We’ve all been there – maybe you’re new in town or have found yourself with an empty weekend and have no one to explore with, or perhaps your schedule just can’t line up with your friends’. But regardless of the reason, this may beg the question, is it safe to hike alone? The answer is yes! Being solo certainly does not need to end your adventure before it begins.
If you are someone with an unusual work schedule, who travels often, or are looking to get outside on your own schedule, hiking alone can be a freeing experience if you do it safely.
Like most new endeavors, hiking alone can seem intimidating; however, with the proper preparation and knowledge, hiking solo is safe and empowering. To help you mitigate and control the potential safety risks, see the below tips to keep you safe while getting started on your solo journey!
1: Start Small
While hiking alone is often depicted through the stories of lengthy endeavors or epic circumstances, hiking alone can be what you make it! Your first hike (and any hikes after that) does not have to be far, extreme, or to unknown places.
To get used to hiking alone, picking a trail close to home, one you’ve been on before, or one you have walked with a friend first can be helpful. You may also want to consider going on a guided hike in a new area to get a feel for the terrain and to learn a few things from your experienced guide.
Once you’re comfortable, consider hiking on a new to you, well-established, and populated trail. Some popular trails have maps at intersections (but always bring your own!), and there is often comfort in seeing others around. From here, the possibilities to increase your adventure and push your comfort zone are endless.
2: Know Your Trail
One of the most important aspects of hiking alone is researching your route. The depth of this research may vary depending on the types and lengths of trails you choose. No matter the trail, be sure to note the general direction you will be traveling, the length of the route, possible exits, turnaround options, the type of terrain you’ll encounter, and important features or landmarks such as rivers, intersecting trails, and more.
Part of knowing your trail is also knowing what you may encounter. This may include wildlife, flora and fauna, exposure, closures, and more. When it comes to wildlife, be sure to inform yourself about the various animals and how to respond if you encounter them. For example, hiking in areas with Grizzy Bears usually means you will need to carry bear spray and know how to use it. Some areas may also have seasonal closures due to conditions, wildlife breeding/nesting patterns, or areas to avoid to due to damage or erosion. No matter the reason, check online, at state park offices, or wherever is needed to get the information you need to prepare for what’s ahead.
3: Carry a Navigation Tool
Some trails have maps for users at the trailhead entrance; some have occasional maps throughout the trail system. However, many trails have no markers or directions for where you are or where the trail goes. Consider using a paper map with a compass, a GPS device, or other technology to navigate as needed.
There are many tools available online and via phone applications to help with navigation. Some common resources include Gaia GPS, All Trails, or Hiking Project. If you like gadgets, many smartwatches now offer GPS maps and safety features that allow you to retrace your steps to your starting location. Other options (especially for hikers who venture into more remote territory) worth exploring are handheld GPS devices, satellite phones, and other safety gadgets such as the ones offered by Garmin.
4: Tell Someone Where You’re Going
Sometimes in life, things don’t go as planned, no matter how much you prepare. Therefore, it is imperative that you tell a close, trusted, and available friend or family member about your plan. Be sure to tell them which trail you will be on, the intended direction and length of travel, as well as the approximate time you should return home and contact them.
The goal, of course, is that this is a backup and never needed. It may seem simple; however, this easy step in planning may just be the one thing that saves your life or gets you the help you need if the unexpected happens.
5: Carry The 10 Essentials
The 10 essentials are made up of various emergency and first aid items. They include navigation items (discussed above), sun protection, insulation and clothing layers, illumination, first aid supplies, fire-starting equipment, repair kit and tools, food/nutrition, hydration, and emergency shelter.
These are items that, if you need them, you do not want to be caught without them! These items make all the difference when it comes to the safety of hiking alone. Hiking has potential risks, but many of these risks can be mitigated and prepared for with the above items. The degree to which you carry some of these items may vary based on a number of factors specific to your hike, so again, do your research.
6: Know The Weather
When you are outside, mother nature is in control. Be sure to look up the weather patterns for the area you are hiking. Of course, be sure to look at the weather forecast for the day you plan to hike, but also consider the weather patterns of the previous days to get a better picture of the trail conditions. For example, a week’s worth of rain before your trip may mean muddy conditions and partially flooded trails.
Additionally, mountains can have unique weather patterns such as afternoon storms in the summer, snow, changes in cloud cover, or wind. Therefore, the weather can vary dramatically at different elevations, and it may be challenging to get an accurate forecast. For example, if you are going up to hike at elevation, the forecast and weather patterns may be different up high than from a town or city below. If you plan to hike in the winter or at elevation where there can be winter conditions, be sure to check out Broadmoor’s tips for safely hiking in the winter.
7: Know Your Limits
Everyone has different abilities. This spectrum of capabilities can vary from outdoor knowledge, fitness, weather, or time limits. You may want to ask yourself: what am I hoping to get out of this hike? Have I done a comparable hike before? Is this within my knowledge or fitness abilities? Is this within my risk tolerance (distance, technical difficulty, conditions, exposure/ hights)?
A fun aspect of hiking for many people is pushing your own limits. But remember, doing this a little bit at a time is okay. Don’t overwhelm yourself or put yourself at risk by getting too far out of your limits. Trust what feels right to you both before and during your hike, and make sure to listen to your body. Make hiking alone an activity you can return to, love, and enjoy.
So, is it safe to hike alone? Yes. And by keeping the tips above in mind, hiking alone can be a safe activity and may just open up a whole new world of possibilities.