Nov 29, 2010 at 10:16 am #1266039
Background: Im 16 years old, have been backpacking a bunch for the last 6 years and now I have a car. You can probably guess whats next. How stupid is it to go on a solo trip? Have you done it? You know how backpacking really relieves stress, and gives you that little something that you can't really describe? Well right now I don't really have the ability to go backpacking as much as I would like and I feel like if I go on a few solo trips I could go on more. I figured it out and I've probably spent more then 365 nights under a tent/ the stars.
My goal is the take a gap year before college and solo hike the AT, so i guess this is just seeing if i would really be able to do that.
Another question is that of Rangers. I want to go somewhere that I can have a permit system just as a backup but you can't get a permit until I am 18.
What say ye? I am willing to listen to the wisdom of people who have been in my situation so don't think I'm just here to have you confirm my opinion.
-JaceNov 29, 2010 at 10:32 am #1669054
Your profile doesn't mention where you live…I live in the southeast. I always go solo…leave a detailed itinerary and a return time, and you're good to go.Nov 29, 2010 at 11:21 am #1669070
I'm jealous that you have a car! 17 year old without a car here. I'll agree that it isn't stupid, you just need to shift your paradigm a bit. If you are on the AT during the summer you will likely be spending the night with other people in shelters, and seeing them frequently during the day. So 'solo' isn't very solo. However you still need to be self reliant in case of an emergency.
Keeping yourself safe comes down to decision making, which has two parts.
First, making the right choice. Experience helps, and it looks like you have some, but group experience doesn't completely translate. you need to be more cautious; if you break a leg, nobody is going to help carry you out, and if you lose your pack in a river crossing, you can't share food and clothing with another group member. You need some solo experience before you can confidently make decisions, which means the first few times out you will have to be overly cautious and a bit nervous.
Second, and I think often overlooked, is confidence. Example; last summer I was on the Long Trail in Vermont, it was about 6:00 and rather than get cozy at the shelter I stopped at, I decided to continue the 7ish miles to the next one. I spent one or two minutes deciding to keep going, and another 15 at the first shelter making sure i really wanted to. then I hiked off slowly for the first hour or so, still thinking about turning back. Short story, I got there around 9:00 after a few hours in the rain and dark, headlamp useless because of the rain. I could have easily gotten there an hour earlier had I been confident in myself. For a non life or death decision (a miserable or not miserable decision) you just need to pick something and go with it.
Then, of course, comes the time when you haven't kept yourself safe. You get injured, sick, run out of food, water, bag gets wet, a yeti steals your stove, what have you. This is what your mother is worried about. Prevention is key, but things still happen. This is where a wilderness first aid course and some experience dealing with similar situations comes in.
I'd recommend trying to do a few overnights, not too challenging hikes, make sure you have enough daylight, be conservative. even start off camping in the yard to make sure you have your solo kit worked out. then move up to weekend trips, two or three nights, and then longer. Don't be afraid to bail partway through a trip. Seriously. My parents were, and are, very worried when I go off alone, but because I have bailed on a trip before, they know I won't push it too much, it gives them confidence in you. The more willing they are to let you go off alone, the more you will be able to, and the more confident and experienced you will be.
Look into wilderness first aid classes, i don't know where you are, but NOLS has lots of locations that they work out of: http://www.nols.edu/wmi/ there are others too, local colleges or summer camps might, etc
Feel free to pm me if you want, I'd be glad to help you out, as i was in your position a year ago and might be able to offer a few pointers.
oh, and I don't think you're stupid, but that could be because I am as well.
WillNov 29, 2010 at 11:29 am #1669072
@catsnackLocale: Smoky Mountains
I have gone on many solo trips. I agree with the above post of always leaving a detailed itinerary and instructions on how long past the last check-in or contact point is cause for calling in the search team. I personally always give at least 24 hours (usually 36 hours) of play time for being late to checkpoints or time to return home or whatever. The time window is to take the stress off of you- if you are running behind schedule, better to be careful and take your time than to carelessly rush onward trying to beat the clock.
I have only gotten into a bad situation once- I made a stupid decision that could have been avoided, but because I left my itinerary and the contact points, they knew where and when to come look for me, and I was taken out the next day. Had I not told anybody, I might not be here today (I was on very seldom used and unmaintained trails, and was not able to hike out under my own power).
