In June of 2017 I took on the 52 hike challenge. Hike 52 hikes in a year. This was my attempt at committing to something, seeing it through, and hopefully changing my health along the way.
In June of 2018 I completed this challenge. Along the way I found many hikes that challenged me and others that inspired. Listening to podcasts while hiking began to really ignite the creative side of my brain and getting outside and fit through nature was exciting as I found new trails and explored the unexplored! I loved the feeling of accomplishing a hike and I especially loved seeing things no one else would get to had they not gotten off the pavement!
I ended up sharing my journey with my friends and family through the social media world and the number one question I kept being asked was: How do you hike alone?
I was frequently asked this with the pre-statement of: I’m a woman and I’m nervous to get out there on the trail by myself, how do you do it?
Thank you for asking because I didn’t. I did not do a whole lot of research ahead of time on what I should be doing as a female solo hiker out on the trail (not that it differs from solo male hikers on the trail). Most of my dos and don’ts came from trial and error. I had done hikes in the past with friends and thought to myself “how much different would it be alone?”…to answer that question: at times it can be VERY different.
Here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way that I hope you find useful.
1. Start with popular/crowded hikes!
I loved hiking more well-known hikes in the beginning because then I wasn’t actually “alone”. I told my friends frequently: if I were to fall and not be able to reach my cell phone to call for help (or if there was no service) typically it would only be a few minutes before someone else came by on a trail. This was comforting to me because after observing the hiking community one thing I noticed is that they can be a very friendly and helpful bunch.
You can use the app below to research trails in your area.
For someone who hiked for a year straight I am still very directionally challenged and don’t read maps well. I researched trails in my area and as I began to hike on longer trails or trails that where a little less popular I read reviews ahead of time. I looked at the comments for things I should be aware of on the trail or whether or not it was well-marked (if the reviews said it wasn’t well marked I typically didn’t go because I personally am not a fan of feeling lost). Reviews will also share pictures of the hike and sometimes people will let you know wether or not the trail tends to be crowded.
For the love of hiking make sure you bring some gear and come prepared! My go to list of what to bring is as follows:
- Water- I use a camelback on my back that way I don’t have to carry anything in my hands. A backpack would work too! Also, it’s better to bring too much water rather than too little and run out half way through.
- Sunscreen – I’m not a fan of lobster face.
- Protection – I like having something on me that makes me feel safe and feel as though I could protect myself if anything where to happen on the trail. This can include: Pepper spray/bear spray, knife, gun, taser, ect. My philosophy is I would rather be safe than sorry (check with your laws on what kinds of protection you are allowed to carry on you).
- Proper shoes – Do I wear hiking shoes specifically? Yes. Why? No not because I am a hiking snob but simply because I enjoy the traction. I have lots of friends who I have gone hiking with who wear athletic shoes who are slipping and sliding all over the place due to poor traction. Worrying about my footing is the last thing I want to be doing when I’m out on the trail and often times poor traction can lead to injuries due to slipping on rock!
- Fully charged cell phone – There are plenty of times where I have had service and been out hiking. It is important to have a way to communicate in case of an emergency.
There was a time where I thought I was going to go on a short hike. It wasn’t a big deal, I thought I was following the trail (remember directionally challenged), and I was seeing lots of people. Everything was going good until it wasn’t. Soon the sun was setting and with every hill I climbed up was another hill. I was in panic mode. I could see the city lights and began to walk straight towards them as I didn’t know what else to do. Eventually I ended up in a neighborhood that was many miles away from where I had parked and it was dark at this time. Thanks to some charge (maybe 4% , one of the reasons I was in panic mode) I called my husband and had him come pick me up. Who knows what would have been plan B had my phone died!
- First Aid –Thankfully in all my time of hiking I have never needed my first aid while on the trail but again “Better safe than sorry” and we all know the one time I don’t pack it I will need it.
- Food –I typically use RX bars or Jerky (DNX bars, Chomps, or Nick’s Sticks) while hiking. I have definitely felt the difference when on a long of what a rest, water, and some fuel can do for my body and finishing a hike strong. It’s like your second wind! And what about if you are just going on a short hike? I still take food because you NEVER know what will happen or what you will come across when you get out there and again BSTS (better safe than sorry will become your hiking motto).
- Gear based on weather – I like to enjoy my hikes rather than suffering through them. I always look to see what the temperature will be like and plan accordingly. If the weather is fickle bring some gloves and a beanie to start off with and remove if need be! You will find most often though that once you start moving your body will warm up and you will need less gear than when you first hop out of the car but
Now that gear is all covered let’s get into the last 3 pieces of advice when it comes to hiking solo!
3. Don’t wear head phones
This is a guideline I have personally adopted and some people may not feel the same. When I am out in nature I like to be aware of my surroundings. Are there animals nearby? Are trail runners coming up behind me? What is it that I need to be conscious of?
As I said earlier I greatly love and I mean LOVE listening to podcasts out on the trail (I also listen to music and audio books as well) but I do that through a portable speaker or simply by playing it through the speaker in my phone. My noise is not obnoxiously loud so it disturbs others who are trying to enjoy nature but loud enough for me to hear. This keeps me alert and able to be in as much control as possible when it comes to interacting with my surroundings.
4. Tell someone where you are going
This does not have to be big and grand. I typically let my husband or a friend know “Hey I’m heading off to go hiking at _________ (fill in the blank) trail”. I also typically let my friends or family know that I will text them when I get finished with my hike and I am back at my car. I tell them too that they don’t even need to text back but I just want them to be aware incase anything were to happen to me.
5. If something feels off, head back
I’ve been on trails before where I had an eerie feeling and times where I passed an individual and had a gut check where I felt scared (which only happened once). If this happens and you are feeling uneasy about your hike don’t convince yourself you can power through. Your safety is not worth it. Hiking is something that should be enjoyable. It’s refreshing for me and often times I have found myself decompressing while out on a hike and I do whatever I can to take the correct precautions to do so. Trust your instincts and don’t put yourself in danger for the sake of finishing a hike, you can always come back later!
Get out there and go explore!
Hiking with friends is great but I find that hiking alone to be such a stress relief for me. Trails have challenged me and i’ve found on most of my hikes the ability to sort through my thoughts and come upon peace. Take it slow and easy. Start small and may your hikes be beautiful and as adventurous as you want them to be.