The Perils of Not Hiking Alone

A lot of people get worked up about thru-hikers going solo. There are multiple articles and videos about thru-hiking solo and past hikers are always encouraging people that they can do it alone. One of the first questions I get when I tell people that I’m doing the AT is: “You’re not going alone, are you?” But where’s the worry for hikers thru-hiking with someone else? For the poor souls that will have a constant companion for 2,200 miles?

I jest, but only a little.

Don’t get me wrong; those articles on solo hiking are warranted. It’s a nerve-racking challenge already and taking it on alone can only escalate that. I respect those going alone. But I’m a little jealous of them also. Thru-hiking seems to go hand-in-hand with self-growth and freedom; hiking with another person contests that.

My first and forever hiking partner – my dad.

I’m not super loner girl. Meeting people and forming a tramily is something that I’m very much looking forward to. And I love hiking and going for weekend backpacking trips with friends or family.

But taking on an entire thru-hike with another person has its own challenges. It has its upsides for sure, but it has its downsides too. Their bad days become your bad days. And you most certainly won’t always want/need the same things at the same time. On some level your freedom is hindered.

Twenty Years Should do It

I’ll be hiking with one of my best friends of nearly 20 years. More of a brother than a friend (proven by the fact that we argue like siblings), Danny, though not my first Connecticut friend, is the one I’ve had the longest since moving here. We survived band camp together as pimply faced dweebs so we can totally tackle the AT. I am excited to hike with Dan, but I also know we need to find a balance to ensure our joint success.

He’ll probably wear that disgusting Yankees cap the entire 2,200 miles.

1) Know Each Other’s Goals

In my opinion, this is the most important thing hikers must do before taking on a thru-hike together. Yes, Danny and I are hiking the trail together. But we each came upon this dream separately and have our own ideas of what we want to get out of it. Understanding the other person’s goals ahead of time is imperative.

Last year I saw an Instagram post from a hiker who hit McAfee Knob in appalling weather. She couldn’t see a thing. She decided to cut her miles short that day, head into town, and wait for the next day so she could go back to McAfee Knob and actually see it. I would do that also, but cutting my miles short that day would mean that Danny is cutting his miles short too. Surprising him with that information, day of, on McAfee Knob, that I’m not budging, while he thought we’d be going another ten miles, is just asking for a fight. We’ll share our separate goals to avoid surprises and resulting fights.

2) Understand that We’re Going to Drive Each Other Crazy

Like really, really crazy. You can plan and try to prevent all you want but it’s inevitable. That much time with the same person who has different ideas about the trail while facing difficult and stressful situations will definitely result in some neck-wringing fantasies. We both understand this. But this is the benefit of 20 years and what I meant when I said we fight like siblings. We bicker and then shake it off and forget about it.

Having a hiking buddy means getting super-flattering hiking pics.

 

3) Strengths and Weaknesses

Learning a hiking partner’s strengths and weaknesses takes a lot of time. Danny and I have been on several hiking and backpacking trips together. We’ve learned that I should lead on the ascents and Danny should lead on the descents. Danny can also tell when I’m getting hangry from about a mile away, and will force me to eat. Things like this can be learned on the trail but it’s also comforting to have a solid base already.

4) Prepare for Sickness/Injury/Etc.

It’s important to discuss what happens if one person gets sick or injured. The worst time to try to figure it out is when someone is lying on the trail with a broken leg.

A few scenarios worth discussing:

  • Hike-ending injury.
  • Short-term injury.
  • Illness.
  • At home emergencies.

The Upsides

Hiking with someone does have some major upsides:

  • Morale booster on bad days.
  • Someone to share small wins with along the way.
  • Shared gear. Danny and I are sharing very little, actually. Some hiking partners can share tents but Danny and I are not those people. We each have our own tent and water filter but we will share a stove and AT guide.
  • Someone who doesn’t get sick of you talking about the trail incessantly.

Our Biggest Challenges

Danny and I are pretty successful hiking buddies but this is where I anticipate we’ll struggle:

  • Time goals. I look forward to experiencing and exploring. Danny is a little more pressed for time for work reasons. Balancing my “Let’s see where the trail takes us” mentality with Danny’s time goals is going to be tough.
  • The frequency in which we actually hike together. I’d be OK with hiking alone for a day and meeting up at the same camp spot at night. Danny would rather stay within a quarter mile of each other. For better or worse, we’re taking a “wing it” approach to this one.

Until next time!

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Comments 9

  • Wayne hobbs : Feb 1st

    I have been an outdoorsman for over 40 years. Cub Scouting, Boy Scouting, Philmont, the Rocky’s, the Pyrenees, the Alaska Range and many many others. A lot of them I also hang glided as well. Both in group hikes and solo hikes.

