How I got over my worries and backpacked alone

30 day challenge Sep 19, 2021

Doing anything alone for the first time can be intimidating, especially backpacking to remote locations. The nature of being so far away from help if something goes wrong certainly adds to the hesitation to take on solo adventures. Let's talk about some of the steps I took to get over these mental obstacles that allowed me to fully embrace the serenity and peacefulness of hiking alone.

What Quality Gear Brings

Alright, I am gonna preface this by saying, you do not need top-of-the-line gear to go backpacking. My cook setup is a simple $20 kit from Amazon. Backpacking backpacks can be hundreds of dollars. Mine is a 48-liter REI backpack I got for Christmas a few years back. This can be found for under $100 and does a great job for my needs! The point I am trying to make is that you don't need to shell out the big bucks for the very best gear. In fact, I would recommend the opposite in case you try backpacking and don't like it. Many places, including REI, will rent backpacking gear for you to try!

At the same time however, you do not want to be using crappy gear that will break and cause problems on the trail. Read the reviews of anything you are considering purchasing. If you are at an outdoor recreation outlet, ask associates for their advice and opinions as they are usually knowledgeable and can help you find the perfect fit.

There are a few pieces of gear worth investing in that I want to highlight because they bring peace of mind while in the wilderness.

1) Garmin inReach - Garmin offers devices that are able to communicate using satellites. This is important because most backpacking locations are remote and do not have any sort of cell service. You can send SOS messages, check weather reports, and more. I personally do not have one yet, but as I plan more trips I am really looking into purchasing one.

2) First aid kit - No backpacking kit is complete without a first aid kit. The ability to treat wounds or other annoyances (I'm looking at you blisters) is incredibly important for your safety/health. I haven't had to use mine yet thankfully, but knowing I have it there settles my nerves for sure. I just have a simple $13 one from Amazon.

3) Bear Spray (sometimes) - This item is definitely location-dependent. If you are in grizzly country, this is an absolute must.  I would recommend carrying it on your hip so it is easily accessible on the rare chance you would need to use it.

4) Headlight - Seeing in the dark certainly makes me feel safer! Also, don't forget extra batteries if yours is battery powered.

Gaining Experience

One of the most important parts to get over the fear of backpacking alone is to simply gain backpacking experience. If possible, I would highly recommend backpacking with others before taking a solo trip. While I grew up, I took many canoeing and backpacking trips with my family. During that time, I learned many important skills that I would be able to utilize in the future.

Backpacking with my parent and younger sister at Isle Royale National Park 

You can also gain experience without needing anyone else. Starting small by using your backpacking gear to camp at a campground is great idea! Doing so will allow you to test out any gear you are unfamiliar with. You can learn how to set up your tent, use your cook system, and everything else in a less intimidating environment. Most campgrounds are more accessible and less remote than backpacking sites. This will build your confidence in your ability to navigate the outdoor landscape.

The next step up from a campground would be to take your first backpacking trip. Find a location that is only a few miles away and do an overnight trip. A simple overnight trip only requires preparing for dinner, and breakfast the next day along with some snacks. Also, if something does go wrong, hiking out is no big deal as you aren't that far from your vehicle. More likely things will go really well and you will learn how it feels to hike with a backpack, what it is like to filter water, how to set up and take down your tent, and much more. All of this experience will add to your confidence to do a larger trip.

Preparation

Alright, so you have your gear, you have some expereience under your belt, and you are ready for a larger backpacking trip. So what's next? Preparation, preparation, preparation. I did so much research before my first solo trip. After looking into areas near me, I decided to backpack to Red Castle in the Uinta Mountains of Utah. I planned a two day 20-mile trip. The great part about this hike is that it was fairly popular so I could find help from someone else if needed.

Here are some important things to nail down in your own research/planning:

  • Where is the trail head? Downloading offline maps is incredible helpful as navigating gravel roads and other backcountry driving can be tough. Planning on when you leave and how you will get there will be helpful as well.
  • What will I eat at each meal? This is one of the most important parts to me because I love eating. Make sure to pack for each meal along with extra snacks just in case. You will need the energy to power your hikes!
  • How long will I be hiking and what are important parts of the trail? Having a general knowledge of what direction you are heading and where to turn is helpful. This will also help you not miss any of the cool sites!
  • Where along the trail will I be able to fill up with water? Do NOT forget about water. I bring a large water bottle to drink from during the car ride that I leave behind once I start hiking. Then I have my two water bottles filled completely before setting out on the trail. Luckily, my hike to Red Castle Lake included stream crossings and my campsite was right by a lake so findin water sources was not much of a concern. It is important you do the same research still in case water is sparce in the location you want to backpack.
  • What is the weather forecast? Weather basically drives what clothing you bring along on your trip. If it will be cold, make sure to have a hat, gloves, and other cold-weather essentials. Even during the summer, at night temperatures can dip pretty low so it is best to be prepared. Also, I ALWAYS bring a rain jacket even if the forecast looks clear. Being wet is a quick way to turn a great backpacking trip into a miserable one.
  • What animals may I encounter and how to react if I do? You are in the wilderness. There are animals out there! For me, seeing animals is one of the exciting parts about backpacking! Moose sitings always hold a special place in my heart. However, animals can also jeapordize your safety and knowing what to do if you find yourself too close to one of these creatures is extremely important. Read up on what animals are in the area you want to backpack and memorize what to do during an encounter. Here is a great website article about a few animals you may run into:
Safety Tips for Unexpected Wildlife Encounters
When you go hiking or mountain biking, you expect to see great views. But you may not expect to meet a deer, bear, moose, or snake.

Changing Mindset

After following the advice above you are basically set and ready to take that solo trip. I want to leave you with one parting piece of advice. Our brains often think about everything that could go wrong when we are intimidated or worried. I know during preparation, my brain kept thinking this way. What if I get attacked by bears? What if I get lost? What if I forget an essential piece of gear?

It was helpful for me to try and actively change that mindset. Instead I tried to think about what could be exciting about this opportunity. What if I get to see a moose? What if the locations I am hiking to are just gorgeous? What if I meet some really cool people out on the trail?

In reality, I was completely prepared. I had done my research, had backpacked before, and my gear was all set. None of my bad thoughts came true, and I had a great first experience backpacking alone!

By taking the steps outlined, I think you will enjoy yourself too. The outdoors are special, and some of the most marvelous sites can only be experienced by hiking miles into the backcountry. So don't be afraid to take a leap and do that solo adventure.


Interested in following along with my journey more or connecting with me? Make sure to follow me on my socials!

Until next time!

-Hawkin

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Hawkin Saeger

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