Hiking Alone: Solo Hiking Safety Tips

I adore solo travel.  Travelling alone is one of the most liberating and empowering things I have ever done, but even I get nervous about solo hiking.  Hiking alone brings its own challenges and dangers, but at the same time can be a rewarding adventure.  So, to help you take your first hike on your own, these solo hiking safety tips will help you prepare.

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The Benefits of Solo Hiking

So many hiking safety tips article just focus on the precautions you should take before heading out, but what makes all of this worthwhile is the opportunity to get out and explore on your own. 

Hiking alone means you can get closer to nature when it is just you, the trail and the plants and animals who make their home there.  You have more chance of spotting wildlife if you are alone and quiet, and there is nothing I love more than the sound of birdsong as I walk.

Solo hiking helps me think too.  I love getting out in the fresh air and clearing my head of all the thoughts swimming around.  The rhythm of your breathing and the sound of your footsteps on the earth is instantly calming, and I often have my best creative ideas when I am alone in nature. 

I also love being able to walk at my own pace.  Walking alone means I’m not pressured to keep up with the group, and can just pootle along and enjoy the world around me. 

I didn’t think I was such a slow walker until I went hiking with other people and soon got left behind.  Hiking is supposed to be enjoyable, so why stress about keeping up? 

Even when Hiking Alone you can Meet People on the Trail
Even when Hiking Alone you can Meet People on the Trail

How to Prepare for Hiking Alone

For me, preparation is the key.  These safety tips apply to anyone heading out on the trail, but especially to solo hikers.  If you are hiking alone, you won’t have anyone else there to help you if you get into difficulty, so you want to make sure you are as prepared as possible.

Although as lockdown is easing the temptation is for everyone to go hiking as far away from everyone else as possible, remember that if you do have problems on the trail then the rescue teams coming to find you are putting themselves at risk. 

Be prepared, be sensible and be safe.

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Start Small

If you are new to solo hiking, then start small.  Even a short hike or walk has the same benefits for me as a longer hike, so don’t feel like you have to push yourself and walk for hours.  Similarly, difficult trails which are steep or involve climbing may be better tackled with someone else. 

If there is a chance you could fall and injure yourself, having someone else around could save your life.  If you are a beginner hiker, now is not the time to go full-on.  Once you have built up your confidence (and your fitness), gradually increase the distance and difficulty of the hiking routes if you really want to push yourself.     

I also prefer to hike popular trails, or at least routes that have a few people doing the same thing, so I am not completely alone.

A paper map & Compass is useful for emergencies when hiking alone
A paper map is useful for emergencies when hiking alone

Plan Your Route

Before you do anything, make sure you know where you are going, and how long it is likely to take you.  Check out good quality map of the area so you know which direction you will need to go in. 

I usually use Ordnance Survey maps in the UK as they clearly have footpaths and trails marked, then I also check it on my phone map too. 

Know Where You Are

I’m pretty good at reading maps but I’ve never learned how to use a compass – I rely on my phone GPS (and take a portable charger with me).  A separate GPS tracker is a good idea if you’re planning to hike off the beaten track and on more challenging routes.

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Stick to the Trails

I’m usually all for getting off the beaten path but hiking trails and public footpaths are there for good reason.  Straying off the route means you are more likely to get disorientated and lost, and you could destroy valuable natural habitats.  So, when you are hiking – especially hiking alone – don’t wander off.

Stick to the marked Trail when hiking alone
Stick to the marked Trail when hiking alone

Solo Hiking Safty Tips: Don’t Rush

When you are planning your route, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to complete the trail.  Instead of rushing to get somewhere before a certain time, I prefer to go at my own pace and enjoy my surroundings instead of pounding down the path like my life depended on it.

That means I would need to plan my hike to walk a shorter distance than other people would usually do or set off that bit earlier so I don’t end up running late.  Rushing along the trail means you’re more likely to take the wrong path or stumble and fall.

Google Maps can be useful by giving estimates of walking times, but don’t count on it to be totally accurate.  Make sure you leave plenty of time for rest stops, photographs and toilet breaks! 

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Check the Weather

I hate hiking in the rain but hiking in the scorching heat isn’t much fun either!  Although they say that there is no such thing as bad weather, simply bad clothing, I prefer to hike in dry but not hot weather.

Wherever you are, check the weather the day before you plan to hike, and in the morning before you leave so you can decide whether to set off or not and what gear you might need. 

Remember that weather can change quickly, especially at high altitudes, and that weathermen are notorious for poor predictions! 

Make Sure Your Boots are Comfortable - Solo Hiking Safety Tips
Make Sure Your Boots are Comfortable – Solo Hiking Safety Tips

Wear the Right Gear

I mentioned gear above when talking about the weather, but the absolute essentials you need are comfortable shoes or boots.  Don’t wear your brand new gear which hasn’t been worn in! 

What you prefer to wear will depend on the hike you are doing; for shorter walks on even terrain training shoes or walking shoes are fine, but for longer hikes on variable terrain you really do need hiking boots.

Good boots will help protect your ankles from sprains and twists and keep pesky blisters at bay.  Thick socks will also save your feet in case your boots don’t stay as comfortable as you hoped after walking for miles! 

Layers of clothes will help you to regulate your temperature, and a waterproof jacket is a must for longer hikes – even if it seems sunny when you set out.  Keeping dry and warm will help you to enjoy your hike so much more!

I also prefer to wear longer shorts or leggings when I’m hiking; thigh chaffing is THE WORST!

Protect Yourself from the Sun

Sunglasses and a brimmed hat to shield your eyes and your neck are a must.  Sunscreen is absolutely essential, and I love my lip balm which has an SPF built-in. 

