Heading out on an adventure and knowing that you are solely in control of where you camp, when you stop, and what you eat can be a thrilling feeling. “Solitude is so rare in this day and age that it can be really powerful if you seek it out purposefully,” says Amy Rathke, Environmental Stewardship Coordinator for the National Outdoor Leadership School. “Gear preferences, food preferences—ultimately, the trip is yours. If you want to sit by an alpine lake and sit in the sun and read your book in the middle of the day, you don’t have to answer to anyone else. ”
A solo hike can also lead you into dangerous situations, so prepare for the worst. “The top thing when you are considering any trip, but especially when you are going out alone, is to have good first aid training because you are going to be handling any emergency situations by yourself,” says Rathke. Along with first aid, know the area that you are going to. Are there grizzlies? What’s the weather supposed to be like? Have a solid understanding of the place before you embark, Rathke says. Unfortunately, there's a human factor, too. Rathke warns to be wary of any fellow hikers that are simply creeping you out. If your gut is telling to you to be cautious of someone, play it safe and pitch your tent among other campers or hike alongside new friends.
Before you head out, leave a detailed trip plan of where you are going, and when you will be back. “I like to set a freak out time,” Rathke says, “so if whatever that time is approaches, and whoever you left your plan with haven’t heard from you, they know specially what to do at that point, whether it is to contact search and rescue or drive to the trailhead and retrace your steps.”
Sometimes, getting over the mental hump of being alone for days at a time is a challenge of itself. Rathke recommends bringing a book or an iPod and savoring the uninterrupted hours to read or listen to music. You might also consider taking a few items you might normally take on a group hike, like a GPS device for any challenging situations.
Once you've taken appropriate precautions, the benefits of solitude and ultimate freedom will become apparent. In the end, you might like the alone time or you might not, but it’s well worth a try. “To realize that you can execute an adventure like that from start to finish on your own, can be its own reward,” Rathke says.
Click through the slideshow above to see our top picks for solo hikes, from day trips to multi-day backpacking journeys.