Washington Trails Association
Trails for everyone, forever
So you’re ready to embark on your first hike alone? Don’t lace up your boots quite yet. Make your first solo hiking experience the best it can be with our top 10 tips for hiking solo. From building your confidence to growing the right skills to having fun, you’ll be ready for the trail in no time. | by Cassandra Overby
So you’re ready to embark on your first hike alone? Don’t lace up your boots quite yet. Make your first solo hiking experience the best it can be with our top 10 tips for hiking solo. From building your confidence to growing the right skills to having fun, you’ll be ready for the trail in no time.
One of the most important things you can do before you head out on your first solo hike is choose the right trail. Take into account your physical abilities, fears and comfort level. Once you have the right route, prepare to ease into it. Hike it with a dog. Have a friend walk 10 minutes behind you. Go on a weekend, when the trail will be busy. Don’t be afraid to start small. Your goal here is to make hiking alone as comfortable for yourself as possible.
There’s plenty of time to work up to more challenging hikes and more solitary experiences. Remember, your abilities will increase and your comfort level will grow over time, but you’ll have the best solo hiking experience if you choose a trail that reflects what you’re capable of right now. Even after your first solo trip, add in mileage and cut out company at a pace you’re comfortable with.
If you’ve got the right route in mind but you’re still a little nervous about getting out there on your own, build your confidence prehike by searching out other trekkers who have gone solo. Ask around in your community; your adventurous coworker or neighbor might be a solo hiker with tips and encouragement to share. If not, the Internet is full of good blogs and forums for solo hikers.
Hearing the stories of others who have braved a hike—or many—on their own can greatly ease your mind and give you a burst of confidence to do the same thing yourself. You can also look for inspiration from the WTA community. Check out trip reports from JoeHendricks and hikingwithlittledogs.
Another way to build your confidence prehike is to practice any rusty trail skills at home. Make it a game to filter water, wrap an Ace bandage or light a fire (safely). The more you practice, the better you’ll feel. As you practice your trail skills, you’ll probably notice there are some areas you’re naturally weaker in than others. It might be packing the Ten Essentials, navigating with a map and compass or being familiar with wilderness first aid.
Whatever it is for you, take note and commit to growing your skills. After all, you’ll be the only one on trail, so you’ll need to know how to do everything—and well. Don’t know where to start? You can find a Ten Essentials packing list on the WTA website, REI offers excellent workshops on navigation, and several organizations, from The Mountaineers to the Red Cross, offer classes on wilderness first aid.
Once you’ve got your trail picked out, you’re feeling confident and your skills are up to snuff, it’s time for your first solo hike. Make sure to tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back. To be on the safe side, download WTA’s hiking itinerary form or the Bugle app. Both have room for more personal information than you can communicate easily over the phone, from a description of you and your vehicle to the ins and outs of your itinerary.
It can also be a good idea to check in at the ranger station on your way to the trailhead. Let the ranger know you’ll be hiking alone, and ask if there are any hazards on trail that solo hikers should be aware of. Don’t forget to check out again on your way home. Regardless of whom you’re checking in and out with, whether it’s someone at home or a ranger, once you’ve given them your itinerary, don’t deviate from the plan.
Even if you have the ability to communicate with your loved ones, it’s important to prepare yourself for the feeling of being truly alone on trail. It might seem counterintuitive, but a challenge of hiking alone can be feeling alone, as in lonely. Especially in our busy and loud world, it’s not often that we have such uninterrupted quiet time to ourselves.
You might find yourself uncomfortable with your own company. You’ll get used to it over time, but don’t be afraid to ease into things by packing headphones and an audiobook or your favorite music. If you’re going to backpack alone, bring along a journal, cards for solitaire and other solo activities for camp. Focusing your mind on something other than your own thoughts can help you enjoy the experience of being by yourself.
Of course, you probably won’t be alone the whole time you’re hiking. On all but the most remote trails, you’re bound to run into other people as you walk. If you’re feeling anxious or vulnerable about being by yourself, have a game plan for those interactions.
Remember, nine times out of 10 you’re going to cross paths with friendly, wonderful people who enjoy the outdoors—just like you. With those folks, a smile might turn into a conversation. But you don’t need to feel compelled to talk with or be overly friendly to everyone you meet on trail. A simple nod of acknowledgement is just fine. And if someone makes you uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to assertively mention that your hiking partner is just behind you.
Being alone on trail can make you feel a lot more vulnerable than hiking with other people. Chances are, you’ll never have to use it, but it can help to bring along a form of protection that you’re comfortable with. Knowing that you have the ability to protect yourself from animals or shady humans can make hiking alone a lot more comfortable.
We recommend getting creative with the trail gear you probably already have. Bear spray, a pointed walking stick or a Swiss Army knife can be used to defend yourself if push comes to shove. No matter what kind of protection you choose, make sure it’s allowed on the land you’re hiking and practice using it beforehand.
Just like when dealing with strangers, as you get further into your hike it’s important to trust your intuition and know your limits. Solo hiking is not the time to test what you’re capable of or push your boundaries. Maybe it’s getting dark earlier than you expected or the trail has become dangerously slick because of an afternoon shower. It could be that you’re a couple of miles from your turnaround point but you’re already exhausted.
Whatever situation you find yourself in, make the conservative choice. Don’t be afraid to turn around early. There’ll be another day, another hike, another chance to try again—it’s something you can look forward to.
If something does go wrong on trail, it’s important to have a way to call for help. Don’t just rely on your cell phone, though. Cell phone reception is never a guarantee on trail, especially when you’re in a remote corner of the state or deep in the wilderness. A good supplemental communication device is a SPOT Satellite Messenger or Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), which can send your precise location and an emergency alert to the proper authorities if you run into trouble.
If your loved ones want the ability to check in on you as you hike, both the SPOT and the DeLorme inReach Satellite Communicator allow you to share your location. The inReach also allows you to send and receive text messages anywhere in the world.
Once you’ve done the hard work of preparing yourself as best you can for your solo hike, it’s time to simply enjoy where you are and have fun! Don’t forget to savor all of the things that made you want to get outside by yourself in the first place: the flexibility of hiking on your own schedule, the renewing power of solitude, the magic of having a personal encounter with nature.
Celebrate your new skills and your skyrocketing ability to be self-sufficient in the outdoors. Pat yourself on the back—and then vow to get even better. This, in all its glory, is what solo hiking is all about.