Exploring 101

First-time Guide to Solo Backpacking

Written by NicoleR

The first time I did a solo-backpack trip, it wasn’t because I wanted to go alone, but rather, because I really needed some nature time and no one was able to come with me. I debated the idea for a few days. When I brought it up with my husband, I thought he would respond with apprehension; but to my surprise, the first thing he said was “that’s awesome, you should do that!”. My decision was made – and then I got kinda scared…Turns out, being a little scared is OK, and normal! And, it helps you focus on your preparation. Here are a few tips:

Choose a trail or area you already know so you don’t have to worry about how much climbing or how technical the hike will be. Obviously doing the same hike you do each time family comes to visit isn’t all that appealing, but maybe chose something in the same area, where you know the terrain and you have a sense of familiarity. Choose something not too long – your pack will likely be heavier than you are used to, so your pace might be slower. Calculate how long it will take you to get camp, and try to avoid hiking in the dark. It might go without saying, but make sure someone knows where you are going and when you plan to return – and stick to your plan.

Be aware (or even hyper-aware) of your surroundings. My first solo backpack, I got really bored of talking to myself so I bit the bullet and became “one of those people” who hikes with music playing out loud. Yep, that’s right, I temporarily ruined the backcountry experience of the hikers I encountered. But you know what? The piece of mind and sense of security it gave me to have some (bear scaring) noise I didn’t have to make was more than worth the minor inconvenience for others.

Know your equipment. If you aren’t normally the one to start the stove or setup the tent when you backpack, make sure you practice. You need to be self-sufficient, so make sure you are prepared for any type of situation. Knowing some basic first aid, or how to repair a broken piece of equipment is important. I doesn’t hurt to have a SPOT Beacon or DeLorme inREACH, just in case. It will also give comfort to those waiting for you at home.

You have to carry it, so make sure you need it. This is where you have to determine essential vs. “nice to have” gear. There is no one to share the load with, so bring only what is necessary. With that said, some things are musts if they will make you happy – for me, it’s having a coffee with a shot of Bailey’s in the morning. Sure, it’s a little heavier to bring it, but boy is it worth it. The easiest thing to cut-down is clothing. You’re not sharing a tent with someone so it doesn’t matter if you smell “natural”. Also, some items can do double duty; a cooking pot can double as a bowl, and your mug and water bottle are interchangeable, no need to back both items.

Use your brain. Anything can happen and you’ll have to figure it out. That said, this sense of independence and autonomy is probably one of the more rewarding aspects of a solo hike. You’ll see the outdoors with a different lens, and my bet is you’ll make solo trips a regular activity. Walk on girl, walk on.

Solo backpacking gear list:

Bear bangersMug x 1Pot x 1Sports Bra
Bear sprayLighter and FuelSpoonHiking shirt
BookPot HolderWarm LayersHiking pants
She-Wee (critical!)StoveFilterExtra Socks
Toilet PaperSleeping BagH2O BottleRain gear
Mosquito repellantPillowSunglassesGloves
Ear plugsTentHeadband/HatSleeping socks
Eye maskMattressHiking BootsSleeping tights
ToothbrushHead lightWhistleSleeping shirt
ToothpasteFace wipesCellphoneBackpacking Permit




About the author


Nicole Romanow grew up in Whitehorse, Yukon where her love for outdoor adventures kicked off. She competed on the national stage as a cross-country skier and cyclist, before turning to coaching and doing activities "just for fun". Aside from her day-job at the University of Calgary, Nicole spends her time riding mountain bikes and cyclo-cross, backpacking, backcountry skiing, playing hockey, and doing CrossFit. Nicole is a Calgary-based brand ambassador for Liv, a cycling brand dedicated to women, as well as for Alberta Apparel, a local apparel company featuring Alberta based designs.

1 Comment

  • Awesome guide, wish I had this when I went on my first solo trek! I brought way too many clothes my first time. You just have to face the fact that you will be sweaty and stinky, but everyone you meet probably is too so it’s all good 🙂

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