For many people, solo hiking is considered both scary and dangerous. Dangerous because if something happens then you’re all by yourself, and scary, because the idea of being completely alone in nature can be absolutely terrifying. However, it certainly doesn’t have to be and, in fact, hiking alone can actually be an incredibly rewarding experience.
I’m an avid solo hiker. In fact, I mostly hike alone. From short day hikes to multi-day treks, I’m quite happy and comfortable to be out on the trail hiking alone as a woman. It’s certainly a confidence that I’ve slowly built over the last few years, but I’ve always tried to never let fear stop me from doing anything and that includes hitting a trail by myself.
I’m used to people either telling me that I’m crazy or that it’s dangerous, but I also happen to think that solo hiking is the most rewarding thing you can do for yourself. It’s also not as dangerous as you might think if you properly prepare.
So, I’ve put together this guide to solo hiking that covers everything from the benefits of it to practical tips on safety and planning. This post will help you get the most out of a solo hike, as well as, make sure that you’re completely prepared for it. It might even persuade you to hit the trail alone for the first time!
Should you actually hike solo
Some people would argue that hiking alone is never a good idea. The risks for some far outweigh any benefits. So, is it ever a good idea to hike solo? Well, I wouldn’t be writing this guide if I thought it wasn’t.
Still, I acknowledge that hiking alone carries serious risks and without adequate experience or knowledge it can be quite dangerous. It’s common for many national parks or trail guidelines to recommend not walking alone, however, it really comes down to being a personal choice or preference.
I also have to say that when it comes to questioning whether hiking alone is a good idea, it’s usually directed at women. Some people consider being a woman on your own as being inherently dangerous. There have been countless times when people have warned me of the dangers of hiking alone and I’m sure that my male counterparts probably don’t experience this quite as often. However, in my opinion, the dangers of solo hiking are pretty similar no matter your gender and being a female does not automatically mean that it’s something you shouldn’t do.
At the end of the day, many of the risks can be mitigated by planning and preparing properly and following general safety tips for hiking. In my experience, being alone also makes you much more aware of your surroundings and in tune with your body that it can actually mean accidents are less likely. Either way, going out in the wilderness alone will always carry risks but if you have a read of these solo hiking tips at least you’ll be more aware of what it might require.
Benefits of hiking alone
I’m going to start this post on a lighter note and explore the benefits of hiking alone (because there are many). This could actually be a blog post topic in itself and I could write all day about the benefits of hiking. Here’s just a quick run-down of why going for a solo hike could be a good idea:
You don’t have to wait for someone else
Have you ever wanted to do something and then decided not to because nobody else wanted to go with you? This is why getting comfortable with solo hiking can be a great advantage. You simply don’t have to wait for anyone else and you can make all the decisions yourself about where you go and how long you hike.
You can hike at your own pace
Everyone has their own way of doing things and it’s the same when it comes to hiking. Some people stop to take photos every ten steps, while other people don’t want to stop until they reach the end. Hiking alone means you can set your own pace and rhythm of your hike. For me, this is one of the most enjoyable parts of hiking alone.
It builds character
On a less physical note, hiking alone can be a real character-building exercise. It requires, and at the same time, builds a genuine sense of self-confidence. It can foster self-assurance in knowing that you’re completely capable on your own and there is also a real achievement in doing something by yourself. These are qualities that can help you in many other life situations.
It refreshes your mind
Sometimes a simple walk can completely refresh your headspace. Getting away from your busy life and all its distractions and just doing something simple like putting one foot in front of the other for hours can be almost meditative.
It also gives you plenty of time to think and work through things that might be stuck in your head. It’s amazing how many times I’ve come back from a walk or hike with so much inspiration or renewed motivation.
There is a kind of unanimous agreement now even in the scientific community that reconnecting with nature has all kinds of benefits for our mental and emotional state. You can read a nice summary of the evidence here.
It teaches you new skills
Whether it be something practical like navigation or something more internal like knowing how to overcome fear or getting outside of your comfort zone, there are plenty of skills that being outdoors can teach us. Hiking solo can also provide additional challenges and overcoming these can teach us more about ourselves.
You can enjoy nature even more
Often when you’re alone you’re more hyper-aware of your surroundings. Instead of being distracted by another person, you can pay attention to the flowers or the wind in the trees or the birds chirping in the background. You can sometimes appreciate things, even more, when you’re completely alone.
Planning for a solo hike
Now onto more practical things. When it comes to planning your solo hike, you should be thorough when it comes to picking a trail and understanding what it entails and the conditions you’ll encounter. This will then inform much of your other preparation.
