Savage Summit Camper

    Well said
  25. Fair Weather Camper

    Fair Weather Camper Thru Hiker

    OK, so a question...

    How often do other solo tripping types get asked.

    "Aren't you scared out there, all by yourself? "

    I get it frequently enough, to have a ready response, along the lines of..."No its fine, I'm an agriculturalist, so sheep hold few terrors for me..."

    Not sure if this enquiry is because I happen to be female..

    Going it alone; or with good company, both are great.... It's the landscape you're in, and where you're at - headwise, that make a journey memorable...

    Any thoughts??

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