Solo Hiking: Go Often, Go Now
Today’s world is full of noise. A steady barrage of social media notifications, emails, text messages, and viral videos compete for our attention 24 hours a day. Sometimes, we need to step away from the babble, and seek out the quiet that can only come from solitude. It can feel intimidating solo hiking for the first time, but with practice it might just become your favorite way to travel.
The benefits of solo travel are numerous. It can be easier to hike your own hike when alone. There’s nobody to race, nobody to slow you down. You’re in control of your experience and not beholden to anyone. If you’re into photography, you can stop and take all the shots you want without fear of holding someone up. A sunny swim at a lake can turn into a nap...or not. The freedom that comes from doing what you please, exactly when you please is downright refreshing. I’ve found, too, that I have more conversations with other hikers as a solo traveler than I do with company. Crazily enough, it’s a great way to meet new hiking companions!
Just like with any other hike, it pays to be prepared when solo. Even small day hikes deserve to be treated with respect. Packing the ten essentials keeps you safe on the trail, and may allow you to help other less fortunate adventurers in an emergency. If you’re feeling particularly nervous on your first solo outing, pick a popular trail on a weekend. A steady stream of hikers in both directions can help alleviate nerves. Research your hike by reading online trip reports when possible. They can give you helpful updates on current trail conditions. It can be useful to set a firm turn-around time for your outing as well. Pick a time that gives you ample daylight to return to your vehicle safely and stick to it. Be sure to tell someone your itinerary, and discuss with them appropriate emergency responses in case you do not return on time.
I highly recommend thinking through potential challenges ahead of your hike. It may seem overly cautious planning for what to do if a bear or cougar crosses your path, a slip turns into a broken bone, or a water filter breaks, but having rehearsed these basic types of worst-case scenarios better equips you to handle emergencies.
What to say to the naysayers
I first started my solo-hiking in high school, and the eyebrows raised were too numerous to count. Even now, after nearly 25 years of solo adventuring, my family still questions whether it’s safe. Chances are, the first few times you venture out alone, you’ll face similar criticism. There are two common worries that dominate: getting hurt and getting attacked (by animals or humans). Intelligent risk-assessment and a good grasp of your abilities can go a long way towards preventing injury in the backcountry. While slips and falls are always a possibility, it’s not a reason to skip the trail. Taking first aid classes enhances your emergency readiness, and can help calm worried family. Talk about what you’ve learned and how you plan to apply it in the backcountry.
As for attacks, in reality, you are safer on a hiking trail than you are in a big city. The further you get from trailheads, the lower your risk becomes from your fellow humans. Especially for women, most sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows. It feels counterintuitive, but solo hiking actually reduces your risk. Animal attacks are also extremely rare. Most wild creatures want to avoid humans and will lope away at first sight. Here again, preparation is key. Talking about how you will handle any wild animal encounters can help ease worried minds.
You’ve found your trail, you’ve double-checked your packing list, the excuses are over. Get out and hit the trail! It’s totally normal to be nervous on your first solo outing. No matter how many times I go, there’s always a small flutter of nervous anticipation each time I set out on a solo adventure. It’s a part of the experience that I’ve grown to love. Each new solo trip helps build confidence for the next bigger adventure.
Have any tips for first-time solo hikers? What fears did you face, and how did you prepare? If you have a solo success story, I’d love to hear it! Feel free to comment below