By Ali Gates
Last year I ventured on my first solo backpacking trip, much to the concern of my friends and family. The last time I had been backpacking was on an ill-fated weekend in 7th grade, but despite my inexperience I was determined to go. I researched, made an extensive list, and borrowed gear from friends. My trip was certainly an adventure, but turned out well thanks in most part to my preparation. I’ll share with you some lessons learned on the trail so you can better prepare for your own solo trek:
Photo: Jason Zabriskie
1. Make a solid plan
Every list I consulted advised me to know exactly where I intended to backpack, and to leave a copy of the map with an emergency contact. I was also very thoughtful with my trail choice, keeping my level of ability and friends’ concerns in mind. The Crater Lakes trail isn’t terribly long, so if I sprained an ankle I felt I could realistically get back to my car within a reasonable time. The trailhead is also relatively close to my home, so if I didn’t check in with my emergency contact at the appointed time I would know that help would be to me in just a few hours.
2. Bring protection you are comfortable with.
Being a woman alone on the trail is a scary idea – not only do you have to worry about ubiquitous problems such as wildlife, weather, and injury, but you also have to be concerned about your safety from other hikers. It’s a sad truth, but women are attacked on the trail, and you need to bring some form of protection you are comfortable with. Many options didn’t work for me: I don’t have a gun (and don’t plan to get one), and my multi-purpose knife is sticky with jelly and not very protective. Instead, I chose to bring my dog, Nanook, and pepper spray. Even though Nanook is a gentle giant, I supposed the two of us would make enough noise to scare off wildlife predators, and he would defend me if attacked by a human predator. Pepper spray would be my backup if needed in an emergency. Figure out what you feel most comfortable with, and make sure you know how to use your chosen form of defense.
3. Prepare to feel alone
This seems obvious for a solo trip of any kind, but disconnecting from everything is a big change. Assign yourself a task or bring activities in order to enjoy this time off the grid rather than feel lonely or isolated. A sketchbook, camera, or journal are ideal for enjoying your solace. I was asked by a friend to hunt for porcinis, so this kept my focus during the hike, but I also brought along a book and indulged in reading by the lakes.
4. Count on things to fail – and prepare for it
Every article and list tells you to test your equipment before you go, and I did – multiple times. Yet when I settled down to cook some hot water in a borrowed Jetboil for dinner, I could not figure out how to turn it on. I had practiced it in my kitchen the night before, but I could not get it to work! I morosely chewed on some Power Bar energy blasts for dinner, and decided to go to sleep early to avoid my hunger. Decide what would make your trip miserable if it were to fail, and bring backups. Strap breaks on your pack? Bring some extra duct tape. Your camelback springs a leak? Make sure you have iodine tablets. For me, even having a few extra granola bars would have made a huge difference, and a much more enjoyable evening.
Photo: Elise Sterck
5. Be confident in yourself!
This honestly was the best preparation I did for my trip. I received lots of concern and worry from friends and family, which I respected, but did not let it diminish my confidence in myself. This was also incredibly helpful when things got tough heading up the trail: I was exhausted, my pack was heavy, and a thunderstorm was closing in fast. I had to trust my footing and keep putting one foot in front of the other to reach the lakes and make camp. With no one else to give you motivation and encouragement, you have to rely on your own skills and positivity to push through.