If you have that much outdoor experience, I am sure you have plenty of common sense and can make good safety decisions. Just remember to actually think about what you are doing before you do it.Nov 29, 2010 at 11:34 am #1669074
@catsnackLocale: Smoky Mountains
Good advice, Will. I agree with everything you said. On a recent cold-weather 3 night trip, my trusty MSR Whisperlite all but blew up on me (huge ball of flame engulfing the entire stove and surrounding ground). It was out of commission on night 1. After weighing my options, I decided to continue the hike with no stove. Can't say it was super-fun, but I did make the entire hike and eat all my regularly planned meals without cooking them. I would have been forced to turn around had I been relying on snow as my water source.
In summary- evaluate your situation and make decisions based on what you are comfortable with.Nov 29, 2010 at 12:19 pm #1669082
@davidlutzLocale: Bay Area
Tyler – If you don't mind, what were the circumstances under which you had problems with your stove?Nov 29, 2010 at 12:53 pm #1669094
I'd also like to hear about your other incident, if you don't mind.
Jace, sorry for the thread drift.Nov 29, 2010 at 1:22 pm #1669099
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Go for a couple of short solo trips first – one or two nights, and see how you feel. The BIG factor will be confidence, and having a couple of happy solo overnighters under your belt will be a huge influence.
Permits? Can't help you there. We don't have a permit system here in Australia. I think 'they' tried to introduce one some years ago but no-one took the slightest notice. I don't know whether any were ever even issued!
CheersNov 29, 2010 at 1:29 pm #1669104
Its all good will.
To answer questions:
I am in SoCal so not very much as far as places to get too much in trouble but I still know that there is the possibility,. I am also a climber so i have learned that sometimes you just need to be confident–but still at the same time you can't be cocky.
I am a First Responder (ARC Emergency Response course) but from what I have found you must be at least 18 to take any WFR course. Also for the last 3 years probably I have been the one in charge of planning/leading the backpacking trips for my scout troop more recently also my venture crew.
Also I have slept out away from anyone a few times and its not something that I have ever had a problem with.
I would fer sure take no more then a weekend trip, maybe start with a 24 hour trip and go up from there.
Any other tips you guys can offer? Any stories about your first trip solo?
-JaceNov 29, 2010 at 1:50 pm #1669119
@butukiLocale: Kanto Plain, Japan
I agree with Roger about going solo on some short trips first. One of the big factors in solo hiking is the mental aspect, probably more than the physical aspect. It gets lonely out there and climbs seem bigger than when there are others about, storms seem rougher, nights longer and more exposed. A few short trips will allow you to experience the mental aspect and decide whether solo hiking is for you or not. Personally most of my trips since I was 15 have been solo, though most of my earlier trips were with friends. I like going solo, but even after 35 years I still get lonely. On a few trips I got so lonely that I cut the trips short; I'd prefer to enjoy the trip rather than be miserable.Nov 30, 2010 at 7:34 pm #1669557
I went on my first solo trip when I was 16.
My momma still doesn't like the idea but she has gotten used to it.
My only rule when going alone is no climbing. Seems to be the easiest way to reduce my risk in the back-country.
You will learn some things about yourself.Nov 30, 2010 at 10:55 pm #1669612
@carazLocale: bay area
I hit up solo's all the time, not any big ones, usually overnighters just to mellow out and recenter myself if life's getting hectic. You can start at a public campsite. Not saying you are afraid to go out, or that you don't have experience backpacking/camping, but when I started going solo it was a comfort curve until I was relaxed out on my own. When there is someone else with me I find it a lot easier to get a restful nights sleep. Once you just get used to sleeping out solo it makes it a lot easier to go out further and longer where you aren't worrying about every little sound in the night. My recommendation might be contrary to the majority but I just throw on an overnight pack and head out into local woods when I don't have time for a big trip. I hike them often so feel safe and able there, you could find some near you I hope. It means I can be a lot more spontaneous about going out, not worry about permits or money (its free) and be back the early, practice LNT to keep everything copacetic.Dec 1, 2010 at 4:11 am #1669648
@carlbeckerLocale: Northern Virginia
In my experience the decision making process has to be good and is key. You may still get into unforseen trouble like injury or a problem with mother nature. I think it most important to leave a schedule and stick to it. Practice makes permanent not perfect. It is possible to get away with doing the wrong thing many times before you get bit. In areas where the chance no one else is around you might consider an emergency device.Dec 1, 2010 at 6:26 am #1669667
@newtonLocale: Southeastern Louisiana
My first solo turned into a non solo event. Most of it was poor planning. I waited to obtain a map at the trailhead store and there weren't any available. It was going to be a section hike with my wife dropping me off at the start and picking me up at the other end two days later.
