Tips From An Expert For Your First Solo Adventure In The Backcountry

Sarah Grothjan loves nothing more than escaping the confines her Portland life for the backcountry the Great Pacific Northwest. Grothjan worked as an award-winning journalist before focusing her writing prowess on the natural world. These days, she’s focused on her own platform — blogging about her outdoor adventures, the reality life as a solo outdoorswoman, and sharing practical advice for hitting up remote locations.

Over the years, Grothjan has taken on solo travel in the backcountry America’s wildest regions. This inherently comes with risks. Packing in water and filtration systems, rationing food correctly, and staying safe from animals and, well, other humans are all facets to making sure a backcountry excursion will be fun (and safe). As much as we’d all like to think we can just pick up, hit the road, and figure things out as we go, sometimes we have to be prepared and think ahead a bit.

After all, the very joy the natural world is that it’s wild and unpredictable. Danger is, to some degree, implicit.

We caught up with Grothjan recently when she was back home in Portland between hikes. So we picked her brain about hitting the trails, staying safe, and sharing stories on Instagram.

Solo travel feels like it has become a movement with a clear focus on woman safely getting on the road. How do you feel about the female solo travel movement?

I love the momentum that solo female travel is getting right now. I don’t even know if it’s new. I posed that question to a few different people, “do you think this is something that’s more recent, or are people just talking about it now finally?” Either way, I think there needs to be more conversation around it.

I’ve used writing and connecting with people online to have these conversations, and I still find that a lot females have reservations about going outside — whether that’s road-tripping solo across the US, road-tripping solo in a different country, or backpacking solo. I think there are still some dangers when they’re thinking about the human element. So I totally get where they’re coming from, and I think there needs to be more a conversation around how to keep yourself safe.

Do you feel it is the sort thing where, “I know I’m going to be okay,” or do you feel that more information is needed and that reassurance is needed from the travel industry?

I feel safer, at least, in the backcountry than I do in my safe old Portland neighborhood. So I like to talk to women about that. I like to empower them to feel comfortable going outside, to talk about the gear they might need, and to feel empowered to go outside alone. But, with road-tripping, that’s a whole different thing. Even for me, I just started road-tripping solo. That was my first long solo trip, and I was curious about different resources to stay safe. So I still think there’s more needed. I think there still needs to be more a conversation around it.

What do you think is the most important discussion to have right now around solo travel?

I think etiquette needs to be discussed — and that’s actually a piece I’m working on right now. How can you treat solo female backpackers? How can you treat solo female hikers? Solo female road-trippers?

What’s a hard and fast rule?

One thing I always say is, “Don’t call it out.” I hate when I’m on a trail by myself and someone goes, “Oh my God, are you alone? That’s so cool.” It is super cool, and I’m down to have that conversation. But, calling so much attention to it … I do like to stay a little bit under the radar. I’m not sure if every female feels that way, but for me personally, I like to stay a little bit under the radar when I’m hiking and backpacking solo. I don’t really like when people call out so loudly the fact that I’m going out there alone.