I have recently been on a trip to Costa Brava where a lot of hiking alone was involved. In fact, out of the 9 days I have spent in the region, 7 were days of hiking and I had a guide only on one hike. Those 6 solo hiking days thought me something very important: I won’t ever recommend hiking solo. In fact, I doubt I will be going hiking alone again in my life.
To be honest, I am actually sick of reading click bait posts written by men and women alike, all highlighting the many benefits or the incredible empowerment there is in hiking alone, or suggesting a variety of tips for overcoming the fear of solo hiking.
Here I am, my old unsuccessful backpacker self, once again going against what is trendy to say. In case it isn’t clear enough, I think hiking solo is mostly a bad idea, and I believe I have a right to say it because I have done a great deal of hiking in my life, some of it solo.
Before you go on judging me, calling me a wuss, or telling me off for not sending out an empowering message, let me tell you two things about myself. You probably know them already, but in case it is the first time you read my blog, you may not.
First of all, I travel alone most of the time, and that’s what I actually like best. I was alone when I went to Cape Town; I was alone in Jerusalem and in Amman; I was alone in Varanasi too. I love it. I like the freedom I have. I enjoy the flexibility of being able to do my own thing, waking up when I want, eating when I am hungry, seeing things I care to see and not seeing others I really couldn’t care less about. I appreciate silence and peace, and just as much I am able to talk to someone I have just met at the bus stop. I love the randomness of it.
Secondly, I think I have been sending out enough empowerment messages in my life, working as a human rights lawyer for the best of 15 years.
So, if you really think I am a loser for not wanting to go hiking solo, I am hardly concerned. After all, I am not here to tell you what to do or not do with your life. I am just stating what I think, telling you how I feel about it, and hopefully you will agree with me. If not, I am open to hear your thoughts – as long as you express them in a civilized manner.
Let me state it one more time. I think that hiking alone is not a good idea. And since I like to explain myself, I have decided to highlight all the reasons why I am of this opinion.
11 Reasons Why Hiking Alone Is Not A Good Idea
Hiking alone is just not safe
The most important reason for never hiking solo is that it’s just not safe. You may be in excellent shape (I am fairly fit myself), you may be a survival expert, you may be strong and all the rest, but really – it is just not a good idea. And there are many reasons why it isn’t.
You may injure yourself
I only know this too well. At times, things just don’t go as planned and we trip, fall, and injure ourselves. It happened to me when I was hiking in Jordan: I was hurt so bad that it took me much longer than expected to finish the hike (and I had no choice of going back). Thankfully I wasn’t hiking solo and I could count on the guide’s help to carry a bit of my stuff so that I could continue walking.
A young backpacker who was hiking alone in Fansipan Mountain in Vietnam was not as lucky. Nor was the experienced French hiker that was found dead in Italy after having gone missing for nice days. I just can’t help wonder if they could have been saved if they had been hiking with someone who could search for help, rather than have to wait for help to come to them.
Read more about my adventure hiking in Jordan on my post “Why I hiked the Jordan Trail (and failed).”
The trail may be more challenging than expected
Don’t get me wrong, I like a good challenge, especially when I am hiking. 5200 steps steadily uphill (yep, I have had this when hiking Poon Hill, in Nepal!)? I am in! Narrow paths and cliffs? I don’t mind. But at times, for as much as we’d like to, a trail is too difficult to overcome it when hiking solo.
On third day of solo hiking in Costa Brava, I embarked on a circular route that – according to all signs and instructions I had received – should have taken me around 5 hours and 15 minutes. I soon realized it was going to take me longer (and a guide I met two days later told me he walks it in 8 – so we are still wondering why they suggested it could be walked in under 6), but despite the steady uphill and difficult terrain i was not discouraged.
It was when I arrived at a virtually vertical wall with iron hooks and nothing else to hang on that I realized there was no way this hike was meant to be done alone. I tried climbing, but short as I am I could not really grab the hooks. I went back, dizzy, and sat down deciding what to do. I decided it to give it a second try, but there was no way I could pull myself up that wall. I felt even dizzier than before, realizing that if I fell down, nothing and nobody would be there to stop me from falling.
That’s when I decided to go back, hoping to find a different way to go up (there wasn’t, by the way). As I sat down eating my lunch a couple walked by. I told them I was hiking alone, I asked them if I could join, and helping each other we managed to climb that vertical wall. We all agreed that a hike as challenging as that was definitely not meant to done solo.
