Yolo for Solo: The Complete Guide to Solo Backpacking

Adventurous Sportive Girl hiking in Beautiful Alpine Mountains

Key Points

  • Solo backpacking is beneficial in many different ways. 

  • You need to remember several tips when solo backpacking for the first time.

  • Don't forget the essential gear to ensure a safe and fun trip.

  • Many destinations are perfect for anyone making their first solo backpacking trip.

Ah, nature! How wonderfully frightening she is. Yet if you're brave enough to go solo backpacking into her domain, a kaleidoscope of experiences awaits you. The most important is solitude. Finding time to be with yourself is tricky in today's world. Yet experts, from Zen Masters to world-class psychologists, agree that spending time alone provides many benefits

To find peace and solitude, you may go to the movies by yourself or cook a lovely five-course meal for a party of one, but there's usually a problem. You may have noisy neighbors, or the garbage truck is ruining your meditation. It's hard to find true solitude when others constantly surround you — this is why no place offers peace like the great outdoors. Despite the several billion people on this planet, there are still many places where Mother Nature rules. Chances are one of these locations is within driving distance of wherever you live. Even New Jersey has natural areas. Odds are your state does too. 

But wait, what if you've never gone solo backpacking, or for that matter, any backpacking? Don't worry. You're not alone.

Solo Backpacking Is Good for You

Today's world is hectic, filled with endless emails, to-do lists, government red tape, and brainless social media. You have spent a lot of your life catering to modernity. Enough is enough. It's time to take a step back. There's no better way than to head outside — alone. 

It may sound scary but the wide array of benefits far exceeds the risk.


Nothing beats forging your own path.

Setting forth into the woods represents something significant — complete and total control of your life. It's a declaration to yourself and others that you manifest your destiny. You make your own decisions. You set your own pace. Free from the constraints of modern life and the dynamics of going with a group, you don't need to compromise with others. The world is your oyster.

A solo backpacker hikes in a grassy mountain valley


When solo backpacking, your only companion is yourself — this leads to incredible spurts of insight.

Your mind wanders through the cracks and crevices of your memory. It's an excellent chance to reflect on where you've been, where you are, and where you want to go. There's no phone or other people to distract you, so the chance for gaining self-insight is near limitless. The same probably isn't said when you're in a downtown metropolis during rush hour. 

Personal Growth

You are capable of so much. Sometimes you have to leave your comfort zone to find this out. Solo backpacking requires self-reliance, problem-solving, and decision-making, which encourages you to develop essential life skills and build confidence in your abilities.

Increased Focus

When you're alone in the heart of Mother Nature, surrounded by chirping birds and rustling leaves, you're not distracted by the noises of modernity. The sounds of the human world sap your ability to focus. The construction site next door, or the noisy neighbors in your complex, take away from your ability to focus on what matters. Being surrounded by the beauty of nature grounds you. It's a reminder of what's important and to stay in the present moment — a vital skill in a world consumed by attention-stealing technology.

A Sense of Accomplishment

Great feelings of pride await when you complete a solo backpacking trek. Not many people go hiking, especially alone. It's a challenging task. When you manage to do it, the sense of fulfillment is tremendous. 


It's your life, and you choose what to do with it. Sometimes, you might forget that. With all the obligations on your shoulders, it may seem like you have the least say about what happens with your time. When you are backpacking solo, you make changes to your itinerary, explore new areas or stay longer in a place that you find particularly interesting. Hopefully, you realize that this freedom of choice doesn't end when you head home after your trip. 

Solo backpacking challenges you. But with this adversity comes great rewards. Nothing superficial like the lottery. No, these gifts are much more profound. The outdoors pushes you past your limits, where you often realize that the roadblocks in your life were self-imposed. You gain a deeper appreciation for this majestic planet. And finally, you discover more about yourself. It turns out you're a much more interesting person than you thought. 

It's settled. Solo backpacking has many benefits.

A solo backpacker looks out over an alpine lake

The Best Way To Start Solo Backpacking

On the surface, it's simple — just throw on a backpack and head outside! When it comes down to it, though, there's a lot more to it. 

The most important thing to remember is to go at your own pace. There's a concept in psychology called the zone of proximal development. When it comes to camping, the gap between what you are capable of and what you are capable of closes by being with an experienced camper, so call up one of your outdoorsy friends!

If all your friends live in city high-rises and consider going to an outdoor bar as outdoorsy, spend a short time in nature before going alone. Go for a hike, or have lunch in a campground. Getting a feel for the area and how your body reacts in this unknown environment is essential. Preparing for a solo trip is a marathon, not a sprint. If you want to succeed, set a pace to get you through the finish line. 

Secondly, do some research. Figure out what kind of animals live where you're going, how much water to bring, how much weight you can carry, and who you are going to inform about your plans.

Plan for all the necessities. Join a camping community or get advice online to determine what's necessary. The last thing you want is to be deep in the woods without a rain tarp or a waterproof bag to protect your gear when a rainstorm hits. Remember the five P's: Proper preparation prevents poor performance.

