Poll: Going Solo in the Backcountry

Is it smart? Is it safe? Does it matter? Let’s hear your take on heading off the radar alone.


Should women go into the backcountry alone? Should men? In the last month or so, we’ve run two stories that have kicked off major debate about whether it’s okay for women to leave the trailhead solo. Krista Langlois’s piece, Stop Telling Women Not to Go Into the Backcountry Alone, is the most popular story on AJ this year. Last week, we ran a similar argument with a different perspective by Liz Thomas. Both of these essays cracked open the door to look at our messy, complicated attitudes and feelings toward gender and risk, and through reader comments they also touched on the role of personal responsibility in going alone regardless of gender. And that’s what we’re going to tackle today.

For the purposes of this debate, let’s define backcountry as any place off the grid of society-it can be hiking, backpacking, trail running, and even ocean sailing or paddling. The idea is that you’re going someplace with objective dangers and no or little safety net. And rather than just one question, let’s come at it from a number of angles.

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Showing 80 comments
  • Ryan
    Reply

    Yep

    • Suzengrace
      Reply

      ive only gone once so far – and not entirely alone but with my 110 pound Akita ..my only concern would be sometype of medical emergency .. Other than that no big fears .. I’m new to to this outdoor stuff – but I say “once you go you know ” …. Looking forward to more outings solo or with good company

  • HikingDiva
    Reply

    I bp solo all the time. Almost every time I bp with others, I remember why I prefer the serenity of solo.

  • Dave
    Reply

    Mostly yes. I’ve done it a few times. I feel safer when with others just in case of an emergency. The simplest things can turn into an emergency where having a partner could certainly help.

  • WestGA
    Reply

    Gime

  • Katt
    Reply

    Certainly an interesting subject. I don’t spend much time in the back country alone, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t. It’s still the two legged animals I’d be concerned about more than four… mind you, our Canadian Moose do have a bad reputation as thugs.

    • Dane
      Reply

      Those damned moose! Good luck winning the sunglasses 😉

  • Jen
    Reply

    I once went backpacking with someone who was constantly terrified we were going to be attacked by other hikers. On one trip, he insisted we dim our headlamps/use them as little as possible because he could see a large group of campers off in the distance and he didn’t want them to see we were out there. At the trailhead in the morning, he realized it was a boy scout group, a bunch of 10 year olds and a couple of their dads.

    I get that it’s hard to leave behind the fears that urban life instills in us, but I do believe the backcountry is far safer than cities and suburbs, at least when it comes to two-legged predators.

  • Bryan
    Reply

    Run in the mountains almost everyday.

  • Caroline
    Reply

    An “it depends” issue.

  • Keanan
    Reply

    Yes taking a friend is advisable but at times it’s OK to go solo. It’s OK if you understand the risks of going alone, prepare accordingly and use good judgement.

  • Ben
    Reply

    Whatevah! I do what I whaaant!

  • Elisa
    Reply

    I’m currently planning my first solo backcountry trip! As a female hicker, I think this kind of experience can boost my confidence and it can be very empowering!

  • JTex
    Reply

    There’s nothing like the experience of being the backcountry with nobody but yourself and nature. Obviously, preparedness is the key. You’re probably still statistically safer hiking solo in the desert versus driving to work.

  • Hayduke
    Reply

    Going into the wilderness alone, at least a few times a year, is critical to my sanity. I, like many, have strong feelings about this. We live in a fear driven society, and it has spilled over into wilderness pursuits. The outdoors ‘industry’ is now convincing folks they need a personal locator beacon to stay alive out there… Many people (sadly, near pathetically) in the 21st century feel the need to remain tethered to our techno-industrial society, even when attempting to leave it behind. Call me curmudgeonly (thanks), but if you can’t be alone for a few days in the wilderness without the umbilical cord, how can you ever even know who you really are? Freedom, not safety, is the highest good. Get scared, get lost, learn who you are and what you’re made of. In the old days this was called building character. It is becoming more and more true that we live in a techno-culture where it is possible to advance from infancy into senility without ever knowing man(or woman)-hood. The choice is ours.

