There’s safety in numbers, and nowhere is this more the case than on a hiking or backpacking trip. However, there’s also something special about venturing into the wilderness alone, to commune with nature and enjoy the peace of solitude.
Many outdoorsmen love solo backpacking because of the simplicity and freedom of not having to accommodate the needs of other hikers. Solo backpackers are free to follow their own rhythms and enjoy their surroundings without any distracting chatter or unnecessary breaks.
However, the wilderness can be a dangerous place for a man or woman alone. One misstep can lead to injury or death, and with no backup to fetch help or assist you in a tight situation, it’s especially important to be prepared and pay close attention to your surroundings while solo backpacking. Following are nine essential practices for solo backpackers.
1. Tell someone your plans. If you should become lost or injured in the wilderness, your survival may depend on rescue. Make sure someone knows where to look for you – and when to become alarmed if they don’t hear from you – by sharing the details of your trip with at least one friend or family member. Leave a basic itinerary and timeline for when you expect to return.
2. Pick up some wilderness skills. Solo backpacking is much safer when you have the right skills to survive in less-than-ideal circumstances. It’s a good idea to be able to start a fire in any conditions and build several different types of emergency shelters. You might also want to be familiar with some local wild edibles in case you run out of food. It also doesn’t hurt to know how to treat some of the more common injuries you might encounter.
3. Pack an LED flashlight. Even if you’re only planning a day hike, you should always keep a light source on you when heading out into the wilderness. Backpackers tend to prefer LED flashlights because they’re lighter and more compact that the alternatives. They’re also energy efficient and feature a much longer battery life. An LED flashlight or headlamp offers a powerful beam that can be used to signal for help as well as provide illumination at night.
4. Bring a folding knife or multi-tool. A folding knife is another essential survival tool that’s easy to carry and has many uses in an emergency situation. A folding knife can be used for building a shelter, gathering firewood and even making other tools that can help you survive. For extra versatility, consider a multi-tool, which is a folding knife combined with other useful items such as pliers, screwdrivers, saw blades and more.
5. Use a walking stick. A hiking stick can help you navigate rough terrain, keep your balance and get past any number of obstacles. There’s a reason you often see hikers pictured with walking sticks, and it’s not just for appearances.
6. Carry a light load. Without companions to share the carrying of tents, cook stoves, cookware and other gear, your backpack can easily become overloaded. While it’s important to be prepared for anything, overburdening yourself can be dangerous and can increase the chances of injury. Whenever possible, choose compact, lightweight and versatile items, such as multi-tools, LED flashlights and other gear that can serve multiple functions.
7. Keep a whistle handy. A whistle is a small item to carry, but it makes a big noise. Always have one on you when solo backpacking in case you need to attract the attention of search parties or other nearby hikers.
8. Know how to use a compass and map. In this age of cell phones and GPS devices, it’s easy to become overly reliant on technology. While it’s a good idea to bring them with you, it’s safer not to count on technology when hiking in the wilderness. A solo backpacker should still carry a compass and a map and have a solid understanding of how to use them.
9. Be aware of your surroundings. When backpacking alone, it’s especially important to remain alert to your environment and keep an eye out for potential hazards. The things you notice along the way can also become important information should you end up in a survival situation.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of equipment and preparations to make for your solo backpacking adventure. In addition to an LED flashlight and folding knife or multi-tool, you’ll also want to bring along a first-aid kit, water purification tablets and other basic survival gear. While you can’t ensure a danger-free solo backpacking trip, you can make it much safer.
[Photo by: Mat Honan]