On the Morality of Hiking Solo

Solo Hiking a Serious Moral and Ethical Issue

     Even though some see solo hiking as only a personal issue that is no one else's business, I see it as an important ethical issue. Let me be specific. At minimum, ethical issues are those that involve conflicts of interest and values. Assuming this definition as a starting point, there are at least the following potential conflicts (there may be more) involved in the morality (ethics) of this behavior: 

  • Between my interests and values as a potential solo hiker and the interests of my close friends and loved ones;
  • Between my interests and values and those with whom I work or volunteer that depend upon me in one way or other;
  • Between my interests and values and those of search and rescue personnel who might end up risking their lives for me;
  • Between my interests and values and those of taxpayers who will likely foot most of the bill if something serious happens to me while soloing; [Side Issue: Should I be billed if I cost taxpayer money because I was soloing?]
  • Between a highly self-oriented society (especially when compared to other cultures) and those who believe strongly in the importance of family and community and in working and playing together.
  • Between my interests and values as a solo hiker and my other interests and values (e.g., developing a rewarding career, becoming a good parent, having a successful marriage, having a long life filled with quality activities). [Side Issue: Do ethical conflicts always involve others or can they also occur within oneself?]

The point of this article is not to say definitively that solo hiking is morally right or wrong. The point is to establish that it is a serious ethical issue worthy of careful examination. If one accepts the starting definition that “ethical” issues involve conflicts of values and interests, then the first four potential conflicts listed above are obvious in their ethical implications. The last two conflicts are more controversial, but need to be added to the mix. By way of summary, just because there are potential conflicts of interest should not, by itself, dictate my ultimate actions as a solo hiker. It only sets the stage for further thought and discussion of the rights and wrongs of recreating solo.

Solo Hikers with Responsibilities to Loved Ones?

The area of conflict to which I give the most careful consideration is the conflict between my solo hiking interests and the interests of loved ones who depend upon me. There are at least two sub-issues here: how dangerous really is my solo hiking and what would be the impact on close friends and loved ones if I were no longer around? The first sub-issue is dealt with in depth in the article  “How dangerous is solo hiking, really?” The second sub-issue has too many facets to examine in depth in this context. For one to examine it, two critical questions must be answered.  First, has my behavior towards my loved ones helped to maximize their independence (financially, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and so on)? Second, how important is it for me and my loved ones to follow our life passions, even those involving significant risk? My current position on both of these questions come down on the side of solo hiking.

What About Solo Hikers with No Responsibilities to Others?

Consider the following thought provoking quote from an unknown soloist.

I do not carry a PLB - for no end of reasons. However, if one had responsibilities that exceeded ones desires to adventure on the edge, which could not be resolved by carrying accidental death insurance, then it would be wise to consider it. But since I don't have children, sick parents, a girlfriend who I exclusively can care for, a farm, my own business with great employees, or my youth to protect, i am pretty free of further responsibility as to what happens to me beyond the immediate physical consequences. Having lived a long and gloriously blessed life, if I go into the woods someday, and do not come out, well that will be a fine day too. I don't even tell my family where i am exactly trying to go, so rescue is not an option. Some individuals may not have orchestrated their lives in like manner and for them, a PLB may be the magical item that allows them to explore the remoter corners of our world. So see, for some people it's the wings of freedom, while for others it is a ball and chain.

I see no obvious answer or response to this scenario. Since I have multiple responsibilities to others, I have a hard time even wrapping my head around it. For those who can at least relate to this scenario (i.e., minimal responsibilities to others?), what is your response?