  • Craig
    Reply

    Solo. If I had to wait for others, I’d never get outside…

  • Carlton Gentry
    Reply

    The tranquility and peace alone in the wilderness is the best. I would love to share with my wife but she can’t hack it

  • Sarah
    Reply

    ‘I never found the companion so companionable as solitude” -HDT

  • Thomas Smith
    Reply

    As a large male it is hard for me to comment on the situation for other people. Going solo works for me.

  • adam
    Reply

    Alone ends up being a practical move to get more done, no waiting for partners

  • Bett K
    Reply

    I have no problem with solo backcountry adventuring. I almost always backpack solo. Backpacking with friends is fun, but it’s easier to get out by myself. Solo backpacking can be more physically & mentally taxing, but the rewards are well worth it.

  • Aaron Straughan
    Reply

    People just need to be mindufl of the heightened risk and plan/pack accordingly.

  • Jonny S
    Reply

    As with so many things in life, it all depends on experience. There are safety measures which must be taken to be safe going solo in the backcountry. There are also many ways to be unsafe as a group in the backcountry. I have often experienced groups who rely to heavily on safety in numbers and go without anyone checking if others brought first aid equipment or animal encounter safety gear. The rule is: be safe. Solo, group, whatever, be prepared and don’t overstep your experience level.

  • Paul Bennett
    Reply

    I only take company if the addition of their skills improves my safety and enjoyment on an ambitious trip, or if I’m trying to introduce a friend or family member to backcountry. Otherwise, I like to lone wolf it.

  • Dane Greenwell
    Reply

    Yes people should, yes I do occasionally and kids who have proven their abilities to their parent/guardian will hopefully have reasonable support if they are mature enough (many factors involved with the third question).

  • Mike P.
    Reply

    Just let people know where you’re going and when you expect to be back.

  • Phillip Poulakis
    Reply

    Where I live I don’t have much experience with the backcountry but anytime I travel to make it a point.

  • DanO
    Reply

    I go by myself when I need some solitude or others are just not available. In the Midwest, close to home, I have my Yellow Lab with me if possible. He talks very little.

    Out west, I will often take side trips or day trips alone with a fly rod, even when visiting friends or travlelling in a group. But I never go off alone without a bit of kit to make it through a night in case I am stuck.

  • Matt
    Reply

    the mistake I make when I go trail running is not letting someone know where I am

  • T.R.
    Reply

    As a woman, I hate the notion that you cannot go into the backcountry alone. As with anything, there’s a smart way to do it, and a way to do it if you don’t care what happens to you. Let someone know where you’ll be, provide the landlocked version of your “float plan,” carry what you need in an emergency, have a plan and a back-up plan.

    When from our better selves we have too long
    Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop,
    Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired,
    How gracious, how benign, is Solitude;
    Most potent when impressed upon the mind
    With an appropriate human centre–hermit,
    Deep in the bosom of the wilderness;

    Summer vacation. Just in time.

  • Robby DeGraff
    Reply

    Yes absolutely. If you’re smart and prepared you’re good to go. Confidence gets you far; cockiness gets you killed

  • Alpentalic
    Reply

    About 50% of my backcountry excursions are solo, mostly because coordinating with others can be a hassle. I always leave my plan with someone.

  • pais alto
    Reply

    This is where I left my comment.

  • John Boy
    Reply

    Absolutely! I’m pretty sure I would have gone insane a long time ago if not for solo time in the backcountry. It’s an essential part of living for me.

  • Torin Glass
    Reply

    Its better to have a buddy, but the risks of a solo trip should be well within ones own abilities at the outset with lots of room for error.

  • Luke Distelhorst
    Reply

    Sometimes solo and sometimes with friends. depends on route, conditions, availability, etc.

  • jim
    Reply

    Please pick me.

  • awhite
    Reply

    let people know where you are going and think through what could go wrong, be prepared to be outside longer then you are planning on

  • David
    Reply

    Solo missions are valuable.

  • Chris
    Reply

    If the choice is between myself going alone or not going at all, I go alone. It’s rare that I would choose to go alone if someone else was available, but that’s not to say it doesn’t happen.

    My kid…once 16 and experienced, he’ll be allowed to adventure on his own.

