Ok hiking friends, I’m kicking off episode one strong and bold here so I’m just gonna say it – I am a huge advocate for solo hiking and solo camping and solo travel for two big reasons.
First is because there is this constant fear and stigma and anxiety around it, I mentioned this in episode zero but it’s worth mentioning again sometimes this fear and the feeling like ‘I can’t do it alone’ comes from inside our own minds, and sometimes it’s projected onto us from well-meaning loved ones or crazy strangers.
No matter where this negativity about solo hiking comes from, it’s a totally irrelevant, irrational feeling. Just because it might be an irrational fear, doesn’t make it an invalid one. I know – that fear and anxiety about hiking solo are very real, but there are things you can do help reduce risk in the wilderness and put your mind at ease.
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The second reason is simply logistics – sometimes it’s hard to hike with other people. It’s hard to find a time that works for everyone, a trail everyone wants to hike, and it’s extremely rare that you’ll find another human who will naturally hike at the same pace as you.
Sometimes if love hiking and you want to go hiking, you just gotta go it alone. And I’d argue it’s better that way – you can do whatever want on the trail! You can go as fast or as slow as you want, you can plan your own route, you can break whenever you want, sleep wherever you want without consulting anybody else.
And it doesn’t have to be as dangerous as the media would make us believe. Don’t get me wrong, there will always be some risk that comes with hiking and backpacking in the wilderness but I 100% believe that hiking alone is no more dangerous than driving alone, shopping alone, walking around town alone, or living alone. Sure hiking alone has some dangers – but simply existing also has some dangers, so go hiking if you want to BUT don’t be stupid about it.
Here are some things you can do to make solo hiking and hiking, in general, a little less risky:
Be prepared, know what you’re getting into and what the risks are – are you hiking in the desert where it’s super exposed and dry and you’ll get horribly sunburned and dehydrated quickly? Are you hiking at high elevation where you might encounter snow even though it’s warm in the town at the base of the mountain? Any dangerous river crossings? What’s the local wildlife like, are there rattlesnakes, is it moose rutting season? Etc, etc.
Now, none of those are reasons not to go hiking – but they should help you alter your plans and decide what gear to pack – well except if there are dangerous river crossings, I would personally just avoid those and choose a different trail or dryer time of year.
But in my other examples, you have to think ahead and be prepared, if you’re hiking in a desert, wear bomber sun protection, hike during the coolest hours of the morning or night, and bring tons of water. On the opposite end, if you’ll be in high snowy peaks, bring lots of layers and a hard shell outer layer to keep you warm and protected from wind or sudden precipitation, bring lots of water and electrolytes and take it slow to combat altitude illness.
Learn about the local wildlife, what signs to look out for if you see them, or if they’re acting defensive or aggressive – the general rule of thumb, just always stay away from wildlife and don’t provoke the animals and they’ll leave you alone as well.
Always tell a trusty friend back home where you’re going and when you expect to be back, so they know when to sound the alarm if you go missing.
Get super comfortable reading a topographic map and always carry one of the areas you’re in. And I do mean a map, not an app on your phone, a map will never lead you astray. Preferably also a compass, but if you’re just starting off and sticking to more established, well-traveled trails, get comfortable with a map first and then start practicing with a compass in familiar areas where you know you won’t get lost.
Always have a way to ask for help, if you’re doing shorter hikes, close to home where you know for certain you’ll have cell service, use your phone and make sure it’s charged before each hike. Once you start to branch out to longer hikes, in more secluded areas or spots where service is spotty – invest in a Garmin or SPOT GPS device or locator beacon.
You’re out there alone – you gotta take care of you! Bring more than enough water and drink regularly throughout your trip, bring more than enough snacks, and keep yourself fueled. Pack and wear the appropriate clothes and layers to keep yourself warm, dry, and comfy out there. You most likely won’t have someone else checking in on you to tell you when you seem ill or acting out of sorts.
Know your own limits – listen to your body and turn around if you’re not feeling well or if something’s off and be willing to turn around if the situation changes – for example, a storm rolls in or maybe you twist your ankle and try to tell yourself it’s fine, you can walk it off and just keep going…. But really you should turn around.
Hey, badass hikers aren’t always the ones who go the farthest or the hardest – they’re the ones who go on an adventure, and return home safely. Just remember that.
And lastly, always hike your own hike. Choose a trail you’ve always wanted to go on but it always gets pushed to the back burner. Do what you want to out there whether that’s taking photos or journaling or giving your body a good healthy challenge by hiking faster or farther than you did on your last trip.
We didn’t go over hiking gear in a lot of detail in this episode, be sure to download the Ultimate Day Hiking Gear List for free.
And while you’re here be sure to subscribe to catch future episodes of the Hiking Lifestyle – I promise they’re not all about solo hiking. Until next time, happy hiking!