Recently, after stumbling across Kathmandu’s 50% off Winter Clearance Sale in the busy streets of downtown Sydney, I hatched a plan to strike out for an overnight solo hike in the Blue Mountains. With all that incredible gear on sale, how could I not? The store was so packed with businessmen and businesswomen in sober suits and sensible skirts that you couldn’t move without bumping someone’s elbow.

It was there, in a tiny corner of this busy city store that the gears in my head started creaking together, sketching out the dubious plan that went something like “hike into the wilderness– spend a solitary night on a mountain.”

Spending all that money on my new tent was sobering: I’d never been on a solo trek. My mind started buzzing incessantly: “How would I find my way if I lost the path? Will my sister’s sleeping bag keep me warm enough? And how the hell do I pitch this tent anyway?”

I’d never really done much hiking by myself. Sure, I’d done lots of short hikes with partners, and a handful of 4-5 hour day hikes, but nothing the scale of 48 hours alone in the wilderness.

Since then I’ve completed my first solo in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, hiking into the green sea of eucalyptus to spend the night alone under a large cave on Mount Solitary before hiking out the next day. It was a spectacular trek into the wild, along a popular yet empty trail that had recently claimed a young man’s life.

Ipipiri cruise - start of track on Ruapekapeka island
Tracks will vary!

Solo hike packing checklist

Make sure you pack the essentials so that you have everything you need, and return safely from your first solo in the wilderness.

  1. Overnight backpack
  2. Tent with fly and footing
  3. Sleeping bag and liner
  4. Sleeping mat
  5. Matches
  6. Water
  7. Thermal underwear
  8. Thermal fleece outerwear
  9. Wet weather jacket
  10. Two days’ worth of clothes (t-shirt, trousers, underwear, boots, socks)
  11. Extra socks
  12. Two days worth of food: I suggest two packets of ramen, one spring onion, six shitake mushrooms, two 200g blocks of chocolate, three bagels, two small avocados, two small apples, an orange, and tea or coffee
  13. Camping stove
  14. Camping cookware and utensils
  15. LED camping lantern
  16. LED torch
  17. Poncho
  18. Camera
  19. Mini tripod
  20. Swiss army knife
  21. Journal and pen

What nobody tells you about hiking alone

Nobody tells you about the quirky little details of hiking alone in the wilderness. Like how ten minutes into the hike, the muscles in your lower back and shoulders start complaining about the 25kg pack which holds all of your supplies for the next 48 hours. Or how bad your socks will smell inside your tent tonight. I suppose if they did, less of us would be so eager to get out there into it.

The epic posters in the outdoors shops don’t even come close to telling you about these nuances, nor do they hint at the other more satisfying details. Like the satisfaction you get from discovering a trail that only reveals itself five meters or so at a time. Or how the wind announces itself unexpectedly: whispering, then whooshing as it winds its way through a valley. The trees around you anticipate silently, then swoosh excitedly as their canopies sway and play when the wind hits.

View from the top Milford track
You’ll get some awesome views… hopefully!

Tips and tricks for solo hiking

  • Research your trek — spend a day chatting with locals to get the inside scoop.
    Check in with local authorities — better safe than sorry.
  • Allow extra time — if the locals tell you it will take three hours, then allow five. You are unfamiliar with the trek, and besides, you’ll want to be able to take your time and savour the journey.
  • Leave early — even if it means a cold morning start, you will reap the benefits when you reach your destination early enough to give you time to relax, unwind, and enjoy the surroundings before sunset.
  • Train your body — one thought my back and shoulders kept grumbling about on my solo was “I wish I had trained for this”. Take your pack on day hikes and fill it as if you were going overnight to get your body used to the weight and bulk beforehand.
  • Leave your iPod behind – bring a journal instead, and savour the silence of the wilderness. There’s nothing like gazing into the depths of a campfire with only your thoughts as companions; take the opportunity to discover something new about yourself!

Nobody tells you either, about how the warm shower you take when you return will be one of the best showers you have had in your life. Perhaps ever. Or, about how satisfied you will feel as you stretch your sore legs and drain the last of your cold beer while you savour a juicy rump steak and gaze into the fireplace at the local pub.

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Your thoughts on "How to prepare for your first solo overnight trek"

  • Matt, Congratulaion!!! Finally can enjoy your adventure in the Blue Mountain. It is very useful packing and hiking advice. I never done hiking by myself (a girl hiking by herself?!).If I have son in the future I will definite train and encourage them to do the solo hiking. The photoes are wonderful... The "bus" destroy the whole beautiful natural view. Just wondering why they dump it over there! Really great work! Matt, Cheer!!!

    on July 8, 2009 at 7:59 pm Reply
  • Matthew, welcome to the Indie Travel Podcast! It's great to have you here and a great first article. Useful packing advice, that's for sure. Looking forward to more from you. One thing that I'm more and more interested in is ultralight camping. I'm trying to stay under the 10kg mark, even over multi-day adventures. In reality, I still want enough security and comforts to leave me at around 15kg ... but losing those kilos on the back really makes a difference.

    on July 8, 2009 at 3:57 pm Reply
  • Thanks for the welcome Guys [and Gals!]... I have a new appreciation for the weight saving tips and tricks I've been reading about; it makes a huge difference when you are out on the trails! Happy Hiking!!

    on July 9, 2009 at 10:37 am Reply
  • Matt! Your brother forwarded me this article yesterday - glad to hear your adventures are going well! You are an excellent writer...I'm enjoying what you've got goin on in the blog too. James is talking about doing a solo also and after reading thing I might be in the market for my own solo adventure as well....its hard to believe my last one was 2 1/2 years ago @ MLS!! I look forward to reading more and wish you the best on your travels. - Noah

    on July 21, 2009 at 7:46 am Reply
  • g'day 'Magnetic'Gab ;-) i know exactly what you mean! ...was completely freaked out by the whole prospect of an overnight solo... one thing i didn't mention in the article is to check in with the local police station to let them know when you are goin, and when you expect to return. the nice guys at Katoomba station even gave me an EPIRB emergency beacon that I could activate if things got dire... very empowering to have that kind of backup plan. it's all good to be adventurous ...but let's be smart about it and not take unneccesary risks. happy hiking!

    on May 25, 2010 at 10:01 pm Reply
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