    My last adventure almost cost me my life. Doing a solo hike on the Quachita Trail solo. On my second day I started to notice an annoying soreness/pain under my chest strap snap. As I continued to hike it continued to bother me. Over time the pain seemed to start radiating over towards my left shoulder. I was in a very rugged steep slope area with no place to stop and spend the night so I continued on towards the next trail shelter where I was planning to spend the night. As I trudged along I noticed that the pain was beginning to radiate down my left arm. I knew then that I was very likely suffering some type of cardiac event. In the terrain where I was at was not conducive for a rescue attempt. The pain became strong enough where my thinking became slow and was having to stumble from tree to tree and rest at each tree. Over time I was able to reach the shelter. I sheltered there for a bit resting and hydrating. Texted my wife and grown sons and sent them my GPS coordinates and the shelters name. My wife called me back panicking. My oldest son jumped into action and ordered in a rescue team, an ambulance and a helicopter. It took all three to get me out of there.

    After a 135 mile helicopter ride and an open heart double bypass and a defibrillator pacemaker installation I’m back to the living and now walking 5 miles a day.

    Solo or not? I like them both but have always preferred a shared experience. I’ve hiked with men and women and enjoyed both. I fear my long hike days and hang gliding are behind me now. I’ll have to settle for more reasonable adventures. Old hikers never quit we just slowly drift into the shadows of our memories.

    Reply
    • Kristen Fiedler : Feb 1st

      Thank you for sharing your story. I agree, though obviously not the focus of this post, I love shared hiking experiences as well. There’s upsides and downsides to both solo and group, and safety is definitely a benefit of group hiking!

      Reply
  • Mike B : Feb 1st

    I agree with everything you wrote about the drawbacks and benefits of hiking with a partner. I have one more drawback. When I hike solo, I am only responsible for myself.
    When I hike with someone else, I feel responsible for them. I frequently worry if they’re hurt or lost unless we are hiking literally together. This may be what your hiking partner is feeling and why he wants the 2 of you not to just camp together but to hike together. I definitely count this increased stress as s drawback to hiking with a partner or a group.

    Reply
  • Draggin' Tail : Feb 1st

    If talking about solo Thru-Hiking the A.T. it really doesn’t happen (at least not anymore, unless you go SOBO and start in September!). I will relate a story from my 2010 A.T. Thru….. met an elder hiker (ha, older than me, and I was 56 at the time), his trail name was Codger. He told of the anguish that his family had over his plans to ThruHike the trail by himself at his advanced age. He came up with a gem of a retort…. “I’m not hiking alone, I’m hiking with several hundred friends I haven’t met yet”. If you’re one of the cast of thousands that do a normal timed NOBO A.T. ThruHike, you’ll never be “alone”. (let alone the day hikers, section hikers, scout troops and dog walkers that populate the trail).

    Reply
  • Loopy : Feb 1st

    This type of partnership sounds very complicated. Best of luck. Godspeed!

    Reply
  • FishnGaMe : Feb 2nd

    I hit the Trail solo without any real expectations of who I’d be hiking with, though right off it became apparent there were those I found to be great company, and others that I preferred to just know in passing. Indeed, our ‘tramily’ stayed together for over half the trail, with a much larger extended tramily all summiting around the same week. What I heard from some who started with someone from off trail is that you don’t really bond as tight with others you meet, because you are ‘that couple’. There are exceptions, but if it’s an everyday together type of hike, the freedom of one’s own destiny is altered. Enjoy!

    Reply
  • Mark Stanavage : Feb 2nd

    I have met hiking partners that could have used couples therapy, I’ve met hikers so cool, I hated to part ways. One benefit of solo is not only the total freedom, but social as well. When hiking with someone, you aren’t as free to associate with others, you sort of focus on your hiking partner. I can stop and talk or not, and not worry about holding up my partner or being guilty of ignoring my partner. I can throw up a hammock, pull socks and boots off and take a break any time or place. I talk to more people when alone.

    Reply
  • Bill Caulway : Feb 3rd

    I really enjoyed your post and reposted it to the Colorado Trail, and AMC Worcester MA FB groups. I have three thru hikes behind me and will be doing two more this year. My best friends have been my trail family.

    A few personal observations

    * Lots of people like hiking Solo and are trying to answer a question or heal from some life trama. Recognize and respect it, giving them space.

    * I like to tell hikers i’m with at dinner time where I’m going and a stretch destination for the following day. That way if someone wants to get up early or go at a fast pace it’s good.

    * The best situation for me is to start hiking together and then just meet up spontaneously along the trail. It’s the best of both worlds.

    * Its ok to leave a group and go your separate ways. Taking an extra day in town or just wanting to push on for more miles is ok. Just let people know and it’s all good.

    * Remember WHY your hiking. For me it’s a journey and an adventure. It refreshes me and makes me thankful for everything and everyone in my life. Find your WHY and keep referring to it. Especially during bad weather or nursing and injury.

    Reply
    • Kristen Fiedler : Feb 6th

      Thank you!

      Reply

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