Photo: Matthew Bowden
There are very few activities that gives you so much mental, physical and spiritual relief as hiking. With a hectic work routine and pressing lifestyle, everyone needs to get away reconnect with nature.
And what better way to reconnect with nature than to traverse its wilderness alone?
Yeah, I said ALONE.
My first solo hike was not planned. My regular hiking buddy got stuck in something else, but I was too excited about this trip. I’ll always be thankful to him for ditching me that day, because it ended up being my best adventure to date. It wasn’t just the beautiful scenery or solitude that made it memorable. On my way back, having tackled the challenges of the trip alone, I was feeling more empowered and confident. Today I regularly take solo trips, enjoying the solitude and being able to go at my own pace. If your plans change and you end up having to hike solo, I recommend you do it. You can thank me later.
Now let’s get real.
Being intimidated by hiking solo is a healthy and understandable fear. As social animals, we feel safer around other fellow beings.
Besides, there are some real challenges and dangers of getting along a lonely trail all by yourself. Losing the trail, animal attacks, human attack (especially for female), natural calamity and injuries are few of the very real and imminent dangers of all outdoor adventures. But if you take necessary measures to ensure your wellbeing, solo hiking is worth it. If you haven’t started just yet or are looking around for some motivation, let me help you.
So, what did I learn from my solo hikes?
I experienced several revelations along the journey.
Though I was hiking solo, I wasn’t alone. On my first solo hike, I met other friendly and supportive solo hikers. Many of them stopped and took pictures with me after knowing that this was my first solo trip and asked about my experiences so far.
Another moment of clarity was becoming more sure of my abilities. The fact that I depended on only myself for survival was empowering.
Lastly, what made me really fall in love with solo hiking was being able to get a hold on my nerves and experience the solitude. I was able to talk through everything that mattered to me and was able to clear my mind of toxic worldly experiences.
Already planning your first solo hike?
Wait, we aren’t just finished yet.
Here are some tips that will help you make the most out of your solo hiking experience.
1. Have the right attitude and stay within your limits.
Yes, we all want to test our limitations but it’s better to save this excitement when you are with an experienced group. Your first solo hike should be a fun, pleasant and soul seeking mild workout, not a record-breaker for distance or elevation gain. (The Zone of Proximal Development concept can help you gauge the difficulty of a hike and pick a suitable one for your solo trip). And no selfies at the edge of a cliff, please.
2. Make a checklist of essential gear day before and pack the night before.
If you leave things for the last minute, you are bound to forget something and the consequences for leaving things behind are greater on a solo trip (think of the times you have covered someone who forgot gear, or perhaps been covered yourself on a group trip).
3. Never bring brand new / untested gear to your trip.
As I suggest in my Camping Survival Tips, take all the unknowns out of the equation. Imagine getting to your campsite and finding that your multi-tool kit doesn’t have the right key to turn on the stove. Or that your new GPS unit needed to be charged before use. Or waking up and finding that your backup power supply for your cell phone froze during the night. Now consider how much more serious these setbacks would be if you were on your own in the wilderness.
4. Inform your family or friends where you are going.
It’s not just about your safety. It’s about the peace of mind of your entire family and social circle. Yes, it sounds romantic and exciting to be “off the grid” or “dark” for a few days, but imagine being on the other side of the equation, wondering if a friend or family member you haven’t heard from is OK. If nothing else, just post it on social media.
5. Make and carry a separate survival go-to kit
Different hikes and different types of trips (desert vs. mountain, overnight vs. day, off trail vs. on trail) may require different equipment, but there is some gear that you will need to survive in any environment should things go wrong, so why not make tip #2 easier have it ready at all times so you can pack it without having to think about it These items include:
- First aid kit
- Water purifier
- Extra batteries
- Fire weapon
- Survival knife
- Thermal blanket
Pro Tip: If you get creative, there are wonders which you can do with just duct tape, zip ties and WD-40.
Here are some video links for the reference.
6. Trust your instincts
If you are receptive to them, there are signs which make you feel something is not normal, such as awkward behavior of people or animals around you. This might take you some time to get used to but our internal system works well. Last summer I saw some tourists taking group selfie over an old wooden bridge/ramp. For some reason, I didn’t cross them and alter my route. And guess what, a few minutes later bridge collapsed due to overload. Luckily no one got seriously injured.
I couldn’t point exactly to what seemed amiss, but somehow it didn’t feel the way it is supposed to be. You might call it your “sixth sense” or even your “Spidey sense” – whatever name you give it, when you feel a little uncomfortable moving forward, trust your guts and keep your guard up all the time, even if you are just a short distance from the summit.
7. Be prepared for the worst-case scenarios
In “127 Hours”, the protagonist’s arm was pinned by a rock that fell at the exact moment he happened to be walking under it. (He also obviously didn’t read #4 and hadn’t let anyone know where he was going). As they say, mother nature always bats last. Knowledge is power: with all of the information available online, educate yourself about the ways that even experienced hikers can get into trouble and how you can avoid them. This article details twelve of the most common ways to die in the wilderness, including drowning – a cause of death not usually associated with hiking.
Another way of looking at it: There is no way to stop an earthquake, but by stockpiling non-perishable items, water and batteries, you can be better off when it happens. Things to consider to help prepare for a worst-case scenario: knowing the agency responsible for the area where you were hiking; being aware of your cell phone coverage (if you have none, knowing where the last place you had it was); owning and knowing how to use an SOS signal or personal locator beacon.
“Becoming fearless isn’t the point.
It’s learning how to control your fear,
And how to be free from it…” (Unknown)
Ryan from Passionate Outdoor