How To Plan a Solo Backpacking Trip

Sometimes the Solitude of Nature is Too Tempting to Resist.

First, a warning: Solo backpacking trips are extremely dangerous. Many national parks will not allow a person to travel alone, be it hiking, backpacking or any other outdoor sport. Before you decide to risk it, check with the rules and laws of the parks and wilderness areas beforehand.

That said, there are rewards along with the risks. Backpacking is a great way to escape the insanity of the modern world, and traveling alone allows one to soak in nature without the constant interaction and chatter a partner would provide. However, without the extra pair of hands, feet and eyes, the dangers of backpacking increase exponentially.

This is for experienced backpackers only. If you are a new backpacker, go on a few trips with experienced friends first.

  1. Know the risks. Any time you venture out into the wilds you take your own life in your hands, and you should be prepared to accept whatever the results of your endeavor may be. Check all the rules and laws regarding backpacking and camping in your chosen destination well beforehand, as some parks require permits before they'll let you go.
  2. Let several people know your plans. First off, get a map of the area, and plot your general course for the duration of the trip. You may find this constricting, but is it vital (in case of something bad happening) for rescue crews to pinpoint your probable location. Either show this plan, or email it to several friends.
  3. Choose a spotter. In addition, it's best if there is at least one person actively involved in the process. The best bet is to have someone drop you off and pick you up when you are done. That way you'll have a set deadline and location.
  4. Have a way out. A cell phone, change, and some bills will help if you end up having to change plans. Know where the nearest towns and cities are, and how to reach them. Study up on your self-defense, too... a lone traveler is easy prey for criminals.
  5. Pack well. Having a friend along means that if one person forgot it, the other one has it. Without that safety net, it is extremely important to make sure you have everything you'll need. However, it is important to not pack to heavily, as a heavier pack is more likely to cause injury, which is exactly what we're trying to avoid.
  6. Bring a walkie-talkie. You can get a very small, lightweight two-way radio that can cover over two miles these days. Give one to a friend, tell them what channel yours is set to, and then turn it off, stick it in your pack and forget about it. If something should go wrong, that radio will allow you to communicate easily with those looking for you. Failing that, at least bring a whistle or air horn.
  7. Make friends along the trail. Other hikers, joggers and backpackers are usually very nice and open people. Stop to chat if they seem in the mood. The exchange of information will usually give you clues to how the trail is up ahead, and increases both your safety, and theirs.
  8. Use common sense! In other words: Don't do anything stupid. While you might have thought it was fun to cross the stream treading over the slick log, stick to wading through or crossing in a safe and normal place. Remember, no one is there to laugh if you hurt yourself, which means no one is there to help you back up, too.
  9. Enjoy! Despite the dire picture I painted, the peace and silence of a solo backpacking trip can make all the potential problems seem like a small price. Enjoy the freedom of moving about in unspoiled wilderness without distractions.


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Terrific article. I like "underestimate your abilities." I'd like to know the number of lives that could have been saved if more people had "underestimated."

By Alan Hammond