You may get lost
Sometimes trails are not well marked, and you may end up getting lost. Ok, with today’s technology the chances of getting lost are slim. You can download tracks and upload them to apps like View Ranger. You can get a GPS. But what if your phone runs out of battery and on that day you forgot to pack a power-bank? What if it gets dark and you forgot to bring a head lamp? What if it starts raining and the trail gets blocked and you have do go a different way? The last thing you want is to be alone.
You may get attacked by animals
The chances of being attacked by animals in Europe are very slim. They are much higher in other continents, and they should not be underestimated. Besides, snakes are animals right? Well, sure enough if a snake bites, it’s much nicer to have someone that can help and call for help, or that can at least give some emotional support. Walking in a group also means making much more noise than when hiking alone, and this keeps animals away – so, the odds of being attacked are much lower.
You may get attacked by humans
The last thing one would think when hiking alone is that he may get attacked by another hiker or a passersby in general. Overall, there are much higher chances of being attacked in a city than when hiking (though, to be fair, there are also many more people to ask for help in a city).
Yet, getting attacked while hiking solo can happen, and it has happened – while the chances of an individual or even a small group attacking a group of hikers are much slimmer.
I remember warnings at my hostel in Santa Cruz La Laguna, in Lake Atitlan (Guatemala), warning guests not to hike alone to San Marcos, as there were reports of attacks with machete by a local gang. In February 2017 a young woman was found dead on a trail in Isla Colon, Panama. Why risk it? Just go with a friend. Or, if you are traveling alone, join a group.
It’s lonely (or shall I say, kind of boring)
I can entertain myself, or else I wouldn’t travel alone all the time. But one of the nicest parts about hiking is sharing the beauty of the nature around you, and gasping at the gorgeous views with someone else. There is nobody to do that with when hiking alone. Nobody to share your excitement for what you see. It’s kind of boring, after a while. Even the lunch you may have packed doesn’t taste as nice.
You are the only one motivating yourself
For some reason, whenever I am hiking with a group of friends, I push myself a lot and end up always being the first to the final point. I just walk really fast, especially if uphill. I realized when I was hiking alone in Costa Brava that I was much much slower than usual. It was like I could not be bothered to walk at all.
But it’s not just that. Friends usually encourage each other, in many different ways. While talking, the effort we make to walk uphill doesn’t seem so bad. Joking, we may encourage each other to walk faster. We may not be as bothered if it starts raining, and you may have someone to complain to about your blisters.
And if someone has a panic attack and claims she can’t go on (true story, it happened to my friend once when we were hiking in Sardinia), others will be there to encourage and stay positive, until she calms down and starts walking again. Finding motivation when hiking alone is not nearly as easy.
You have to carry all the weight alone
This is especially important for long distance hikes, when camping may be necessary. If you go hiking alone for longer distances, you will have to carry everything, with no way to share equipment with someone else. You’ll have to carry camping kitchen gear, tent and all. Even if your back breaks.
You have to do everything alone
But it gets worst. If you go hiking solo for longer distances, there is no such thing as dividing chores. You have to start the fire by yourself, get water and filter it, and put up the tent – which at times is easier said than done (though I learned quite well when I went camping in Namibia). And then you have to cook dinner, and sit alone while you eat it.
It’s not budget friendly
Much like when traveling solo, hiking solo at times is not as budget friendly. At times you’d really like a private room, with your own bathroom and everything else. Sharing it with one or more friends would make it much cheaper, but if you are alone, you are stuck with the dorm (or with paying more). The same goes with campsites: some want to be paid per tent, and in this case it doesn’t matter if you are alone or not. But others charge per person!
Nobody is there to take photos of you
I realized after hiking alone in Costa Brava that I am not in any of the photos. I have a bunch of incredible photos of the places I have seen, and not a single one with me in it. Mind you, I don’t care to be in every single picture I take (just go check my Instagram feed to see how often I am in the photo).
But I like to have a good one taken, every now and then. Sure, you can always take a selfie – which is never as nice as when someone takes your photo. Otherwise, you have to carry a tripod; but that adds weight to the backpack, where – really – you only want to pack the essentials. Or find a stone or something else to leverage your camera (which isn’t always easy).
Sure, this is a sillier reason not to go hiking solo compared to the rest. But some of the others – especially the safety ones – are much more important and should not be underestimated.
Have you ever been hiking solo? Would you recommend it? Why, or why not?