Never underestimate the power of the sun, especially if you are hiking at high altitude or on a breezy day.  Even cloudy skies can leave you sunburnt, so don’t take the risk.  Slap on the SPF on your face, ears, hair parting, chest, arms, hands and anywhere else exposed. 

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Tips for Hiking Alone: Pack Well

I don’t take solo hiking lightly.  While some people like to wander off and explore freely, I prefer to prepare for every eventuality and that means taking a day pack with everything I might need during the hike.  I always take water, snacks and sun protection, and other hiking essentials such as a first aid kit, insect sting relief and tissues or wipes.  These days I also take a mask and hand sanitizer!

For multi-day hikes, you will also need overnight gear, whether that includes camping and cooking equipment will depend on where you are hiking – but remember that you will need to carry everything if you are hiking on your own!  Solo camping brings its own set of challenges, so make sure you are prepared for that too.  

I prefer to join a group for multi-day hikes which include camping, as I know I can’t handle carrying my tent and everything else on my back.  Hikes with accommodation in hostels or homesteads are much more comfortable! 

A water bottle with a filter is ideal for solo hiking trips
A water bottle with a filter is ideal for solo hiking trips

Stay Hydrated

Having water with you can save your life.  When you are planning your route, check if there are any water sources along the way where you could fill up your bottle if needed.  Remember that shops or restaurants maybe closed, in hot weather springs may dry up – so if you’re not sure if you will be able to fill up during your hike you will need to carry enough with you.

When calculating how much water to take on a hike, always aim to carry more than you think you will need, even though it may add weight to your backpack.  I’ve seen various estimates such as 1 litre every 2 hours of hiking to 2 litres per day and everything in between. 

I always carry a water bottle with a built-in filter so if I can fill up during the hike, I know that the water is safe to drink.  I also take a collapsible water bottle which I can decant into the filter bottle, and fold away once it is empty so I can double the amount of safe water I can drink.    

Don’t Go Hungry

I rarely leave the house without a snack, and for a day’s hiking, you’ll need a packed lunch.  High protein, high fat and salty snacks will give you a boost and will help replenish electrolytes that you lose in sweat.

Energy or cereal bars are handy to nibble on, as are homemade snacks suck as flapjacks.  Fruit is also nice to munch on, in particular bananas, as they are high in potassium and will help with cramps.  Dried fruit will keep longer than fresh and won’t get smushed as you walk. 

Pop snacks into reusable containers to keep them tidy and don’t forget to take all your rubbish with you.  Don’t leave anything behind, not even fruit peel. 

Be Aware of Animals

In the UK keeping an eye open for bears isn’t something you need to worry about, but if you are hiking in the USA, Canada or anywhere else which has large and potentially dangerous wildlife, you need to know about it.

Bears, mountain lions, snakes, spiders, ticks and scorpions are just some of the potentially dangerous creatures you might come across.  If there is a chance you might come across any of these, do your research into how to avoid them in the first place, and what to do if you come into contact with them.

For me, in the UK all I have to worry about are mosquito bites and bee stings, so I count myself lucky for that! 

Hiking Alone - The Trek to Machu Picchu
Hiking Alone – The Trek to Machu Picchu

Solo Hiking Safety: Stay Alert

One of the great joys of solo hiking is listening to the birdsong and the sounds of nature.  Don’t cover that up with headphones and music.  Not only will you miss out on all of the beautiful sounds around you, but you are also cutting off one of your senses.

Being able to hear what’s going on around you is vital.  You could hear when fellow hikers are approaching, or the sound of animals nearby – or the sound of someone creeping up on you. 

Some people prefer to take bear spray or pepper spray with them when they are hiking alone; a rape alarm might be enough to startle anyone who wants to attack you, but

Share Your Plans – But Not on Social Media

I always like to tell someone where I’m going; usually, my parents as I don’t have a partner, but if I’m travelling, I will mention it to someone at my accommodation.  I’ll let them know my planned route and when I think I might be back, so if I don’t turn up they have an idea of where I was heading!

However, I never share my location on social media, as you don’t know who might be watching.  Wait until you get home to post your pics.

Hiking in Venezuela with a Group but Hiking Alone
Hiking in Venezuela with a Group but Hiking Alone

Find a Hiking Buddy

If you’re not quite ready for solo hiking or want to attempt a challenging route, you may prefer to have some company.  If you are new to hiking, a couple of “practise” hikes with other people is a great way to learn and to build your confidence.  

There are various ways you can find people to hike with, such as Facebook groups, hiking clubs, Meet Up events and such.  Organised hiking tours are useful for multi-day hikes as they usually arrange transport for your heavy bags and overnight gear.

All of the multi-day hikes I’ve been on have been with other people.  From hiking to Machu Picchu in Peru to scaling Mount Roraima in Venezuela for longer hikes having the comfort of knowing someone else is on the trail really helps.

I often end up actually walking alone as I set my own (slow) pace but meeting up at camp really gives me the best of both worlds and means I can enjoy hiking alone and still share the experience with others.   

Solo Hiking Tips & Things to Remember

Take Your Trash with You

This should be a no-brainer but with the amount of rubbish that people leave behind, I’m going to keep saying it.  Leave no trace on the trail, pack up all of your rubbish and take it home with you including toilet paper.  When nature calls on the trail, there is no excuse for leaving paper or tissues behind.

I carry a separate bag for used toilet paper, the poop bags for dogs are handy as they are dark coloured and often scented too – just keep it separate from everything else in your bag!

Enjoy Yourself!

The most important thing is to enjoy yourself.  I’m sure with these tips and some preparation you will have a fabulous hike.  Take care of yourself and the environment and you will do just fine.

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