After driving to get a visual on both trailheads I didn't get a warm fuzzy feeling about the trail markings or frequency of use. The trail seemed overgrown at the ending point of my proposed hike.
The weather forecast wasn't the greatest either. I met a fellow at the begining trailhead who was going a different direction on an intersecting trail and he had a map. He was very cordial and agreed to buddying up on the hike.
I made a new friend and we enjoyed the 24 hour trip despite the rainy weather.
I cut the trip down to 1 day because the weather forecast was for worse weather the next day.
I have not planned or gone on a solo hike since although my hiking buddy has hiked approximately 400 miles of the AT solo!
+1 for >>you need to be more cautious; if you break a leg, nobody is going to help carry you out, and if you lose your pack in a river crossing, you can't share food and clothing with another group member<<
Leave a detailed itinerary and stick to it! If possible keep in contact or at least have the ability to contact someone who knows the area. Cell phone coverage can be spotty but I usually carry mine with me.
Many times even on a solo hike the trail can seem "crowded" depending on the time of year. So a solo hike turns into a not so solo hike anyway. Last June at Cherry Gap Shelter on the AT I counted 15 tents popped up in the area of the shelter.
Be careful, take your time and enjoy yourself and your hike.
I'll stick to 2 or more hikers per party. I am a people person and I enjoy sharing the experience.
NewtonDec 1, 2010 at 6:42 am #1669677
@sbhikesLocale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
It wasn't all that terribly long ago that kids your age went out solo all the time. My mom's husband was an incorrigible youth but back then they didn't have gangs so instead he'd stuff a few things in his pockets and go spend a few nights in the woods hunting and fishing. My grandfather was similar.
I don't recall a permit application ever asking me my age. Get your permit by mail rather than in person.
You won't be alone on the AT or the PCT. I hiked with a guy for a day on the PCT who was 17. He had hiked the AT the year before at age 16. He was a mature and kind person. I believe that long distance hiking makes people better.Dec 1, 2010 at 7:53 am #1669720
@cooldripLocale: "Grand Canyon of the East"
Hi Jace, I definitely don't think you're stupid for wanting to get some solo trips under your belt. You definitely seem to have both the experience and maturity to handle yourself.
I just turned 41, and the vast majority of my backpacking trips over the last 25 years have been solo. I'm something of a junkie when it comes to being outdoors; I plan my work schedule so I have 3-4 consecutive days off every couple weeks, I spend most nights sleeping outside on my screen porch, I hit the trail sometimes after work (12:00 am) and hike a couple miles so I can sleep in the woods… I like being outside! Most years I can get at least 75 nights or so in the woods. When you love being outside as much as I do, and your trips happen as spontaneously as mine often do, you go solo ALOT or you just don't go.
In fact, I started with solos because most of my friends either weren't motivated or available. Most wanted to spend the morning hiking 3-4 miles and then hang out all day and half the night in camp, which really isn't my style; I like covering some miles and seeing some country. I don't like carrying all the little things that make camp life enjoyable. So usually, group trips are more social occasions for me; oddly I tend to carry a bit more weight on these trips as I know I'll be sitting around alot more. Things like an insulated mug, chair kit for my pad, deck of cards, nice little gourmet snacks and libations for sharing, etc. These things would probably never get used on a solo, as camp time is about eating, repairing any gear or body parts that need it, and getting to sleep!
I think most of the members here solo sometimes, and I know there are a number like me who solo almost exclusively. You've got some great tips and advice, so get out there!Dec 1, 2010 at 8:17 am #1669735
If you wanna hike the AT thats fine, but why not go all out and do the JMT and you could add in sectiosn of the PCT as well. I've done some of the best sections of the AT, and i am more interested in the JMT/PCT/CDT. The AT has more of a community/party aspect than do the above trails. If your looking to hop off trail often and party in town and hang out with people, do the AT. On the AT you will find that community aspect of being with people similar to yourself.
