Josh Kirchner of Dialed In Hunter wrote the book on solo backpack hunting. Literally. We highly suggest taking his advice.
With each step I took doubt crept in more. Its cold hand kept turning my head back towards the truck. Maybe heading into the backcountry for a solo bear hunt wasn’t a good idea. Or maybe my own fear and insecurities were invading my mind, spawning irrational thoughts? I was looking for reasons to turn around and head home and reluctantly pressed on. Finally, camp showed itself. The place I’d lay my head down at night, hoping I’d witness the sunrise of the next morning. Maybe this wasn’t for me after all, I thought to myself.
That was almost 10 years ago at this point. The thought of backpack hunting alone never really crossed my mind until, well life happened. As we get older, we get more responsibilities thrown on our plates. Truth be told, the schedules between my hunting partners and I just never seemed to line up. So, I was faced with having to make a decision.
Go backpack hunting alone or simply stay home. Turns out, I’ve never been one for “simple.”
Solo Backpack Hunting: A Short Guide
Many people fantasize about going on a remote solo backpack hunt. It’s really fun to think about doing something like this from the comfort of your home watching epic videos of others doing such things. And many are faced with the exact decision I was. They don’t have anyone to go with them, but they still want to go hunting. I get it.
And then there are others who intentionally want to go on a solo backpack hunt. Maybe for personal growth or just the fact that some folks like being alone. I get that too. No matter where you land, I’m going to lay out some truths and tips about living in the dirt all by your lonesome. This is something that I have grown very accustomed to throughout the years.
Be DIALED on Gear
Whether backpack hunting solo or not, the gear we bring with us is gear we need to trust. This is no time for gear testing, especially if you’re alone. Putting up your shelter for the first time is not something that should be happening when you arrive at camp.
In order to set yourself up for success you need to be dialed on your gear. I’m not necessarily referring to ounce counting here, but more so familiarizing yourself. Know how everything works and how to set things up. In the past, I’ve set up shelters in my yard and slept in them with all of my gear. This was all just to know what sleeping on a certain pad in a certain sleeping bag felt like inside a certain shelter.
I’ve also cooked meals with new stoves at my house to make sure I knew how the stove worked and if it worked at all for that matter. Knowing all of this ahead of time will instill confidence in your backcountry living game and that means a lot when you’re alone.
Safety, Safety, Safety
Anyone who tells you there is no risk in going backpack hunting alone is a stone-cold fool. It’s not something that should taint your experience, but it should elevate your awareness. The fact is, you’ve got nobody to immediately help you.
When you are alone your decisions just mean more. For instance, choosing the longer safer route over the shorter sketchy one. I promise you the longer route is better. Or deciding to not hang your food one night because you’re just too tired. Someone I knew did that and then spent the night dealing with a bear trying to come into his tent. In both scenarios, laziness is the culprit. This stuff is exhausting, but it’s better to be more exhausted than getting in a fistfight with a bear or tumbling off of a mountain.
Another thing that comes to mind with safety is communication. Back in the day, I’d leave a note on the dash of my truck with where I was going and how long I’d be gone. I’d also leave a detailed description at home with my wife. Nowadays, we have a gem of a device called an inReach. Get one, use it, and don’t compromise.
Fear is Not Failure
Fear is not a word regularly advertised by backpack hunters. I promise you, though, particularly with newer hunters, it’s more common than most will admit. Fear in the backcountry can break down the “toughest” of folks and send them, as well as their crippled minds, back to civilization. It can paralyze them mentally and physically. I’ve seen it and experienced it myself. Scared to the point where I couldn’t move laying in my sleeping bag, wondering if this was going to be the end. This is all elevated to new levels when you’re alone. Some may see this as a failure. I see it as growth.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being scared out there from time to time. In fact, it’s normal. Mother Nature is beautiful, yes. But, she is also intimidating and demands respect. With that being said, fear is no reason to head home. I’d say it’s a reason to stay. Especially, if you plan on riding this backpack-hunting train for a great while by yourself. You’ll need to learn how to deal with fear. And the best way I’ve found to deal with it is by facing it. If you’re uneasy walking around in the dark, then you should go and do that. If being alone frightens you, then you should go spend time alone. Learn to control your mind and live with Mother Nature. Not hide from her.
Fitness: You’re Probably Not Ready for This
Training for hunting season is something that has somewhat turned into white noise via social platforms. It’s old news and I fear that its legitimacy is thrown to the wayside. You don’t have to let being fit take over your life, but it does pay to be aware. Because I promise you, you are not ready for how physically demanding solo backcountry hunting is.
Backpack hunting in itself is hard enough physically. Doing it solo, though, is another level. There is nobody to split gear/weight with. And if you are successful, that will add yet another level to all of this. I’m afraid some math is in order to spell this out. Some critters may require more than one trip to get them back to your rig. And then there is your camp as well. If you’re 5 miles in and need to make 3 trips that’s 30 miles of hiking you’ll need to tackle. If you’re 10 miles in that would be 60 miles of hiking. 30 of that would be with a heavy load. None of this includes actually hunting. So, take this into consideration when preparing physically and deciding how far you’re going to backpack.
There is way more than one way to skin this fitness cat, but I’ll tell you what has always worked for me. I combine trail running with weighted pack hikes. Trail running is great for building endurance and confidence in terms of distance. And the weighted pack hikes help build a strong core and back. Not to mention, what better way to get in shape for backpack hunting than…hiking with a backpack?
Worth It: Solo Backpack Hunting Success
To say solo backpack hunting is for everyone would be a bald-faced lie. It’s nowhere near for everyone and you should know that going into it. Don’t expect to love it, because you might not. After making that first trip to bear country, though, I knew it was for me. The start of the trip wasn’t telling me that, but the end sure did.
When I woke up that first morning I felt a wave of accomplishment. I did it and I was fine. The irrational thoughts were just that. And as I hiked out of that wilderness I had a smile from ear to ear. A sense of belonging. That trip planted a seed that has since grown strong roots and sprouted past heights I couldn’t imagine at the time. To be alone in the wilderness is to truly know yourself.