When I tell people I hike or backpack alone, it invites a number of reactions, including:
- Pity: Oh no, did your friends cancel on you?
- Promises/threats of company: You never have to be alone, there are a lot of hiking groups out there.
- Concern: I wouldn’t let my wife do that! (For real…)
What is everyone so worried about?
People are very concerned about bears and cougars. Vancouver Island has some of the highest concentration of cougar and black bear in the world, so this is not entirely misplaced.
But the likelihood of being injured or killed by large mammal is extremely low. One study found that 63 people were killed by black bear in 110 years in all of North America.
I see at least one bear every year and usually it’s when I’m alone, as I make less noise solo. It gets my blood racing every time, but they just scamper away without incident.
2. Large mammals with less fur
Of course many people feel the need to warn me about another large mammal: men!
I put the likelihood of me being attacked in the wilderness by a random man lurking in the bushes somewhere between a cougar eating me for breakfast and being struck by lightening. Scary to think about (if you let yourself) but not going to happen.
I think the likelihood of being stuck on a group hike with someone you don’t like is much higher, so when I am feeling like I want some quiet time … I’ll take my chances with the solo trip.
3. Being alone.
Spending time with no one to talk to, no smart smartphone to distract you and nothing to do but walk can be unsettling. It’s so unlike regular life.
I think this is partially why people say they are so scared of bears or strange men. It’s just a lot easier to say “Scary things hiding in bushes!” than saying “I feel nervous about spending 48 hours with my own thoughts.”
What I’m actually concerned about.
Hiking alone is actually riskier in some ways..
If I was injured to the point where I could not walk out, this would mean that I’d have to wait for someone rescue me. This would be really tough with or without company.
However, it’s not like a hiking buddy could do much to speed up my rescue, since I always have a safety plan and/or communication device.
In terms of emotional comfort during an emergency, I see the perks of companionship. But as someone who’s had some wilderness medical emergencies, this is an informed risk I’m willing to take.
2. Getting lost.
I definitely have not been able to find where I wanted to go more times than I like to admit, especially when not using a GPS. That’s all part of the fun of exploring and not all worrisome to me.
However not knowing how to get back home is a serious problem. Feeling disoriented like this has only happened to me a few times, and it’s been very short lived.
Of course, there is nothing to say that your hiking buddies will know where you are either. But building up my own navigation skills and tools — that is a solid plan I can count on.
I’m not going to reiterate all the hiking safety tips out there, as so many websites do a great job of it. But for anyone worried about me, I am a very cautious and well-prepared solo hiker. And if you are interested in trying out solo hiking, start small and work your way up to bigger adventures as you feel comfortable and well-prepared!