Photo: Ian Shive/ Tandemstock

How to Stay Safe on a Solo Hike

Hiking alone can be rewarding, but you want to be prepared.

While hiking in the company of friends or family is a fantastic way to experience nature and build relationships, solo hiking has its own rewards. For some hikers, nothing replaces the solitude and independence and self-reflective time of a solo trek. But it’s not without controversy. Some people think you should never hike alone, because of the risk. Others think it’s perfectly safe as long as you take appropriate precautions. If you’re ready to try a solo hike—and be totally self-reliant—here are some tips to get started.

Choose a Familiar Route

If you’re new to hiking alone, choosing a route you know well is the safest bet. You don’t want to get lost on any hike, of course, but getting disoriented on a solo trek is especially disconcerting since you have no one to problem solve with. It’s also a good idea to choose a popular trail. Knowing that other trail users frequent the same trail can safeguard your experience. If you get into trouble, someone passing by could help. 

Choose a Conservative Route

This is not the time to go for a personal mileage record. When you’re first getting comfortable with solo hiking, there’s no need to increase the risk by pushing yourself farther or higher than you’re used to.   

Tell Someone Where You’re Going

Tell a trustworthy friend or family member your exact plans. Let them know what trail you’ll be on and your estimated time of return. It’s also a good idea to leave a note on the windshield of your car saying what route you’re taking and what time you intend to return to your car. This key information can be critically important in search and rescue efforts, should something go wrong on your hike.  

Go Early

Don’t get stuck finishing a solo hike after dark. That just increases the risk, and in the worst cases could force an unplanned overnight. You also want to avoid getting caught high on ridges or summits during thunderstorms, which often happen in the afternoon. For those reasons, it’s best to get an early start on solo hikes.

Bring a Dog

If you have a dog who can hike, or have a friend with a dog who can hike, take that pup with you. The presence of a canine friend can be both comforting and increase your safety from both human and wildlife dangers. It’s best to keep dogs leashed, as dogs charging after moose or bear can increase danger for all parties.  

Photo: Vince M. Camiolo/Tandemstock

Respect Wildlife

Dangerous encounters with animals are rare, but they’re more likely to happen to solo hikers than groups of hikers. Keep your distance from any wildlife, and know how to react: Don’t run from mountain lions or bears, for example. Instead, stand tall and talk to them in a calm, low voice while backing away slowly. Back away slowly from a moose, unless it charges at you. If it does, run, and try to get behind a tree or large rock. Give rattlesnakes a wide berth, and avoid putting your hands and feet in places you can’t see. 

Know Basic First Aid

Since you’ll be by yourself, it’s important to carry some first aid supplies and know how to use them. Know how to dress a wound and splint a break. Know how to recognize the signs of altitude sickness and allergic reactions. Be ready to help yourself.

Know How to Navigate

Every hiker should know how to use a map and compass. These skills are especially critical for a solo hiker. Always know where you are on a map, and pay extra attention to your surroundings. After trail junctions, turn around and look at what the junction looks like so you’ll recognize it on your return trip. GPS units and navigation apps are great, but don’t rely on electronics alone. 

Gear

Aside from regular hiking gear you’d take with you when hiking with other people, there are a few items you should make sure to have with you when hiking alone. These include:

  •  First Aid Kit. Either pack yourself a basic kit from your home supplies, or carry a pre-packed kit. Familiarize yourself with the contents of the kit, and make sure you know how to use each item.
  • Compass and map. Don’t rely on your phone or watch to navigate, as either can run out of power or lose its signal in the woods. Carry a map and compass and know how use them.
  • Plenty of food and water. You won’t be able to bum a sip of water off your buddy, or share a sandwich with your friend, so make sure you have enough food and water to be self-sufficient. Pack a little extra just in case.
  • Emergency blanket. In an emergency or unexpected weather, an ultralight emergency blanket is critical gear. They insulate so well for their low weight that you might as well keep one in the bottom of your pack at all times.
  • Whistle. Many daypacks have whistles built into the sternum straps, but if yours doesn’t make sure you have one with you. A whistle can be used to scare off dangerous wildlife, or alert others that you need help.
  • Bear spray. If you’re hiking in bear country, carry bear spray and make sure it’s accessible (not in your pack). Grizzlies an issue? Solo hikers should talk or sing to avoid surprising them.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.