Have you ever wanted to get outside but no one will go with you? Me too, and it’s a bummer. There’s nothing worse than craving a long hike out in the fresh air and having no one to join you. Luckily, there’s a solution. You can get out there with your bad self and partake in some solo hiking!
Solo Hiking is so intimidating… you mean you want me to head out into the wilderness by myself? Yes ma’am! If you’re properly prepared, you might just find that solo hiking becomes your favorite way to hike. Here are 13 solo hiking safety tips for anyone who wants to spend more time outside without relying on anyone else for company!
13 Things You Can do to Feel More Confident While Solo Hiking
1. Don’t Push Your Limits
I’m all about pushing myself, and always appreciate a challenge. Your first couple of solo hikes are most definitely not time to be pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. I suggest choosing a hike you’ve already done before for your very first solo hike. Choose something you’re familiar with and very comfortable hiking. We have to build that solo hiking confidence up baby! Start small.
Along these same lines, I would suggest choosing a trail that is more popular. Even though you might be on a journey of solitude, passing others on your first few solo hikes will help to keep anxiety down. It’s also good to know that if you did fall into a situation where you needed assistance, someone would likely be there to help you.
2. Get Educated
Solo Hiking means a lot of things, and brushing up on your knowledge is one of them. Educate yourself on how to stay safe in the outdoors and learn about the area you’ll be recreating in. It’s always good to know the rules and regulations of the land you’re hiking on and you can often find this information on the internet. If you prefer to be a hands-on learner, do some research and see if any local associations provide classes on the information you’re looking for.
Here are a few important thing you should know before you hike:
- How do I dispose of my human waste?
- Are pets allowed on this trail?
- Is this public/state land? Is it hunting season?
- Do I need a permit for this hike?
Hiking a trail you’ve already explored is perfect for your first couple of trips, however, if you must try something new, be sure to research it thoroughly. You need to know a lot more than where the trailhead is. Check the elevation gain and contour lines on a map to have a better understanding of what you’re getting yourself into. You should also check to see if you will have to navigate a water crossing and what kinds/how many trail junctions you might encounter. Have a good understanding of the trail you’re hiking and you’re bound to feel comfortable, safe, and competent.
3. Learn About Local Wildlife
It’s important to know what kind of wildlife you might encounter on the trail and how to best approach the situation. Being a solo hiker can have its disadvantages, and this is one of them. For example, in bear country, it’s much easier for a quiet, solo hiker to stumble upon a bear and send them into the defense. It’s important to know that wearing a bear bell and carrying bear spray is suggested in areas with high bear activity. Research the trail you’ll be hiking and be sure you’re prepared for a wildlife encounter.
4. Prepare Your Pack
Be prepared and prepare well! Pack your backpack the night before and make sure you have all of the essentials. Solo hiking is amazing, but you have no one to count on but yourself out there. It’s incredibly important that you are carrying every essential item as you have no one to share responsibility with. Packing the proper layers, ample snacks, a first aid kit, and enough water/water purification system are among the most important. If you’re unsure what’s considered essential, take a look at REI’s list!
There are some items that are easy to forget but can be super important. I never depend on my cell phone on the trail, however, I like to bring my charging block in case my phone battery dies and I want or need it for something. Additionally, I always bring toilet paper, a garbage bag, and extra snacks. You might not find those last three on a comprehensive list so I wanted to make sure you had them laid out for you.
5. Know How your Gear Works
Having everything packed is the easy part. Knowing how all of your gear works, when to utilize it, and feeling comfortable using it takes a little practice. You don’t want to head on on the trail with a new piece of equipment without testing it and/or practicing with it at home first. There should be a sense of ease when it comes to using everything in our pack. Comfort is everything when you’re solo hiking. If you’re not comfortable, chances are you’re not going to enjoy your experience.
6. Create a Plan
Plan out your entire hike, step by step, and write it down. Some questions to answer: What time will you be leaving your home? Where are you stopping along the way? When will you arrive at the trailhead? What time will you start hiking? What’s your end destination? A summit, lake, waterfall, cliff? Will you be taking any side trails along the way? Is this an out and back or are you completing a loop? When will you be back at the car? Answer all of these questions for yourself and then leave them for someone as I suggest in the next step.
7. Share your Solo Hiking Plan
Write out your exact plans for your hike and leave them with someone you can depend on. It’s important that someone know where you are and what you’re doing in the event that you need help from the authorities. These plans should include the following information:
1.What trail you’re hiking and from what trailhead
2. What time you plan on starting your hike
3. Your destination and any stops or spur trails in between
4. When you expect to be back
Set a time to call your loved one. If they don’t hear from you by that time they are first, going to call you in case you forgot. Second, If they can’t get in touch with you, they need to call the DEC and/or State Police.
