Everything You Need To Know About Hiking Alone

January 06, 2022

women hiking alone wearing backpack full of camping gear

Blog Written by Wise Owl Outfitters.

I get it. You spend the week schlepping beer at the local dive bar, or clackety-clacking a keyboard in a cubicle where you sit for five days straight with all of the enthusiasm of a death row prisoner on Suicide Watch. You’re sick of people, noise, the mysterious stench from the sewer, the calamity of social media spilling off your phone screen. That’s it. You’ve had it. You need to unplug, unwind, decompress, run away and start over or just get the eff out of Dodge. 

If you’re anything like me, you will hear the wilderness calling to you with the ferocity of an angry mom that will not say it again. You will want to strap on a backpack, take your hammock, and go on a solo hiking trip through the uninhabited and unknown environs of the world where you can bathe deeply in the novelty of exile and drink up the exhilaration of self-reliance.

To set you up for success, I wanted to give you some tips and tricks I’ve learned about hiking along the way. I hope you find them helpful and encouraging because if you dare to embark on this journey, you are going to discover parts of the world and yourself that you never could have imagined. 

Trust me.

man hiking alone by the beach enjoying the view of the ocean

Is It Safe To Go Hiking Alone?

Yes. But first thing is first: No one wants to find your remains mauled by a bear. It would suck for the people who find you (because they were just out here to do some birdwatching, not stumble into the opening scene from an episode of Criminal Minds), it might even suck for the bear (I don’t know how bears feel about mauling), but mostly it’s going to suck for you. Personally, I have no desire to be the ‘unidentified remains’ they talk about on the evening news. And as someone who has never been mauled by a bear, I consider myself something of an expert on the subject. 

Solo hiking is safe as long as you are able-bodied, prepared, and make good decisions when you come to an obstacle of any kind. Understand that, like anything in life, there are downsides to hiking solo: you could get hurt or lost or stranded or all of the above. You just want to make sure that you find the best place to go, be smart, do some research and planning, and—most of all—be safe.

man enjoying the peace and quiet in the woods while hiking alone

Why Go Hiking By Yourself?

There are all kinds of answers. It could be just what you need to shake your Etch-A-Sketch and recharge your batteries. Whether it is time for you to reflect on the meaning of life, or be alone with your thoughts, or to get the hell away from people with the distraction of an escape, a solo hike can set the scene for any adventure.

  • Peace & Quiet - There is something about the solitude of the natural world that speaks to us all. The aloneness can be rejuvenating. You don’t have to worry about the needs or wants of others. You can set your own pace. If you want to, you can stop and sit for a half hour to watch a moss-coated log bathed in golden sunlight or close your eyes and breathe.
  • Independence – Is there any greater thrill than discovering what we are capable of? Working together as a team can be rewarding, but leaving your comfort zone and testing your limits without any help can provide a sense of empowerment that does not fade. 
  • Perspective – There is no purer way to experience the magnitude and awe-inspiring splendor of Mother Nature. To move through it alone is to be a ghost that crosses the threshold into a world untouched by modernity and civilization. Savor it.

women enjoying view in national park while hiking alone

Where Is The Best Place To Go Hiking Alone?

It really depends on how much experience you have. No matter what you do, make sure you find a well-marked and well-traveled trail. No story that begins with ‘they went hiking all alone in an uncharted forest’ will end happily. Like anything else, if this is your first time, then your best bet is to start with something easy and use it to build up your confidence over time. But if you already know you have an appetite for adventure, then the options are endless.

  • Local Trailheads – No need to go off gallivanting in the mountains like a survivalist, especially if hiking trails are a new thing that you’re into. Depending on where you live, there should be any number of spots to go. From local to state parks, there should be any number of trailheads within driving distance for you to be able to check out. Here is a list of The Best Hikes In Every State.
  • Rail Trails – Across the country there are countless branches of the railroad network that are no longer used for trains and have been converted into beautiful multi-use trails where people can hike, bike, run, or ride horses.
  • Boardwalks – As a particularly clumsy person, I appreciate these. The elevated footpaths or networks of walking bridges can sometimes be found along beach coastlines or through nature preserves like marshlands or forests. Great for those who want to experience the outdoors without the rugged terrain.
  • State & National Parks – There are over 400 national parks in the United States. Think that is a lot? Then let me blow your mind by informing you that there are over 10k state parks. Almost all of them provide hiking trails while offering a little more of a challenge.
  • Europe – This is a Lord-of-the-Rings-size trek for those craving true adventures. Many people have taken long expeditions through the hillsides of Europe by way of foot. It is well-known for being a perfect chance to do some reflection and soul-searching while sightseeing, sampling a variety of cultures and cuisines, meeting all manner of people, facing fears and reaching a whole other level of self-reliance. 

