For many people, hiking the trails with your family, a group of friends, or your partner is one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a weekend day. You can get a great workout while also enjoying valuable social time.
However, there’s also something to be said about the benefits of solo hiking, as many hikers don’t have a large network of buddies to go hiking with anyway.
Solo hiking is extremely popular, as hiking tends to draw people who are fairly introverted, but hiking by yourself can be risky if you aren’t prepared or knowledgeable about how to solo hike safely.
In this solo hiking guide, we will cover tips and best practices for hiking by yourself safely so that whether you prefer hiking alone or just have to default to that option based on your social network, you are safe and confident on the trails for all types of solo hiking adventures.
We will cover:
- Is It Safe to Hike By Yourself?
- What are the Potential Risks of Hiking Alone?
- Safety Tips for Hiking Alone
Let’s get started!
Is It Safe to Hike By Yourself?
When you are in the early planning stages of your first solo hike, it’s normal to wonder whether it is safe to hike alone.
The good news is that, in general, solo hiking can be completely safe as long as you are prepared, stay aware of your surroundings on the trail, and follow appropriate safety precautions for hiking by yourself.
What are the Potential Risks of Hiking Alone?
There are a few potential dangers or risks associated with hiking by yourself, including the following:
- Getting lost
- Getting injured
- Natural events, such as storms or floods
- Encountering wild animals
- Encountering dangerous people
Listing the potential dangers of hiking alone are not meant to scare you or deter you but should serve as a reminder that there are inherent risks associated with any type of hiking, as well as some dangers with solo hiking in particular.
Let’s look at how we can best avoid these risks.
Safety Tips for Hiking Alone
The degree to which you feel confident in your ability to safely do any type of solo hiking hinges upon being prepared and having safety contingency plans for hiking by yourself.
Here are some tips for how to stay safe when hiking alone:
#1: Pick a Manageable Goal
Particularly if you are embarking on your first solo hiking adventure, it’s prudent to start small.
In other words, rather than taking on a multi-day trek or summiting a significant peak for your first hike alone, start with an easy hike that’s shorter in duration.
It can be a great idea to start with a trail you’ve already hiked before. That way, you don’t have to worry about any unforeseen challenges with the route itself.
Plus, you’ll already have confidence in your ability to handle the hike itself, allowing you to focus your attention on the new challenges of hiking alone.
You can always tackle a more technical and arduous hike by yourself later on after you’ve become a master at solo hiking.
#2: Do Your Research
As the Boy Scouts say, “Be prepared.”
Planning ahead as much as possible is your ticket to the most successful solo hiking adventure.
Make sure you have as much information about the terrain for the trail you will be hiking.
Use resources such as AllTrails.com, which outlines the difficulty level of the hike, the elevation gain, and the type of terrain.
Make sure you are respecting your physical abilities and not choosing something that seems like a big reach in terms of what you can handle.
Find out what would be the best time to hike in the region you will be on the trail. Depending on the area there can be significant differences in terms of weather and trail conditions between the seasons.
Look into the weather forecast so that you have an idea of what kind of gear you will need for the conditions you will face.
Research the type of wildlife in the area as well as how to respond to it (for example, what to do if you see a bear, what are the poisonous snakes or spiders in the area, etc.)
Familiarize yourself with a description of the route from a hiking guidebook or online hiking forum.
It’s also a good idea to see if you can get in touch with the local ranger station to speak with an expert about the trails you plan to hike and to alert them that you’ll be hiking alone.
They will have the most up-to-date and accurate information about the condition of the trail and safety concerns solo hikers should be aware of.
Finally, it’s also important to have the correct contact information for the land manager in the area where you will be hiking should you run into any problems.
#3: Share Your Itinerary
Have a designated person who has all of your contact information and a detailed itinerary of your hike.
Check-in with them as soon as you leave and when you have completed your hike, if not additional times during the hike itself if you have service.
However, do not make plans to communicate mid-hike unless you are certain that you will be able to do so because if they are expecting to hear from you but you do not have viable service, your point of contact will be worried and left trying to determine if you need help.
It’s also important that you stick to your plan once you have shared it with your loved ones.
If you end up deciding you want to tack on a bunch of miles at the end of your hike but don’t have a way to contact them; you can set off an unnecessary panic.
#4: Bring A Satellite Device
Buy a satellite device with two-way texting capabilities and bring it with you in your pack.
Although these devices aren’t guaranteed to work in all areas, they can often be the most reliable way to contact rescuers if you need emergency support on the trail.
They do require a patent view of the sky, so they might not work on heavily-wooded trails.
A step up in reliability would be to bring a ham radio, as these devices don’t depend on being without a clear view of the sky.
You have to take a basic certification class to learn how to use the ham radio, but then you get your own handle or nickname, which is entered into a database, enabling emergency contact personnel to look up your information should you radio in.
#5: Pack Signaling Equipment
If you do end up needing emergency help, basic signaling gear such as a whistle, bright clothing, and even a glow stick can be helpful.
#6: Pace Yourself
When you are hiking alone, you’re conceivably not talking to anybody unless you are talking to yourself aloud, which can make it more difficult to gauge your effort.
In other words, you might be used to hiking at a conversational pace, but when you first start solo hiking, it’s natural to take up a faster hiking pace.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it can be a great workout, but if you don’t pace yourself appropriately and you don’t have the fitness level to support your increased hiking speed, you might end up petered out and exhausted before the end of your hike without any help to bail you out of the trail.
Make sure you’re walking at a comfortable pace that you can sustain for the duration of your planned hike.
#7: Play Mind Games
There will likely be times during every solo hiking adventure when you are not in the best head space.
Whether you are simply bored, lonely, or tired, or you are battling a more troubling emotion such as anxiety, panic, or dread, having a mental game plan can help you get through tough times.
You might want to play trail games like counting certain items you see, singing, pondering big questions, or just practicing mindfulness and enjoying the stillness of solitude.
#8: Leave the Headphones At Home
However, any type of headphones that block your ears can put you in danger of surprise attacks from wild animals or seedy people.
There are bone conduction headphones that leave your ears completely open, or playing your audio device out loud, as long as it’s quiet enough to fully hear your surroundings, are safer options though still not ideal.
#9: Choose a Well-Traveled Route
The trail that you select is important. It is best to choose trails that are relatively well-traveled, accessible, and in areas where you might be able to receive cell service.
One of the biggest dangers of hiking alone, particularly for women, is the potential risk of running into human predators.
Hiking in areas where you are more likely to see groups of people or other solo hikers is one way to somewhat mitigate this risk because the high foot traffic might deter seedy people.
#10: Leave Your Hiking Plan In Your Car
When you park at the trailhead for your solo hiking adventure, leave your detailed itinerary and contact information in the glove compartment of your car or in some readily accessible place.
This may seem counterintuitive because you don’t want the wrong people to know where you’re going, but it’s typically worth the risk since it can help the right people find you and help you if need be.
#11: Stay Off Social Media
While it’s all well and good to snap some Instagram-worthy pictures during your adventure, wait until you are back home to post them, particularly if your account is not private.
You do not want everyone to know your whereabouts because the right information in the wrong hands can be disastrous.
#12: Bring Your Dog
If you have a canine companion, what better bonding experience than hiking together?
A dog can be your best ally when you are hiking alone.
Not only will your pup feel like a social companion, but animals also have helpful survival instincts that humans simply lack.
Your dog may hear and smell things that do not register with you, potentially warning you about wild animals or human intruders.
If you run into an emergency situation, your dog may also be able to help retrieve rescuers to come to your aid.
#13: Bring a Compass
Knowing how to read a map and compass is crucial in case your GPS fails, or you otherwise lose your way.
Bring a compass and topographical maps of the area you are hiking in.
#14: Don’t Forget Hiking Gear Essentials
You’ll need various pieces of essential gear such as appropriate insulation and clothing, first-aid supplies, a headlamp with spare batteries, a knife and repair tools, fire-making supplies such as waterproof matches and a butane lighter, and an emergency shelter.
Of course, you will also need all of your hiking fuel, such as energy-dense snacks and plenty of water.
A water filtration unit or tablets are also a must-have item in your kit.
Check and double-check that you have everything you need.
Solo hiking can be a great way to grow as a person, discover things about yourself and the natural world, and achieve things you never thought possible.
Just be sure you’re prioritizing your safety whenever you go hiking by yourself.
To help calculate how long you will take on a specific hike, check out our average hiking speed guide to gauge your next adventure.