Aren’t You Scared of Hiking Solo?
By: Talor Stone February 2nd, 2018
“Aren’t you afraid to be out there alone?” This is by far the most common question asked when people find out I’m a solo female hiker. It comes from all types of people, even those who are well traveled themselves.
It’s entirely understandable that people ask this. We live in a world in which the media streams an unending barrage of horrors and which views women as less independent and less able to defend themselves. This belief in the frailness of femininity is so socialized into us that this question often even comes from other women who are shocked that I would traipse around the wilderness solo. While it would be easy to delve into a feminist discussion about the inaccuracy of the assertion that a woman should be afraid when alone, I will instead just speak from my own personal experience solo on the road.
The short answer is yes. Of course I have been scared when hiking alone! If you hike for any amount of time, eventually something will go awry, you will get lost, or you will wander into a sketchy situation. It’s just a matter of probability. These same things happen when you’re at home or in the city as well, but the difference is that when in the wilderness, and especially when solo, the consequences can be much higher.
My Personal Experiences
Everyone has a different level of risk that they’re willing to assume, so I can’t in good faith encourage any person, man or woman, to just grab a backpack and a plane ticket and jet off alone into the unknown. We all have a certain degree of experience that prepares us for these situations, and mine is a bit different than most. With a history in law enforcement and the military I would say I have a higher than average degree of confidence for handling whatever may come. But there is a happy medium between being self-assured and being humble and between confidence and foolhardiness.
There have been several instances in which I was genuinely afraid. Once I got very lost attempting a night hike in the Utah desert. I’m an experienced night hiker and I go well equipped and oriented, but once I wandered onto a massive expanse of slick rock I lost the trail. It was only then that I realized that I’d forgotten to set my starting waypoint on my Garmin Fortrex (an invaluable little piece of technology if you hike solo). In the dark it was impossible to locate the trail again even once I realized my error and began spiraling out to find it. In the end, rather than get myself more lost, I sat down in the dark to ponder my rookie mistake and wait for dawn. Fortunately after a few hours the headlamps of some other hikers appeared in the distance and I beelined towards them and safety.
There have been times when hiking alone that I have passed an unknown man on the trail and gotten an uneasy feeling. Whether the feeling had any substance to it or not is irrelevant. I always go with my gut. So in these cases I have simply stepped a few feet off the trail to take a break and wait just to be certain no one doubles back on me.
But, while many people are shocked that I hike solo, I can say with certainty that I have had far more concerning incidents in cities than in the wilderness. I have been followed late at night for blocks through New York City, been cat called while simply minding my own business, and I’ve even been groped in crowded spaces. For all of these reasons I’d gladly pick a remote trail over any other option!
Four Pieces of Advice
When it comes to hiking solo I have four pieces of advice.
- A person who would harm you is a predator plain and simple. So don’t be easy prey. Walk with confidence, upright and strong. If someone is concerning you, don’t let them see you sweat. Move with purpose and certainty and if you need to engage make direct eye contact and speak firmly.
Go into every environment with an exit plan and be prepared to use it. Before I hike I orient myself with a map, so I always know which direction to head in if I need to leave the trail. I always carry an easily accessible pocket knife and I know how to use it. I also carry a basic first aid kit and a whistle which is invaluable for summoning help and spooking wildlife. And of course bear spray is never a bad idea for animals of both the four-legged or two-legged variety.
- Let family or friends know where you are and when they should expect to hear from you next. If I have cell service I will sometimes even update people along the way with photos. This is nice both so they can share the experience with me and also so I am being held accountable. It’s a safety net that would give me some assurance if anything serious were to happen.
- Lastly, never, ever be afraid to ask for help. Remember that the vast majority of people in this world are good and would go out of their way to help you if you ask them humbly – and sometimes if you don’t even as at all! I once met an older woman and her husband hiking on a trail. They were concerned I was solo and volunteered their phone number so I could call them when I made it to camp safely. I have to say it was a wonderful feeling giving them a call later on and chatting about the day’s adventures. It’s these moments of compassion and kindness that give life a rose tinted glow.
As my experiences show, fear while hiking solo on the trail is a real thing. There will be times you will question the safety and sanity of what you’re doing. But you are far stronger than you think you are, and the world is a better place than the media would let us believe! For me, there is one thing that I am much more afraid of than solo travel – fear of not living fully. Because of this I accept the risks and will gladly venture into the unknown.