How to safely solo hike

October 22, 2019

How to safely solo hike

 

2019 is almost over! You have less than 2 months to finish off your bucket list, so why not start with a solo hike?

First, let’s discuss the benefits of solo hiking:

  • Solitude – Being on your own gives you peace of mind and time to think for yourself and about yourself. It contributes to your personal growth and teaches you that it’s not bad to do things alone.
  • Quietness on the trail to maximize wildlife encounters — What’s a good hike without appreciating mother nature? Being on your own lets you focus more on spotting rare animals on the trail.
  • Control over daily hiking pace and choice of destination — You can go as fast or as slow as you want. Nobody is stopping you from going your way.
  • Decomposition time to think about thought and dump stress — There’s no judgement from other people or a crowd to criticize how you want to live your life.
  • Opportunity to face mental challenges (conquering your fears) — We’re pretty sure this is self-explanatory.

If there are benefits to a solo hike, there are also some downsides:

  • Personal safety concerns — Nobody is watching out for you but yourself. So you need to be extra cautious with how you behave on the trail.
  • Physical strength as a limitation — This isn’t always a concern but what if you need to lug firewood back to the campsite or something like that?
  • Mental endurance when plans go awry — You’ll have to be your own support system because there’s no one else you can rely on. It’s a skill that’s built up over time and is honed when you’ve been solo hiking for a while.
  • And gaps in outdoor skills — There will be skills that you lack, such as pitching a tent or starting a fire. But, you have the power of internet, use it well.

Start with what you know

When you go on your first solo-hike, it’s best for you to stay on a trail that you’re familiar with. It’s one thing to go on an expedition trip with friends and it’s another to do it yourself. Your first solo hike is a learning process. There’s a fine line between learning something and being taught a lesson. Let it be the former as opposed to the latter. Going on a solo hike is plunging into the unknown all in itself. Save yourself from risky situations by not putting yourself in one. There’s no harm in starting small, we all need to start somewhere, right?

 

Work your way down

You can work your way down to going stag. If you’re an inexperienced hiker that craves the feeling of a solo trip, you can start with hiking in a big group. There’s safety in numbers and for someone who’s new to the game, you need the extra protection. When you’re used to hiking in big groups you can work your way down from there. Organize hikes with smaller groups, then hike in twos, and when you think you’re ready, prepare for your first solo adventure.

 

Do your research before going on the trail

It does not matter how much practice you’ve had hiking on the trail with big groups. There’s so much to be said and done about hiking on your own. A few things you need to know are:

  • Basics such as compass and map reading
  • Knowledge on poisonous and edible plants
  • First aid
  • Trail markers
  • Notice how busy the trail is on the time of year you travel
  • Safest routes
  • Emergency signals

Know everything there is to know about the trail, how to get through it, and how to get out off it. When you have no one else looking out for you, you need to be prepared.

 

Tell someone about your plans

Find a way to let people know where you are without making your solo journey restrictive. It’s a disservice to the people around you to disappear without telling anyone and making people worry. All smart phones come with GPS apps that have built-in trackers. But if you’re not comfortable with your friends and family knowing your every move, you can always send them pictures instead. Given that there’s reception in the area you’re hiking through. Remind yourself:

  • Don’t go AWOL (absent without leave) - you will scare people
  • Be trackable
  • Let others know where you are at all times
  • You don’t have to tell everyone where you are

 

Be responsible for and to yourself

We will stress in this article again and again, that no one is looking out for you other than yourself. Always think the next step through, literally and figuratively. If you feel like your footing isn’t secure, go around the obstacle. Not sure if water is clean? Treat it. Sundown is approaching and you need to set up camp? Never tent less than a mile from a road or crossing. You run the risk of being disturbed by noise pollution or running into strangers that you would otherwise feel uncomfortable with. It’s these minuscule details that will keep you safe from harms reach. Remember to set some safety rules for yourself such as carrying a mobile phone with you at all times or keeping safety flares within reach.

