Richard shares his ten top tips if you are considering doing something adventurous and want to explore and prepare for solo backpacking hikes in North America.
Solo adventures can incur bouts of nervousness, increased wonder and awareness of the unfolding scenery, and inspiring self-revelations. But before you dive into the dreamscape that is exploring the wild on your own, it’s essential to consider the following tips for solo hike backpacking trips in North America.
Read on for pointers on what to pack, safety advice, and other miscellaneous tips!
1. Go where you’ve gone before
If this is your first round of solo hike backpacking, take on a trip you’ve done before with others. This way, you will know what to pack, where to set up camp, and where to go. Plus, these already-known expectations will mentally prepare you for the terrain and elevation gain, granting you the chance to enjoy the scenery without worrying about getting lost or getting too tired to finish.
2. Make it small
Not in the mood to venture on a longer, popular trail or have you never gone backpacking before? Kickstart your solo backpacking experiment with a short and easy hike. One great example of this is the 1.4 km walk to Elbow Lake Backcountry Campground in Kananaskis, Alberta.
3. Try a busier trail
While most solo backpacking trips are meant to challenge, propel inner revelations, and intertwine your thoughts with the whispers of the wind, it’s also beneficial to look to busier trails for your first few solo escapades. This way, if an emergency arises, you’ll have increased chances of meeting someone along the path who can help you out. In North America, you’ll find a lot of people flocking to the Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park (or just the one-night out-and-back trek to and from Floe Lake) or the Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, where you can start or end via either the John Muir Trail or Mist Trail.
You can also build connections with other solo hikers wandering the popular, well-known Pacific Crest Trail or the Appalachian Trail.
4. Create a backpacking checklist
Creating a backpacking checklist can help to ease the stress of what to stuff into your bag. Some essential items are:
- Hiking boots
- Sleeping pad
- Sleeping bag
- Water bottle
- Water filter
- Proper clothing for the weather
- Satellite messenger (important for solo backpacking)
- Kitchen supplies
- Bear spray (location dependent)
- Hygiene supplies
- Emergency and repair kits
This detailed backpacking checklist lets you in on some amazing products to support your solo hike adventure in the mountains!
5. Draw up a meal plan
Write out exactly what you will eat, including snacks, before you go! Oh, and pack things that you will enjoy. Backpacking shouldn’t be associated with bland meals! Pack some mac n’ cheese, some spices, trail mix, snacks and food that you’ll enjoy. Solo backpacking is challenging enough, so you might as well pack food that you’ll look forward to during and after a day of hiking.
6. Pack the right clothes
You don’t want to be uncomfortable when you’re backpacking, whether hiking alone or with some friends. Some clothing items to consider taking with you are moisture-wicking underwear and shirts, quick-dry pants and shorts, and lightweight layers!
And whatever you do, don’t forget to pack extra socks. If you get blisters, you’ll want to swap your current, sweaty pair with a dry pair, making it essential to bring extras along. You can’t rely on a backpacking partner to give you a pair of socks!
Depending on where you are, bring warmer layers, such as a rain jacket, toque, gloves, etc. (The Rockies may be a bit colder than Zion National Park).
7. Don’t wear headphones
This may seem silly, but when you’re hiking alone, it’s tough to hear the rustles of wildlife, surrounding hikers, and perhaps the rumblings of oncoming thunder (canopies of trees can block your view of the sky)! It’s super vital to be vigilant so that you can react appropriately.
8. Get training
What happens if you get hurt? Hopefully, you have a satellite messenger so that you can contact someone. But while you wait for help or if your situation isn’t an emergency, it’s beneficial to have a wilderness medicine course under your belt!
Another worthwhile course is one in navigation, where you’ll learn how to match trail features with the map and know which way’s north without a compass, and more. A course like this is key to not losing your way on the trail.
9. Bring a book, journal, or game
So you’ve set up camp, now what? Some people may love basking in the silence of nature while their thoughts play out like a movie montage, but most of you likely need some form of entertainment to keep your internal anecdotes from running wild. This is why you should pack a journal, a book, sudoku, a doodling book, or a colouring book. It may add some ounces to your bag, but you’ll appreciate an outlet that gets you out of your head.
10. Let someone know where you’re going
Going solo hike backpacking without informing someone of your route is just straight-up crazy. If you get lost or injured and don’t return when you said you would, the person you told will know to contact someone. Before you go, give someone your detailed itinerary, which should include information on where you plan to camp each night, the number of kilometres you’ll hike per day, etc. And whatever you do: do not leave this route. Sure, you may get lost—this is where a navigation course can help you out—but don’t purposefully leave this route just because you feel like it.
Embarking on a solo backpacking trip in North America is an exciting, daunting adventure that immerses you in the thick of the wild, surrounded by natural music of the wind whistling, leaves crunching, and rivers bubbling. It’s challenging to stay inside your head for a few days, but the magic of pushing yourself to continue will undoubtedly propel self-growth and revelations. To top it off, you can walk at your own pace and take as many breaks as you want!