There are some more tried and true tips to ensure your first solo backpacking outing is fun and safe. Check them out below

Solo Backpacking Tips

Follow the guidance below to transform from a bumbling city slicker lost in the woods to Bear Grylls. 

Make a Detailed Plan

Research the popular trailheads and routes where you want to go. Buy a map of the area and figure out how long you want your journey to be. It's vital to plan for everything. The more specific your plan, the more likely things are to succeed. As President Eisenhower once said, "No plan survives contact with the enemy." Still, though, there's no doubt that having any plan is better than having no plan at all. 

Tell Other People Your Plans

Other people in your life need to know your general route. It's unnecessary to share every aspect of your journey, but at the bare minimum, they must know which area you are going to and when. Also, inform them of your planned return date. That way, they alert emergency services if you don't come back due to an unforeseen accident. Hopefully this never happens, but if it does, it's a huge relief to know other people are coming to help you. 

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

You're not alone in the wild. Depending on where you live, animals of all kinds are also out and about. Before going, research the typography and animals of the route you're taking. Imagine going to bear country without bear spray.

Keep an eye on the sky, too. Check the weather before you go, and plan for rain, shine, or snow. Knowing your surroundings and the potential hazards therein is a must when backpacking — even more so when going alone. 

Leave No Trace

The seven principles of Leave No Trace are not for you. They're for the flora and fauna which call the destination your traveling home and for future generations who want to enjoy nature. Yes, it is easier to huck a candy wrapper off the side of a cliff rather than pack it out. If everyone did that, natural areas would quickly become nothing more than landfills. Imagine someone coming to your home and dumping their garbage. Rude is an understatement.

Practice responsible outdoor behavior and protect the environment. 

A hiking backpack, poles, shoes, and accessories

Expect the Unexpected

Spontaneity is part of the thrill of solo backpacking. Coming across a herd of deer or a parliament of owls is what makes spending time in nature so wondrous. Unexpected events of a dangerous variety may happen too.

In the wilderness, everything is unpredictable. It's impossible to prepare for every unplanned event, but at the very least, always prepare for something not on the itinerary to occur. Make sure you have a solid understanding of wilderness survival skills. That's a surefire way to prepare for anything.

Pack the Essentials

Make sure to bring all the necessary gear and supplies. There's a lot to carry.

When planning a camping trip, take along all the essentials to ensure a safe and comfortable experience. This list includes some of the most important items to bring.

Shelter protects you from the elements. Bring a tent or other type of structure. Additionally, you need sleeping gear, such as a sleeping bag and pad, to keep you warm and comfortable at night.

To cook and boil water, take a stove. It's also important to have a means of purifying water, such as a water filter or purification tablets.

For navigation and orienteering, you need a map and compass. Pack enough appropriate clothing and footwear suitable for weather conditions and the terrain.

Pack a basic first aid kit that includes bandages, gauze, and other medical items in case of injury. A light source is also crucial for navigating in the dark, so be sure to bring a headlamp or flashlight. It's also important to have a means of communication in the event of an emergency, such as a satellite phone or personal locator beacon.

Fires are always a source of comfort, especially when alone. To make a fire, bring kindling, a fire kit, and an ignition source.

Bring enough food and snacks to last the duration of your trip. A good knife or multi-tool is always handy, too. Lastly, you need a good-quality backpack that is comfortable, durable, and holds all your gear and supplies.

Solo Backpacking Brands

From tents to backpacks, there are a few foundational pieces for any backpacking trip. Lots of companies specialize in this type of gear. Do some research to determine the pack that fits your needs and budget.

Also consider buying your pack in-store, as the sales associate can guide you to one that best fits your body measurements.

Here are a few brands worth checking out.

A solo backpacker buckles her backpack


Osprey is a well-known brand that offers a wide range of backpacks for solo backpacking, including their popular Exos and Atmos models. These packs are known for their comfortable, ventilated suspension systems and durable construction. They also have a variety of pockets and compartments for organizing gear.

Black Diamond

Black Diamond offers a variety of backpacks, including their popular Dirtbag and Creek packs. Designed for minimalists, these packs focus on simplicity and functionality. They are also made with durable materials and have a comfortable suspension system.

Big Agnes

Big Agnes is a brand that offers a variety of solo backpacking gear, including shelters, sleeping bags, and pads. They are known for their lightweight and durable products. Their Tiger Wall UL2 tent is a popular choice among solo backpackers; it's light and easy to set up, which is perfect for solo trips.


MSR is a brand that specializes in outdoor equipment, including solo backpacking gear. They offer a variety of backpacks, shelters, stoves, and other gear. They are known for their durable and reliable products. Their PocketRocket 2 stove is popular among solo backpackers for its lightweight and easy use.


Deuter is a German brand that offers a wide range of backpacks for solo backpacking, including their popular Futura and Aircontact models. They are known for their comfortable and ventilated suspension systems, durable construction, and various pockets and compartments for organizing gear.

