When I tell people about my plans for future thru-hikes, weekend trips, or even day hikes, one of the most common reactions I get is, ‘you’re going alone?!’. Our society has been conditioned to believe that women should not do anything or go anywhere alone, and most of us females have been ingrained with this belief from birth. The fact of the matter is that most of the risks faced by the solo hiker are independent of gender. That being said, solo hiking certainly does come with a fair number of risks, but most of these can be avoided with some simple planning and preparation.
I firmly believe that in the case of solo hiking, the rewards outweigh the risks, as long as you go into your hike with the proper preparation, knowledge, and skills. I recently completed my first solo overnight trip, and it was an incredibly empowering experience. Knowing you have the ability to survive in the wilderness as an entirely self-contained unit is a great feeling. There is also an amazing sense of peace alone on the trail, and I find myself able to destress in a way that isn’t always possible when hiking with others. Having the independence to truly hike your own hike is another benefit of hiking solo. ‘HYOH’ (hike your own hike) is the motto of thru-hikers everywhere, and the concept is very important in ensuring you get the most out of your long-distance hiking experience. Committing to hike with a partner or group can definitely cramp your personal hiking style. This isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with hiking with a group. Sharing in nature’s glory with friends and family is a wonderful and important experience, but there’s just something special about hiking solo.
One of the assumptions that is often made about people who hike solo is that they are fearless, which simply isn’t true (at least for me!). On my recent solo trip, I ran into a hiking group at a lookout, one of whom exclaimed over my bravery. She mentioned that she was terrified of bears, and when I agreed with her she was shocked that I would be scared of anything out there, since I was alone. The truth is that many parts of hiking alone terrify me. Running into a bear while alone in the woods is my worst nightmare, and I’m petrified by the thought of leaving my tent alone at night or getting injured with no cell service to call for help. For me, facing and conquering these fears is another one of the great things about hiking solo, and one of the reasons the experience is so empowering.
A peaceful morning on my solo trip, and feeling empowered at a lookout near the end of trail
So, what are the risks associated with hiking solo? Let’s go over a quick list (along with ways to mitigate them!).
- Getting lost alone: This is easily avoidable by carrying navigational equipment (map, compass, GPS, etc.) and checking it periodically (for example, at places where the trail splits) to make sure you are still on track. Familiarize yourself with your route before you hit the trails.
- Getting injured alone: Carry first aid equipment, and make sure you know what to do with it. Always leave your trip plan with someone, and plan to check in upon your safe return. That way, if you are injured and unable to hike out, someone will know right away that you are in trouble (and will know where to look to find you!).
- Encountering wildlife alone: Solo hikers are definitely more at risk when it comes to wildlife encounters, as animals are likely to avoid large groups of people (and solo hikers are definitely a lot quieter!). This can actually be an advantage at times, as solo hikers are much more likely to make rare wildlife sightings. However, surprising a bear/moose/cougar/etc. on the trail may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Familiarize yourself with any wildlife you may encounter in the area where you will be hiking, and make sure you know what to do in any potential situation. Carrying equipment like bear bells, whistles, or spray can also be helpful for the solo hiker.
- Encountering inclement weather alone: Keep an eye on the weather report before and (if possible) during your hike. Make sure you are prepared for any possible weather-related events, by carrying necessary rain gear, etc. Make sure you are familiar with safe behaviours for situations such as thunderstorms, tornadoes, blizzards, etc.
- Encountering creepy humans alone: This is the one risk that is potentially more of a problem for the solo female hiker than the solo male. This risk is also the probably the hardest to be prepared for. I have found that most people encountered along the trail are lovely, but there’s always the off chance that you’ll run into someone who gives off a creepy vibe. In this case, I think it’s probably best to assess the situation and proceed from there. Perhaps you can mention that a hiking partner is not far behind you. And again, make sure someone at home knows your trip plan so they will know right away if you are in trouble.
The self-contained unit of capability that is the solo hiker
Finally, I’d like to share a few tips (in addition to the ones above) for making your solo hiking experience as safe and enjoyable as possible.
- If you are entirely new to hiking and/or backcountry experiences, it may not be a good idea to start solo right off the bat. Try getting started with someone more experienced, or learn the ropes with another newbie. If you want to jump straight into going solo, make sure to start small and work your way up. If you’ve had hiking experience, but have never gone solo, try taking your first solo hike somewhere you are familiar with. This will help you to feel more comfortable, and reduces your chances of running into any unexpected situations.
- Be prepared!!! This is probably obvious, but it’s your best bet for ensuring your hike is safe and enjoyable. Do your research, make sure you have all necessary equipment, and familiarize yourself with your trail and any problems you may encounter along it.
- Carry a device that will allow you to contact someone if you are in trouble. Some popular options are the Spot Beacon and the DeLorme inReach. This will help you feel much safer.
- Bring supplies for an extra day. In the off chance that you are lost or injured and end up stuck in the woods, you’ll want to be carrying extra water and food, along with shelter and warm clothes.
- Face your fears! Do not let fear hold you back from experiencing all the wonders of solo hiking. It’s not as scary as you think, and the feeling of empowerment and pride is so worth it.
So there you have it, ladies. If you feel the call of the wild, there’s no need to let fear or lack of a hiking partner stop you. Get prepared and get out there! Happy trails xox.