But if you judge safety to be the paramount consideration in life you should never, under any circumstances, go on long hikes alone. Don’t take short hikes alone either—or, for that matter, go anywhere alone. And avoid at all costs such foolhardy activities as driving, falling in love, or inhaling air that is almost certainly riddled with deadly germs. . . . Never cross an intersection against a red light, even when you can see that all roads are clear for miles. And never, of course, explore the guts of an idea that seems as if it might threaten one of your more cherished beliefs. In your wisdom you will probably live to a ripe old age. But you may discover, just before you die, that you have been dead for a long, long time.
—Colin Fletcher and Chip Rawlins, The Complete Walker IV, p. 756
It all boils down to what you perceive as risky and how much of that risk you can tolerate. We humans are very bad at evaluating risks, and certainly if you stay home rather than hike next week you run the risks of being in a horrible auto accident, being a victim of a violent crime (on the average more likely in the city than in the wilderness), and perhaps additional health risks associated with breathing polluted air, not getting enough exercise, or being depressed because you aren't out in the wilderness where you know you belong.
—David Bonn, “Re: Solo or No Go,” Backpackinglight.com, 5/23/2006
Central Questions Addressed in This Article
How dangerous is solo hiking in the wilderness compared with getting to the trailhead? Compared to hiking in a group? Compared to the dangers of frontcountry life? What is most dangerous and bothersome about going solo? How logical are the arguments commonly used by soloists and anti-soloists? How should an experienced, responsible and logical hiker assess this practice?
As you might guess from the introductory quotations, the approach of this article will be to take a strong stand on these issues right from the beginning. I will also analyze these issues as objectively and as logically as possible, even though these two goals seem to be at odds with one another.
In brief, here is my position. First, the claim that solo hiking is a risky and dangerous behavior is largely a myth, a myth perpetuated by a safety and security oriented culture. By and large, most hiking and backpacking activities involve low levels of risk. (Serious climbing and mountaineering is another matter.) A basic truth in this context is that solo hiking is only as dangerous as a person makes it. Second, I recognize that there are risks to both group and solo hiking, but by following carefully chosen risk management strategies, these risks can be largely mitigated. Third, if the relatively conservative behaviors detailed in the article on this website “Strategies To Make Solo Hiking Safer” are followed (e.g., leave a detailed itinerary and emergency contact information with two or more people), this activity is as safe as the average person’s normal, everyday activities.
To bring my position into an even sharper focus, consider the following generalizations about the relationship between safety and numbers.
Wilderness travelers can be incompetent in many ways: knowledge (e.g., first aid), skill (e.g., crossing fast moving streams), experience (e.g., traveling off-trail), preparation (e.g., lacking adequate storm gear), decision making (e.g., having a strong sense of immortality and therefore likes to take chances). Incompetence is obviously a matter of degree and is of greater concern the more aggressive the trip that is planned. To summarize, there is no substitute for knowledge, skill, experience, preparation and sound decision making, whether going with a group or going by oneself. You will be safest if you hike with competent people with whom you are comfortable being around. Going with even one incompetent person can put you at greater risk than going it alone.
Having stated my position in detail, how best to defend it? In the next section of text I first critically analyze several concerns expressed by those skeptical of solo hiking. I will then analyze the logic of common arguments made by both proponents and opponents of solo hiking. You will have to be the judge of how well I defend my stated position on hiking solo.
The above paragraphs provide a preview of the complete article (approximately 13 pages) available as a free download. Click on the following to download in either a Microsoft Word or PDF format.
How Dangerous Is Solo Hiking, Really? – Word Format
How Dangerous Is Solo Hiking, Really? – PDF Format
The sub-topics listed below are developed in this complete article:
What is Most Dangerous About Going Solo?
Examples of Illogical Thinking by Soloists and Anti-Soloists
Solo Hiking More Dangerous Than Going with a Group?
Summary of the Principles Developed in This Article
Reader Participation: Priorities Regarding Solo Dangers
Final Thoughts on Solo Hiking