I post lots of pictures of my hikes, and people often say I’m “brave” because I am often alone, or it is just me and my kids. I would say upwards of 50% of my hiking is done alone, much to my mother’s dismay. It’s really a matter of circumstance more than choice, and it just kind of is what it is. (Though if anybody ever wants to hike together, I’m pretty much always down!)
Hiking solo can be a very rewarding experience. I have come to really enjoy my solitutde. It also helped me become more comfortable with selfies- ha! But I haven’t always been comofrtable doing this, and this past winter, I had a few weird experiences that, once again, were good reminders of how to increase safety on a solo adventure. I’ve also maybe seen one too many episodes of Unsolved Mysteries for comfort.
But seriously, I haven’t always been comfortable doing this! But as my experiences became more frequent, my confidence increased. Being prepared is my super secret to doing it, and I wanted to share my own experiences and tips with anybody who is considering it themselves. I’m not an expert, but I do it often.
Being prepared means a lot of things, and I think all of these tips kind of roll into “be prepared.” Specifically, these are some ways to prepare
Choose the right trail for you.
If you are going to be alone, it is very important to choose a trail that is a) well-maintainted, b) well-traveled, and c) well within your abilities.
It’s very important to know your limits. You don’t want to get yourself into a situation where you are isolated or where you are able to hike in but unable to hike out due to exhaustion or something.
I made this huge mistake once. I chose a trail while I was solo hiking in Wales. It ended up to be beyond my capacity, not so much in ability length or difficulty wise, but beyond my agrophobic tendencies. So I ended up in quite a pickle! Now I always check topographic maps as part of my research and look at reviews to understand what the drop offs and heights are like so I can compare to my own ability to handle it.
Tell somewhere your plans- where you plan to go, when, and how long you estimate it may take. And then stick with your plan! Of course, let someone know once you start out and once you return as well. If you are able to register with the park and/or ranger, do so. Many places have a registration box at the trailhead.
There are also apps to map your hike and even communicate with your people. Cairn Hiking App features real-time tracking information for your “safety circle” and will send out texts when you start and when you complete. It also shows you maps of cell reception on and around trails. You can download maps as well. I always map my hikes on All Trails as well. Some of these features are paid features. I use the free versions of each of these apps.
Another good thing to bring and have is a two way satellite communication device. Here’s a good REI article about them. I’ve also seen a ham radio recommended.
Know your surroundings
It’s really important to know the weather forecast before planning your hike. And even after planning, stay updated on the weather expectations for your hike. Always dress appropriately for the weather. It’s also a good idea to have an understanding of the wildlife you may encounter on the trail and bring anything you might need in case of a run-in with one of these wild creatures! Know the terrain and come prepared for what you may meet. I’ve seen people wearing flip flops on very rugged trails- don’t do this!
No headphones, or at least not two at a time. I remember hiking Arthur’s Seat in Scotland and I just needed something, so I did listen to some music but on low and with one headphone. That’s as much as I feel is safe, and I don’t even do that much most of the time. Don’t watch tv on your phone or otherwise distract yourself. It’s important to stay aware of your surroundings when you are on a solo hike. Take the opportunity to just be present and mindful of your surroundings on an outing like this, for further enjoyment of course, but also for safety’s sake!
Bring your pack. Make sure you have the Ten Essentials (click here for an excellent REI article on the Ten Essentials). Make sure you have these things everytime you go out, even if you feel like it’s overkill or you don’t need it for such a short hike. You never know when that short hike may become unexpectedly long! I’ve been there!
I do truly enjoy my solitude in the woods, but again, ti wasn’t always that way. My confidence has grown as I’ve done it more frequently. I also know that feeling prepared has contributed to that feeling as well. These are good tips for hiking anytime with anybody. I hope that while I am not an expert, some of these may have resonated with you in some way. Happy hiking!