Solo hiking is no longer a taboo topic. You can find dozens, probably thousands, of blog posts and literature on the topic. We still find ourselves telling our loved ones to “be careful.” What this statement really says is, “I hope nothing bad happens to you, and you have a great time.”
I actually don’t like the phrase “be careful.” Yet I say it all the time. If my friend has a long drive home in a heavy downpour, I tell her to drive carefully. There’s many other examples where I say it. But if I go on a date with a guy who I don’t know very well and he tells me to be careful driving home, I roll my eyes and internally get defensive. “I can take care of myself, thank you very much.”
And yet as our friends who love the outdoors go into the wilderness alone more and more, we still tell them to “be careful.” And I’m telling it to you here. But what I don’t like is telling women they shouldn’t go hiking alone because it’s unsafe, but not saying the same thing to men.
Yes, women probably have a higher chance of being physically assaulted in the backcountry than men. And yes there are less people, or no people at all, to hear you scream in the event something bad does happen. But that also means there is less people around to attack you. I do believe you have higher chance of being assaulted walking home from a night on the town.
In comparing myself to my ex-boyfriend, I would say that I am actually less at risk than he is in the wilderness for more than one reason. First, he is overconfident in his ability, which could put him in a sticky situation. Second, when he goes somewhere alone, he isn’t the best about telling people where, or even when, he goes. And third, he does not always carry a compass and has never carried first aid.
Five tips for safe solo hiking
I have compiled a list of five things you can do to help you be more confident hiking solo in the woods. These tips will also help you confidently answer, “Thanks, but I’ve got this,” when someone tells you to “be careful.”
1. Tell people when you go
Always, always, always tell someone when you are hiking solo and where you are going. Tell them when you leave and when to expect you back. I usually text my parents when I’m back at the trailhead or when I get cell phone reception that I’ve made it back to my car safely.
2. Know your ability
Knowing your ability and your limits can save you from many things. While hiking Wheeler Peak in New Mexico, I got to about 100 feet below the summit. I knew I could push on and make it, but the trail was icy, and I was already exhausted. With about a five-mile hike back to the trailhead from where I was, I chose to turn back. I didn’t want to trip and fall because I was so tired.
Be prepared. I know its a simply statement, but it can save you from so many things. Research your trail beforehand. Carry a map and compass, and know how to use them. Bring plenty of water and snacks. I always carry purification water tablets because I’m scared of getting lost and running out of water.
4. Have protection
Carry some sort of protection. Some people don’t like guns, but there are other sorts of protection you can carry if you don’t feel comfortable packing heat. I would carry a hand gun, but I don’t shoot very well nor own one. If you don’t know how to shoot well, it is not wise to carry a gun. The bad guy will just take it away and use it on you. Also, guns are not allowed in most national parks, so if you do carry one, check the policy before you go. I carry mace and have an overly protective dog. Trekking poles can also be used as weapons.
5. Make noise
Be sure you make noise, especially in bear country. If you make a lot of noise on your hike, most wildlife will hear you coming and be gone by the time you get to where they are. Many people use bear bells, but when I was in Montana, the locals called them dinner bells because they give hikers a false since of security. Human voices, they said, are the best thing to let wildlife know you are there. Your voice simply carries farther than a bell on your pack.
If you are in an area where there are no bears or dangerous wildlife, you can make less noise. It does take away from the peace and solitude most people go into nature to find.
I have never hiked in grizzly country alone, but in Montana when my friend Lagena and I got too tired to hold a conversation, we sang, “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands!” Or you can listen to an audiobook. On my solo backpacking trip, I thought I heard something while I was reading in my tent. So I switch to my audiobook. Just don’t pick a horror story like I did. That was a mistake.
Do I get scared when I’m on a solo hiking trip? Umm, yes. See previous statement about switching to my audiobook. But the most scared I’ve been in the woods was when I was with a large group of friends. Do crazy people exist? I’m sad to say they do, and you do need to exercise caution in the woods.
Also walk carefully to avoid falls, twisted ankles, and the like. And again always tell someone where you are going and when to expect you back.
I always text my husband from the trailhead and let him know the exact trail I’ll be on, how long it is, and how long I anticipate it taking, and again when I return to the car.