So you want to hit the trails but have nobody to join you. Maybe you planned a short day hike at a nearby park, or you might just have the burning desire to take a multi-day trek solo. With our busy lives, it's not always easy to round up your friends and hit the trails. Sometimes you've got no other option than to go hiking alone.
But is it safe to hike alone? Yes, it's safe to go hiking alone, so long as you take the proper steps to prepare for your hike.
How to plan your solo day hike:
- Check the weather: You should always check the weather before going on a hike, solo or not. During the winter, thunderstorms and heavy showers can come rolling in lightning quick (no pun intended). Likewise, the Summer heat can drastically spike midday.
- Pack your essential gear: Only pack the items you need, given your trail distance. It's easy to over-prepare for a solo journey and weigh yourself down. Make sure you lighten up your pack by discarding items you won't need.
- Bring enough water/hydration: Calculate how much water you will need based on the distance traveled. It doesn't hurt to bring a little extra on hot days or just as a precaution. Carrying along an electrolyte drink mix is always a good option, too, depending on the intensity of the trail—excessive sweating will drain you of electrolytes.
- Pack enough food: Make sure you have an estimate of calorie needs before going hiking alone. Being in a caloric deficit and drudging along the trail with no fuel in your belly isn't fun and can cause problems.
- Know the trail: Pick a trail you've already hiked, or choose a trail that's easily traveled and already mapped out. Hiking by yourself isn't a good time to start embarking on unmarked treks that span long distances. Knowing the trail, even if just through study, will help prevent you from getting lost.
- Pick the right time: Going hiking at night by yourself isn't a good idea. Make sure your hike is planned to finish before sundown, lest you have to worry about being stuck in the wilderness during nightfall.
- Tell 3 people your plan: Now that you're all prepped, make sure to let at least three people know about your plans, and give them an approximate estimate of when you plan to return. This is, of course, a precaution in the worst-case scenario that you go missing or get lost.
- Announce your victory: Be sure to notify those you informed about your hike that you have finished and made it back. We don't want people to get into a panic.
Now that you know how to prepare for your solo hike, let's take a moment to explore hiking alone a bit further.
Benefits Of Hiking Alone
Taking a hike by yourself can be very liberating. It's a great way to take hikes at your own pace, make pitstops your guests might not want to make, and take the time to fully enjoy the outdoors.
Aside from taking on a trail at your own speed, there are even more benefits of hiking alone:
- Connect with yourself: When you're hiking by yourself, there's less distraction from the conversation and the needs of others in your party. It's a great time to process all your thoughts, let them come and go, and truly be at peace.
- Improve your focus: Taking on a hike all by yourself makes you less dependent on others for direction. It's just you and the trail. Having no one else to guide you is a great way to sharpen your focus and improve your alertness. When you're in a group, that mental energy is distributed between other people.
- Enjoy more sights: Going on a solo hike allows you to move at your own pace. This gives you time to stop when you want and enjoy the scenery. When you hike in a group, not everyone wants to stop and admire the environment. Some want to keep moving along and travel to other areas.
- Builds mental toughness: There are no external parties spoon-feeding motivation to you when you're tired. It's completely up to you to push yourself on and keep going.
- A better sense of accomplishment: Your brain is naturally wired to look for comparison. When you hike in a group, climbing that challenging peak doesn't seem as satisfying when everyone else is doing it. Hiking by yourself is a great way to detach from comparison and set goals for yourself. Since there won't be any sense of comparison involved, achieving your trail goal will feel all the more gratifying.
- Hone your skills: Taking a hiking trip by yourself helps you learn to navigate trails better, practice better form, and improve your hiking stamina without any distractions.
- Develop problem-solving: You aren't able to rely on group-think when you're on a trail. It's up to you to handle challenges the way you best see fit. Doing this helps you improve creative problem-solving.
As you can see, going for a solo hike has some pretty good upsides.
But what about the downsides? What are the bummers when it comes to hiking by yourself?
Downsides Of Hiking Alone
The downsides to hiking alone mostly come down to safety concerns, like getting lost or falling victim to injury.
However, there are other downsides to hiking alone, especially if you're a particularly social person.
There are several hikers who will declare hiking alone as very dangerous and negligent. Their argument for this statement is your odds of getting in danger greatly increase when you're by yourself.