Do Your Research

There is this wonderful invention called the internet, and if you’re reading this—Congratulations! You found it! You will be happy to know that there is no shortage of information on here. Once you decide on a destination, make sure you read everything you can about it. 

  • Visit the Website – Almost every single established hiking route has a website with any important information and FAQs.
  • Do Image Searches – Get a lay of the land. Know what the terrain looks like. See if it’s the scenery that you’re looking for.
  • Look Over Maps – Getting to know the geography of the area until you feel like you ‘get the gist of it’. Decide on the route you would like to take. Map it out. 
  • Talk to People – Mine for advice from previous hikers on discussion boards. DM strangers who posted on social media about their trip and ask them any questions. Call or e-mail Park Rangers for brochures and advice. 
  • Find Out About the Local Wildlife – This is vital information, not only for deciding where to go but how to be prepared. If you have a fear of snakes, probably best to avoid hiking in Arizona where there is a dense population of them. You can find out what lives where and best ways to avoid them.
  • Check the Weather – Always take the weather into consideration. Some regions are best to explore at certain times of the year. These weather patterns will be easy to find and should always be taken into account when scheduling your hike.

man using trekking poles while hiking alone in the mountains

What Do I Need to Go For a Solo Hike?

Useful Tips for Solo Hiking (or a Zombie Apocalypse)

Depending on where you go, you will most likely need a specific list of trekking accessories, but generally, you will want the following hiking gear:

  • Reliable Footwear – Make sure your shoes or hiking boots are comfortable and provide the right support.
  • Extra Socks - For the love of God, whatever you do, bring extra socks. You’d be amazed how much of a difference an extra pair of socks can make. No one likes tramping around in soggy socks and there are plenty of shallow streams and mud out there waiting for your feet.
  • Food – Don’t bring anything that needs to be refrigerated. There is a variety of tasty treats these days—granola, protein bars—that are dense in nutrients and easy to pack. Personally, for a long hike, I will make some PB&J sandwiches. After a long day of hiking, nothing hits like peanut butter and jelly.
  • Water – Things can get hot and hilly. Stay hydrated.
  • Rain Gear – By default, I expect there to be rain, even if the forecast is nothing but blue skies. Use dry bags to keep your gear from getting wet!
  • Recommended (but not required) 
    • A pair of trekking poles are fantastic ways to conserve energy while providing more stability. 
    • I don’t go on any hike without a hammock. They are compact, lightweight, and perfect for anyone who wants to take a relaxing break with Mother Nature.

Travel Light

I know this one sounds like it contradicts ‘Be Prepared’, but it doesn’t. It’s the 21st Century. The frontier has been explored and the west has been tamed. Ish. It is not the 1800s, so you don’t need chains, a set of steel-toothed bear traps, and a musket to survive in the wilderness anymore. Modern hiking gear is designed to be compact and super lightweight. 

None of it is cheap, but on the other hand, your life is precious and valuable. Shell out the cash to be safe and properly prepared.

If you have friends that are avid hikers, guilt them into lending you their trekking poles for a weekend. Make sure you mention the part about your life being precious and valuable. Remind them of the time you let them borrow your car to go to the store, or when you were there to support them through a nasty breakup when they were completely insufferable. Maybe don’t mention the insufferable part.

Solo Hiking Safety

I know a very experienced hiker who injured themselves walking to their car in the driveway. No one is exempt from the dangers of hiking. It has nothing to do with how much experience you have or how intelligent you might be; Avoiding dangers and injury is about having self-awareness, identifying any possible risks and then course-correcting.

A twisted ankle in the wrong place or in the wrong season could be life- threatening. And again, no one wants to find your vulture-pecked corpse while they are humming along in the woods munching on a delicious PB&J sandwich. So, be smart and don’t die. Because dying isn’t cool. Follow trail markers, obey warnings, and if you come to a juncture where something doesn’t feel safe—do not do it. 

Above all else, remember this: Cowards live longer.

Contributing Writer: Jonathan D'Ambrosio

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