With a firm grasp of the benefits of solo backpacking and an understanding of how to prepare and what to bring, you're ready to figure out where to go.

A solo backpacker hikes through mountains

Where To Start Solo Backpacking

Deciding where to go solo backpacking rests on several variables: how much time you have, how many miles you want to hike, what scenery you'd like to see, and the weather report.

Whenever you try something new, start small. There's no point in buying an expensive dirtbike if you've never gone. Similarly, don't get top-quality, pricey gear for backpacking if your definition of the outdoors is your local park. Buy gear that fits your needs. 

When embarking on a solo backpacking journey, don't overestimate your abilities. Being self-reliant in the wilderness presents unexpected physical and mental challenges. Therefore, be conservative when deciding the distance to hike per day and your trip's difficulty level. It's always better to begin with shorter, more manageable trips to gain experience and confidence. Gradually, as you improve, gauging what's suitable for you becomes easier, and you take on more challenging expeditions. Starting small and building up helps you become a more confident and experienced solo backpacker. The best way to start small is to go with what you already know.

Consider revisiting a place you know well. A place's familiarity reduces the uncertainty and unknowns that come with a new destination. A good understanding of the trail, the environment, and the expected conditions helps you feel more at ease and better prepared for your trip. By returning to a place you've been before, you have a better idea of the hike and where you're spending the night, allowing you to visualize the trip and make better preparations. 

It's also important to consider the level of isolation you want to experience. While some people enjoy the solitude of the wilderness, others may prefer a more social experience. In this case, choosing a well-traveled trail increases your chances of encountering other backpackers. Being around fellow backpackers provides a sense of security and the opportunity to meet new people and share stories and tips about the trail. By choosing a popular path, you balance the solitude of solo backpacking with the companionship of fellow hikers. This is an excellent way to make new friends and has a more social experience while still enjoying the benefits of solo backpacking.

There are a lot of places to go on a solo backpacking trip. If you're just starting, many destinations fall within the above guidelines, making them an ideal place to dip your toe into the infinity pool of backpacking. 

Best Solo Backpacking Destinations

For beginners, start with shorter and more manageable trips to gain experience and build confidence. Here are a few popular destinations if you want to try solo backpacking, both within and outside of the States.

The Appalachian Trail 

This trail stretches for 2,190 miles along the East Coast of the United States, from Georgia to Maine. It offers a variety of scenic views and is well-traveled, making it an excellent destination for beginners. 

The Superior Hiking Trail 

This trail in Minnesota is known for some of the best sights in the Lower 48 and well-maintained trails. It is 310 miles long and runs along the pristine North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. Dense forests, rocky cliffs, and cascading waterfalls are in abundance. The trail is well-maintained and offers a variety of backpacking options for beginners.

The Ozark Trail 

The Ozark Trail is a 350-mile trail that runs through the Ozark Mountains in Missouri. It offers a variety of backpacking options for beginners, from short day hikes to multi-day treks. The trail includes rolling hills, dense forests, and stunning rock formations.

A backpack and hiking accessories laid on table

The John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail is a 211-mile trail that runs through the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. It has high alpine peaks peppered with other natural sights. The trail is well-maintained and has no shortage of side trails to choose from.

The Camino De Santiago

The Camino de Santiago is a network of ancient pilgrimage routes in Spain. The most popular way is the Camino Frances, which is around 780 kilometers long. It starts in the Pyrenees and ends in Santiago de Compostela. It's known for its cultural experiences, the finest natural areas in Europe, and historical significance. It's well-marked and easy to follow.

Tips for a Solo Female Backpacker

These beautiful places are available for people from all genders, races, religions, and ethnicities to enjoy. If you're a woman, though, there are some extra things to consider. Going into the great outdoors alone is an empowering experience for both men and women but in today's age, females must take extra precautions to ensure their safety.

Bring any hygiene items you might need. Menstrual supplies, hand sanitizer, wipes, and a pee funnel are musts to maintain healthy hygiene when backpacking. 

Safety stands as number one. Always be prepared. Bring a safety whistle to keep animals away and alert others if you're in danger. Throw a can of bear spray in your backpack as well. It prevents a bear attack and deters humans and other potentially dangerous animals. Purchase a GPS or a personal locator beacon with satellite messaging. These two items ensure you always know where you are. 

Mentally prepare yourself. The great outdoors doesn't abide by humanity's standards of decency. Things are dirty, rough, and sometimes dangerous. Don't be scared by this prospect, be prepared. Ensure you're physically, mentally, and emotionally ready for a solo backpacking trip.

The Bottom Line: Don't FOMO for Solo

Regardless of who you are, don't let the fear of missing out on what's going on in civilization deter you from solo backpacking. It is an excellent way to discover yourself and the natural world around you. The solitude of such an adventure provides many benefits.

Keep in mind, though, that to truly enjoy the experience, you must always plan ahead and pack everything you might need. 

Few dare to venture alone with nothing but a backpack. If you're reading this article, you're one of those few. Good luck, and enjoy. You deserve it. 

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