I love hiking alone. So much so, that I usually get outside for solo adventures at least 2 or 3 times a week. Some days that looks like simply wandering my neighborhood path, others it might mean a whole afternoon of exploring the forest, and sometimes it’s even a solo day trip somewhere new. I even did my first 2-night backpacking trip here in Colorado last summer!
Don’t get me wrong, I love hiking with friends too. I love disconnecting from the world and having awesome conversations with my favorite people on the trail. I love sharing memories of summiting peaks, discovering wildflower meadows, and enjoying sunsets with others.
But there are so many fantastic things about hiking alone, too. For starters, you don’t need to depend on someone else’s schedule, and you’re free to head out into nature whenever inspiration strikes. Hiking alone builds confidence, independence, and trust within yourself. It can even help grow your intuition!
In addition to all these benefits, solo hiking can be absolutely magical. Not only do I feel more in touch with nature and the planet, I feel more connected to myself. I relax into someone who trusts where she is in life and that everything is working out for me. Problems and struggles seem to fade away. I even often gain access to answers and solutions I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
If this sounds like an experience you’d like to have, I’ve got another post coming out next week on how to tune into this magical, aligned place by heading out on solo adventures. Make sure to check it out!
So Is It Safe to Hike Alone?
My short answer is: yes. In my opinion, the benefits and the magic far outweigh the risks. I’ve been hiking alone since I was a teenager, and 99.9% of my experiences have been positive.
Have I ever tripped and skinned my knee? Yes. Have I ever had a scary encounter with wildlife? Oh yeah. Have I ever been caught in a storm? Of course. Has a shady looking guy ever asked me for a ride at a trailhead? Yep. (I said no, obviously!).
Some folks might get freaked out at the thought of these things happening if they hike alone. And that’s ok – exploring the wilderness alone isn’t for everyone. But if it’s something you feel pulled to do, I highly recommend it.
Hiking solo may require stepping out of your comfort zone a bit – but that’s where growth happens. Challenging yourself to do something that feels a little scary almost always has a beautiful reward on the other side of it!
If you’re ready to try hiking alone, here are 4 tips for making your hike a success.
Solo Hiking Tip #1: Know What You Need
Being prepared can make or break your experience of hiking alone. You may not need everything on this list for every hike (do I bring a map and compass on my local neighborhood trail? Heck no!). Use your best judgment, and if in doubt – bring it! Your pack might be a bit heavier, but you’ll learn more for next time.
Here is a packing list to get you started on any day hike:
- First-aid kit / survival kit
- Rain jacket
- Extra warm layers
- SPF Lip balm
- Hiking boots or shoes
- Map & Compass
- Portable charger for phone
- Personal locator beacon
- Trekking poles
- Toilet paper
- Hand sanitizer
For a more comprehensive list of what to pack, check out this blog post by Jenny over at Limitless Hiker.
Solo Hiking Tip #2: Know Your Route
When planning your hike, make sure to understand where you’re headed. How many miles is the hike? Is it a loop or an out-and-back? How much elevation will you gain? How much time do you expect it to take?
These days it’s easy to find the answers to these questions with apps like AllTrails and Hiking Project. You can even download trail maps on your phone – just make sure to do it before you leave. If you download ahead of time, you can see your location on your phone without a cell signal (although it may be less accurate than with a signal).
Be sure you also take a paper map and compass as a backup (and know how to use them!). In the event your phone dies or you accidentally drop it off the side of a cliff, you’ll still be able to find your way home.
Finally, before you head out, always make sure to tell a friend or family member where you’re headed and when they should expect to hear from you. This will not only make them feel better, but you’ll be able to relax knowing someone has your back if something out of the ordinary happens and you need help.
Solo Hiking Tip #3: Know the Environment
When choosing a hike, it’s important to understand what the trail is like, plus what weather and wildlife you may encounter, so you can plan and prepare accordingly (or come up with a Plan B if needed!).
Here are some good questions to ask about the environment you’ll be traveling in:
- How busy is the trail?
Is the trail very popular or off the beaten path? If you’re new to hiking alone, choosing a trail where you’ll see lots of other folks can not only put your mind at ease, but should anything unexpected happen, there will likely be someone to help (but always be prepared to be fully independent!).
- What is the terrain like?
Will you be hiking in the desert? The mountains? On the coast? What is the trail like? Rocky or smooth? Exposed or protected? Muddy or dry? Have you hiked on terrain like this before? Are you comfortable hiking on this type of terrain? Do you need to bring any special equipment like trekking poles or gaiters?
- What is the weather like?
What weather patterns are typical for the time of year? Can the weather change quickly and dramatically? Here in the Colorado high country, there might not be a single cloud in the sky and the forecast might look amazing, but an hour later, a violent thunderstorm could roll in and the temperature could drop by 30+ degrees (I’ve even seen it snow in July!). You do NOT want to be caught above treeline or without appropriate clothing when the weather turns. Know what to expect weather-wise for the area you’ll be hiking in and plan accordingly.
- What wildlife might you encounter?
How will you stay safe if you have an encounter with an animal that might be unpredictable? Do you know what to do if you happen to run into a potentially threatening animal? It can sound intimidating, but knowing what to do can give you some peace of mind as you head off into the woods alone, and protect you should something happen. REI has a great article on how to handle encounters with black bears, grizzly bears, cougars, bison, mountain goats, moose, elk, and snakes.
- Is there cell service?
Personally, I love getting off the grid because my phone stops dinging and demanding my attention. It’s so much easier to get really present and enjoy my surroundings when I’m not constantly tempted to check my phone. However, if you’re new to hiking alone, you might want to choose a trail where there’s a good signal. Cairn is an app that can help you find where there’s cell service along a trail (and update your friends and family on your whereabouts, too). I also recommend bringing a personal locator beacon, especially on longer or more remote adventures.
Solo Hiking Tip #4: Know Yourself & Be Aware
When hiking alone, it’s also important to know your limits and what you can handle. When you’re preparing for your solo hike, start small – choose a trail that’s easier than what you think you can handle and work up to more challenging trails over time. Pick a route where your chances of success will be high – it’ll (almost) guarantee you have a positive experience, plus it’ll build your confidence too. And if you’re not sure what you can handle, go with a friend first before hiking solo.
Once you set out, make sure to be situationally aware. This doesn’t mean worrying about a scary creature lurking in the shadows at every turn, but rather being fully present to your surroundings (and enjoying them!). Although it can be tempting to listen to headphones when you’re alone, you’ll likely be distracted and miss important clues about what’s going on in your environment (take it from the girl who got charged by a moose while listening to a podcast on a XC ski trail!!).
Is it Safe to Hike Alone? You Decide
Are there risks that come with hiking alone? Of course. Can things go wrong? You bet.
But my philosophy echos this quote from Pope Pius XII:
“To live without risk is to risk not living.”
Cliche as it may sound, it’s so true.
What I know is this: hiking alone lifts my mood, helps me gain answers and inspiration, connects me to the truest version of myself, and simply makes my life better. Spending time alone on the trail refreshes my spirit and nourishes my soul.
P.S. – I’ve got a whole line of art prints dedicated to inspiring and empowering you to get outside – whether you experience the magic of adventuring alone or with friends – check them out!