The idea of solo hiking can spark fear in many. We’ve all heard unfortunate solo hiking stories: a female hiker attacked in the desolate woods, a man who falls off the side of a cliff to his untimely death, or a hiker who follows the wrong trail and gets lost for days. These fears can be enough to keep even the most enthusiastic hikers locked indoors.
There have been plenty of weekends where I’ve ditched my hiking plans because my friends were too busy to accompany me. I had my own set of fears that prevented me from hiking alone. Not to mention my mother has a heart attack any time I mention going anywhere alone, let alone hiking in the woods.
Recently, I conquered my fear of solo hiking by finally taking the time to research solo hiking safety precautions. Based on research and my own prior experience, I have compiled the following 10 safety tips to make your first or next solo hiking experience both safe enjoyable.
Tip 1–Stay on the beaten path
When hiking with friends you feel more confident venturing off-trail or down an unmarked path. However, when you are hiking solo, this is not the time to venture down a sketchy, narrow spur trail. Stick with the main trail to avoid getting lost.
Tip 2–Pick a popular trail
Solo hiking comes with its own inherent set of risks. One of these risks is running into potentially dangerous animals or people. To avoid this, pick a trail that is both well-known and heavily traveled. For example, Cowles Mountain in San Diego is very well known for its heavy foot traffic and would be an ideal destination for solo hikers because of this. Find a local hike that is similar in popularity.
Tip 3–Pick a familiar trail
In addition to selecting a trail that is popular, solo hikers should also pick a trail they have hiked before. Not only will you feel more comfortable and confident, you can also avoid the stress of hoping you stay on the right path. A solo hike is a time to check out that unmarked trail your friend told you about in passing.
Tip 4–Bring protection
The old adage goes it’s better to be safe than sorry. This holds especially true for hikers traversing alone in the wilderness. Whether you’ll need it or not, it’s always best to bring something to protect yourself. I personally always carry mace with me. I haven’t needed it yet, but would rather err on the side of caution. A whistle is also a great accessory to keep in your backpack in case you get lost or to deter wildlife.
Tip 5–Tell a friend
One of the most pertinent things you should do before embarking on a solo mission is to inform a family member of friend the exact trail you’ll be hiking, the time you leave, and the time you expect to be back. If you have cell phone service, it may be worth it to check in with them during your hike as well, to keep them updated on your progress and current whereabouts.
Tip 6– Keep calm
Adverse situations tend to arise in times of stress. If you begin your hike feeling anxious, you are bound to encounter more obstacles than you will if you are relaxed and have a clear mind. A worry-free mindset will allow you to focus on the things that really matter like your surroundings and staying on course as opposed to what could happen.
Tip 7– Check the weather
Part of preparing for a hike is knowing the conditions you’ll be getting into. There are many parts of the country –and even the world–where adverse weather conditions are a regular occurrence. The sky can go from clear and sunny to storming and lightning in the matter of minutes. Check a weather report the night before your hike and right before you leave to stay up-to-date and know what to expect.
Tip 8–Maintain your vehicle
Imagine you are about to leave a trail in the middle of the woods with no cell phone reception and you realize you’re out of gas. Not even Triple A can save you in this scenario. To avoid unfortunate car incidents like the aforementioned, make sure your vehicle is up-to-date on service and basic necessities such as gas and air in tires.
Tip 9–Bring the essentials
There have been plenty of times I’ve run out of water and had to borrow a sip of a friend’s. If you are solo hiking, you can’t rely on anyone else but yourself. Make sure to pack enough water (or bring a water filtration system if a water source is available on the trail), food, a first-aid kit, and a sweater. These items aren’t your total saviors, but are good starting points for unexpected hiccups in your trek.
Tip 10–Leave your mark
If a ranger station is present, sign in (and out) and let the ranger know you will be hiking alone. It’s also a good idea to let them know the approximate time you expect to finish. This way there is a record of when and where you are hiking in case someone needs to look for you. The more people that are aware of your whereabouts the better.
Solo hiking comes with its own set of risks, but the rewards can far outweigh them with the right education and knowledge. With experience, and the goal of staying safe, you too can enjoy the perks of venturing into the great outdoors alone.