This is nonsense. Plenty of people complete long solo hikes all the time, including myself. Being alone isn't a mathematical formula that tells the universe to crank up the danger factor. You're just more exposed if something happens.
Nonetheless, don't let the downsides scare you off. They really aren't that bad.
Downsides to hiking alone:
- It might get boring: If you're an extrovert who thrives in socializing, taking a hike by yourself might get boring at times. Though, outdoor purists will argue that no hiker is ever bored on a trail.
- Risk of injury: Since a solo hike leaves you without extra sets of eyes and ears, you may be prone—though, highly unlikely if you're alert—to injury. Always pay attention to the trail ahead of you and don't let your attention span drift off. Take your time over challenging terrain and be smart about crossing through dangerous areas like rivers and creeks.
- Increased risk of getting lost: Again, if you know your trail and take caution your solo hike, this is unlikely. However, since you're on your own time, you may be more keen on exploring. Make sure you're not drifting too far from the marked trail, and never take unplanned detours through uncharted and unmarked areas.
- Wildlife encounters: Though unlikely, your chances of encountering dangerous wildlife may slightly increase. This is because a solo hiker looks a lot less intimidating to wild animals than a group. However, don't let that stop you. Most wild animals will still flee in your presence, and will likely see you before you see them. If you're worried about wildlife encounters, whistle a song or sing a bit on the trail to "announce" your presence.
- It can get lonely: This is kind of the point, but it can be a downer for some. Sometimes it's nice to enjoy the emptiness, though. Try and make the best out of your trip and connect with yourself to avoid feeling lonely. Say hello to passing hikers and have a good time.
- Easier to slack: Going at your own pace is great if you want to enjoy your time, but if you have goals of achieving challenging hikes, being solo gives you a lot of room for excuses. Be sure to enjoy yourself, but if you're going after challenges, don't let the lack of partners stop you from pushing yourself.
See, those aren't so bad, right?
When you're on a solo hike, just take extra safety measures and you'll be just fine.
Speaking of which, there are some things you shouldn't do when you're hiking alone.
The Do Nots of Hiking Alone
There are some things you can get away with when you're hiking in a group that you probably shouldn't do on a solo outing.
It's easier to drift from a trail with a group of people or get distracted; There's always another brain and a set of eyes to decrease the margin of error.
Here's what not to do when hiking alone:
- Don't wear headphones: Listening to music at low volumes on a trail is okay, so long as you're not disturbing anyone. But you should never, under any circumstance, take a hike with headphones stuffed in your ear canal. Hiking with headphones limits your ability to hear the call of other hikers, warning signs from animals like rattlesnakes, and even passing vehicles if you're in a state park. Keep your headphones out at all times.
- Don't drift from your trail: It's fun to explore new things, but never drift too far from your trail when you're alone. This increases your risk of getting lost or injured or, worst-case scenario, both.
- Don't litter: This should be common sense for all hikers. However, it still has to be stated. Just because nobody sees you do it doesn't mean it's okay. Pollution destroys environments and costs cities tons of money, which they usually don't have, to clean up. Also, it's just poor hiking etiquette.
- Don't approach animals: This shouldn't be done even in groups. But, when you're alone, sometimes good judgment can be fleeting. If you see wild animals, don't try to get a closer look or feed them. Leave them be.
- Don't be a jerk: Another good tip for proper hiking etiquette. If you're a naturally quiet person, it's still good practice to greet fellow hikers. You don't have to have a full-blown conversation, but don't pollute the trail with an aura of grouchiness, either. Who knows, you may even make a new friend.
- Don't improvise your hike: Remember when you let those three people know what time they should expect you back? Taking an impromptu detour might take longer than expected and cause a world of worry for them. Improvising your hike means extending it or taking a path you wouldn't normally take. Stick to the plan and complete the trail you set out to. You can always plan a longer hike next time, but if you get lost or hurt, you may face some serious consequences.
Enjoy Your Solitude
Now that you know the ins and outs of solo hiking, take the time to enjoy it.
Some people view solitude from a negative vantage point. However, solitude, in the right environments, can be hugely beneficial. We don't always get the free time we want in life. The time away from noise and distractions.
Solo hiking is a great way to disconnect from everything and fully enjoy yourself, by yourself.
Absorb the sounds, the scents, and the scenery. Make it last. Savor it.
Just remember to always practice good hiking etiquette and proper safety measures when you take your solo hike.