As a woman backpacker, I am asked with regularity if I backpack alone. To be honest, I usually don’t; however, I don’t think that’s for the reasons that people think. I am a social creature by nature, most days; thus, I crave company, and the lessons that it brings.

backpack_alone_1In fact, there are a multitude of incentives that I could mention for backpacking in groups, whether that be learning about a new plant, a restaurant with rave reviews (as all good backpacking trips culminate in the eventual discussion about the next meal NOT cooked four inches above the dirt or rock), or the latest and lightest in equipment (it’s an all out gear show out there some times; you know who you are!!). This quarter I’ve absorbed much new knowledge (so much so that I could write a small book): I can now recognize an Elephant Head Flower (no joke if it doesn’t look like something out of Disney’s Pink Elephants on Parade!), pack a week’s backpack in under 35 pounds (I know; this probably seems heavy to you lightweights, pun intended), and have recently heard of at least five restaurants in town that are no less than amazing (this adjective is subjective in nature as it is used after being on the trail several days).

There are the people that I have met (and forged strong friendships) and places (many seemingly untouched) that I have been all thanks to backpacking. From those times sitting with friends while marveling at goats climbing vertical rock faces (usually with the intent of going after my dirty wet socks hanging outside of my tent), to those times sitting on a mountain ridge being encouraged (or challenged? semantics, I suppose…), to take the next step (seemingly, of faith) across a cornice just to begin a scramble. AND, no glass of wine ever tasted as good as one shared with good people in a beautiful place, ever…

Conversely, there are also numerous motives for heading out alone, peace of mind being paramount on my list. Reading from my Kindle (very useful if you do a lot of reading on the trail), hiking along, or cooking dinner, I often sort and compartmentalize my problems, thoughts, and issues: what did my boss REALLY mean by that statement (thoughts of work seem to flee the longer I am out on the trail), do I really need another ice axe (the answer is yes!!), a fresh apple would be really good right now (again, I know, back to the food), and wow, that is truly the most beautiful moon I have EVER seen (I can’t tell you how many times I have said this; however, it is a true statement each and every time).

Of course, there is always the issue of safety, commonly mentioned whenever people learn that I head out by myself. I would like to mention that it is safer than driving a car!! Yes, there are predators out there (cougar, bear (arguable), wolf, and people (sadly), to name a few). Traveling in groups does deter predators; however, it should not distract a person from heading out alone. I always carry mace and a knife (please know how to use them if you bring something, or it is essentially useless). And, yes, the terrain is naturally dangerous. Be prepared! I don’t need to mention the ten essentials (or do I?), and the fact that they are truly just a minimum. I always let people know where I am (even if it’s really just showcasing my new gear like SPOT Personal Tracker, look one up!). While I like a challenge, I try not to be stupid; I respect my limits (I’m sure there is a story or two out there that would illustrate me in another light). And, I read trail and weather reports, plus scour a map or two before heading out, stacking my odds.

While I can’t make any decisions for you (nor would I venture to try), I can guarantee that each hike will provide an adventure. And, adventures truly are the spice of life. So I close with yet another Nancy Sinatra quote (though, I doubt she ever had any intent for it to be analogous with hiking). “Are you ready boots? Start walkin’!”

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