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Free Yourself: Hike Solo

Rebel against those warnings about hiking alone and find yourself on the trail.

By: Amber Locke + Save to a List

What is a girl (or guy) to do when everyone else is too busy to hike when you want to hit the trail? The Internet, my friends and my family have all scolded me for packing my day pack and trekking out all alone. What if I twist my ankle? What if I get eaten by a bear? What if a crazy mountain man meets me on the trail, puts me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and totes me away, never to be seen again?  

If I lived my life in the realm of "what if," I would never have any adventures. I certainly wouldn't have nearly as many if I felt that I needed a companion to hold my hand on the trail. Here are a few tips for breaking down the walls that keep you caged up because you've been programmed to think that hiking solo is a no no.

Start small.

Do a 1-mile loop or a trail that you've done in the past with friends. Familiarity is nice when you're trying something on your own. It may also be helpful to find a trail that is populated. Most of the adventures on The Outbound and other hiking websites will detail whether or not a trail is frequented or desolate. I especially like to go to dog-friendly trails because there tend to be more people taking their pups out for a walk.  

Recognize fear as an emotion and learn to live with it.

Fear is simply a feeling that we get when we are about to encounter something unknown to us. Sure, hiking solo comes with its ups and downs (literally), but the main obstacle to overcome lives within your own mind. If you accept that you are going to feel the churning in your stomach and your brain the first few times you go it alone, you can work through it. After a few successful trips, this fear will subside.

Know your limits.

No one knows you better than you do. Don't try to set any world records or hike so hard you get heat exhaustion or altitude sickness. Remember the old adage, "Slow and steady wins the race?" This is a great thing to remember when you're out on the trail alone. Take the time to smell the flowers and stop for photos of the panoramic views along the way. There won't be anyone there to rush you along, so go at your own pace.

Prepare for the worst case scenario.

Always bring ample amounts of water and food. I tend to have at least an extra liter of H2O on me and a few granola bars when I'm hiking by myself and have even offered both to other people who weren't prepared. 

It's also a good idea to have a small first aid kit in your bag. I carry band aids, an ace bandage, tea tree oil (a natural bug repellent and disinfectant) and a Swiss army knife at all times on the trail.  

Another way to be prepared is to learn how to read a compass and have one attached to your bag. Sure, your fancy smart phone has an app for that, but you can't guarantee your phone will be charged if you've gotten lost outdoors. There are some pretty sweet compass and safety whistle combos for sale at any outdoor store, Wal-Mart and Amazon. You may never use it, but it's comforting to know it's available. For navigational purposes and all around cool knowledge to have, you should probably learn how to find the North Star, too. 

Photo: Christin Healey

Let someone know where you're going.

I am guilty of failing to do this or letting someone 3,000 miles away from me know that I'll be out alone for a while (which probably wouldn't be very helpful in the long run). If you want to feel safe out there, let someone close to you know where you will be and how long you plan to be there. Make sure you let them know when you're back, too!  I've even heard of people taking a selfie of themselves and their pack at the trail head and sending it to a friend for extra security.  

Challenge yourself.

Once you've gotten to know your boundaries on solo hikes, you can start to challenge yourself. I like to see if I can break personal time records on my favorite hikes.  It's also fun to switch it up and go the opposite way on a loop you've done before.

Listen to yourself.

After you've hurdled the fear obstacle, new, incredible thoughts will wander and meander through your head as you are going along a trail. I have found that I feel more inspired to write when I'm hiking. Creative juices seem to flow better and when I'm alone, there is no one to distract me from fully thinking through something.  (This article actually sprung to life yesterday, on a 5-mile solo hike!) I also notice the small things more often when I'm alone; like the ferns or flowers at my feet and the butterflies that flutter past me. These small, fleeting moments of clarity are really what make hiking by myself worth it.  

It's quite interesting to discover what you truly find interesting when the only thing you're focused on is yourself and the natural world surrounding you. 

Photo: Amber Locke

Cover photo: Noah Couser

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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