Pick an easier or popular trail
If you’ve never hiked alone before, then picking something easy or familiar is a great introduction. This way it makes things simpler and you won’t have to worry as much about other things like navigation or safety.
If the idea of being completely alone in the wilderness is scary for you, then choose a place where you know you’ll come across other hikers. Picking a popular trail or national park is a good stepping stone for hiking alone. This way if something was to happen or there was a sudden change in conditions, you can be reassured that there will be other people around. You can usually guarantee that a popular trail will also be easier to follow and likely more well looked after which might also lessen some other risks as well.
Know what the trail will entail
You should never start a walk without knowing basic information about it, but for solo hiking this can be even more important. Make sure that you know the distance, elevation, terrain and average walking time at a bare minimum. This will then help you prepare more practically and safely for your hike.
You should also do some research on whether you need a permit or if there are any national park fees that you need to be aware of. Parking and logistics are also things that you need to do know about, as well as, park closure times if they exist.
At this stage, you should also consider whether you have ample navigation or informationabout the hike to carry with you. You might find a combination of a GPS file or an app on your phone, a paper map, screenshots from a blog write up or a walking brochure. The more information from various sources that you have the better prepared you can be.
I recommend having Maps.Me downloaded on your phone. This is one of the best offline GPS apps for all travel and hiking purposes and all solo hikers should have it. In your planning phase, make sure that the trail is marked on Maps.Me and pin some important points for reference. AllTrails is another resource and app that you can use for trail planning and this also has reviews from other hikers which can offer important information from people’s experience.
Check the weather
You should always do some basic research on what kind of weather you should expect on the hike. This can be basic seasonal patterns that are common to the area such as rainfall which will help when it comes to packing.
The day before you should also look up a more detailed weather report so you can be more precise as what to expect. If the weather report makes you a little nervous, it’s perfectly fine to postpone your hike.
Although some people don’t consider weather as a big obstacle to hiking, it can definitely make things more challenging and uncomfortable and if you’re hiking alone this might not be ideal.
Preparing for a solo hike
Have some experience
Before you go off hiking alone, it’s best if you have some bushwalking or backcountry experience under your belt. Hiking with someone else first or going on a group trek can teach you the basics of hiking if it’s something completely new to you.
However, if you don’t have anyone to get experience with, you can still start small and build from there. Like I said above, picking an easier or more popular trail can help you build experience before tackling a more serious solo hike.
Make sure you pack the 10 essentials
Solo hikers need to be self-sufficient. The risks that come with being completely on your own mean that you need to be fully prepared to deal with anything that happens by yourself. This means what you pack for your hike is very important.
The generally accepted 10 essentials for hiking are:
- Appropriate clothing
- Emergency blanket or shelter
- Map and navigation
- Sun protection
- First aid
- Fire starters
- Knife or multitool
These essentials will help you navigate and survive any kind of hike. They are recommended simply because they cover basic survival as well as what might be required in more serious emergencies.
Packing light is more difficult for solo hikers because you can’t share the load with anyone. It means you have to carry everything that you’ll need on your own back and this can often lead to unnecessarily heavy packs.
A heavy pack can not only make your hike more uncomfortable, but it can also be an added hazard. If you’re not used to carrying such a heavy load you can be slower, more off-balance and not as agile. I made this mistake with not training enough with a heavy pack for the Larapinta Trail. On the first day, I tripped and fell simply due to struggling with my balance because I wasn’t used to carrying a heavy load on my back.
With training or experience, you can get used to carrying a pack, but it can also be helpful to try and reduce your weight as much as possible to make things easier for yourself.
Safety tips for solo hiking
Safety is the biggest concern for solo hikers. This is where you need to be really cautious and prepared to lessen the potential risks of being alone on a trail. It might sound alarming, but you do need to be prepared for emergencies or any other issues that might come up while you’re outdoors alone.
Tell someone where you’re going
The most important and basic thing you can do is to tell someone where you’re going. It can be family or a friend but make sure that at least one person knows where you’re going, which trail you’ll be using and how long you’ll be gone.
Pack a PLB or satellite phone
A Personal location Beacon (PLB) or satellite phone are important safety items to carry with you as a solo hiker, especially if you plan on going somewhere remote or with no phone signal.
Although the 10 essentials for hiking listed above includes many things that will help you survive on the trail, you also need a way of alerting someone if something happens. A PLB or satellite phone can send a distress signal and prompt an emergency rescue, if necessary.
