Does the thought of a solo bikepacking adventure get your heart pumping a little faster, either from excitement or trepidation (or a little of both)? Are you intrigued by the abundance of solitude and self-reliance such a trip would offer, but can’t shake that little voice in the back of your head saying maybe it’s not for you?
I absolutely understand. I happen to be a type of person who is traditionally “not supposed to” go bikepacking alone — in my case, young(ish) and female — and I’ve spent many solitary miles contemplating the pros and cons of doing it anyway. I’m here to tell you, bikepacking alone is a valid option no matter who you are, and it can be profoundly rewarding.
I first discovered bicycle touring, and later off-road bikepacking, with a fiery passion shared by absolutely no one else in my life. My husband had other things to do, my friends had no idea what I was talking about, and I had no connections to a local cycling community. So off I went to Southeast Asia all by my lonesome, and after three months I came home with an obsession that could not be quenched. A whole new version of me had been unleashed, a more confident and flexible human somehow capable of navigating situations and places I never would have thought possible.
Later I rode solo in Patagonia, northern Africa, across the US, and various shorter trips in increasingly remote parts of the American west. Of my first 10,000 miles of bike travel, 9000 miles were solo. It was empowering, at times profoundly mentally exhausting, and overall transformative in many ways.
More recently I’ve had the pleasure of sharing bikepacking trips with riding companions, mainly my husband or a friend or two. It’s neither better nor worse in my opinion, but very different, each offering its own challenges and rewards. These days I have an appetite for both styles and choose based on mood and opportunity.
This post shares more than you ever wanted to know about my thoughts on solo bikepacking: what makes it special, what makes it hard, and some ideas for how to do it safely. Everyone is different and your mileage may vary, so to speak. My introverted personality, cautious approach, and female gender probably influence more of this than I’ll ever know. But whoever you are, if you’ve dreamed about bikepacking alone I hope you find encouragement and support here.
Let’s start with a glaringly practical difference: when bikepacking solo you have to do all the things. You’ll have to pitch the tent and boil water for dinner at the end of a long day. If your tire goes flat you’ll be fixing it by yourself, even the parts where a third hand is helpful or you can’t quite remember the details. (For those worried about this: I fixed my first flat by the side of the road on a solo bike tour after practicing a couple times in my living room. You’ll figure it out! But practice first. But you’ll get it!)
Less obvious, but even more exhausting in my opinion, is the mental burden of bikepacking solo. Even when all is well I sometimes feel decision fatigue from the sheer joyous freedom of it. When to break for lunch, how many times to stop and take pictures, and where and when to camp are all mine to decide, every single time.
In higher-stakes situations this can be stressful. How much water should I carry for this dry stretch? Should I keep riding or wait out this storm? Crap, the road is closed ahead, what’s the best detour? At times like these it can be comforting to bounce ideas off someone else and share the responsibility for the decision.
Though it may sound daunting, I’ve found this greater responsibility to be one of the biggest rewards of solo bikepacking. All the things I dreaded tackling alone turned out to be manageable, and in most cases far easier than I’d feared. If that’s not a valuable life lesson, I don’t know what is.
If more responsibility is the negative side of the coin, more control and autonomy is the positive side. As a solo bikepacker you can craft exactly the trip you want: the mood, the pace, where to lay your head each night, which strangers to talk to and which to pass by. There’s never a need to negotiate, justify, or apologize. In the worst-case scenario you can spend a week recovering from an illness, wait for a new bike part to arrive, or change plans entirely without disappointing anyone else.
It’s an annoying quirk of bikepacking that energy and motivation come in waves, often out of sync between riding partners. If you wake up feeling tired on a solo trip, you can take a rest day without needing to negotiate with a partner who’s gung-ho to keep moving. Feeling like a total beast? Ride hard all day with no need to look back. You have room to flow with your own moods to their logical conclusion.
This freedom is fun and also offers subtler gifts. Those of us with people-pleasing tendencies sometimes find it hard to sense our own preferences through the mental noise of navigating joint decisions. Take other people out of the equation and a more authentic awareness emerges. I never feel more intuitive and in touch with myself than a few days or weeks into a solo bikepacking trip.
