This post is intended to provide safety tips for the novice solo hiker.
Hiking solo? What an intimidating thought that can be! I get that! I have travelled solo for the past century and have only begun to take solo hikes within the last couple of years.
I love to hike but unfortunately my friends don’t, so that left me in a bit of a dilemma. Safety concerns while hiking solo was the only thing that held me back from hitting the trails, and even now it still does at times. After much procrastinating, I finally drummed up the courage to take my first solo hike and I have been going it alone (mostly) ever since.
Hiking solo is not all that different than travelling solo … start small…..take baby steps, take the same safety precautions on your hike as you would take when travelling on your own, and pack up your hiking essentials.
For your first solo hike I would recommend choosing a trail that you are slightly familiar with. This will make the thought of hiking alone much less intimidating and you will feel much safer being on the trails by yourself. I personally find that loop trails are easier to navigate than the in-out trails and provide less chance of getting lost, which unfortunately I am only too good at. A loop trail will also allow you to see different things along the way and you won’t pass the same things twice.
In order to keep you as safe as possible while taking that first solo hike, I have outlined what I consider to be the most important safety tips to remember whenever hiking alone.
“Into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul” – John Muir
Determine the Tail and Route
When planning which trail to hike, several factors should be taken into consideration. How experienced of a hiker are you? What are your physical capabilities? How much time do you have available to complete the hike? Why are you taking the hike? Do you want a relaxing hike? Or do you want a hike with more of a challenge? Once you have answered all of these questions, you will be in a better position to choose the right trail for your hike.
Just One Tip: Download the AllTrails app which will show the trail difficulty level the elevation of the terrain, and distance of the trail. It will also provide trail reviews from other hikers.
Familiarize Yourself With the Trail
If you have chosen a trail unfamiliar to you, it is now the time to get familiar with it. Google is a wondrous thing! Scroll through pictures that have been posted by other hikers. Read the reviews to get tips from previous hikers. Most importantly print the trail map. There will be times throughout your hike that your internet connection may be a little sketchy. Learn as much as you possibly can about the trail before leaving home, especially if it will be your first time hiking it.
Keep a Friend Informed
I feel that this is the most important tip that I can give when hiking solo. Once you have determined where you will be hiking, advise a trusted friend or family member and let them know your expected time of completing the trail.
Just One Tip: Leave a piece of paper on the dash or your vehicle with your name, name of trail you will be hiking, time of department, and emergency contact information. If a ranger or passer-by notices a car late into the evening this will alert them.
Stay Within Your Comfort Zone
I am usually a very strong proponent of stepping outside of your comfort zone. Hiking is one area that I strongly advise against it! Pick a trail that you think that you will feel comfortable and safe hiking alone and that is compatible with your fitness level.
Yes, you want it to be challenging but I would recommend achieving this by choosing a trail that is a longer distance, not a trail that exceeds your physical capabilities.
Don’t Be Quiet, Make Some Noise
Prior to hitting the trail, familiarize yourself with the animals that inhibit the trail/forest that you will be hiking. This will determine if you need to take additional precautions. If you are hiking in the mountains, especially during the summer months, you might want to take bear spray with you. At the very least, when hiking this kind of trail alone, make sure that you make plenty of noise. It is okay to sing or talk to yourself along the way.
Pay Attention to the Trail Markers
Many trails are very clearly marked, but not all of them are. Always pay attention to the trail markers along your route, especially if it is an in-out trail.
Take Note of How Busy the Trail Is
If the trail is highly travelled, you will likely feel a lot safer and more comfortable hiking solo. If you run encounter any problems along the trail there will always be somebody there to help you out.
Stay on the Trail
Trails are usually marked for a reason. It is important to stay on the trail for your own safety. Whenever venturing off of the trail, you risk getting lost or encountering danger.
Stay on Dry Land
There will be times that you may come across a river that will make the hike quicker if you cross it. It is not advisable to hike through any rivers or streams when you are hiking alone. It is always safest to stay on dry land if at all possible and to find an alternate way to cross. If other hikers are in the area and it is absolutely necessary to cross through the river or stream, ask if you can join them until you are safely across the river.
Don’t Hike After Dark
It is always important to determine the expected time of sunset and the length of time that it will take you to complete the trail. It is never safe to hike alone after dark. You want to make sure that your hike will be completed prior to sunset.
Whenever hiking, whether solo or with others, there is always the possibility of getting lost or encountering other problems. If you do happen to get lost or encounter difficulties during your hike, it is important to remember the following:
- don’t panic
- stay where you are, it will be easier to locate you if you stay in one spot
- sound an alarm (blow a whistle, scream, play music from your phone, etc.). Do whatever it takes to lead someone to your location
- if you are in severe danger, DO NOT call a family member. Call 911!
I hope that I haven’t scared you off from hiking alone, as it really is one of the most peaceful experiences that you will have. Take your time, breathe in the air, and enjoy the forest! Who knows, the trails are also the perfect place to make new friends.
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