Aren’t you scared?
It is a question I get a lot — or at least some variant of it. The answer is always no, not really.
I’m an avid hiker and often find myself participating solo. After all, if I always waited for someone to be available to go with me, I’d probably still be sitting on the sofa in my living room. When a friend had to bow out of a hike into the Grand Canyon, I had an unexpected decision to make. Rather than cancel the trip, I decided to ditch my fears and go solo.
Hiking is a fantastic way to enjoy nature and get off the beaten path when exploring a new destination. With a bit of preparation, you can feel safe while hiking solo. So, don’t miss out if you can’t find a hiking buddy.
Here are my favorite tips for staying safe and feeling comfortable on a solo hike.
1. Know Your Ability And Your Limits
I’m putting this one first because it’s essential. When researching a destination, we can all get caught up in the swoon-worthy photos of majestic peaks and roaring waterfalls, but it’s important not to bite off more than you can chew. Look at the mileage (don’t forget those miles on the trail are more difficult than on a sidewalk) and elevation gain.
Stick to well-traveled and popular trails. Even though you’re solo, you’ll most likely encounter other hikers at least every thirty minutes or so. At some of the most popular routes, you’ll never be out of the eyesight of others on the trail.
Know what you can handle initially and build from there, working your way up to the longer hike. When it comes to your body, a little challenge is a good thing. Please resist the temptation to overdo it or get in over your head.
Editor’s Note: Use the AllTrails filters to identify a hike that best fits your ability and goals. You can search for hiking difficulty rating (easy, moderate, hard), trail length and elevation, view weather forecasts, read user reviews, and discover trails that are popular or highly trafficked.
2. Plan Your Hike And Hike Your Plan
Rushing out without a proper plan is just asking for trouble. There are many resources available to you to pick the perfect trail. AllTrails is the most trusted and used outdoors platform in the world that helps people explore the outdoors with hand-curated trail maps along with hiking difficulty rating, trail length, and trail reviews from a global community of over 50 million trail-goers..
Pro Tip: Remember that reviews are subjective. One person’s rating of hard can easily be someone else’s warmup. Be sure to be comfortable with the distance and the elevation gain. Use the AllTrails+ Trail Previews feature to get a feel for the trail before leaving home. Checkout the terrain, elevation at specific points, and get an immersive preview of any trail.
If you’re in a state or national park, rangers are available at the visitor’s centers to assist you in choosing the perfect adventure, and they, of course, have tons of intel on what to expect.
3. A Word About Wildlife
We all want to see a mama deer with her babies in a field or a majestic hawk swooping and soaring overhead, but we probably draw the line at some of the wildlife we perceive as threatening.
Most animals are skittish and want to steer clear of you. They won’t willingly attack unless they feel threatened by you or someone in your group. The best way to achieve this non-threatening approach is to keep your distance from wildlife on the trail. The appropriate distance varies by species, but a good rule of thumb is that you are too close if you cause the animal to move.
4. Bring A Whistle
A whistle can be helpful in many situations, from warding off unleashed dogs to alerting rescue crews if you are injured or lost. Sometimes whistles are already attached or built into a backpack. If your pack doesn’t come with a whistle, this one from Whistles for LIFE will do the trick.
5. Don’t Rely On Your Phone
Technology is excellent, and it’s easy to assume that help is merely a phone call away, but cell coverage is unreliable on the trail. Typically I put my phone on airplane mode and use it only as a camera. This prevents the battery from draining while constantly searching for a signal. Plus, who wants to hear the ubiquitous chime of an iPhone while out enjoying nature?
With AllTrails+, you can download maps so you know where you are, even without cell service, and access them offline or in airplane mode. You can also print maps in advance if you prefer a paper reference.
I prefer a paper map in my backpack (bonus points if it’s in a baggie, so it can’t get wet). Also, snap a picture of the trail map and info that’s typically on the signage at the trailhead.
6. Tell Someone Where You’re Going
When I first started hiking, I was about four miles out in the Talladega National Forest on a gorgeous fall day when I tripped and fell. The fall didn’t hurt anything but my pride, but the incident got me thinking. I had decided to make the trek on a whim, driving about an hour from my home, and no one knew where I was. What if I had sprained an ankle or worse?
From then on, I started leaving my hike plan with my husband. I text him what time I’m starting, my route, the trails I’m using, and how long I expect to be out. I’ll even text him a picture of the trail map and information sign at the trailhead if possible.
Editor’s Note: AllTrails+ includes a Lifeline feature, which alerts your designated emergency contacts about your planned start and ending time, as well as your starting and ending locations so they can track you.
7. Check The Weather
While most people worry about the wildlife (see above), they often don’t give the weather much thought. This is a big mistake. Even if the forecast is balmy and beautiful, throwing a few extra layers in your pack doesn’t hurt because you never know. Weather can change suddenly and, at the very least, ruin your fun.
8. Trust Your Gut
If your instincts say something’s up, it probably is. If anything or anyone makes you uncomfortable, it’s okay to turn around and bail out early. I can honestly say that this has happened to me only once over hundreds of hikes. Hikers, hands down, seem to be some of the best people on the planet.
9. Carry The Ten Essentials
Some items have been listed previously, but here are the ten essentials for easy reference. I store them in my pack. Short or long hikes, these items should be with you no matter what:
- AllTrails+ navigation (topographic map and a compass)
- sun protection
- insulation/extra clothing
- illumination (headlamp or flashlight; spare batteries)
- first aid supplies
- fire-making supplies (butane lighters, waterproof matches, fire starters)
- knife and repair tools
- emergency shelter
Double-check before you head out to see if anything needs replacing or updating.
Don’t miss out on a hike because you’re solo. Enjoy nature’s beauty and the empowerment you’ll gain from ditching your fear.
Instead of being scared, be prepared. Save time, stay safe, and be prepared on the trail with AllTrails+. Try AllTrails+ for 7-days free!