More Solitude and More Connection
Sometimes bikepacking is about solitude. As an introvert I’m all about that! I can soak up solitude like a dry sponge; it takes me weeks to start feeling an urge for company. Sure, sometimes I wish for someone to share a triumphant moment or stunning view. Sometimes I relish having them all to myself.
More extroverted folks can struggle with loneliness on solo bikepacking trips, and I do understand. Eventually – it just takes me longer – I do start to crave connection. This is especially true if I’m riding solo in a place where I don’t speak the local language. Once I finally find an English speaker I become the biggest extrovert on the planet! This is actually kind of fun, and has taught me to embrace a more extroverted side of myself when the time is right.
Riding solo, especially in populated areas with few bike tourists, is like a magnet for random interactions. When I travel with others I feel more closed off, as if moving in our own little bubble. Days are more predictable and often easier; being open to random interactions is tiring! When solo there’s no one else to trade off with when I’m hungry and tired and someone just asked “Where you ridin’ to?” for the tenth time that day. But it’s worth it. My solo trips, while more mentally and emotionally challenging, leave me with the deepest sense of connection to people along the way.
Another fun benefit: bikepacking and touring solo, especially in other countries, sometimes reveals an unexpectedly fluid sense of self. A well-known companion can anchor us in a familiar identity. There is something very curious and fun – a little unsettling and also liberating – about seeing who surfaces from within when I’m chatting with people I’ll never see again in a place where I don’t know a single soul. Trying on these alter-egos — chattier, goofier, braver, friendlier — has loosened up my sense of self.
Many people, like my mom (Hi Mom, I’m fine, really!) think bikepacking alone is more dangerous than bikepacking with others. There’s room for differing opinions on this topic, but here’s mine.
I believe that in most cases the risk of something going wrong is about the same for a solo bikepacker as for a group. Groups of people can get snowed on together, run out of water together, and ride in dangerous traffic together. In the best-case scenario – the one you’re probably imagining if you’re afraid to ride solo – a group can support each other through tough spots and work together to solve problems. But there’s also the possibility that group dynamics fracture under pressure and make things worse.
Our social human animal brains are wired to feel safer in groups, and I think we tend to overestimate both the benefits of companionship and the dangers of solitude. When I ride solo the constant low-level hypervigilance can be exhausting, and when I ride with others I feel nearly invincible by contrast. I try to remind myself that my brain exaggerates in both directions: when alone I’m usually safer than I feel, and in a group I may actually feel safer than I am.
Though the risk of bad luck is similar when solo or in a group, it’s the consequences that can be worse when solo. Run out of water? Perhaps your partner has extra to share. Get dangerously cold and wet in a storm? Maybe someone else in your group is warm and clear-headed enough to pitch the tent. Make a navigation error? Someone else might catch it.
With experience most of these mistakes can be avoided, or at least dealt with calmly. Thus it’s probably true that the least-experienced person in a group is safer with the group than alone, at least when riding a route that matches their companions’ higher experience level. The key, therefore, is to choose a route that matches your experience level and to prepare adequately. This next section has all the practical tips.
Safety Tips for Solo Bikepacking
Planning and Prep
Choose a route that suits your experience. You can still ride solo on your very first trip, but choose a route with cell service and some other people around. Maybe ride to a local campground instead of venturing deep into the mountains on singletrack. More experienced riders should gauge their comfort level with the hazards of outdoor travel – weather, water, etc – and decide whether a route is worth any risks. Personally I still wouldn’t ride solo on a dry desert route on remote land with no vehicle traffic in 90 degree heat, for example. The chances of needing an urgent rescue are a little too high; it would only take one little thing going wrong.
Research the route and conditions. Identify your resupply stops, camping options, and water sources and spend time looking at the route. Check the weather forecast and err on the side of bringing the rain jacket.
Have backup navigation. In a remote area one of the most useful things you can do when riding solo is be confident in your maps and navigation. Have a reliable offline navigation method, and have a reliable backup too. Know how to use them both. I highly recommend downloading offline maps in the Google Maps app for a big-picture view of major roads, towns, and nearby businesses.
Be your own gear backup. Have a backup navigation plan, a warm enough jacket, and some chlorine dioxide tablets in case your water filter fails. If in doubt carry an extra power bank and water bottle. Know how to use all your gear.
