So, just how safe (or dangerous) is it to try to hike the Appalachian Trail alone?
Honestly, while there is some risk that comes with hiking and backpacking, it doesn’t have to be more dangerous than doing anything else alone! Do you drive alone? Do you run errands alone? Do you walk around your town or neighborhood alone? Great! Then you can hike the Appalachian Trail alone too! I promise.
8 Tips on hiking the Appalachian Trail alone
- The first step is simply knowing that solo hiking, or solo backpacking is not nearly as crazy or dangerous as the media or our imaginations would have us believe. Go on day hikes alone with these tips first before going camping or backpacking alone. And just know, that truly the tiniest woodland creatures can make the scariest noises. Once you realize the super loud, crunching footsteps coming toward you are simply a small herd of wood ducks running through the leaves, the trail isn’t so scary after all!
- You’re best defense against hiking hazards is knowing your own abilities and keeping your wits about you, to keep you out of trouble in the first place. For example, if you know you don’t have enough energy or strength to make it up and over a ridge to the next shelter, and it’s starting to get dark and cold – just set up camp where you’re at and call it a night! If a bad lightning storm is rolling in, stay low and stay put for a while until it either passes or you know it’s headed in another direction, rather than blindly trying to push through. Listen to your body and make decisions based on it, preventing hypothermia or heat exhaustion is way easier than treating it once it starts.
- Make sure you have a plan, where will you start your hike? Where will you camp? Where will you end? Will you be resupplying at all or stopping in towns? etc. Make a trip itinerary, as detailed as you can, and then leave it with a trusty friend back home. Be sure to include any pertinent medical conditions or allergies on your itinerary, or any other information you would want a search and rescue team to know about you.
- Check in with said trusty friend regularly, and establish what regularly means – everyday? Every other day? Once a week? So that they know when to sound the alarm if they don’t hear from you in a while.
- Do carry your fears! If you’re scared you’ll run out of food, you’ll probably end up carrying way more food than you need. If you’re scared of being cold, you’ll probably carry way more clothes than you need, if you’re scared of lions, tigers, and bears (and strangers) you may end up carrying bear mace, and an airhorn, and a scary-ass knife, and an emergency beacon, or more…. but if that makes you feel better and more confident on the trail, then I say do it! You need to do whatever helps you sleep at night, literally. I actually can not fall asleep unless I have my knife in hand, whistle around my neck and headlamp around my head – just in case something happens in the night. Have I ever needed to use these things to protect myself??? NO! Nothing has ever happened to warrant them, but I still can’t sleep without ’em.
- Don’t camp near roads/trailheads. While most trails and even trailheads are relatively safe, there is definitely a higher chance of vandalism, theft or worse near road crossings. Hike several miles in to camp, where you know you’ll be surrounded by others in the hiking community, and less likely to run into randos just looking to get into some trouble in the woods.
- Don’t share your exact camping plans with strangers. Other hikers may try to make small talk – asking you where you’re camping that night or how far you’re hiking that day. But be weary about how many details you give away to other random people. Now, if you’re actually trying to meet up with and camp out with other hikers later who you like and trust, then that’s different. If you ever get to a shelter or campsite and the people there are giving off weird vibes or giving you the creeps – hike on! There is nothing wrong with that, just keep hiking as far as you feel comfortable and set up camp there, off the trail and out of sight if you can.
- If you’re going to hitch hike into towns – bring a buddy. Don’t be afraid to turn down rides if someone pulls over and gives you the creeps. And try to keep your pack and gear with you if possible, as opposed to putting in a trunk of a car. I also left my GPS tracker running during rides so my family could still see where I was and where I was headed.
That’s all for now on hiking the Appalachian Trail alone! Drop your questions or extra advice about solo hiking in the comments below.
For more hiking safety tips, check out:
- First Aid, Wilderness First Aid, and Wilderness First Responder – What’s the difference??
- 12 Tips For A Safer Campsite
- Winter Hiking Safety Tips