It might also be helpful to share your location with a friend or family member as well! That way, they might be able to track you based off of your last ‘ping’. Always sign into and out of trail log books – this helps the rescue crew determine where you may or may not be along the trail.
8. Don’t Get Lost
Stay on the trail and bring proper navigation (that you know how to use). If you’re using your cell phone as a map, please bring an additional form of navigation, such as a paper map, in the event that your phone dies or doesn’t have service. Follow all trail markers and do your best not to stray from the path. If you do need to leave the trail, let’s say, to go to the bathroom, be sure to bring your backpack with you! If you wind up losing the trail after your potty break, you don’t want to be lost without your gear. You may be someone who gets turned around easily; if that’s the case, bring a neon bandana and tie it to a tree on the trail when you leave to relieve yourself. This should help you make it right back to where you need to be!
9. Trust Your Instincts
Trust your gut feeling my friends… if something feels off, chances are it is. Trust your judgment and only do what feels comfortable. With that in mind, don’t let feelings of nervousness prevent you from getting out of the car and taking that hike! Make sure you can decipher between just feeling nervous and feeling like something is genuinely out of place.
I’ve had moments of uneasiness on a solo hike before. How I respond depends on what my gut is telling me. I’ve had moments where I’ve thought there was wildlife lurking (most likely a bear or a deer in these parts). In this particular situation, I tried to make noise as I hiked by clapping my hands or shouting/singing something random for 30 seconds or so. I once had an uneasy feeling after passing a solo male hiker on the trail. I was pretty close to the summit and would have had to turn back in his direction to return to my trailhead, so I took out my knife and pepper spray and carried on with extra caution.
10. Extra Safety Measures
What do you need to carry to help you feel safer? This looks different for everyone. I feel much safer hiking by myself when I have my knife. I’m going to be honest and say I’ve forgotten it the last few times, and when I notice it isn’t in my bag, my stomach drops. Similarly, hiking with trekking poles in hand makes me feel like I could fight off any human or animal that approached me as well (even though, that’s largely not true, haha).
When I sleep in my car, I always have my pepper spray in reach and that helps me to sleep comfortably through the night. These are just simple little precautions that help me to feel safer! Figure out what will help you feel safe on your adventures and be sure to bring it along. Chas from Through The Lynss suggests looking into a carry permit if that’s something you’re comfortable with and willing to learn about. If it isn’t, investing in a taser is a great alternative!
Some things to consider: taking a personal defense class, carry pepper spray, a knife, a whistle, a taser, etc.
11. Invest in a PLB
Investing in a Personal Locator Beacon is no joke. They’re not cheap! But they could truly save your life out there. There are many different kinds – some require monthly service fees and plans so that you can exchange messages with loved ones while others only do the basics. If you plan on spending more time out in the woods alone -especially in a place with no cell phone service- you should really invest in a PLB.
12. Join a Hiking Group
If you’ve read through all of these suggestions and you’re still not feeling it, that’s okay! If lack of companionship is keeping you from the trail, look into finding some hiking friends. There are quite a few organizations that plan group hikes and certain ones plan hikes for women specifically! If all else fails and you can’t find an organization or group to go hiking with – check local Facebook Hiking group pages.
Connecting with others should help you get out on the trail more often. Maybe, after some more time and experience with these groups, you’ll feel ready to hit the trail solo! It’s all a matter of time.
13. Hike with your Dog
A lot of people aren’t hiking solo, they’re hiking with their best friend – their pup! Dogs are incredible companions for so many reasons. They’re intuitive, natural protectors, and can sense a lot of things we humans can not. They really make for great trail buddies as long as they are properly conditioned and outfitted for the hike you’re completing.
It’s important to note that hiking with your furry friend often helps to make you feel less alone and therefore, safer. Our four-legged friends make awesome hiking buddies but it’s important to note that taking them along may require a little extra work. Always bring extra food, water, and first aid materials on the trail when you’re hiking with your pet! Pro Trip: Get a puppy pack and have your dog carry their own supplies. Know what kind of terrain you’ll be on and be prepared to hoist and/or carry your dog at certain points of your journey.
Let’s Go Solo Hiking!
What are you waiting for? Don’t you feel inspired!? Let’s get out there and get hiking my friends. Additionally, if you’re really quite new to hiking, we should get more in-depth here. If you haven’t done much hiking, you’re probably wondering – well where should I begin? One of the most important aspects of hiking is gearing up! Aside from the 10 essentials, you’re going to want proper footwear and layers! Check out Hiking for Dummies for all of these specifics and more.
Solo Hiking Tips Contributors
A special shout out to the bad ass ladies who contributed ideas to this post!