Make list/s

There’s no such thing as being over-prepared for a solo hike. We’d usually suggest that you pack as light as possible, but in this case, you deserve a little leeway. The last thing you want is to forget something important for your hike. Make a list for everything. Take a look at this list of lists:

  • Clothing
  • Toiletries
  • First Aid Kit
  • Hiking Gear
  • Food and Water Supplies
  • Emergency Kit
  • Camping Essentials
  • Navigational Devices
  • Personal Items
  • Technology and Wires
  • Miscellaneous

And of course, create a master list for your lists. Bring a copy of this list in your bag — preferably laminated and one in your phone. This is one of the things that you’ll be glad you have a backup for.

 

Prepare an emergency/safety kit

Don’t confuse this with your first aid kit. You don’t necessarily need to be injured to crack the emergency kit open. It could simply be because you lost your belongings and you need the backup (or you actually need what’s inside). Hopefully, it’s because you lost your canister during the hike and not because of something worse.

  • Water — two liters of water per person per day
  • Food that won't spoil, such as canned food, energy bars and dried foods
  • Manual can opener
  • Wind-up or battery-powered flashlight 
  • Wind-up or battery-powered radio 
  • Extra batteries
  • Extra keys for your car and house 
  • Cash, travelers’ cheques and change 
  • Important family documents such as identification
  • Emergency plan — include a copy in your kit as well as contact information

Hone your intuition

Your gut feeling is always right, trust your gut. Your gut is your intuition in case you didn’t catch that. You need to trust your instincts while you’re on your solo hike. If you feel like you’re putting yourself in a risky situation then abort mission! Even if the adventurer in you wants to take the plunge, turn a blind eye and save the adrenaline for next time. Preferably when you have someone to watch your back. But for now, trust your gut. Your gut will get you places. The same concept applies to when you meet other people on your solo hike. Which leads us to our next point…

 

Just because you encounter a group on a hike doesn’t mean you need to join them

You don’t always have to be nice, courteous yes, but not necessarily nice. The point of going on a solo hike is that you can control your pace and time. Joining a group will limit you from doing things your way. Didn’t your mother teach you not to take candy from strangers? You can’t trust everyone that you meet on your hike, some people you encounter are genuinely concerned for you and others don’t have the best intentions at heart. If you bump into another group say hello, share a meal, and part ways. You’re not obliged to join them and they’re not obliged to take you in. Best you be on your way.

 

Conquer your what ifs

Just because we told you not to take risks doesn’t mean you shouldn’t conquer your what ifs either. The biggest what if comes from before the hike. It’s natural to doubt yourself, remind yourself that it’s okay. But don’t let yourself get lost in your thoughts,

It’s okay to be afraid of something as big as your first solo hike. Don’t let other people bring your spirits down. And don’t shortchange yourself. By going on the hike, you conquer your first what if and it’s an upward slope from there (pun intended). Find the happy middle of adventurous but realistic.

Two more things you need to remember:

1. If you get lost S.T.O.P

  • S – stay calm. Relax. Sit down. Take a sip of water. Breathe slowly.
  • T – think. Pull out your map and see what you can learn.
  • O – Observe. Look for landmarks. Look for footprints.
  • P — Plan. Sit down and think ahead.

Getting lost isn’t the end of the world, it happens to even the best of explorers. In fact, getting lost on the journey is half the fun because it gives you great stories to tell and memories that you will treasure forever. Each hike is its own narrative and if you get from point A to point B without any hitches along the way, then it must have been a really boring hike.

2. Make sure you’re not the last one on the trail

This may sound contradictory to not having to hike with a group you meet, but you can use them as a marker. The trail will always be full of people and relatively safe. But this is conditional to where you are on the trail. Try to be the middleman on the trail. We discourage solo travelers from being on the tail end because they have no group mates to rely on when the going gets tough.

 

Equip yourself with the right knowledge, tools, and skills for the journey and you’ll be ready to hit the trail on your first solo adventure!




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