If your looking for a truly wilderness experience do one of the other trails I named. There is also an alternative route to do the JMT that avoids the crowds, cant remember it though.
BTW 90% of my trips are solo.
General tips, you probably already know 99% of it:
If your on the AT you will be fine, otherwise brush up on your navigation, compass, map skills if your doing one of the above trails i mentioned. Of course if your doing one of them you will also need to plan you water sources-of course it never works out the way you plan it, but at least you will have a plan. Make sure all your gear is as light as possible, make sure you have all the proper layers and use as many layers as you can instead of choosing one do-it-all garment. Create bug out points in potentially dangerous sections. Have a plan for emergencies. Practice good hygiene, wash your hands often and dont stick your hand in the gorp bag, instead pour some into your hand. Carry extra batteries for lighting equipment. Carry bleach in a minidropper as backup in case your water treatement system fails. Know how to treat a blister. Know what your feet can handle and cant handle, baby the hell out of them. Get some leukotape for blisters, it is the best. Carry lightweight high calorie food, add olive oil to dishes for massive calories. Use very strong spices to keep meal time from being bland. Make sure your footwear system is layered and your shoe/sock combo is properly fitted to your feet. Make sure it can handle any weather condition, including frozen/wet shoes. Be prepared to swap shoes for different stretches of elevation if needed(mail drop). Carry extra cash for the unexpected. Hiking poles are necessary IMO, they protect your feet from impact and transfer weight to your upper body. They carry up the uphill sections, and cusion your impact on the downhills if you use them right. Go as light as you can on poles, Ti-Goats(with straps) or GG lightreks or lighter. Practice proper bear safety, dont cook where you sleep, be cautions of hovering over your stove as your food is cooking as these odors can attach themselves to your clothing. Always hang your food properly in bear country, the PCT method is best IMO. Don’t carry more water than you need to if you have plentiful sources ahead. If you choose to hike with people who go YOUR pace otherwise your rhythm will be thrown off. Learn to read strangers very closely, pay attention to their faces when they talk, listen to their tone, watch their hands. Feel the vibe. 99% of the people I encounter on the trail are the nicest people in the world but i have also had several situations where i feared for my safety and took the necessary precautions to put distance between me and the threat. Danger is usually close to roads, If my nighttime camp lands within a mile or two of a road, i will hike on to put extra distance between me and the road. Trouble is often close to the road because its too lazy to go too far into the woods, thats a fact. If a stranger asks you where your going, be prepared to give a false location or say something general like: "up the mountain or down the hill." If the stranger has bad intentions, the last thing you want is telling them where your going. Predators are stalkers. I carry bearspray for bears, but it can also be used on humans. While it may be unnecessary in black bear country 99% of the time, i'd rather be prepared for that 1%. It only weighs 7oz anyway. Like i said i just did 70 miles in 3.5 days, so i know for a fact it doesn't weigh me down. Weigh everything, get a scale. I have alot of luxuries (AARN featherlite freedom pack, GPS, hammock setup, food luxuries, etc) and my base weight is still below 12LBS in winter. Dont use a pack that causes shoulder strain, you are there to enjoy your hike, not be in constant irritation and be uncomfortable. If your using an alcohol stove; practice stove safety, keep it away from your feet while its on. Let it burn out all the way and cool off before you touch it. Often the flames can appear invisible. NEVER pour more alcohol on a burning stove or even a hot stove. Let it cool down first. Gaiters are necessary IMO, i never have to remove my shoes to clean out small pebbles or debris when i have them on. This means i hike faster, and have less blisters/foot agitation. Don’t camp below widowmakers and use natural windbreaks such as short trees, bushes, hillsides, etc, to protect your camp from dangerous weather. Carry a signal mirror and whistle, it wont be so heavy when it saves your life. You don’t need a big survival knife, you need a small precise knife and a tiny pair of scissors. I carry CRKT ritter fixed blade, and a tiny tiny pair of scissors. What are the most common outdoor injuries? Blunt trauma from falling, puncture wounds, gashes. Carry some gauze in a sanitary package and you can use the leukotape/ductape your already caryring to wrap the wound after applying gauze. Wear blaze orange in hunting season, its not an