6 Reasons To Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail Alone

If you are currently planning your thru-hike, you may be thinking that you need to hike with someone else. This is not the case. If you hike alone, you will be fine and probably better off alone than with someone else. Don’t let your lack of a hiking partner get in the way of you starting a thru-hike. Here are 6 reasons why I started, and finished, my thru-hike alone…

1. Absolute Freedom

If you hike the trail by yourself, no one will be breathing down your neck. You will be able to escape and truly be free. I remember feeling so happy and free only to turn my phone on and have it blow up with messages from my parents asking me where I was and if I was okay. Although I knew they sent those messages out of love, it was nice to have my phone off and live without people on my case all the time. I couldn’t even imagine how awful the trail would’ve been if someone I started hiking with depended on me and had to always know where I was.

2. No one wanted to do it with me

Would I have started the trail with a friend if he or she wanted to hike with me? Definitely. However, in my case, no one I knew wanted to hike with me and I didn’t even try to find someone to thru-hike with. In other words, don’t let the absence of a partner prevent you from embarking on this great journey.

3. I only had take care of myself

Trust me, on the trail this is a very difficult task. Thankfully, no one else on the trail depended on me to keep them alive. Looking out for myself was a big enough task, but if your hike is anything like mine, you’ll meet people who you want to watch out for and vice versa.

4. I made friends anyway

It’s very easy to meet incredible people on the trail. It was nice for me to have friends on the trail that were separate from my friends in “real life.” I think if I started out with “real life” friends, I would not have tried as hard to create relationships with other hikers.

5. I do what I want

The Appalachian Trail taught me that I can wake up every morning and do whatever I want to do. This is something that has stuck with my way past my thru-hike. Every morning when I wake up, I do what I want to do. Most of what I want to do is what I know will make me happy. With this philosophy I have picked up from the trail, I am the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.  If I were hiking with a group for the majority of my hike, I might not have developed such a significant lifestyle change.

6. Greater sense of accomplishment

I believe my summit of Katahdin was very different in significance than those hiking in a group for the whole trail. Although I did hike with other people along the way, I finished the trail exactly how I started it; alone and on my own terms. If I had hiked the trail entirely with someone else, or a group, I feel like my sense of achievement on Katahdin would be different. A lot of times on the trail, I had no one to help me through the hardest parts and had to overcome adversity on my own. I get that sharing achievements is a wonderful thing; however, I’m glad I got through the majority of trail because of my own abilities and not having to rely on others.

One of the common questions I get from people about the trail is if I was alone all the time. When I answer, I say that I hiked a lot of the trail alone but met plenty of amazing people along the way. For some reason, people are shocked that I hiked alone and show me a lot of respect for it.  If you want to learn more about the social construct of the Appalachian Trail, I encourage you to check out the “Hike Your Own Hike” chapter in Appalachian Trials.

All in all, thru-hiking the trail was an incredible experience for me and can be an incredible experience for anyone who takes part in it. I am glad that I started and finished the trail alone and recommend this way of hiking for others. Don’t let the fact that you have no one to start with prevent you from trying to thru-hike. Step out of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to walk alone. You won’t regret it.

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Comments 17

  • Primo : May 12th

    Thank you for this Cole and for your comments Heath. I too am planning on going alone in 2016. I long for the solitude and chance to be with me for an extended time. I’m just beginning to gear-up and train a bit now so I’ll be ready. I’ve looked at the gear lists and am a bit worried about how much food to carry – in general. Are the town’s (except in Maine) really so close that you can resupply on a regular basis?

    Reply
  • Jip-Z : Nov 27th

    Yes i also plan to go by myself in 2016. I don’t know anyone who’d want to go with me (except for that life-sucking cheating ex of mine but no way I’m bringing that leach along with me) and I feel all the same as what you said, it would be less of a freeing mind-expanding spirit questing adventure if I have someone to look out for. See, the issue I am facing is that I am a very small 5 foot tall girl and I do worry that someone will spot me walking alone and target me. Rape me and then murder me and leave my body for the bears. Does this seem like a rational fear or are the woods and the people in the woods generally relatively harmless?

    Reply
    • hiulhhl : Feb 9th

      lol if you are that woried bring mace or a taser or a pistol and (bury/burn it at the NY line

      Reply
  • Stosh : Dec 9th

    I’m trying for a northbound thru hike a day after my birthday March 25 2016, Do you recommend a hand held gps or was Your phone enough I’m doing it alone also will be my 1st time, I have a few of those
    MyCharge portable chargers also. Just wanna be prepared.

    Reply
    • Cannonball : Jan 17th

      Your phone incl guthooks AT guide is all you’ll need. Put your phone in airplane mode and upload the maps before you go and the batteries will last much much longer.
      Good luck!

      Reply
  • scott (clorox) : Dec 11th

    I hiked my hike in 2002. Didn’t take a phone. Didn’t even own one back then. And no, didn’t take a gun either. That seems to be one of the most often asked questions. If you’re an ultra-light thru-hiker, a gun would be like packing a boat anchor. I started alone, and finished alone, but met so many people and made so many others, many with whom I still remain very close to. The beauty of solo hiking is when you want to be alone, you can. If at a point, you’re a bit lonely for company, all you have to do is hook up with the next group coming along. Initially, I thought I’d solo most of the time. As it turned out, I probably hiked with others more than I did alone.

    Reply
  • Patricia Cook : Jan 6th

    I’m just starting to think about hiking the AP. What trail book(s) would you recommend. I’m looking for the best how to book that will tell you when to begin, where to resupply, pack list ect..
    Appreciate any helpful info.
    Target start Fall of 2016 or spring 2017.

    Reply
    • Trent Quinn : May 3rd

      Hey Patricia are you hiking?

      Reply
  • Phill : Jan 28th

    Great advice, just what I was hoping to hear, thanks for the info Cole man, I’m from the UK and im planning on hiking alone in 2017 it’s a life long dream to do so and I love the state’s outdoors, I’m Welsh and there’s not enough trail for me here in Wales so AT here I come

    Reply
  • Trent Quinn : May 3rd

    Well I’m wanting to start the AT in a couple of days. Alone I guess. Any body needing a side kick? Let’s go!II’m geared up and on the runway.

    Reply
    • Steve : May 4th

      Yeaaaahhh man , I’ll be headed north on the 21st a little late but I’m not too concerned , maybe we will meet up

      Reply
  • Trent Quinn : May 3rd

    I will be the guy in the red beratt from the 82nd airborne. Well I’m 54 and I’m looking for a great adventure. I’ve got my gear ready to go. I am gearing up with all light weight gear from Mahoney’s. I’m looking for a female to share the experience.

    Reply
  • Simone : Jun 6th

    Hi, I’m planning a segment hike (southbound) in a couple of weeks, and also going alone. Does direction matter as far as safety goes? I know I won’t be with the main flow of hikers.

    Reply
  • George : Jan 17th

    There is nothing more aggravating than walking someone else’s pace. You’re almost certainly going to end up seeing folks several times. If these encounters evolve into a hiking partnership, fine

    Reply
  • JASH : Jan 17th

    On The Trail you meet lots of fun people and are never really alone. HYOH

    Happy Trails 🐾🐾🐾🐾🐾

    Reply
    • James : Mar 20th

      Hi, i am an eagle scout and ex-infantry in the army. I love the out doors and hi adventure activities. I’m thinking about hiking the AP however I am a recently diagnosed type 1 diabetic on an insulin pump do you think it’s possible for a solos thru-hike

      Reply

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