Are you tired of waiting around for people to hike with but you are hesitant to go alone?!
This was me, for years! I always loved to hike and even in high school struggled to find someone to hike up Sleeping Giant (the local hike when I was growing up) with me. 🤔
Then I met someone when I was 19 and we hiked together for several years. I had a built in hiking buddy and even two dogs, too! But..that relationship didn’t last so in my mid twenties I was back to finding people to hike with me again. At that point I was living in a new state with no friends yet and decided to just stick to my morning and afternoon walks in the neighborhood with random hikes here and there with whoever I could find (which was normally one of the mothers of the students I was teaching. 😊)
And in my early 30s something happened. I was tired of waiting for someone (particularly a significant other) to hike with. I thought I had to have a built in hiking partner so year after year as that wasn’t happening (I like to think I was picky ;)) I got the courage to start taking matters in my own hands.
I joined Meetup hiking groups near me and met the most amazing and kind people. These hikes got me back into “hiking shape” and gave me the confidence and courage to branch off and hike alone in between Meetup events. Most of the hikers in these groups were at least a decade or two older than me yet they were SO much faster and in much better shape than I was which was inspiring!
And trailing behind them at the end gave me a taste, when they were all up ahead, what it felt like to be alone on the trail. To hear nothing but the crunch of the leaves, the birds chirping, trees rustling, and your own breath as you struggled to keep going. My thoughts calmed as the sunlight poured in and I thought – I like this! No matter who is with me, this is where I belong- this is what feeds my soul and makes me happy. And looking back now I can say I made a promise to never let it go. My next move was adopting Captain to ensure I would continue getting out there and several months after Captain I met Jared who is now my live in hiking partner. 🙂
So if after all of that (thank you for reading, by the way!) doesn’t inspire you to try the trails solo then read on because below I will offer everything I’ve learned turned into tips for you.
THE BENEFITS OF HIKING ALONE
Time to think. Whether you have an important decision to ponder or just want to sort thoughts, hiking alone can give you that time to clear your mind. It might sound silly or maybe you will know what I mean but after some solo time in the woods I usually have lots of ideas. Sometimes I even talk into my Notes app on my phone as thoughts come up.
Time to not think! When you’re hiking alone you don’t have to think of what you’re going to say next or worry about making conversation with anyone! 🙂 It can be a nice break for the brain and like a little meditation.
Increased confidence and a sense of accomplishment when done. After hiking alone you realize that you can do it and will be more comfortable going out there next time!
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN HIKING SOLO
Expect to feel a little nervous at first. This is normal when our first instinct is survival and protecting ourselves. Getting out of the car and starting out on the trail may give you butterflies at first and it may feel risky. After a few minutes of walking you will most likely begin to relax but if you find that you really aren’t comfortable you CAN ALWAYS TURN AROUND!
When hiking alone you can expect to feel a little nervous when you do see someone else along your hike, particularly if you are a female solo hiker and see another male. There is nothing wrong with feeling like this but chances are they are going to just say ‘hello’ and walk on by. Most people set out on the trail for peace of mind, a healthy experience, and exercise.
It will be quiet! Unless you pick a more popular trail which isn’t a bad idea when you are jsut getting comfortable as a woman hiking alone. I wouldn’t suggest earbuds with music as you want to remain aware of your surroundings. But there have been times particularly when I’m comfortable during the walk back that I play a podcast and keep the phone in my pocket so I can hear it but hear everything else as well.
14 SOLO HIKING SAFETY TIPS FOR WOMEN
1. KNOW YOUR HIKING ABILITIES AND YOUR LIMITS
Are you a beginner who’s mainly stuck to walks 3 miles and under?! Or have you recently tackled a NH 4000 footer? It will be important to truly reflect on your past and recent hiking experiences so you can appropriately choose the trail that I right for you.
2. RESEARCH AND CHOOSE YOUR HIKE BASED ON ABOVE ABILITIES REFLECTION
One of my favorite things to do is research trails on the AllTrails app! Once you think about your true hiking ability and what you feel comfortable doing alone (3 miles verse 6) you can set your search criteria in the AllTrails app and see what hikes show up near you with that match your criteria. You can enter miles and even difficulty; easy, moderate, or hard.
If it makes you feel better to have people around then choose a trail that is more popular! AllTrails usually states in the description if it is a popular trail but if you choose one with a high rating and recent reviews chances are there will be other people hiking there on that day as well.
3. CHOOSE A TRAIL YOU’VE HIKED BEFORE WITH OTHERS AND/OR CHOOSE A POPULAR TRAIL
If this is one of your first solo hikes then you may be more comfortable if you choose a hike you’ve done before either by yourself or with others. If you choose one you’ve been on and kind of remember then it will seem less scary to embark on it alone because you will know what to expect along the way and you’ll feel somewhere somewhat familiar.
You may also enjoy setting out on your first solo hike when it is a popular trail. Think about a popular trail near you with a full, bustling parking lot. (To me I think of Monument Mountain in Great Barrington or Sleeping Giant in Hamden, CT). Does it make you feel comfortable to see other people, families, dogs in along the way? If so then choose one of those to do first! On these you won’t feel so alone and will probably feel safer as there will be group a little ahead of you and/or behind you. That makes me comfortable sometimes.
4. RESEARCH TRAIL CONDITIONS BEFOREHAND
Once I choose the hike I ALWAYS check the recent reviews for that trail on AllTrails. People will kindly leave a review and let you know about the trail conditions. Is it slippery?! Are they suggesting micro spikes because of ice or waterproof boots because of a wet and muddy trail? Is there is anything out of the ordinary people will usually leave that information in a review which reminds me that I should leave trail reviews more often!
5. DOWNLOAD ALLTRAILS MAP AND/OR BRING A MAP
Have something you can refer to once you start the hike in order to make sure you are on the track. Some trails have trail signs and most trails have a blaze on the trees to follow that can be blue, red, or white. But you may come to a fork in the road and need to refer to a map to determine which way to go if it is not clear. At that time you can pull up the AllTrails map you downloaded or the map you brought.
I also sometimes take a screenshot of the trail so I have an idea of the shape and how many turns there are and can refer to it. Now if you don’t download the map or have one with you you may be able to up the trail on AllTrails while you’re out there. If that is your plan I suggest at least adding it as a favorite so you don’t have to worry about searching for it while you’re out there.
6. CHARGE AND BRING YOUR CELL PHONE
Especially if you are relying on your phone to pull up the AllTrails app and map should you need it, make sure it is fully charged! If you have a portable charger you can always bring that as well but it will make you feel better if you start the hike with your phone available should you need it.
7. CHECK THE WEATHER
Part of being prepared and knowing what to wear is having an idea of the weather for the day! If there is a chance of rain bring a light rain jacket. For strong sun, wear sunscreen. Or if it’s cold and windy dress wear layers. I have a winter hiking gear guide linked here in case you need to check how to properly dress for cold weather hikes!
8. BRING YOUR PUP!
The main reason I adopted Captain was so I would have someone to hike with and have a little protection in the trail. Chances are it won’t ever come down to you needing your dog as a bodyguard but it makes me feel better to have the dogs with me not to mention how much they enjoy hiking as well. It’s a great bonding experience!
9. MAKE PEOPLE AWARE OF YOUR HIKING PLANS (NOT ON SOCIAL MEDIA!)
Before leaving for your solo hike tell at least one person of your plan. You can send someone a link to the hike you’ve picked out on AllTrails and let them know what time you plan to start and about how long you think it will take. Though I enjoy sharing where I hike or maybe hiking goals coming up I never post in real time where I am. Not in an Instagram post nor an Instagram story. If I feel compelled to post something on my story while on a hike (which is rare) I never tag the location or make where I am obvious. You can never be too safe in my opinion.
10. PACK ENOUGH SNACKS ALONG WITH THE 10 ESSENTIALS
Appropriate footwear, water, food, and a first aid kit are just a few of the essentials on the list that I would definitely suggest. It’s much better to be safe than sorry but there have been times where I’ve been out there wishing I had more water or food. And sometimes I haven’t had a first aid kit. I survived but it would have been much more enjoyable for me had I had them. You want your solo adventure to be one that keeps you wanting more so pack extra when you are alone because there won’t be anyone next to you to ask – hey do you have an extra granola bar?? 👀
11. PACK SOME EXTRA PROTECTION
There’s nothing wrong with being over prepared for your solo hike and that includes bringing something for your own self defense. Mace, bear spray, pocket knife (which is one of the 10 essentials) there is no shame in bringing some protection even for your own peace of mind.
12. STAY ON DESIGNATED TRAILS
You might see a pretty view through the woods or may wonder what’s to the left when you know you should be taking a right, but as you build your confidence out there you are better off sticking to the well worn marked path on your solo journey. The last thing you want is to get lost or not be able to find your way back if you decide to stray off trail for a bit.
Some people have a great sense of direction and I like to think I’m one of them! 😉 But if you know that once you turn around you won’t be able to remember which way you came from then do not stray until you either build more confidence or it’s a trail and area you know real well which even then it could be risky too.
13. LIMIT YOUR PHONE TIME WHILE HIKING
Not only do you want to preserve your cell phone battery should you need it but you also want to give yourself time to relax and not hike and text and constantly check your phone the way you would if you were sitting on your couch. Allow yourself the benefits of being outside and take in and pay attention to your surroundings!
Also, as mentioned in the beginning of this post, do not hike with earbuds in your ear and music blasting! As a female hiking solo you want to remain aware of your surroundings. Sometimes I listen to a podcast on my way back when I’m comfortable or on a trail I know super well but I keep my phone in my pocket and listen from there so I’m not plugging up my ears. 🙂
14. STAY AWARE
This last tip is not to scare you! Realize that it is normal to look over your shoulder sometimes. To be aware of who’s around you and the noises you hear (which will probably just be squirrels in the leaves!) is smart no matter where you are. While I get comfortable out there when hiking alone I am never not keeping on top of my surroundings and monitoring my safety because safety really is most important.
AND AFTER ALL OF THAT, WHAT IF YOU JUST DON’T WANT TO HIKE ALONE AND WANT TO FIND SOMEONE TO HIKE WITH?!
If you decide that hiking solo is not for you or if you just want to mix in some non solo hiking time then there are hiking groups you can find and join. I bet almost every state has a Facebook outdoor/adventure/hiking page where people talk local trails and arrange events and group hikes. I have met others this way and it just takes a bit of research. Start by typing in the name of your state plus the term ‘outdoors’ or ‘hiking’ in the Facebook search bar and see what groups you can find.
And as I mentioned in the beginning, Meetup is a great place to safely meet others for a hike. It’s where I first started getting my hiking groove back 😉 and developing my confidence and knowing my ability on the trail, with other people first. Check that it’s an established group that has hosted hikes before. You will know this because most groups have pictures of past events and hikes. Meetup is definitely a fun place to plan for a hike and have something to look forward to on your calendar. Hike numbers are often limited so sign up at least a week in advance of when you want to go. There is a way to RSVP right on the app or even be added to a waitlist.
Or if you live in a state that has the Appalachian Trail (runs all along the east coast from Georgia up to Maine!) then you can check for organized group hikes through the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) which hosts all kinds of events and group day and overnight hikes! They even organize trips and vacations. Check the AMC events page here.
Final Notes On Solo Female Hiking
Walking or hiking is one of the best forms of exercise you can do. It benefits our mind and body and to me, it is too important to miss out on just because you have no one to go with. There are lots of popular trails out there with full parking lots on a Saturday or Sunday that you can use to build your confidence while hiking.
I spent too many years “wishing” I had someone to hike with and feel like I missed out on a lot of beautiful experiences. Once I started making the decision to join the Meetup groups and then proceeded to get Captain so I could have a hiking buddy out there, it gave me all the confidence I needed to set out solo. Yes, I still look over my shoulder and keep super aware when out there alone but it is worth it to me. Always put safety first and enjoy your hiking journey.