Although a PLB or satellite phone should be carried by anyone going into remote wilderness, as a solo hiker there’s a greater responsibility and need to be able to contact someone with the absence of anyone else being able to help you.
Understand the potential dangers
In the planning phase and before you leave on your hike, you should research and understand the potential dangers that you might encounter. This might be different for every trail or national park or country and you should be looking at the most up to date and relevant information, preferably from a reliable source such as a government or national park website.
Dangers or risks might include:
- Animals such as bears or snakes or insects such as mosquitoes.
- Trail conditions like rocky ground or overgrown trails.
- Altitude and the potential for Acute Mountains Sickness (AMS).
- Snow, extreme heat or any other seasonal risks that you might need to be prepared for.
You also should pay attention to recent changes on trails, such as after bushfires or heavy snowfall. This can usually be found on official websites.
Be vigilant of your surroundings
If you’re hiking alone, it’s important to be vigilant while you’re on the trail. Pay attention to the ground in front of you, as well as, people or animals that are around you.
I find that I’m instinctively much more vigilant when I’m alone. You’re often more tuned in to your own body and notice your surroundings without distractions of other people. However, after hours of walking anyone can sometimes get too complacent or disengaged and lose concentration so it’s important to remind yourself to remain vigilant.
An important and perhaps controversial point about being vigilant is walking with earphones or music on. Most people agree that hiking alone with music is not a great idea because it can muffle any noises that you might need to pay attention to. However, I’m not going to be a hypocrite because I personally prefer to hike with earphones. Although I usually just have one earpiece in, and I never have it on super loud so I can still hear what’s going on around me. It really comes down to how confident and comfortable you are on the trail.
Don’t push beyond your limits
Another important solo hiking safety tip is to not push yourself too hard. A good skill is to know your own boundaries and limits, and this will only come with experience and listening to yourself. You should never go beyond what you think you’re capable or comfortable doing, especially if that might increase your risk.
There’s nothing wrong with turning around or cutting a hike short if something doesn’t feel right or you think you’re going beyond your skillset. I’ve done this before while hiking alone in deep snow in Nepal, I simply turned around knowing that I didn’t have the experience and I could possibly be putting myself in danger by doing it alone. It’s perfectly sensible and appropriate to listen to yourself.
You really don’t want to have to use that PLB or satellite phone if you can help it!
Have fun and be kind
The most important part of hiking is to have fun and enjoy it. You might think that hiking alone can’t be much fun without the company of other people, but you’d be very wrong.
Enjoy your own company
The best part of solo hiking is enjoying your own company. It forces you to spend time alone and in your own head and although that might seem very scary at first it can be very therapeutic.
As I outlined above, many of the benefits of solo hiking can come from the internal rather than the practical. Learning to be comfortable with yourself is one of life’s true gifts and solo hiking can be one of the best ways to do this.
Taking your own photos
Many people have asked me how I get photos of myself if I hike alone. Two things help with this: a tripod and self-timer.
Hiking alone doesn’t mean that you won’t get any nice photos of yourself, it just means you need to be more creative. You don’t have to invest in an expensive tripod either with plenty of cheaper alternatives available for phones or cameras.
You can also simply ask other hikers to take your photo for you if you happen to be at a nice spot or viewpoint at the same time. Most people don’t have any problems doing this for someone by themselves.
Be friendly to others on the trail
Trail etiquette is a solo hiking essential. Hikers are generally some of the nicest people you can meet and there is usually a very friendly atmosphere on trails. If you’re new to hiking, make sure that you reciprocate and say hello as you pass people. It’s also important to give right of way to people walking uphill and to let faster walkers pass you; this is generally common trail etiquette.
It might sound minor, but adhering to basic trail etiquette is polite and provides a more enjoyable experience for everyone. After all, we’re all out enjoying the same nature as each other.
Being kind is also important for solo hikers because a simple smile and hello can mean a lot when you’re alone. It can also initiate conversations on the trail with fellow hikers. Even though I hike alone a lot, I equally enjoy having a conversation with a fellow hiker at a viewpoint or campsite at the end of the day.
Leave no trace
When it comes to being kind on the trail, that also means to the trail itself and the environment that you’re exploring. Adhering to leave no trace principles is important to preserve these places for future use.
Simply carry all your rubbish out with you and leave nothing behind except your footprints.
The seven leave no trace principles are:
- Plan ahead and prepare.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
- Dispose of waste properly.
- Leave what you find.
- Minimise campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife.
- Be considerate of other visitors.
You can read more about the leave no trace initiative here.