option. Bring an extra day of food in case you get slowed down by an injury or need a day off. Always check periodically to make sure you are on the right trail, i sometimes get in a mode where im blazing down the trail and realize later i took a wrong turn. Always have waterproof gear and a visor or lightweight hat to keep rain out of your jacket. Hydropel works great to protect feet from friction, injiji toe socks prevent blister between the toes(get the merino ones). Be respectful, bury your doodoo properly, even though the animals don't. Yoru a visitor, they live there. You dont need to change your underwear everyday. A substance called potassium alum can be used to kill bacteria that cause odor on your body. Research it first though, thats a personal choice. Baselayers should be tight not loose. A sweater is not a base layer. Smartwool zip up wool shirts are the best baselayers i've ever used. A single mid weight has lasted me 4 years thus far. VBL's may be useful, investigate those as well. Especially for hands and feet, they are great in that department. Always do a glove check to make sure you have all your gloves. When not in use, stuff your smaller gloves inside your larger gloves, etc etc. This way they don't get lost. I carry six gloves(3 pair): 1 pair nitrile for water filtering so my insulative gloves dont get wet, 1 pair cheap niki snythetic base layer gloves, 1 pair OR PL 400 mitts as insulation. Mitts should be your main insulative layer as they are always warmer then gloves because they trap finger warmth. Discover the multipurpose wonders of the bandana and employ its methods. Every piece of gear should be multipurpose if it has that ability. This dramatically reduces weight. For example, my sleeping bag is also my main insulative jacket, it has a head hole in the center with velcro. My cuben waders are also my foot VBL at night/waterproof layer for my feet.
I dont know how much of that you know or don't know, but its some of the things i learned.Dec 2, 2010 at 4:19 pm #1670238
Jace, what part of Southern California do you live in?
For what it's worth, I see most Californians hike the PCT first then the AT, and all the Easterner start with the AT. I understand it to mean that if anything should fail, you can simply contact family for support. I can understand, though, that young men aim to separate themselves on such an adventure so that they can only rely on themselves.
BUT if you feel called to hike the AT, then darn it, you BETTER hike that trail!
I'm hiking the PCT this upcoming April, but I don't know if I plan to hike a lot of sections or to aim at thru-hiking.Dec 2, 2010 at 6:05 pm #1670273
You gotta go. Tell your parents you are much safer hiking the trail solo then driving your car.
I wish my daughters would hang out with some guys that hike, but no luck for this dad.Dec 2, 2010 at 6:14 pm #1670278
@foundLocale: Sacramento, CA
I started solo backpacking at 15. I was already very experienced at that age, you sound like you might be as well.
The consequences are raised when you go solo. Small calamities, like hypothermia, sickness, or a broken bone can more easily result in death when you're alone. Is that are risk you're willing to take? Are you mature enough to really judge that? I don't know.
Hiking the AT "solo" isn't a big problem in some respects. Most likely you'll fine partners on the trail. But if you don't, you'll possibly run in to hurdles getting your own hotel room. A big problem.
As for rangers, it's true that they won't give you a permit. I had this happen a few times before I was 18. Out west, we can backpack without permits in many places, and illegally without them in many more. Three times, rangers called my parents and had them fax over written permission that they were ok with me doing what I was doing. I started carrying a blanket letter of permission after that.
What do you mean "a permit system as a backup"? Permits offer NO assurance of safety.
It's probably not a good idea for immature and inexperienced people to solo no matter what age they are. I was neither, and I loved it.Dec 2, 2010 at 6:21 pm #1670280
@davidlutzLocale: Bay Area
I want to read that, but I can't……Dec 2, 2010 at 6:53 pm #1670295
"I want to read that, but I can't……" Ha!Dec 2, 2010 at 7:10 pm #1670302
1370 words. so even if he already knew 99%, thats still a good almost 14 words of solid advice.
Now I wonder what the longest post on BPL is…Dec 2, 2010 at 7:44 pm #1670318
I just read the entire thing…nothing earth shattering but it held my attention. Good insight.Dec 4, 2010 at 7:32 pm #1670922
That was a really long read, and I knew most of it but it did remind me of when i was first learning about backpacking.
Regarding the permit system, I know that it really doesn't mean much but it makes my mom, who doesn't understand the system, feel better.
Thanks everyone, I'm thinking about starting out with a 14 hour trip to the desert over winter break.
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