  • David
    Reply

    I often go it alone in the back country. Wilderness, preferably alone, is necessary for the soul.

  • Justin
    Reply

    Have this discussion with my wife all the time. My preferred role is as dad and husband leading the family on the adventure. But rarely, it resets the soul and mind to boot back or pedal up alone and sit on the mountain top for a while. She worries every minute I’m gone and I miss her and the girls each time. I’m alot more risk averse than I used to me. But as for my daughters, I can only hope that a lifetime of family adventures and an education in the era of Sportgevity will provide the same confidence and common sense to find their way in the mountains.

  • Kathy T
    Reply

    I hike alone often. Mostly because my schedule doesn’t work with others. A lot of hikes in the National Parks. I feel safe and don’t go too far off the main trails. I enjoy it, but would probably do more exploring if I had a hiking partner.

  • Joe
    Reply

    I teach a risk management program. The only time I went tandem paddling we got wet. I forgot to manage the risk…the other guy.

  • Kent Harvey
    Reply

    Be prepared, be smart, have fun!

  • Dennis
    Reply

    I hike alone through California, Colorado and New England. Agree with others, respect your experience, do your planning and enjoy.

  • Pancho
    Reply

    It’s about how one goes into the back country. The dangers out there don’t care what your gender is. If you go without telling anyone, have no safety nets like a SPOT, and have no contingency plan, then you’re placing yourself in an unnecessarily exposed situation.

  • Nicoli
    Reply

    I’m a woman and feel safer on the trail than in the city. I take along my SPOT for good measure (mostly for my dad’s sanity).

  • Shelly
    Reply

    I would depends on the area. Most likely would be accompanied by my husband. We enjoy these activities together

  • Adam
    Reply

    This is a matter of contention with my future in-laws. They think that anytime you don’t have cell service, you’re going to die. On the other hand, I need it for my sanity. As long as you are prepared, have the right experience and make sure people know where you’ll be, you should be fine.

  • James
    Reply

    my view is that soloing is a risk management problem. if skills, terrain, route, climate, season etc. add up to manageable risk for a solo adventure, then why not? while having a partner or a group can mitigate or in some cases eliminate certain risk factors, that is just another factor to consider in the overall risk management picture. people can be risky too – whether they are in your group or not.

    with satellite tech like InReach, you can minimize risk further if it is really an issue for you or loved ones.

  • Hal Perez
    Reply

    Wish I had more opportunity.

  • Chris
    Reply

    Yes. All the time. Now leave me alone.

  • Brian
    Reply

    Prepare, then don’t look back!

  • Hayden
    Reply

    Solo is great, I am not scared of going alone in the mountains normally, but when I am alone with my self I always take a much more observant, cautious and pensive attitude. I feel like this heightened state of being is just as important to experience the wild as it can be to share wild places with those who we are close to. I have found my best trips are with one other close companion, or solo.

  • G
    Reply

    Yes, I regularly go backpacking alone, get hammered, get my self in&out of a sketchy spot.

    I wouldn’t be sane without my bi-annual near death experience soloing.

    If hiking solo scares you, yer not ready. (& thats nothing to be ashamed of)

  • Katie
    Reply

    As long as you know what you’re doing, why not go alone? Sometimes it’s better to do things on your own.

  • MCL
    Reply

    I backpack solo all the time. I carry every possible piece of survival gear I can: space blanket, multiple types of fire starter, a full first aid kit, etc. I do plan to buy a Delorme combo SOS and navigation device so that my exact whereabouts can be tracked. But generally, my experience has been that I feel safer in the wilderness than walking your average city neighborhood in the evening. I backpacked two nights in the Black Canyon, for instance, and was told by the ranger station that I was the only person who’d picked up a backcountry permit in the canyon’s south rim for those nights. I was completely alone down in the canyon, and have never felt more safe and serene in my life. I do carry bear spray and a sharp knife, both of which I keep ready-to-hand in my tent at night, and hope I never have to use either of them. I prepare as best I can, but once out in the wilderness I don’t feel cause to fear other people–just bears, mountain lions, and the elements.

