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Solo Backpacking: How to Safely Backpack Alone and Return Alive

A fear, or better yet, cause of concern for many people, is solo backpacking. It’s understandably a foreign thing that can pose risks, but it is an incredible way to see our wild places and learn more about yourself.

Whether going on a multi-day trek or just an overnighter, relying solely on yourself while backpacking alone brings you back to your ancestral roots.

What I learned about backpacking alone was the freedom to roam and enjoy the quiet. After that, it was just me and nature, which is always an ace.

Below are some tips for solo backpacking, suggestions, and things to consider. Lastly, the nervousness and excitement of going to a place alone were part of the fun.

a gorgeous sunrise on fresh snow with a large mountain in the background
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Thoughts on Solo Backpacking in the Wilderness

I truly enjoyed doing things on my own time without catering to the needs of others. Yes, that’s a bit selfish, but there are points when it needs just to be you, the trail, and the trees.

Do you feel comfortable going alone?

You’ll have to face this first question when considering backpacking alone. Are you ready? Ultimately, that comes down to how comfortable you feel solo backpacking. However, I wouldn’t recommend it if you’ve never gone before.

Ideally, it would be best if you had had enough trips under your belt where you A) Personally have all the necessary gear and B) Feel comfortable setting up and taking down all of your gear. If you don’t have the correct gear and aren’t sure how it all works, this isn’t the time to branch out independently.

Also, look up to see if the trail allows dogs. This is a great way to be alone without being alone.

Is it a good idea to backpack alone?

In the end, it’s all about how comfortable you are with being alone outside. Generally, I’d say it’s a great idea to backpack alone – with some apparent exceptions. Those would be: You’re in grizzly country, you’re a novice, and the weather is dicey.

Besides those three things, I honestly believe people should experience solo backpacking.

Is solo backpacking lonely?

So, I’ve only done overnights where I’ve backpacked alone. And most of the time, you run into other people. The photo below is the one trip where I didn’t meet anyone at the lake and had it all to myself.

It was a freeing experience, and I enjoyed the solitude of the trip.

Backpacking Alone Safely Hiking Outdoors backpacking tips

How to backpack solo safely?

Know your Route

The dangers of going along are apparent: You don’t have a dependable backup. Granted, most trails will have other people on them, so you’re likely not technically alone, but they’re not looking out for your best interests.

When backpacking alone, understand trail hazards, plausible campsites, possible points that could be dangerous, and the best water sources.

Having these in your mind will make you more comfortable on your trek and give you greater trail awareness. A plus here is knowing if you’ll have cell service. Most companies have coverage maps available online.

Remember that cell coverage will not be as good as being on a mountaintop if you’re camping in a valley.

Tell people where you’re going

This goes for both genders and skill levels. Tell someone where you are going. This is an easy step and one that could save your life. All you have to do is give the basics: The hike name, where you likely will camp, the duration of the hike, and any side trips you may go on.

People die outdoors because they get lost, no one knows where to look, and Mother Nature takes over. 

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Be trail smart

Three HUGE tips for solo backpacking: Stick to your plan. Bring first aid. Don’t be stupid.

Most of these backpacking tips are blatantly evident for solo backpacking, but only you know what you can do and don’t go overboard. If you’ve never summited a 14er, maybe doing it alone isn’t the best of ideas.

If you’ve never done 5k feet of elevation gain, don’t make that your first trek. In other words, don’t bite off more than you can chew, and you’ll be just fine!

I would also add that for females, don’t tell people where you will camp (or are camping) if they ask. Instead, be general and say, “over there or by the lake.”

I’ve heard plenty of women say this and think it’s brilliant.

Solo Backpacking Gear

When you’re backpacking alone, it’s pretty literally all on you.

There’s no one to divvy up the weight. This means you’ve got to be smart with what and how you pack. While you can’t skimp on the main items, think long and hard about what you do and don’t need.

This is when making a checklist is key. You really don’t want to forget anything because then you’re SOL. Ensuring you have everything you need when you step foot on that trail is crucial.

Maybe you like to bring the hammock for your trips, but now, with a heavier pack, it’s time to leave it behind. The same goes for alcohol. If you enjoy a beer or wine at the top, maybe leave it this time.

This is also when getting a satellite phone may be a good choice. Depending on how remote you’re planning to go, having the ability to reach help if needed is paramount.

Going Ultralight

If you plan to do a lot of solo backpacking, opting for ultralight gear will provide you relief on the trail and save your legs and back long-term. While this can be more expensive, if you’re dedicated to the cause, it is something I would highly consider.

Review this list for the gear you might need or want.

backpacking tips for beginners

FAQ: Backpacking Alone

Is it safe to go backpacking alone as a woman?

I’m hardly the best person to answer this, but I do believe it is safe for women to go backpacking alone. Studies will show it’s more dangerous in a city than in nature. There are always dangers, but it is the same for men and women when considering natural dangers.

How do I stop being scared of solo backpacking?

You just go! The only way to stop being scared of solo backpacking is to experience the freedom it allows. Yes, you might be nervous, but remember, odds are you’ll end up at a lake or valley with other campers.

So, while you might be sleeping alone, you’re not truly alone.

How do backpackers clean themselves?

Jumping in lakes or rivers or finding a waterfall is a great way to rinse off the sweat and grime from backpacking.

Is 27 too old to go backpacking?

Not at all! Backpackers come in all ages, and as you get old, you have so much knowledge to lean on from previous trips! Backpacking is a perfect activity for people all the way into their 70s!

Is 30 pounds too heavy for backpacking?

That’s a pretty good weight for someone to go backpacking with. They say you shouldn’t go over 25% of your body weight. So, 30 pounds would be just right for someone who weighs 120 lbs.

I’ve carried between 38-55 pounds before in my life, and while heavy, you get over it… or the trip ends, and then you get over it. Ha!

Solo Backpacking Wrap-up: Always Have Fun

Enjoy the heck out of your trip, and thanks for reading these tips for solo backpacking.

Ultimately, it’s just you, the trees, the lakes, and the fresh air. Savor the freedom and the quiet. You’ll be fine. You’re going to love it. And you’ll be back for more. Happy Trails!

Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.


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Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Bio:

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on ExploreWithAlec.com. Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside