Wandering along a gently flowing creek on a warm summer day has been a favorite outing most of my life. I’ve never felt the urge to venture out on backpacking or backcountry excursions, but a day hike up into the hills just to admire the view and explore the untouched beauty brings me a peace I find no place else.
I always seemed to have plenty of hiking buddies, until lately, when things changed and those who used to be up for a day in the wild either moved away or suffered some malady that took them out of commission.
As a result, I wasn’t getting out as frequently and I missed it terribly. So, a few months ago, I decided I needed to learn how to safely hike alone. I wasn’t going to give up one of my favorite outdoor activities just because I didn’t have a companion.
As I formulated a plan, I talked with other experienced hikers about where and how to continue on my own. I decided my first step was to learn the trails in my area.
I joined a hiking program at the local state park led by helpful volunteers who introduced me to the miles of trails and offered useful advice on equipment and safety precautions.
I began my solo journeys with short hikes in a small regional park, where I felt comfortable and confident, and I headed off, alone and happy to be out again.
As I learned new trails in the larger park, I invited others to take those hikes with me to reinforce my familiarity before venturing out unaccompanied. I also researched recommendations from several hiking sites, such as All Trails, that offer information on level of difficulty, ease of navigation, and safety.
I downloaded their app onto my phone, so I would have the GPS navigation anytime I had connectivity. But I would never depend on it. I like to purchase or download maps from the state and regional parks to carry in my pack.
I also began to pay attention to landmarks along the trail rather than just enjoy the walk. Noting the position of the sun at a certain time of day, locating mountain peaks, cell towers, and other landmarks helped guide me along, and also reassured me that I was headed in the proper direction.
With practice, it’s become a habit, as I pass certain trail markers, to always consciously take note.
Taking precautions, preparing adequately, and using reasonable judgement has given me the freedom to step out into the beauty of nature, with or without company, and I recommend you give it a try.
Here are a few additional steps I take to feel safe and well prepared:
Tell someone where I’m headed and what time I expect to be back. I usually text one of my hiking friends who know the trails and give them a detailed itinerary, including the trail names, not just the name of the park or area.
Prepare and maintain my body with regular workouts, focusing on core muscles for balance, cycling and swimming for ankle, knee, and hip stability, cardio for endurance, and yoga/Pilates for flexibility and freedom of movement.
Pack a whistle, water, cell phone, and band-aides. The sound of a whistle can be heard a long distance if you need assistance. I never assume I will be able to use my phone in case of trouble, but I carry it and know how to use the GPS function to ascertain my location if I have a connection.
Hike familiar and well-marked trails and carry a map. I make an effort to pay attention to my route, noting junctions of trails and watching the position of the sun as I progress.
I stop to enjoy the view, take photos or video, then proceed. I focus on keeping my feet under me as I descend steep trails and watch for loose gravel.
I take breaks in the shade and remember to drink water before I’m thirsty. Many hikers use hiking poles for additional security. I’ve not transitioned to them yet, but will eventually, I’m sure.
There are risks to hiking alone but I believe if I take these precautions and prepare well the benefits outweigh the risks. Happy Hiking!
What is your favorite outdoor activity? Who do you usually bring with you? If no one can accompany you, can you do this activity on your own? What safety steps do you need to take to feel comfortable and protected? Please share with our community and let’s talk outside hobbies!