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As one who has enjoyed the wilderness for nearly 35 years, while I like sharing the experience with others, there's nothing quite like a solo adventure in the wilderness. With every outing, you have a chance to hone your skills and refine your gear, to say nothing of having all that beauty to yourself.

However, while backpacking with others can be a learning experience, backpacking solo can be a master class! Every solo adventure takes you in two directions, onward and inward. But because a soloist is, by definition, alone it makes sense for a soloist to know a few things about being a survivalist.

In fact, soloists frequently follow the same protocols as survivalists! They both even have the same personality traits such as calm, perceptive, decisive, positive, persistent, goal-oriented, independent, resourceful, adaptable, and even improvisational (more on this in another posting).  

And since a soloist must already have the gear and extensive experience from backpacking with others, talking gear at this point is both unnecessary and irrelevant. At this point, it's more important to focus on what you need to do, not what you need to have!  


As I've stated before, "Only two kinds of people go solo into the wilderness; those who REALLY know what they're doing, and those who really DON'T!" Unfortunately, many don't understand which group they're in until they have a near death experience (aka, a wilderness survival ordeal). So let's begin with a reality check: 

-In the wilderness, YOU are your biggest problem. While you are more likely to have problems with the two-legged animals (in the frontcountry) than the four-legged animals (in the backcountry), this doesn't mean you can be lax, you must have the discipline to keep a clean and orderly camp, not doing so invites problems. And you must have a good routine for getting ready for each outing. YOU will make mistakes, YOU will forget things, so YOU are responsible!

-The biggest mistakes are made before you even leave home. Lack of planning, lack of preparation, and lack of proficiency (both in skills and in particular, physical fitness) are leading causes of survival ordeals and Search And Rescue missions!   

-It's not enough to think, you have to think AHEAD. The difference between a smart and dumb person in the wilderness is a smart person anticipates problems BEFORE they become an issue. This is reflected in everything a soloist brings and does.  


This is just the first five of sixteen subjects in a REAL wilderness survival curriculum (REAL wilderness survival is merely an extension of wilderness safety). Although I can, and have, written extensively on each of these topics, I will only lightly touch on each here. However, while these first five are imperative when backpacking with others, they are paramount for soloists each and EVERY time they get ready to leave: 

1- PLANNING: This is a research intensive activity! Plan. Plan everything. Plan to the smallest detail, then, be ready leave plan "A" for plan "B" or plan "C" or plan "D".... The point is, things don't always go according to plan, so you should also plan to go home sooner than you want if that's the smart thing to do. Put another way, failure is ALWAYS an option!  

2- PREPARING: Planning is about what you intend to do, preparing is about what you intend to do when you get there. It's all about gear and supplies. 'nuff said.  

3- PROFICIENCY: The more diverse and deep your skills and experience, the better off you'll be, but special time and attention should be focused on your intended activity and obstacles/problems you are likely to encounter. However, your physical fitness is important, DO NOT think of the wilderness as a place where you can get fit (or "heal", GAK!). You must be in good shape BEFORE you start!!  

4- BACKUPS: You need two active and two passive backups: active backups are things that YOU need to initiate to get help, like the SOS function on a Personal Locator Beacon or your emergency/survival kit. A passive backup is something that does not require you to do anything, like telling people where you're going and when you'll be back or setting up a delay-send email with your information sheet attached (don't forget to cancel it when you get back!).  

5- BASIC SURVIVAL (concepts and strategies): This is NOT about "signaling, sheltering, fire, water, and food", those are The Five Basic Skills (numbers 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 in the survival curriculum). This is about learning and understanding the psychological and practical aspects of dealing with a survival ordeal. For example, The Basic Survival Strategy:

-Keep calm, keep thinking, 

-Seek safety, be ready for rescue, 

-Be pragmatically positive, but efficiently active, 

-The more you try, the better your odds, and 

-Lose your hope, lose your life.  

And The Four Cornerstones of Wilderness Survival: 

-Knowledge, (this is your mental database, information you need to rely on) 

-Skills, (the polished ability to apply knowledge) 

-Experience, (without experience, knowledge and skill are just theory), and 

-Common sense (the ability to think beyond what you've been told and apply a solution that fits the situation).  


Before you leave home, you have one last chance to check the weather forecast, check for advisories, check your pack, etc. Create good rules and routines for yourself from beginning to end!  


Pan-n-Scan, pan left-and-right and back again to be sure of your steps, scan up-and-down the trail to be sure of your path. The idea is to remain aware of anything that can ruin your day! Remember The Trekking Rule:

-Rest before you’re tired, 

-Drink before you’re thirsty, 

-Eat before you're hungry, 

-Remove layers layers before you're hot, 

-Replace layers before you're cold.  

Granted, this is the ideal, but it stresses the importance of addressing problems BEFORE they develop. Otherwise, keep confirming your course so you don't get lost, expect obstacles and try to avoid becoming frustrated (that may cloud your judgment), and leave the trail better than you found it.

