The Benefits of Solo Backpacking: 7 Reasons Hiking Alone Is Awesome

The trail is a place of community and friendship. But it’s also a place for solitude and introspection, a proving ground where hikers test their own limits and plumb the depths of their souls in search of growth and healing.

Solitude and community are not mutually exclusive, and a healthy person needs some of both to stay in balance. You can thru-hike in the company of others and still have a deeply personal experience. And on the flip side, many thru-hikers forego the traditional tramily model and enjoy hiking alone for a variety of reasons.

There are many benefits of solo backpacking. Here are a few of them.

7 Benefits of Solo Backpacking

7 benefits of solo backpacking. Photo: Mukuko Studio via Unsplash.

1. Hiking alone is the ultimate freedom.

When you hike with others, you are all beholden to each other’s wants, needs, and abilities. The group can only progress as fast as the slowest member, and that member will inevitably feel the pressure to push their pace a bit to accommodate the others.

Compromise is a fundamental aspect of the group dynamic. While the ability to compromise is a healthy skill, it’s equally important to know what sacrifices you are and are not willing to make.

Many people thru-hike with a desire to experience ultimate freedom, and that is more likely to happen for you if you hike alone. Alone, there is no need to compromise. You can decide when to wake up, how far to hike, when to take breaks, and which side trails to explore. You can stop in town for a bite to eat—or not.

Importantly, you can hike at your own pace with no pressure to slow down or speed up. I emphasize this because far too many hikers hurt themselves by trying to hike faster than they’re comfortable in order to keep up with a friend group.

When you’re alone, there’s no one to pressure you, intentionally or not. And there’s no one to tell you no.

2. Hiking Alone Is Empowering

Some people are walking self-confidence machines and have no trouble believing themselves worthy of (insert good things here). Others are not so blessed. For those who are plagued by self-doubt, hiking alone clarifies things nicely.

Thru-hiking requires physical exertion, grit, and problem-solving skills on a daily basis. Every day you log 10, 15, 20 miles and end up that much closer to your clearly defined goal: the completion of the trail. When you hike and set up camp alone, who do you have to thank for those miles?

You might justly acknowledge the help of trail angels, your personal support network, or the societal privileges that helped get you to the trail in the first place. But at the end of the day, it was you, wasn’t it? Your legs. Your strength. Your skill. Your determination.

When you’re alone on the trail, no one else can claim credit for your successes. And on the flip side, when you fail, you can’t blame it on anyone but yourself. Both realizations are equally empowering.

3. No Distractions

Having a hiking partner to chat with can make the miles whiz by, but there are times when a hiker ought to stay in the moment and savor everything the trail has to offer. Hiking alone takes away distractions, forcing you to notice more of your surroundings and take in the details.

And when the mind does start to wander—because one can only appreciate so many beautiful strains of birdsong and artful clusters of trees at one time—the solitary hiker can enter a pensive, almost meditative state as they hit their stride. I get most of my best thinking done while walking alone.

I also find that occasionally keeping my private thoughts in my mind palace, rather than unloading them rapid-fire on the nearest available conversation partner, saves my breath on tough climbs.

READ NEXT – Thru-Hiking Alone vs. With a Partner or Trail Family

4. It’s Easier To Make New Friends

benefits of solo backpacking

The ease of making new friends is one of the most surprising benefits of solo backpacking.

This is perhaps counterintuitive, but hikers looking to forge new social connections may have more success hiking solo. It’s difficult to remain open to new relationships when you are already part of a tight-knit team.

Close friends and couples tend to do their own thing much of the time. They lodge together in town, eat together, and camp together. And with company readily available within the group, there’s less motivation to branch out.

In contrast, a solo hiker is more likely to engage with others at the shelter, pause to chitchat with passing day hikers, and shoot the shit with fellow thru-hikers in the communal bunks at the hostel.

Many hikers enjoy the opportunity to share company over a meal but prefer to move down the trail unencumbered. In this way, they can enjoy the benefits of solo backpacking without missing out on the community aspect of the trail.

I knew many solo hikers who weren’t affiliated with any tramily but were friendly with every group in our little bubble.

5. It’s Easier To Hitchhike

benefits of solo backpacking

Photo: Kris Mast via Snap.

Hitchhiking is often the simplest, cheapest way to get to town (not to mention another great way to meet new people and have interesting conversations). But even in hiker-friendly locales, it’s not always easy to get a ride. People are busy, their cars are crowded, and they may not want a pile of odorous strangers in their back seat.

You’ll significantly improve your odds of getting a ride if you’re solo. One hiker looks less intimidating and is easier to accommodate than a group of three or four.

If you’re uncomfortable thumbing it alone for safety reasons—and that is a valid concern—partner up with another singleton for hitchhiking purposes. Groups of two are still reasonably likely to get picked up.

6. There’s No Pressure

None of us were born knowing how to thru-hike—and the process of learning those skills isn’t always pretty. Alone, you can learn at your own pace, feeling free to make mistakes along the way. Not that anyone on the trail is judging—we’re all too tired and hungry for that—but sometimes it’s easier to learn when no one is looking.

