Let's be honest, going solo as a female hiker can be scary, but if done right it can also be one of the more empowering and fulfilling experiences. I try to plan at least one solo hike per year, there is no better way to clear your mind and get an awesome workout than to get out there on your own two feet and see where the trail takes you. Whether your going solo to clear you mind, push yourself physically, or you just plain can't find a buddy and the trail is calling your name, here are 5 tips I have picked up over the years to make your solo hiking experience safer and more enjoyable.
1. Make Friends on the Trail
You can meet some pretty awesome people on the trail or at your campsite at night. Actually some of the most awesome people I have met are either hiking or traveling. Although I often hike on my own, I like talking to people at the campsites to discuss trail conditions, see where others are heading, and maybe share some extra supplies. If your nervous about talking to people let me give you a little tip, my go to opening line is to walk over and offer people a glass of hot chocolate, I mean who can pass down hot chocolate?
Not only is it nice to chat with somebody when you have been out on the trail all day by yourself, but making friends on the trail, as a solo female hiker, can help with safety. Knowing somebody is only a few miles ahead of you, or having somebody know that you should be getting to that next campsite that night can provide an extra layer of safety. Lastly, making friends out on the trail can be motivating. Let me tell you, as much as it is nice to spend a couple days out there on your own, by day 4 or 5 hiking big days by yourself can get hard, having somebody there to grind out a day or just complain about <insert complaint about hills or heat or gear here> can sometimes provide the extra push you need to get through.
2. Bring Something to Inspire You
On that note of motivation, it is always nice to have a few items with you that strike inspiration and motivation. For me I always have my mala necklace and my music with me. The trail can be full of highs and lows, sometimes you just are not sure how you can go another step, then later on down the line you will be so grateful you did. But it is extremely hard to motivate yourself in those low times to keep going, usually when you are with somebody else they can provide that motivation (and hopefully you provide it to them as well), but when you are out in the backcountry, by yourself, nobody is there to motivation you but you. This is why I bring my mala necklace, it is just a little token that I bring with me on all my hikes to remind myself when I am really down on myself that the highs are coming. I bring my mala with me on all my hikes, so when I am feeling especially tired or like I just cannot go on, I can look down at my mala beads, which I usually have wrapped around my wrist or neck, and remember all the crazy, beautiful hikes I have made it through, and the huge sacrifice and payoff they all have offered. It may be strange but my mala is just that little symbol I carry with me to remind myself that I can do it. I also really like to bring my music, I download music on my cell phone and once I've got some good tunes playing, man can I get in the zone! Point is, find those things that remind you of your strength and motivate you, because you won't have anybody else out there except yourself.
3. Ease Into It
My first overnight by myself was just a single night, on a trail I had done multiple times before, and I was still super freaked out. I remember hiking down a steep incline and tripping on a rock, I caught myself before I fell, but my mind just went into a downward spiral of the what ifs. Even though I had hiked the trail by myself tons of times and knew the area like the back of my hand just the idea of being on your own can sometimes be overwhelming. It's already awesome that you are pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, so set yourself up for success, your first couple times pick a trail you know, something not too difficult or remote, and just give it a try. Then slowly start to add on days, miles, and difficulty. This year I hiked 4 days and 40+ miles, the year before I had hike 3 days and 35 miles, every year I just add on a few more miles, so I am challenging myself but not so far that it is unsafe. Also, when I am out there I just tell myself it is not much further than what I did last time. By building your skills and taking it slow you also build your confidence.
4. Have Wilderness Medicine Training
I can't stress enough how important it is to have some type of wilderness medicine training when you are out there solo. There are so many random accidents that can happen in the backcountry, and you may potentially be in a very remote location, remote enough that a helicopter cannot get into you and you may not see another person for days. So whether it be getting the full on Wilderness First Responder (which is an awesome thing to do btw, see my post about it
) or just taking a few day backcountry medicine course. It is so important that you know how to take care of yourself in case of an emergency. During this training you will not only practice how to treat common injuries, but you will learn how to make do with what you have and improvise what is in your pack to address your injuries and get you to safety. This is especially important while backpacking by yourself, because you will be treating yourself and in potentially a state of shock from your injuries. But hopefully your training will kick in, and you will be able to treat yourself enough to at least get you to a spot where there are others to help, whether that be a campground or road. Not to mention, it's a pretty a pretty badass skill to have in your backpocket.
5. Take it Easy on Yourself
Just the fact that you are out on the trail, solo and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, is an awesome accomplishment in itself, and it is important to recognize. So if you start to get tired, you don't feel well, maybe bad weather hits, if for whatever reason you are no longer having fun, it is important to be flexible and either change your route or bow out early. On my most recent trek, across the Trans-Catalina Trail, the first day I had a huge mountain to climb in the dead hot middle of the day, and the heat just kicked my butt. Once I got to camp I completely collapsed, after relaxing for awhile and getting my strength back up I looked at the map to confirm, I had another huge hill the next day at the height of the day, which only meant more heat. I knew I could probably do it, I mean I hike a lot, but did I want to do it? Not particularly. So I looked at the map and found a way to stay at the higher elevations I was already at, I still crossed Catalina Island on my own two feet and hiked 40+ miles, but I did not finish on the Trans-Cataline trail per say. My point is, there is absolutely no shame in doing what is best for you. I mean, that is the whole reason you are out there, right? So as soon as you cross that line into not having fun anymore its time to be honest with yourself and change plans. There is no shame in doing what is best for you!
Hopefully these tips are useful and inspire you to get out there on your first solo trek. Honestly, finishing a trail under your two feet by yourself can be extremely powerful. And it doesn't need to be some crazy extreme summit at 14,000 feet or some super long trail like the PCT, just getting outside for a single overnight to push yourself and rejuvenate can be just as fulfilling. Also, if you need some good ideas for a beginner solo trek, check out my post on the
which I highly recommend for beginners.