You don't have to clear every tree fall or pick up every piece of trash, but if everyone who uses the trail does this, EVERYONE'S experience will be better and the trail volunteers won't be overwhelmed.  


Again, Pan-n-Scan! Just because you're not on the trail that doesn't mean you can't still have a bad day. Camp before dark, sure, sometimes you just need to hike all day, but you're just making it harder on yourself at the end when you're most tired. You NEED sleep, for that to happen, you need to make camp, that means not putting your tent on an ant hill or on a slope, if you use a hammock (like me) and there are ants on the tree, you need to put petroleum jelly on your lines or make an ant bridge. All of which is harder in the dark, to say nothing of getting water and/or firewood.  

Keep a clean, organized camp. A clean camp won't encourage bears and a clean YOU won't encourage mosquitoes. An organized camp will make things easier to find and harder to lose.

ALWAYS multitask, use your time and energy wisely and efficiently; while your're charging your batteries, filter your water, set a fishing line, AND wash/fix something. Keep your hands and mind busy. NEVER return to camp empty-handed, you should always have water or wood in hand.  

And of course, leave the camp better than you found it. Pack out what you pack in! I always repackage my food into plastic bags to minimize trash, what trash I do have is burnable (makes great fire starter!!)

And finally, look before you leave, after you have your pack on your back and your poles in your hands, crisscross your campsite at least once to make sure you have everything and left nothing. And if you see a bit of trash some jerk left behind, put it in your pocket, burn it at your next camp.  


If you think this is all too much, maybe you shouldn't be out there in the first place. The truth is, this all just scratches the surface of soloing. Soloing, like survival, is a serious undertaking! You could DIE out there! Let's restate the obvious, soloing means ALONE!! You need to rely on your own knowledge, skill, experience and common sense to stay safe (or alive!!), your alternative is to rely on survival (that happens when you screw up!!!)  

But IF something happens, not only are you the only one to blame, you're the only one who can make it better. You say you'll just hit the SOS button? What will you do if your signal can't get out and you have no cell reception? YES, that happens!!

What if your signal gets out but they can't get to you for days? YES, that's possible!! What if you're injured? What if you're sick? What if you're out of water? food? What if you're hot? cold? scared?  

For some of you, I bet your couch and bed are looking better every minute! Soloing isn't for everyone, and it's DEFINITELY not for some!! But for those who have the right personality, background, experience, focus and dedication, you'll never look back.

For those who don't, try the mall.  

16 Replies

Thank you I have a lot of the items already and good first plus a smaller first aid I keep on me verses my pack, it's just a matter of you caring what I have, adding what I need, and putting it like you said into something that's always on me.

I am going the 27th.


Thank you again.  With a day and a half to go I am nervous but excited.


@Daxigait, I imagine you're back from your solo trip by now, and I would LOVE to hear how it went!  Post when you can. Pictures encouraged:)

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

@REI-JuliE, yes indeed! pictures please!  People are so reticent to post their adventure pics!  But not me! (can you say 'extrovert'?, lol)

Moose checking out my tent, Teton Wilderness Aug 2020Moose checking out my tent, Teton Wilderness Aug 2020Teton Wilderness, Aug 2020Teton Wilderness, Aug 2020Yellowstone River, Teton Wilderness, Aug 2020Yellowstone River, Teton Wilderness, Aug 2020

REI Member Since 1979

well, I know I posted some about it somewhere I just don't remember which thread.  I had a great time minus the snow storm when I went over paint brush of course that's my love even in August beautiful '70s day at hurricane past the day before but not so much when I went over paint brush in fact I'm going to post a question on that here in a little while.


A ranger once told me that if you are  in a survival situation, you have already done several things wrong.

That article is very thorough, AND a different perspective is my experience solo in the 1980s.   No electronic devices, totally alone with no one knowing where I was going.  For 6 months absolutely no problems traveling by car to many Western trails 3-4 days at a time backpacking.  (Also bicycle touring solo for 6 months and everyone was helpful to this skinny 30 year old woman.)

Looking back I may have been very lucky or perhaps my common sense and prep saved me.  What I loved most was the freedom of pace, distance, location, and meeting other like minded people.  When I started packing with people from home, it was more fun but I balanced group and solo by leading trips.

  Hope people pay attention to what you say.

In another post I wrote this for a beginner backpacker.  It might be useful here as well:

Understand that clothes and sleeping bags are NOT WARM.  A thermometer in them would record ambient temp.  The key to keeping warm is regulating the source of heat=your own body.  There are 5 ways a body looses heat: evaporation, conduction, convection, radiation, and respiration.  Clothes will control several of those but the actual heat comes only from food and drink and conserving what heat your body can generate.  I think this is the most important thing to know about beginner backpacking.   

(Obviously this is not original information, you may use it as needed.  The first sentence gets people's attention.  Have your students tell you why it is true.  See if they can figure it out.  I bet many do not know all 5.)


I like to say “A survival situation” is just trying to make bad things better. 😉

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.” -Norman Maclean