I never really fell in love with hiking until I went on a few solo trips. Only then could I relax and stop fixating on what others might be thinking of me. Unlearning my crippling self-consciousness around other human beings has been a big part of my personal growth. But what helped me the most in that process was giving myself space to explore my interests and abilities alone, where even my brain couldn’t trick me into feeling watched and judged.

7. You Can Develop Your Own Way of Doing Things

benefits of solo backpacking

Mt. Robson Provincial Park, Canada.

Everyone has their own way of doing things on the trail. In time you will develop your own style—but only if you give yourself room to do so.

I once met someone who had hiked over 1,200 miles on the AT but couldn’t set up her own tent. Her husband, who was hiking with her, had always handled that chore. I imagine there were other camp tasks she was in charge of that he would not have known how to handle.

Division of labor is one of the big upsides to hiking with others: you can share the load and save time and effort around camp. Even so, you should know how to use your gear and be confident with every aspect of trail life. It’s a matter of safety as well as one of practicality: if you ever get separated from your partner, you need to be able to function on your own.

Many people have no trouble establishing their own style, even in a group setting. Those who are less confident or less assertive may benefit from some solo hiking time. When hiking around strong personalities, it’s too easy to adopt their habits or let them handle tasks you’re not comfortable with. Alone, you will force yourself to learn and adapt.

What Have We Learned About the Benefits of Solo Backpacking?

Photo: Deesha Sha

At the end of the day, remember that everything about thru-hiking is fluid, including who (if anyone) you hike with. Deciding to start a long trail solo or split from a tramily partway through the hike does not mean you’re committing yourself to a lifetime of seclusion.

Once you get your trail legs, you’ll find yourself leapfrogging other hikers who keep a similar pace. You will get to know these groups. You can still be friends with them even if you don’t hike or camp together. And hey, just because you’re digging the unencumbered bachelor hiker lifestyle right now doesn’t mean you can’t choose to join another group down the trail.

Start. See what happens. Whether you hike alone, with a partner, or with a whole group of friends, thru-hiking is a life-altering experience for most people.

Featured image: Graphic design by Zack Goldmann.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 8

  • Madison Sesco : Apr 21st

    Howdy from North Florida!

    This was a great article! Loved it! As a person who enjoys time alone and has many hobbies you hit on a lot of points about enjoying solitude.
    Not everyone understands contentment and figuring out who you are without outside influences.
    I genuinely enjoy nature and the peace that it gives.
    Good tips, perspective, and reminders!


  • Bart : Apr 21st

    It’s a double edge sword to be alone. For me, probably 7500 trail miles have been alone. It IS less complicated.
    It is almost impossible to find someone (who doesn’t drive me nuts) and also hikes the same miles as me.
    Usually my speed is a little faster than most. I pass people, and never see them again.
    Young guys pass me, and I never see them again either.
    Also it’s hard to find someone who wants to take the same amount of zeros as me. Usually others have to watch every dime they spend.
    I like being in a hotel room alone. I can sleep as much as I want, and watch the TV shows I like.
    But in the times I have hiked with friends, it IS very pleasurable. You’re also less likely to leave the trail if it’s boring.
    Some trails are interesting, some are boring. On the boring parts it’s nice to have someone to talk to while you walk.
    If conditions are harsh, it is VERY comforting to have friends with you to make a group decision.
    But those friends have lives, and don’t have the lust for walking that I have.
    And if you wait to find someone who perfectly fits your style…you’ll never go hiking.

  • Spice : Apr 21st

    Hey Ibex!

    We met while we were solo hiking.

    Making friends in camp, but spending the day with my own thoughts, was imperative for my survival and success. I never felt lonely, and the solitude gave me space to work out some deep stuff.

    Great article, as usual!

  • Chris aka Han Slolo : Apr 21st

    Kelly, I’m all about staying within your own comfort zone and hiking your own hike.
    But there are sections on all trails that can be dangerous and unsafe to hike alone. I hiked the AT alone from Georgia to the Whites over two summers but I didn’t feel safe, and didn’t want to get hurt by myself. I’m in my sixties and want to go back and finish but not alone.
    Ps. I thru- the CT alone. Chris

  • Roz : Apr 22nd

    This is one of the most thought-provoking articles I have read on The Trek. I prefer being alone on trail and your words captured so many layers of why I do. It is empowering as a woman and has brought me to a level of self-sufficiency that many women (and men) will never experience.

  • Bill : Apr 22nd

    100% yes. The planning phase is sooo much easier solo. And then changing on the fly “because I feel like it” or going off trail becomes a simple “do I want to or not”. Even on trail solo hiking makes the camping decision much simpler.

    I’ve done all 48 NH 4000 footers solo and rarely hike with anyone except my children. Nice way to really unwind when life gets “hard”.

  • Tim Andrew : Apr 22nd

    This is all so true. I hiked w/ 15 different people. Alone is awesome though. One guy, I hiked for 3 months… became a pain in the butt, so I went alone. . …but one couple were awesome. I have 400 miles left this summer. Tim Andrew


What Do You Think?