Why Solo Wilderness Adventures?

Why solo wilderness adventures? What is it about being alone in the wilderness that may be appealing to certain people?

Here’s my personal perspective.


Note: This is a very revised version of something written in 2012! This thread prompted the revision.


“A venturesome minority will always be eager to set off on their own, and no obstacles should be placed in their path; let them take risks, for godsake, let them get lost, sunburnt, stranded, drowned, eaten by bears, buried alive under avalanches – that is the right and privilege of any free American”
–Cactus Ed

These sentiments expressed so eloquently by Ed Abbey is rather how I feel.

From a personal perspective, I need solo trips.

I love time spent with friends in the outdoors. In fact, the basis of some of my closest friendships was formed from shared experiences in the outdoors.

But, well, I am an  ‘extroverted introvert.’

I can be friendly and sociable. Love the apres ski (fancy word for burgers and beer!) and talking about the trip we just had with companions.

However, there is something I NEED for in the outdoors. And I can only get it solo. Quickly in my relationship with someone, I blocked off a portion of my vacation time. One week is mine. And it has to be solo.

Why solo? Why go off by myself? Possibly face some hardship that could be avoided if going with someone?

I could die in the backcountry.  someone would (hopefully!) lament it. But I truly think that people would feel happy for me in a sense I am doing something anymore love when I pass on.

I remember seeing my grandfather a few days before he died.  Pop was a man who fought a war, raised a family and was active well into his old age. More importantly, through example, he showed my brothers what it was to truly be a man. Not the macho BS that is looked on to be “manly,” but rather the real way to be a man: Be honest in your dealings, work hard for those you love, and there is no such thing as “man’s work.” Grandma would cook a wonderful meal that often would last all afternoon; my grandfather would clear the table and wash the dishes while she was enjoying coffee and dessert.

However, the man on his deathbed was not my grandfather anymore. Old age robbed his strength. Dementia robbed his personality. He did not die peacefully in his sleep. He was obviously wracked in pain until the end.

I do not romanticize dying out in the wilderness. Could be painful or lingering. Could also be quick and painless.

I do know that I do not want to die robbed of whatever makes me *me*, however.

Having said all that, I obviously love backpacking solo.

Another pertinent quote:

“I wait. Now the night flows back, the mighty stillness embraces and includes me; I can see the stars again and the world of starlight. I am twenty miles or more from the nearest fellow human, but instead of loneliness, I feel loveliness. Loveliness and a quiet exultation. “

So said Cactus Ed….

I really can’t say it much better..but because obviously, I ramble on, I’m going to say something anyway. 🙂

When hiking solo,  I do not feel alone. I do much thinking that otherwise would not be done.

Everything is more intense. Somehow the views are vaster, the sounds sharper, the smells more intense. The feelings are overwhelming. In short, I feel intimately connected to the universe in which I walk. I do not feel alone…but more connected. The longer I am out, the more this feeling is intensified.

On a past hike, I remember being out nearly four days without seeing anyone. I stumbled in a herd of elk on a damp Oregon day. The sounds of hoofs crashing through the woods, the smell of damp earth, the incredible sight of the large elk going through the woods. Years later, this image is etched vividly in my memory.

On a trip in the San Juans, I was caught in an early September snowstorm on San Luis saddle. I bailed into Creede. The following day, I was again on a divide. The mountains around me were white; the sky was a deep blue. The air had the crispness of Colorado in autumn. It was an overwhelmingly intense scene. My eyes filled up with the intense emotion I felt with the beauty encompassing me. Being alone can do that, and I am not ashamed to admit it.

Solo hiking can be challenging. You are by yourself, in your own thoughts. You must use your own resources. I don’t think being alone is what makes going solo hard…I think confronting yourself, having all around you that much more intense…that is what people find difficult.

For me, solo hiking turns a backpacking trip from an extended vacation into a wilderness pilgrimage. When going solo, I am forced to confront on a very gut level what I am seeking on the pilgrimage. The beauty, the emotion, my thoughts. And I would not have it any other way.

Is it more dangerous? Perhaps. But I do not take any unnecessary risks. I do not ski avalanche paths. My hiking on technical terrain is on the conservative side and does not take me past my ability level.

Most importantly, my someone has a plan of my itinerary and often a map.

Perhaps I am being foolish by going solo.

But if we only did things that were 100% safe, a bicycle would never be ridden for the first time; skiing would be something I would never do, and I’d have been too timid to ask out my now-someone out on date less I get turned down and embarrass myself. [1]

I love backpacking solo. And would not change it for anything.

[1] I embarrass myself with someone in many different ways now!


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12 years ago

I think for me I surround myself with so much distraction it takes extreme solitude to get back to the core of who I am. The wilderness is a great mirror into our souls.

Take a Hike
11 years ago

Great post! I’ve been hiking solo for many years. It’s almost a completely different experience compared to hiking with even just 1 partner. When many people learn of this, they do not understand or cannot even imagine why. And often the focus is “what if you get hurt… what if this, what if that?” I don’t really care to explain most of the time. I just shrug my shoulders… to each his own. I kind of feel sorry for them and can only hope maybe one day they will finally have that wonderful experience and understanding.

10 years ago

I do a lot of solo hikes too, but out here in New England it takes on a different meaning. I go alone but seldom am I alone. The Appalachian Trail, The Long Trail, and the White Mountain National Forest are all very social experiences. Last fall I spent 3 days solo in Baxter State Park (Maine) and went a day and a half without meeting up with someone. Priceless!

10 years ago

I try to get in at least one solo trip a year. Its my favorite time. Its like a different world, without the distraction and noise of a partner or three. Go as short or as far as I want, eat when I want, sleep where I want. Talk to myself. Talk to God. Wonder why I have to go back to work.