  • martin arnold
    Reply

    just be safe when you are going it alone

  • rick
    Reply

    I’m the hypocrite on this one since I go solo all the time but would never want my daughters going alone unless they’re packing heat (our dog Ringo)

  • DK
    Reply

    You need to be ready for what might happen and accepting of the consequences of having no help nearby. If you are ok with those two then go for it. If your plan for those two is to call for help on your cell then don’t bother.

  • Greg
    Reply

    People die with partners, in groups or alone.. Challenging yourself and self-reliance are part of being alive

  • Lee
    Reply

    I think if you’re comfortable with it. Go.

    As for kids in the back country. Every Boy Scout Troop sends kids as young as 11 into the back country with limited adult guidance. At least they did when I was that age.

  • DF
    Reply

    Go solo but be careful!

  • Jim
    Reply

    I trail run solo almost always and sometimes backpack solo. It gives me the opportunity for introspection that I wont get any other time and, as ridiculous as it sounds to my family and most of my friends, puts things in perspective that going with a companion just can’t replicate. That being said I have a plan of where I’m going and what I’m doing and at least one other person who isn’t going knows as well and expects a call from me when I’m done with my trek.

  • Marko Koskenoja
    Reply

    I go skiing/snowshoeing/hiking almost daily in the backcountry behind my house in the mountains off the NE shore of Lake Superior. I have a dog or two with me and my cell phone/GPS. Last fall, the one day I didn’t have sunglasses on as protection, I took a twig in my right eye that badly scratched my cornea. I was fortunate to only be 3 km from my house so I was able to make it home and wait for my wife to take me to the hospital. I had several visits to the emergency dept and the ophthalmologist over the next few weeks. I was lucky and now only fully prepared with my complete daypack and always where eye protection.

  • tim
    Reply

    Be safe and smart about it..

  • Colin
    Reply

    Interesting poll.
    Definition of back country…
    I have over the years come across a number of folks in remote areas who are ill prepared.
    Education and/or experience are key for this

  • Brian
    Reply

    Never done it, but think my soul might need it.

  • Steve Montgomery
    Reply

    I have been hiking for 43 years. In Feb 2016, I was with a group of four in Hawaii and three of us had planned to do the Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali coast. Everyone except me decided to not do the hike for various reasons. I went alone. I found a couple to hike with but they turned back at mile 4 whereas I continued alone. The trail was muddy but I was being careful, watching my foot placements. In a location where I felt safe, the trail collapsed under my foot and I went sliding down the steep slope. My left foot got caught, pulled behind me, snapped the fibula and ankle, but stopped me two feet short of going over a 500′ cliff. If I had been alone, this situation likely would have still happened. However I would have felt safer and more assured waiting for the helicopter air lift (it would have been impossible to walk out, no matter how many others were hiking with me). In summary, I believe that we should all analyze risks and take precautions. For example, it would be much riskier to cross a crevasse field or rock climb without a roped up partner. Nevertheless, if calamity strikes an injury may still occur. The most important safety element is being prepared and making good decisions. The primary objective of every adventure should be to return from it, not to successfully summit or top a route. When the investment is great, such as a big mountain, especially overseas, the financial investment can corrupt our good mountain logic.

  • Bill Day
    Reply

    I’m an outdoorsman who’s introverted, so yes I do go by my lonesome at times. And the best way to be sure I can “get our there” is to be willing to go it alone.

  • Al
    Reply

    Rollin with my dawg!

  • jim
    Reply

    I kind of have to backpack alone…I only have one friend and he doesn’t have any.

  • Dan Murphy
    Reply

    Sometimes, you don’t have a choice. You want to go, you go.
    A lot of people thrive on being alone for awhile, it’s therapy.

  • Z
    Reply

    I like to get out alone, but I should probably do a better job of letting someone know where I’m going and when I’ll be back.

  • Shakes
    Reply

    I think both are important in making you better. It’s good to have other people to get tips and tricks from, but some things you can only learn on your own.

  • Kyle Alhart
    Reply

    If you’re going into the backcountry alone you know the risk you’re taking.

  • Mathieu
    Reply

    It’s all about judgement!

    • Jon
      Reply

      It’s about judgement and experience

  • Byron
    Reply

    Defiantly get out there ! Still let some one know your where your going. Maybe take a PLB just in case.

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