There’s really something special about adventuring alone. To me, it’s always been a little meditative. My weird kind of zen. To others, their kind of crazy.
Don’t get me wrong I love the company of others, but to stand atop a ridge and not see, hear or sense another human soul gifts a unique feeling.
To stop on the track, hear the silence and see only your own footprints in the mud behind you? The animals don’t scurry away as they normally would. The birds are intrigued by you, and dare I say the trees too.
No longer do you feel a visitor in a foreign landscape. Rather, you feel absorbed into the heath that surrounds you. Each passing stride, a pulsing heartbeat that connects you to the earth below. A beat that somehow drums along with your own.
I’ve always been fascinated with epic soloist adventures and expeditions. Yet time and time again, people ask “Why? I’ve always liked my own company, but surely the company of others serves such a richer experience.”
Well they’re not wrong…
The thing you need to wrap your head around first, however, is that the second you even DECIDE to go out alone – it’s a wildly different experience.
On a solo trip, all the responsibilities fall on you and you only. Once you’re on the trail, there’s no one to ask for second opinions, advice, or anyone to get the snacks out of your pack for you so you don’t have to take it off.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’ve made that leap of faith and you’re planning to head out adventuring alone.
Brush Up On Your Skills
When you’re out there alone, one wrong turn whilst you’re zoned out wondering if you remembered your Curly Wurly could mean you’re suddenly neck deep in the heath, not knowing what year it is or which way is up.
Or worse still, finding yourself hurt, without someone close by to help you out.
First Aid And Safety
The best first aid is to not need it in the first place, but unfortunately, it’s often inevitable. When you’re alone though, small incidents can become big problems very quickly.
So if the only first aid you remember is beating a CPR dummy in a sheltered room, then take the initiative to get educated further. Even if you take a PLB or Sat Phone – which you should – it’s no substitute for your own skills.
Read, watch and do as much as you can to give you the confidence and knowledge to deal with everything from minor cuts to 127 hours and everything in between. A CPR refresher won’t do you much for being alone in the bush, but knowing what to do with snakes and spiders will. Check out Wilderness First Aid courses.
There are also other small safety measures that you can employ to give you that inch by inch advantage and peace of mind. Safety whistles, signal mirrors, Morse code and other emergency skills. Whilst they may seem a little “survivalist”, would you rather know it and not need it, or be stuck in a position where you wish you did?
Plan, Plan And Plan Again
Give Abraham Lincoln six hours to cut down a tree, and he’ll spend the first four sharpening his axe.
Know Where You’re Going
If you’re new to the world of hiking and exploring, do yourself a favour and head out with other like minded adventurers first, ideally along the same track you’re wanting to hike solo. They could be day trips, even half day trips.
The point is to familiarise yourself with where you are, where you’re going, and what you’ll need to take with you to execute your epic solo crusade. So unless you’ve got a ton of experience under your belt, it’s probably best to stick you the tracks you know.
Know Your Plan (And Let Someone Else Know Too)
Know your start and finish times, the times you’ll aim to reach camp, sunset and sunrise times, distances, major climbs and descents, what food you’ll eat when, how much water you’ll need and if there’s anywhere you can replenish your supply, the weather to expect, the weather you might not expect. Prepare a thousand times over so you know your own plan inside out, upside down and back to front; and then tell someone else your plan.
The other reason for going out with people who know their stuff and already have experience in the field, is that you can learn so, SO much. Tell them your ideas. Find out their thoughts, what they’d do, how they’d do it. Just because you’re doing a solo trip, doesn’t mean you should short-change yourself when others have the knowledge you may need. Knowledge is everything.
Plan Your Gear
It seems pretty straight forward… but there’s more than just having the right gear to be self-sufficient in the bush. Swanky 4 season tents, liquid fuel stoves and fancy water purifiers DO NOT make you exempt from knowing how to use the gear you have, or even the gear you’re borrowing BEFORE you actually go out.
Even take into consideration how inclement weather will affect your setup. Do you have and know how to use a weatherproof fire kit in case your lighter goes out, or it’s too wet for matches? Are you comfortable pitching your tent or shelter in high wind and/or rain? If you lose a guy line, do you know the knots to repurpose the laces on your boots to stop your tent from flying away?
Another big factor with gear that ties into planning your trip as a whole, is the appropriateness of the gear you have for the environment you will be in.
Check The Weather!
Not just the forecasts, but the recent observations as well as historical records of the place. If it’s bucketing record amounts of rain and the only wet weather gear you possess is that $2 poncho you bought at a festival, then maybe consider alternatives.
If you’re venturing somewhere where it can get really cold (not even necessarily a snowy alpine environment) and the warmest thing you own is “your dad’s really warm flanno”, then perhaps that $12 Kmart tent might not cut it either.
Be Prepared To Turn Back
As prepared as you may be and as meticulously thorough your plan might be… If push comes to shove and things don’t go your way, know that there’s no shame in pulling the plug. Knowledge, experience and the ability to adapt can serve to aid you massively, but even that has its limitations at times.
Live to venture another day.
It’ll Be Worth It
Now this might seem very doom and gloom if you’re only just testing the waters…
But solo trips can be incredibly educational experiences. Not only do you learn your own tips and tricks and find your confidence in the bush, in your gear, and with your skills but often times you’ll learn more about yourself than in most other places.
Venturing out solo, relying on yourself and your own responsibility is an incredibly liberating and deeply satisfying experience. There’s no one to drag you out of bed, to slow you down on the trail, or to grumble when you want to have a cuppa at a lookout.
When I’m solo I find the world around me opens up and becomes more alive. You notice the rustling in the trees more, the animals hopping along with you. The quaint trickles of creeks you’d otherwise trudge through and the smell of the salt air as you walk along the coast.
Get educated, plan well, be smart. Then you’ll be rewarded with beautiful experiences. Experiences that will sate your appetite for adventure and feed your hungry soul.
Adventuring alone ISN’T for everyone. However, if you’re still convinced it’s for you, always ensure that you have put all the necessary preparations in place. Definitely read this comprehensive piece on wilderness safety: How To Stay Safe and Keep Your Mum Happy and cover all bases. Hiking solo is dangerous and should be treated with respect. Start small, be prepared and be safe.