Judge remoteness and respect remote routes. Riding solo on remote routes can carry heavy responsibility, but you can get away with more mistakes if your route will have at least a couple cars per hour. Though it’s always important to practice self-reliance, I also believe in knowing your backup plan. If you get an unsolvable mechanical, run out of food or water, or get lost, consider how easy it would be to ask for help or hitch a ride. In my experience many bikepacking routes are not as truly remote as they’re made out to be. On the Great Divide, for example, it was rare to go more than an hour without seeing another human. I can count on one hand the places where help would have been hard to find within a few hours.
Tell someone your plans. Send them your route and expected itinerary, how (or if) they’ll be able to contact you, and when you expect to be back. If they haven’t heard from you by a certain time, what should they do? (Generally they should try to contact you first, wait a reasonable amount of time, and then – in the worst-case scenario – contact local police or 911 to report you overdue.)
Carry a satellite messenger like the Garmin InReach Mini if you’ll be riding without cell service. This gives you the famous “SOS button” in case of life-threatening emergency, but more importantly it lets you contact friends or family for information and support. If you discover a need for more info about what lies ahead, ask your contact to look it up for you. I’ve asked about nearby wildfires and bus schedules, for example. You could also ask the right clear-headed and experienced contact for advice in a tense situation. “Here’s my location, my tire is flat and I’m almost out of water and my offline map isn’t loading, what do you think I should do?”
Want to ride solo but not sure how to prepare? The Bikepacking Trip Planner Workbook is a step-by-step walkthrough of the planning and prep process. I created it specifically with newer and solo bikepackers in mind, with the goal of giving you the confidence that comes from knowing you’ve covered all your bases.
Congratulations, you made it through the hardest part! Starting a solo trip can be nerve-wracking, but once you’re out there you’ll soon find a rhythm. Here are some ways to increase your odds of a trouble-free trip.
Make more conservative decisions. Carry that extra liter of water, stop riding an hour before dark, put on your rain gear or stop to camp before you get soaked and cold.
Try to be logical about risk. What really needs your attention right now, and what can you actually do to keep things going smoothly? The thought of camping alone tonight might be the scariest, but running out of water on a hot and dry afternoon might actually be the most dangerous. Fortunately that’s an easy risk to minimize: look ahead at your route and fill up with enough water.
Mitigate the risks that actually do get worse when solo. I don’t know of many, but grizzly bears may be one; I’ve heard groups of people are more effective at deterring them. So if you’re riding solo in grizzly territory take extra care with cooking and food storage practices, keep bear spray handy, and make noise coming around corners. Another example is arguably traffic safety. A group of cyclists riding together may be more visible on the road. So when riding solo (and any time, really) take special care to be unmissably visible with bright clothing and perhaps a high-vis triangle.
Give yourself what you need. If you’ve had enough solitude, seek out an established campground for the night. Or if you’ve had enough people, find a secluded cozy wild camp spot. Solo hypervigilance can be tiring. Maybe it’s time to spend money on a motel where you’ll feel extra safe for a night.
Bike Repair Skills
Many people tell me they’re afraid to ride solo because they don’t trust their bike repair skills. I have mixed feelings on this topic because yes, it’s important to be self-reliant and know your way around a bike. But also, if you wait until you can definitely fix anything that might go wrong, you’ll never go bikepacking!
Though I’ve learned how to deal with most common mechanical problems, there are still plenty of potential issues that would leave me stranded for lack of knowledge or specialized tools. That’s why a backup plan is always important, even for experienced riders. So when it comes to bike repair skills I advocate for a middle ground, and these are some thoughts that might help you find it.
If you choose routes appropriate for your experience level, you can learn as you go. Figure out how to change a tube or plug a tire, align your derailleur(s), and off you go on a not-too-remote route with a solid backup plan. The more you ride, the more you’ll learn.
Practice repair and maintenance as often as you can when not bikepacking. I’m in favor of supporting local bike shops, but I’m actually a horrible customer because I do as much DIY work as possible. Thanks to the internet it’s never been easier. Instead of dropping your bike at the shop next time you need something done, make a project of muddling through on your own.
