Jouni Laaksonen 16.4.2018
The typical rule and advice is: Do not hike alone. I give that advice in my books, too. Still many of us go out there all alone. Last week I told about a solo ski expedition and pondered a bit about safety issues when going alone in winter.
Which is correct, or could it be that both are?
Definitively there are many advantages in hiking with a partner or in a group:
- If you break your leg, or suffer any smaller injury, there is a friend to give you first aid. If there are two friends, one can stay with you, pitch the tent and keep you warm and fed, while the other goes and seeks for help. When you are hiking in larger wilderness areas in Northern Finland there isn’t roaming everywhere. Often you need to ascend to the top of a fell, or hike nearer to a road. I believe the same applies to many other countries, too, when we are talking about large wilderness areas.
- Your backpack is lighter, for you can divide the weight of tent, stove, fuel, ax and other group equipment with your friend(s). Also, if you break or lose some small, but vital equipment like knife, matches, headlamp or compass, you partner(s) have the same equipment and you can use it together.
Three backpackers in Hammastunturi Wilderness Area (I am behind the camera, obviously). Tent is, say, 3 kilos, kettles 1 kilo, axe 1 kilo, various shared first-aid and repair stuff 1 kilo. That makes 6 kilos, but when divided by three hikers, it’s only 2 kilos in my backpack.
Solo hiking through Urho Kekkonen NP. I carry everything myself, so the backpack is heavier than it would be with companions. (Though I did not select a 3 kilo tent this time, but a lighter one).
- You don’t have to do every chore yourself. There is another to help in preparing food, chopping wood, pitching tent etc. If you are not certain about your whereabouts, you have a companion with whom to ponder your location.
- You get to share the great moments with a friend. Or, if it is raining for the fifth day in a row, you get strength from your friend who is just as miserable as you. Hiking in (perhaps sometimes hard circumstances) creates a strong bond between the hikers. And it is nice to chat with an important person in the evening by the campfire.
The most typical reason for hiking solo is that you just could not manage to get a companion with just the timetable your calendar allowed. But hiking solo can also be a conscious choice. Some advantages in hiking solo:
- You don’t need to make any compromises about the destination and route you want to go. You can make just as many detours to interesting spots as you wish. Those deer hunting potholes, ruins of a turf hut or geocaches are maybe not worth the extra kilometers according to your friends, but to you they are interesting.
- Also it is only you who decides whether to pitch the tent at 5 pm or just keep going another five of eight hours into the light summer night under midnight sun. If you wish to sleep until midday, or to get up at 4 am, it is only up to you.
- If you are an extrovert, you probably do not see a week all alone as a good thing, not at all. But if you are a bit towards introvert, you may relish the idea very much. If you like the company of yourself, the possibility to be alone with only your thoughts, you may find you immerse yourself much more thoroughly into nature this way. You also see more birds and animals when you are not chatting with someone.
Same solo hike through Urho Kekkonen NP as in the pic above. Now I am in the heart of this 2550 km² national park, dozens of kilometers from nearest road. I’m sitting on top of Vongoiva fell, all alone, and feeling very good. I am not in need of anyone’s company, my own thoughts suffice nicely.
For a beginner it is a good advice to say: “Do not hike alone.” In addition to the aspects discussed above the best way to learn backcountry skills is to walk/ski/paddle/whatever your passion is with a more experienced hiker.
For an experienced hiker better advice is: “Hike in a group or hike alone, but keep a humble attitude. Understand your skills and limitations, and never affront the elements.”
Still you may be asking yourself, isn’t it dangerous to head out to wilderness alone, even if you are excperienced? Well, yes, you may break your leg, or get diarrhea that makes you very weak, or fall while wading across a river etc. But you have very good chance to avoid all those things when you have the experience to think ahead, what may happen, and thus to prevent yourself from getting into a serious situation.
Still, what if you are careful, but happen to twist your ankle and you are very far from help?
Well, it can happen. However, it is much much more dangerous to drive a car, or to walk the streets of a big city late in the evening and so on. I do not see hiking dangerous at all, but when I’m hiking solo, I take extra care of everything.
Personally, I like hiking with my wife or with my friends, and I like hiking solo. A big group is not so much to my taste, but for example one or two companions is great. I feel I get connected with them on a hike a lot more deeply than in everyday situations. When I go alone, I like the freedom in every sense.
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After many winter trip reports next week let’s see what hiking in autumn looks like. Autumn colors are flaring, mosquitoes are all dead and temperatures are cool or warm, but not hot. Perfect time for hiking!