Hiking alone can be peaceful and the perfect way to spend some quality time with yourself. Hiking alone can also be terrifying. Is that a cougar stalking me? Is that bearded dude hiking towards me dangerous? And what about Bigfoot? Don't worry those fears are mostly just in your head (except for Bigfoot) and taking a solo hike has some major advantages. You won't need to worry about that friend that's never on time, or waiting at the top of every switch back for a slow hiking partner, and you get to be fully in charge of the adventure you have. While hiking alone isn't as safe as using the buddy system and hiking with a friend, there are a few simple things you can do to have an epic solo adventure.
Planning is extra important when hiking alone. Check the weather report for the area you will be hiking, and adjust your gear and clothing accordingly. Research the trail you plan to hike online. Reading recent trail reports will let you know what to expect and provide important tips about finding the trailhead, trail conditions, warnings about bear activity and more. If being alone in the woods gives you anxiety, look for a trail that is well traveled. Hiking a popular trail will ensure you are usually within eyesight or earshot of other hikers.
Do you want to end up cutting your arm off with a pocket knife or starving to death in the backcountry? Well, that is what can happen if you don't let someone know where you are going. Ok, that might be an unlikely scenario, but it happened to Aron Ralston and Chris McCandless. Letting someone know where you are going is as easy as calling your mom or texting a friend. Tell them where you are hiking with details about the trailhead and destination (especially if the trail branches off to different destinations), and when you hope to be home. Let them know you will call or text them when you are back safe and sound.
You should have the 10 Essentials with you on every hike, but on a solo hike they become even more important. If something goes wrong you need to be prepared to build a fire, treat injuries, and survive the elements all on your own.
The 10 Essentials Are:
Resources: If you aren't familiar with the details of each of the ten categories of the 10 Essentials, we recommend reading our Guide to the 10 Essentials.
It's ok to challenge yourself on a solo hike, but know your limits and be conservative when selecting a trail and estimating how long you will need to complete a route. Pay attention to your instincts and trust your gut. If you're feeling fatigued it's ok to turn around. If the weather takes an unexpected turn it's ok to head back to the trailhead. It's always smart to play it safe when hiking alone.
If you want extra peace of mind consider purchasing an emergency beacon. These tiny devices can be set to periodically update friends and family of your exact location and in an emergency can send a distress signal that will alert search and rescue.
Remember, the best part of hiking alone is being free to hike your own hike. So enjoy the trail and the freedom of being able to take breaks when you want or extending your hike to check out the view from that next ridge. And don't forget to take plenty of pictures so you can share with friends post-hike.
Austin lives in the Pacific Northwest where he enjoys hiking and backpacking in the Olympic and Cascade mountains.
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