Treat yourself to a tool kit, grab a cold beer or some relaxing hot tea, roll up your sleeves and keep some pumice hand cleaner at the ready. Learn to change your chain, align your gears, seat your own tubeless tires, adjust and replace brake pads, replace your cables and housing, maybe clean and repack your hubs and bleed your hydraulic brake hoses. And whatever other care and attention your bike requests.
If you hit a road block, Google is your friend. If you mess it up, your local bike shop can bail you out. Just try to get your hands dirty as often as possible. When out bikepacking alone absolutely nothing – no amount of watching videos or reading books – will help as much as actual experience working on your own bike.
Finally, don’t stress. Your bike repair skills only need to be advanced if you’re traveling in a remote area far from any roads with vehicle traffic. Again, strive for self-reliance and don’t count on help coming along exactly when you need it. But if you make an honest effort to learn the basics and then find yourself in over your head, the universe will most likely give you a free pass.
Still worried about bike repair? The Bikepacker’s Pocket Companion includes a chapter on troubleshooting tips and repair reminders, along with a wealth of other information that may keep you rolling when things go sideways.
On Fear and Personal Safety, Especially for Women
This loaded topic can be very emotional for some, understandably, and often devolves into binary statements (it’s safe or it’s dangerous). I could write for days on the nuance in between, but I’ll try to summarize. This is my opinion based on my experience.
Keep it in perspective. Most people think a solo woman is at greater risk of assault. True, more women than men are victims and this looms large for many of us who were taught to fear it by well-meaning adults when we were kids and young women. But if you look into the statistics (and I have) they are skewed by situations most bikepackers aren’t exposed to. The “stranger in the bushes” scenario is relatively rare.
Most people are good. I’ve lost count of all the times a vulnerable situation worked out really well. The “bad” folks may be out there, but they are a very small percentage and most people you meet won’t be among them.
Don’t let paranoia about personal safety steal your attention from more important and immediate risks, like danger from traffic or difficult weather. Also try not to let it rob you of positive interactions with good people.
Camp where you’ll sleep well. When I’m solo I prefer to sleep hidden from the road or at an established camp area with multiple groups. I avoid “in between” places where I might end up alone with just one other person. This is not because I’m convinced the wrong person will come along, but because I sleep better when I don’t have to worry about it.
Fear is just information from your nervous system, and you decide what it means and what to do about it. Unease at being alone in a big wild place can manifest in many ways: fear of wildlife, fear of the dark, fear of people. I’ve met many men who feel fear when camping alone; women do not have a monopoly on this.
Advice for worst-case scenarios: If you do get a bad vibe from someone, you have more control than you might think. Follow your instincts, be vague with information, set boundaries or deescalate depending on your intuition. Lie if needed, and disengage: “Sorry gotta go, my friends are meeting me soon at a campground just up ahead.” Ride off in a different direction than your destination. Act confident or at least unpredictable. For all they know you’re well-prepared for self-defense. I believe most people don’t really want to commit a crime and will be easily dissuaded if they can’t get a read on how it’s likely to unfold.
Keep others’ comments in perspective. If you’re a woman trying to overcome fear while bikepacking solo, it will be frustrating when well-meaning people remind you that you’re supposed to be afraid. I’m sure some solo men experience this too, but it’s more socially acceptable with women. “Aren’t you scared?” the convenience store clerk will ask, with genuine curiosity, as you buy your resupply. “Be careful out there!” they’ll say as you ride off, putting an ominous finish on an otherwise pleasant encounter.
Sometimes this can really suck, but remind yourself: they’re just projecting their own fears onto you. They picture themselves in your shoes and feel afraid, because doing hard things alone is scary (for everyone!) and our culture especially normalizes expressions of fear for women. But you, you’ve done your research and preparation and you know the secret: it’s not nearly as dangerous as it first seems, and that’s why you’re out there doing it.
Lastly, if you feel afraid, know that you’re not alone. I have fought fear in varying amounts during every single day of my solo rides. I feel I’ve been an average amount of lucky – not unlucky, but also not miraculously dodging disaster at every turn – and I’ve managed fine. For me the rewards have been worth the challenge of working through my fear.
