Solo Hiking: 7 Ways to Stay Safe When Hiking Alone

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Solo hiking can be one of the most rewarding experiences, but it’s no secret that you need to take precautions to stay safe when hiking alone. I first got into solo hiking because, quite honestly, I was tired of waiting for other people to join me in order for me to get outside. 

It’s so empowering to be out in nature by yourself and know that you can do it solo! As I have gone out and hiked alone, I’ve learned different ways to keep myself safe and give myself the confidence to be out in the mountains solo. As always, don’t forget to brush up on the Leave No Trace principles before heading out. So without further ado, here are 7 ways to stay safe when hiking alone!

  1. Plan and Prepare
  2. Know Your Limits
  3. Pack the Essentials
  4. Stay Hydrated and Fueled
  5. Carry Protective Gear
  6. Stay on Marked Trails
  7. Always Trust Your Gut

1. Plan and Prepare

When planning for your hike, research the trail you’re going on and check the weather in that area. This will help you know what to expect when you get out there. I use AllTrails to check the current trail conditions – you can read recent reviews to hear from people who have just been on the trail and it has a weather widget that tells you how the weather will change along the trail (they also have an app).

You should always tell someone your plans before heading out. I always let someone know the following details before I leave: the name and location of the hike, the time I start, how long it will take, and the time I get back to my car.

2. Know Your Limits

Pick a hike that matches your fitness level and experience. When you’re first starting out, start small. Choose a short and easy hike that people typically consider popular or busy, so you can acclimate to solo hiking.

When picking a hike, there are two things to consider: the length of the hike and the elevation gain. Keep in mind that a hike can be short while having some brutal elevation gain, so pay attention to that when choosing! 

Additionally, don’t push yourself too hard when you’re alone! If the conditions on the trail get worse or if you’re too tired, then there’s no shame in turning back. That trail will always be there to try again when you feel up to it.

3. Pack the Essentials

When I first started solo hiking, I always carried extra gear with me because I wanted to prepare for anything. As you hike by yourself, you’ll get an idea of what you need, so feel free to adjust this list as you get more experience! I still bring all of these with me on hikes, I just adjust how much I need depending on the length and intensity of the hike. 

  • Map: I use AllTrails+ which allows me to download a map to my phone and navigate while hiking.
  • Extra clothes: Check the weather beforehand to get an idea of what layers you’ll need. 
  • First aid kit: You can make your own or buy a pre-made one that has everything you’ll need. I bought one at my local REI and I just refill it when needed.
  • Whistle: A lot of packs will have a whistle built into the sternum strap, but if your pack doesn’t have one, make sure to bring one! It can help to have one if you’re immobilized or threatened. 
  • Flashlight or headlamp: I always bring a headlamp just in case I stay out after the sun sets – sometimes a hike just takes longer than you thought! Also, make sure to bring extra batteries that will fit into your light source.
  • Portable phone charger: Even with a fully charged phone, it’s always smart to carry a battery pack for extra juice.
  • Enough water & food: Each person’s needs are different, so when you’re starting out, I would bring extra water and food. As you continue hiking, you’ll know what your body needs. One thing I always recommend though, is bringing something that will give you electrolytes!

4. Stay Hydrated and Fueled

On the topic of bringing enough food and water, make sure you drink water and snack on food while you’re hiking. I prefer to use a reservoir for my water because it’s easier for me to stay hydrated when I don’t have to unscrew a water bottle (call me high maintenance!). Bare minimum, I recommend stopping every mile and drinking some water to make sure you’re helping your body out.

5. Carry Protective Gear

Depending on where you’ll be hiking, you may need bear spray. I always carry pepper spray on me when I hike solo, but some bear spray can do the trick too. With these, make sure they aren’t in your backpack – they need to be easily accessible in case of an emergency. You can get a holster for bear spray and pepper spray can be clipped onto the sternum strap of your pack.

6. Stay on Marked Trails

Staying on the trail not only protects the wild vegetation but also reduces the risk of getting lost. Depending on the hike the trail may be obvious, but if it’s not, use your map and watch for trail markers.

7. Trust Your Gut

This is probably the most important rule when hiking alone! If you have a gut feeling that something is off, then turn around. It doesn’t matter if you drove over an hour to get there or if you’re almost to the viewpoint, turn back if you get that gut feeling. 

I remember a time when I was 5 miles into a hike and I was about .5 miles away from the viewpoint and I suddenly felt so uneasy. Instead of making excuses like this: “There are so many hikers out today so if something happens, people will be around me,” I just turned around and called it a day. I went back on a different day and finished the hike when I felt good about it. Who knows what would have happened? But it’s better safe than sorry.

Solo hiking can be so empowering, and it’s important to know ways to stay safe when hiking alone. I hope these tips will help you confidently hit the trails! And remember: start small, always trust your gut, and leave no trace – you got this!

If you have any questions, need specific advice, or want to share what’s worked for you, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you! See you on the trails!

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