Solo hiking: why give it a try

I moved to Vancouver, BC almost 8 years ago and solo hiking was never something on my radar until last year. Living here, I have incredible nature close by and access to the mountains with numerous trails. At first, I slowly started to explore these hikes with my hubby Jelger, which was a big change for the two of us. Coming from city life, the outdoorsy lifestyle was new to us and we had to learn about the differences between “Canadian nature” and “Belgian nature”.

Belgian nature is nature of a whole different scale. If you’d get lost, you’d easily find civilization. Whereas in Vancouver, well, let’s just say they sometimes find remains of hikers that disappeared “just around the corner” a couple of years ago. On top of that there’s no dangerous wildlife in Belgium, where now suddenly we had to consider bears etc.

Initially, the idea of entering this slightly threatening wilderness on my own seemed like a bad idea. But last year, I decided to bite the bullet and give it a try. I learned so many things about myself during that first hike and have since done it again. Here are my reasons why everyone should give solo hiking a go!

1. Spending time by yourself

Generally I don’t spend a lot of time on my own. Most of the time when doing activities, I’m with my husband or friends. While it’s obviously great to spend quality time with others, spending quality time with yourself is just as important!

When solo hiking, you have lots of time to think and you learn a lot about your current state of mind.

An extra benefit for me is that I connect more with myself. In company, I’m someone who often talks a lot. When hiking by myself I ‘have’ to be silent, which makes me more aware of my thoughts and “state of being”.

2. Nature therapy

One of the Primal Pioneers manifesto statements is: “we believe nature is our sanctuary”. Numerous studies have proven that people benefit from spending time in nature. For me it’s certainly true that even if I’m tired after a hike, my brain feels more “charged”. There’s a calm where before I had way too many thoughts buzzing in my head. I especially love the term “forest bathing”, which describes exactly how I feel when cruising trough our incredibly lush green forests.

Side note: I think it’s important to not listen to any kind of audio (music, book, podcast, …) while hiking, if you want to receive the full benefit of being in nature.

When listening to music or a podcast, nature is merely a background for your activity. But when listening to nature itself, you fully immerse all your senses.

Hear the rustling of the leaves, the babbling of a distant creek , the rustling of the wind, or when you’re high up in the mountains maybe it’s so quiet even your footsteps seem loud.

As humans it’s part of our most primal nature to be “in nature”. We have a deeply rooted recognition for it.

3. Overcome physical challenges alone

When hiking in a group, sometimes your own tempo gets “set” by the person leading. If you’re last in a row, you might step up your effort to keep up, even if the tempo is above the speed you’d walk on your own. Or maybe you’re the one leading and you feel a sense of obligation to increase or decrease your own pace. When hiking solo, you’re completely in charge of your pace at all times. Including when you feel physical challenges.

My first solo hike included a solid 2 hours of steep uphill hiking over tree roots and loose sandy surfaces. Thirty minutes in I cursed and wondered why on earth I was trying this hike. If I’d been in a group setting, we’d all have supported each other and shared complaints. But I was alone and it was truly a different experience to encourage myself. I had the choice of returning vs proceeding at any giving point. It felt very empowering to be able to encourage myself into completing the hike.

4. Conquer your fear when solo hiking

I’m not going to lie. While I’m generally ok with being alone in the forest, once in a while fear sneaks up on me. Through solo hiking I learned about different types of fear, and how to cope with them.

First there’s fear that serves you. I consider this the ‘healthy’ kind, because it warns you to be cautious and not to underestimate the potential hazards. At times I felt frightened when crossing a particularly steep part of a trail. I had to assess whether it was safe to continue and if to so with caution. Another healthy fear popped up when I hiked through areas where I could bump into wildlife. Whenever I’d hike through dense brushes, I’d make loud noises to make my presence known to possible unsuspecting bears. And of course, I kept a can of bear spray within reach.

As opposed to the healthy fear, there’s the irrational kind of fear that doesn’t do anything for you at all. For instance, when I hiked through completely safe terrain, I suddenly felt anxious because I was alone and disconnected. While this anxiety is not a pleasant experience, you can learn to acknowledge it, and then let go of it, knowing that you’re safe.

5. An incredible feeling of accomplishment

Nothing beats the feeling of hiking up a mountain by yourself, looking back and thinking: “I did that”. You overcame the physical challenges and you conquered fears, both rational and irrational. It gives you a strong sense of self-reliance. Which is why I highly recommend it!

Important advice when solo hiking

Safety always comes first. Nature is amazing, but because of its sheer size it has inherent risks that are easy to underestimate or forget about. Take all safety precautions (bear spray, survival kit, …) for the type of adventure you’re embarking on!

Finally, when you venture out on a solo hike make sure to inform someone about where you’ll be, what route you’ll take and when you expect to be back.

I hope you enjoyed this post and I’d love to hear about your solo hiking adventures and the lessons you’ve learned while hiking! Feel free to share yours below!

solo hiking