I’m far from the most experienced solo female bikepacker. There are tons of us out there! Here are a bunch more solo female cyclists to inspire you.
Other Assorted Observations
Taking Up Space
Not everyone will relate to this, but those who do might be interested to hear they’re not alone. Sometimes I find it mentally tiring to spend so much time solo in public places, especially in such an attention-grabbing way. When I bikepack solo there’s often a vague undercurrent of “maybe I’m not supposed to be here.” When I bikepack with even one other person this feeling goes away. In a larger group I enjoy a festive sense of belonging that’s fun and relaxing by comparison.
Grace Under Pressure
Thanks to bikepacking solo, I’m acquainted with who I become when, shall we say, shit gets real. When I’m mildly uncomfortable, tired, or hungry, especially around people I know well, I can get a little… whiny. But it turns out that when the chips are down I rise to the occasion. What a relief! When alone in a situation that requires serious problem solving, patience, and good judgment I magically become calm, collected, and focused. This is how I’ve learned to trust myself under pressure, which is a gift in both bikepacking and life.
Connection With Nature
When bikepacking on a remote route I can fall deeper down the “one with nature” rabbit hole when solo. One of my favorite things is to ride late into the afternoon on public land (where I can choose my own campsite), slip off the road to a perfect hidden spot, lay down my head for the night, and move along in the morning leaving no trace of my presence. It conjures up a primal feeling of connection to the planet that only solo backpacking can top.
- Related: Backpacking versus Bikepacking
Connection With Myself
No matter how great the riding partner, it can be tiring to constantly read between someone else’s lines especially if you don’t know them well. Are they tired but offering to push on because they think I want to? They seem grumpy – is it something I said or are they just hungry? Deciphering all this can take energy that’s otherwise spent tuning into my own experience and enjoying time to think.
For lack of a better way to describe it, bikepacking solo makes me feel like a total badass. At some point in every trip, maybe while rolling into a small town after successfully managing a few challenging days in the backcountry, I feel incredibly alive and competent, master of both my body and my bike. We move as a team like some kind of wild cyborg creature, capable and windblown, on the hunt for a cheeseburger and more chain lube. (See, you’re never really alone while bikepacking as long as you name your bike and make friends with it.)
Mental Recovery Time
For all the reasons mentioned already, bikepacking alone can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. After a long solo trip, especially in another country, I need some mental recovery time in addition to physical. If you’ve been out there facing your fears, pushing your comfort zone, and working overtime to assess every risk and plan every action, your poor brain deserves some TLC. Prioritize the activities and people that make you feel safe and relaxed after returning home, so you can recharge your mental batteries and eventually maybe… if you want to… start dreaming about your next trip.
Not everyone wants to bikepack alone, and that’s fine. But in my experience, many people who do want to are stopped by fear. If it’s fear that’s holding you back, please consider giving it a try. Something in you might be craving the gifts and challenges a solo trip can offer. Pick a route within your ability level, even if that means a pedal to the local campground and back, and just see where it all leads.
Being out there alone in a big wild place usually feels more dangerous than it is. Our brains are wired to seek shelter and companionship. But with a bit of experience and the right preparation, working through these feelings can be very empowering. In the process we come to trust ourselves and feel more connected to the world.
If you’re interested but hesitant, know that I’m no different than you. I wasn’t better-equipped in some way when I started riding solo. I wasn’t raised to be fearless out on my own in the world. I wasn’t born knowing about bike repair or wilderness safety. I simply wanted it badly enough to figure it all out along the way. And you can too! The hardest part is starting; after that it’s just one pedal revolution after another.
Do you bikepack solo, or want to? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Bikepacker’s Companion eBook
If you’re intrigued by riding solo but worried about all the “what if’s,” the Bikepacker’s Companion eBook is designed to be an experienced riding partner in the form of a PDF download on your smartphone. Use it as a reference for ideas, troubleshooting tips, and moral support in all the wacky situations we bikepackers find ourselves in.
More Bikepacking Resources
If you found this helpful, you might also enjoy these:
- Bikepacking Bikes: The Best Choice for Your Riding Goals
- How to Pack for Bikepacking
- Biking Across the USA: Essential Tips
Or visit the bikepacking section for lots more!
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