Hiking solo is a very popular pastime for those who like alone time in nature to unwind and reflect. While there are many rewards to solo hiking like peace, quiet and the reward of self-sufficiency, solo hikers need to take additional steps to be safe on the trail.
No matter your experience level, fitness level or gender, when you’re on your own against the elements, the best things you can do to stay safe are:
- Pick A Popular Trail
- Tell Someone Where You’re Going
- Be Prepared
- Check The Weather
- Don’t Wear Headphones
- Hike Somewhere You Know
- Drop By The Ranger Station
- Know About Local Wildlife
- Carry A GPS/Communicator
- Start Small
- Learn About The Trail
Keeping these crucial points in mind could save you from an unpleasant or even dangerous hiking experience. In this article, we will explore each point and offer tips to best execute these strategies.
1. Pick A Popular Trail
When deciding to go on a solo hike, especially when you’re just starting out it’s best to choose popular hiking trails. While this might seem like it doesn’t make sense if you’re hoping for a truly solitary experience, it’s important for a few reasons.
First, popular trails tend to be better maintained and often have good signage. You don’t want to go anywhere you have a chance of getting lost, so knowing the trail is marked, well maintained and has directions is important.
You don’t want to take any unnecessary risks when you’re hiking on your own. Something that might be a minor problem with someone else present like a twisted ankle or a missed turn can quickly become panic-inducing when you’re alone.
Going somewhere that you can avoid a lot of exposure, big river crossings or other challenging terrain is best. If you really want to exercise caution when planning your trip, you could also choose a trail you’ve done before and feel comfortable on.
2. Tell Someone Where You’re Going
Before you head out on the trail, you want to make sure you have a few things in place in the event something does happen on your hike. Even if you’ve chosen a trail you know inside out, emergencies are never planned so they have to be appropriately prepared for.
The first thing you need to do before even getting in the car for your trip, is tell someone close to you who is reliable, a very detailed description of your hike. You want to include not only what trail you’re doing, but also the amount of time you plan to take, when you intend to check-in and then don’t forget to let them know as soon as you’re back to civilization.
While it is a good idea to let someone trustworthy know where you’re going to be, it’s counterintuitive if you let everyone know where you’ll be. We recommend not posting your hiking plan or camping site locations on social media if you’re hiking alone. Save the posts and pictures for when you’re home and safe and not alone in the wilderness.
3. Be Prepared
No one wants to think about the worst-case scenario, but being mindful that accidents can happen and preparing accordingly is extremely important when it comes to solo hiking.
You should make sure that you have enough food and water to keep your energy up and pack a little extra in case you get stranded. You should also make sure to pack basic first aid supplies as well as an extra pair of clothes in case the weather takes a turn, or you end up staying out too late.
It’s also a good idea to bring a flare, bear mace, a headlamp and a spare flashlight.
4. Check The Weather
When preparing for a hike on your own, it’s a good idea to try and pick a clear day. Hiking in the rain or other adverse weather conditions is less than ideal at the best of times, but especially when you don’t have backup, you want to minimize your potential risks.
Take a look at your local weather report and pay attention to changes. Even if it looks clear, look at the weather report where you’re planning to hike and change your plans if it looks like you might have adverse weather conditions.
5. Don’t Wear Headphones
Wearing headphones is a bad idea because it takes away an entire sense that can warn you about incoming danger. Instead of listening to music on the trail, listen to the sounds around you. You should stay aware of wildlife sounds and the sounds of other hikers so that you are informed about your surroundings.
6. Hike Somewhere You Know
If you’re not completely confident about solo hiking and want to check out a new trail, it’s still best to choose one that is in a location you know. A new trail in a completely foreign city or state adds unnecessary stress, especially if you end up dealing with any problems on the trail.
It’s not a bad idea to have a contact in the area as well, so you feel a bit more secure. If you’re planning a solo hike somewhere you don’t know very well, take some time to get to know the area. Find out the exits from the trail, where the medical center is and where you can get help if you need it before going on your hike.
7. Drop By The Ranger Station
When you get to your hike location, it’s worth it to take a second to stop by the ranger station. Inform them that you will be on the trail by yourself (if it’s safe to do so and there aren’t other people to hear the information) and let them know the plans you have in place for an emergency.
While at the ranger station you should inquire about recent wildlife sightings or issues, the state of the trail and if there are any spots to be extra careful on. Let them know your estimated return time.
Don’t forget to check in on your way out so they don’t worry.
8. Know About Local Wildlife
The information that you get from the Rangers Station shouldn’t be all you have to go on when it comes to local wildlife. Before you go on your hike, research the area and find out what kind of animals you can expect and prepare for them.
If you’re going somewhere with bears or cougars, you should pack bear repellent and a loud whistle. If you expect to be hiking somewhere with a lot of insect life, make sure you pack the appropriate repellents as well.
In general wild animals want to be left alone and will leave you alone if you don’t bother them. This is another point for popular trails. Popular hiking trails often offer less face to face encounters with predators as they tend not to make their homes near a lot of foot traffic.
9.Carry A GPS/Communicator
Most of us love the great outdoors because it gives us a chance to unplug. For a lot of hikes, there won’t be any cell reception, so it seems silly to take a cellphone unless you’re snapping some pictures. When you’re solo hiking on the other hand, it’s a good idea to have a reliable form of communication. There are satellite phones and powerful two-way communicators that work without cell reception.
Some of these devices are made specifically with solo hikers in mind and also have a function that will contact local authorities and send your GPS location if you need help. This is one of the best layers of security you can give yourself if you’re going on a hike alone.
Even just being able to have your GPS Location at any time can help quell panic if you end up getting turned around or lost.
10. Start Small
Even if you have a lot of hiking experience, it’s a good idea to start out small when you’re new to the process of solo hiking. There are different dangers, different triumphs and more responsibility than hiking with others. Doing small easy hikes that you know, in locations you know maximizes your chances of success.
Even if things do go wrong, starting small means, you will likely be able to deal with those hurdles without too much panic. This will allow you to build your confidence and proficiency so that when you go on more difficult hikes you won’t go into an immediate panic mode if things go wrong.
Imagine getting lost somewhere you know close to home, it might be a bit panic-inducing but in the back of your mind you still will realize all is not lost, you’re safe and if you can find something familiar then you’ll be fine. That same scenario in a different state or city than where you live can be extremely worrisome and shouldn’t be your first crack at solo hiking problem solving.
11. Learn About the Trail
At the end of the day, most minor hiking incidents can be avoided by taking the time to get to know the trail. Research it in trail guides and post questions about it online to see if you can gain insight from others who have done it recently. The thing about hiking trails is that they aren’t set in stone. If you haven’t done a trail in a couple of years it’s worth refreshing your knowledge. This extends to knowing the weather.
Find out what the conditions are like, does it normally match up to the forecast in the area? Sometimes hiking can mean huge elevation gains to the point the weather on the ground doesn’t match even halfway into your hike. To be prepared and have the right clothing and layers, these are things you need to take the time to learn. The more you know about the hike you’re embarking on the better you can prepare, and the more prepared you are the more successful your trip will be!