Alone or with a group?
“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.”
- John Muir, In a letter to his wife Louisa (1888); Life and Letters of John Muir (1924)
“Never walk alone” is a common refrain heard from Park Rangers, Liverpool Football (Soccer) fans and Rodgers and Hammerstein aficionados the world over. In so much as it relates to hiking, it can be considered sound advice for beginners and/or experienced hikers venturing into unfamiliar conditions. It should not, however, be taken as an all-encompassing gospel truth. Whether you hike solo or with a group depends on three principal factors:
- Your level of experience.
- The prevailing conditions.
- Personal preference.
Walking alone in the wilderness can be immensely rewarding. However, problems can occur when hikers venture solo into terrain and conditions for which they are not prepared. It is therefore important to always balance intangible considerations such as freedom, self-determination and connection with nature, with a realistic assessment of your backcountry skill set.
HIKING IN A GROUP
- In case of injury or illness, help is close at hand.
- Minimizes the possibility of getting lost.
- Comradeship with like-minded people.
- Opportunity to learn from those with greater experience. Helpful for beginners.
- Possible to share certain gear, such as shelter and stove, thus decreasing pack weight.
- Compromised sense of freedom: pace, campsites, breaks, food choices, starting and finishing times are often determined by the group leader or by general consensus.
- Bigger wilderness footprint.
- Minimizes chances to view wildlife.
- If you choose to hike in a group, make it a small one. The bigger the group, the larger the environmental impact.
- Know your fellow group members before setting out. The last thing anyone wants is for their hike to be ruined by a personality clash out on the trail.
- The freedom to choose the pace at which you walk, where you camp, what you eat and when you take a break.
- Heightened sense of connection with your natural surroundings.
- Opportunity to see more wildlife, as a solo hiker represents less of a potential threat.
- Reduced impact on the environment.
- You are on your own if injury or illness occurs.
- Your pack may be heavier as sharing equipment is not an option (eg. tent, stove, maps).
- Need to be constantly aware of your position, as there is no one else to point you in the right direction if you happen to drift off with the fairies.