Thursday, December 18, 2014
Home > Advice > 6 Reasons To Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail Alone
6 Reasons To Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail Alone

6 Reasons To Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail Alone

If you are currently planning your thru-hike, you may be thinking that you need to hike with someone else. This is not the case. If you hike alone, you will be fine and probably better off alone than with someone else. Don’t let your lack of a hiking partner get in the way of you starting a thru-hike. Here are 6 reasons why I started, and finished, my thru-hike alone…

1. Absolute Freedom

If you hike the trail by yourself, no one will be breathing down your neck. You will be able to escape and truly be free. I remember feeling so happy and free only to turn my phone on and have it blow up with messages from my parents asking me where I was and if I was okay. Although I knew they sent those messages out of love, it was nice to have my phone off and live without people on my case all the time. I couldn’t even imagine how awful the trail would’ve been if someone I started hiking with depended on me and had to always know where I was.

2. No one wanted to do it with me

Would I have started the trail with a friend if he or she wanted to hike with me? Definitely. However, in my case, no one I knew wanted to hike with me and I didn’t even try to find someone to thru-hike with. In other words, don’t let the absence of a partner prevent you from embarking on this great journey.

3. I only had take care of myself

Trust me, on the trail this is a very difficult task. Thankfully, no one else on the trail depended on me to keep them alive. Looking out for myself was a big enough task, but if your hike is anything like mine, you’ll meet people who you want to watch out for and vice versa.

4. I made friends anyway

It’s very easy to meet incredible people on the trail. It was nice for me to have friends on the trail that were separate from my friends in “real life.” I think if I started out with “real life” friends, I would not have tried as hard to create relationships with other hikers.

5. I do what I want

The Appalachian Trail taught me that I can wake up every morning and do whatever I want to do. This is something that has stuck with my way past my thru-hike. Every morning when I wake up, I do what I want to do. Most of what I want to do is what I know will make me happy. With this philosophy I have picked up from the trail, I am the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.  If I were hiking with a group for the majority of my hike, I might not have developed such a significant lifestyle change.

6. Greater sense of accomplishment

I believe my summit of Katahdin was very different in significance than those hiking in a group for the whole trail. Although I did hike with other people along the way, I finished the trail exactly how I started it; alone and on my own terms. If I had hiked the trail entirely with someone else, or a group, I feel like my sense of achievement on Katahdin would be different. A lot of times on the trail, I had no one to help me through the hardest parts and had to overcome adversity on my own. I get that sharing achievements is a wonderful thing; however, I’m glad I got through the majority of trail because of my own abilities and not having to rely on others.

One of the common questions I get from people about the trail is if I was alone all the time. When I answer, I say that I hiked a lot of the trail alone but met plenty of amazing people along the way. For some reason, people are shocked that I hiked alone and show me a lot of respect for it.  If you want to learn more about the social construct of the Appalachian Trail, I encourage you to check out the “Hike Your Own Hike” chapter in Appalachian Trials.

All in all, thru-hiking the trail was an incredible experience for me and can be an incredible experience for anyone who takes part in it. I am glad that I started and finished the trail alone and recommend this way of hiking for others. Don’t let the fact that you have no one to start with prevent you from trying to thru-hike. Step out of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to walk alone. You won’t regret it.

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About Cole Heathcott

My name is Cole, my friends call me Bear, my trail names (yes, I had two trail names) were Poptart and Balto. In 2013, at 19 years old, I completed a northbound thru-hike and fell in love with life, the outdoors, and adventure. Check out my website -
  • zrdavis

    I spent time on Trail both as part of groups and alone. Both were rewarding for different reasons, but for where I was in life, I received more value from my time alone. I use the phrase “received more value” as opposed to “enjoyed” intentionally as my time with others was more *fun*. But as you so very well point out, the absolute freedom one receives from working on their own schedule in addition to being self reliant has made me a better person.

    Well done, sir.

  • Katielee4211

    I love hiking alone, and I get a certain amount of scolding for it. That’s OK, it’s concern from people who care about me, I don’t take that for granted. But I do love the solitude, it’s my zen.

  • Hunter

    Alone! You are never truly alone. Last year I started with a family member. I couldn’t keep up with them for one reason or the other. I felt that I was holding them back. Mentally this drained me and it didn’t matter who it was, I was so disappointed in myself that it. I pushed myself despite the pain. When I finally hurt my knee and came home I was so disappointed that I didn’t want to ever see a backpack again. That didn’t last long. Several overnight trips alone and I was back thinking about the AT again. It has been a year now and I am going to attempt it again only alone. Hiking SOLO you only have to please one person…

  • Sarah

    Love this post. I’m going alone, and am very excited for it. There are very few people I could stand to hike with 24/7 for 5-6 months straight, so I’m very impressed by others that do that successfully, but definitely not for me. It will be fun to have time to myself and to meet new friends!

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  • Heath Martin

    Ok ladies and gentlemen. I have been looking for an adventure ever since i came home from Iraq. Iraq was my one true adventure, but i am tired of just sitting letting life pass me by. I heard about the the AT and fell in love with the idea. I need to equip and gear up. Can anyone give me any pointers for a first time thru hiker like myself? Like gear lists and trail map locations and things like that. I am planning to do it myself and i have been told by people that it would be a good idea to leave my .45 at home, so what would you suggest to a hiker for personal security and things like that. Any advice is welcomed thank you.

  • Colin MacKenzie

    Nobody hikes the trail alone. It’s positively choked with humanity like the road to Mecca at points. Frankly, it’s a thin veneer of fragile wilderness: walk straight in any direction for a few hours and you’ll hit a road. There’s really nothing much to be afraid of-least of all loneliness-there will be plenty of friendly companionship whenever you really need it. You may need to be proactive to achieve a measure of solitude sometimes. Usually you can adjust things to suit as you go along. Really, we’re social creatures. Lone wolves are rare and do not survive long.