Solo Hiking: Overcoming Fear and Embracing the Adventure

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This post is about discovering the joys of solo hiking. No more having to plan around others’ schedules or miss out on adventure opportunities. You choose the destinations, set your own pace, and savour the moments at your own leisure. If the idea of going alone seems scary, that’s normal! I’m here to encourage and support you along the way.

I know you can do it! Why? Because I’ve been in your shoes! While solo hiking can feel daunting at first, with a little preparation and practice, you’ll gain the confidence to go alone. Who knows, you may even decide you prefer it. Here’s some tips and tricks to get you started!

The Reality of Hiking Alone

Let’s begin by addressing some realities of solo hiking. It’s true that hiking alone is riskier than going with a friend. Having a second person around can be helpful if you get lost, and it’s definitely better to have someone nearby if you get injured. Hiking in a group also reduces the risk of dangerous wildlife encounters as animals, like bears and cougars, are less likely to approach a group than a solo hiker.

Hiking alone is about mitigating risks by taking proper precautions, such as informing someone of your planned route and expected return time, carrying appropriate equipment and supplies, and familiarizing yourself with the area and potential hazards.

While some people fear solo hiking because they are worried about bears, injury, or some other misfortune, others just can’t shake the uneasy feeling of going alone. The tips below will help you prepare for emergencies and address that unsettling feeling of being alone.

Start Small

Start with short and easy trails that are local and well-trafficked. Beginning with busy trails can help you feel less alone. These hikes can be as short as 15 minutes, the point is to get out there and prove that you can do this. As you gain confidence, gradually add more distance and challenge to your hikes.

Plan Ahead

Before heading out, make sure you have a clear idea of the trail, including its length, difficulty, and any potential hazards. If the trail is in a national or provincial park, you can always call the park ahead of time and ask about trail conditions. You can also check AllTrails and Google Reviews for write-ups by other hikers and a quick internet search might find you useful blog posts. While you’re at it, don’t forget to check the weather forecast.

Carry the Ten Essentials

The “10 essentials” are basic survival items that every hiker should carry. In the case of an unexpected event, they can mean the difference between a minor inconvenience and a life-threatening situation.

  1. Navigation: A map and compass (or GPS device) for finding your way and staying on course.
  2. Sun protection: Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to protect your skin and eyes from harmful UV rays.
  3. Extra clothing: Extra clothing to keep you warm in cold or wet weather.
  4. Flashlight: A headlamp or flashlight, with extra batteries, to help you see and be seen in the dark.
  5. First-aid supplies: A basic first-aid kit, including items like bandages, pain relievers, and antiseptic wipes, can help you treat minor injuries and prevent infections. Also, bring any prescription medications you take.
  6. Fire: Matches, a lighter, or a fire starter to provide warmth, light, and a way to signal for help.
  7. Knife: A pocketknife will allow you to cut and repair items. A larger knife can be helpful for gathering and processing firewood.
  8. Extra food: Enough food to last the entire trip, plus some extra calories in case of delays.
  9. Water: A water bottle or hydration system, as well as a means to purify water.
  10. Emergency shelter: A tarp, tent, or emergency blanket that can provide shelter and warmth in an emergency.

You might also want to carry a small repair kit and bug spray.

Tell Someone Where You Are Going

A trip plan could save your life. Trip plans let someone know the location, length, and nature of your trip in the wilderness. Should something happen to you, this information is vital for search and rescue. I have a separate post about trip plans and what to include in them, here. There’s also an app by Adventure Smart that can help you streamline the trip planning process.

Personal Locator Beacon

Personal locator beacons (PLBs) are portable devices that let you send an emergency signal to search and rescue. In recent years, they’ve become increasingly popular among outdoor enthusiasts as they provide an extra layer of safety in the event of an emergency.

PLBs work in remote and isolated locations where there is no cellphone reception. They are designed to withstand harsh weather conditions and can operate for days or even weeks without needing a battery replacement. Many newer models have a built-in GPS and two-way messaging so you can text friends and family. While PLBs are extremely useful in the event of an emergency, they are not a replacement for trip plans.

Enrol in a Course

Outdoor recreation groups and businesses sometimes offer courses on hiking, navigation, and emergency preparedness (often free of cost). Take advantage of these opportunities to gain new skills that will help keep you safe and confident on trail.

Hike Within Your Limits

Overconfidence can be a dangerous trap for hikers. Remember, the wilderness can be unpredictable and even experienced hikers can face unexpected challenges. It’s essential to be honest about your abilities and not take on hikes that are beyond your capabilities. No first time thru-hikes, mountain ascents or torrent river crossings. Start small, gain skills, and slowly work towards larger goals.

Don’t Be Afraid to Turn Back

Sometimes trails are more difficult than they appear on maps or online descriptions. It’s good to challenge yourself sometimes, but if something doesn’t feel right, turn around. There is no shame in turning back. Knowing your limits and assessing a dangerous situation are vital outdoor skills. When in doubt, it’s always best to err on the side of caution.

Bring Bear Spray

North America is home to various species of bears, like grizzly bears and black bears. Although problem bear encounters are rare, bear spray could save your life in the event of an attack. Keep it somewhere easily accessible, like your waist belt.

Take a Dog

Dogs love hiking and taking one can help alleviate some of the loneliness you experience on trail. In the absence of your own dog, you can offer to walk a neighbour or friend’s pooch. Be sure to bring enough water for your furry friend and be mindful of their physical limitations.

Some people think that a dog will deter dangerous wildlife, but off-leash dogs may actually attract animals towards you! If an off-leash dog confronts a frightening animal, it will often retreat towards you seeking safety. That’s no good! Hiking with your dog on a leash is the safest option for both you and your pet.

Jen and her dog, Moose, on a snowshoe together. She bends down on her knees to pet him. Solo hiking, or snowshoeing, can be less lonely with a dog.

Join a Friend or Hiking Group

I know, this is a post about building confidence to hike alone. But, if solo hiking still seems overwhelming, it’s best to hit the trail with someone else first. Joining a hiking group or seeking support from experienced hikers can, overtime, help build your confidence and skills to go alone. Try hiking a trail with friends and returning later to do it by yourself. Having prior knowledge of what to expect can make the hike less intimidating.

Repeat After Me, “Solo Hiking is Fun!”

After all that talk of caution and preparedness, let’s end by highlighting some wonderful reasons for hiking alone. For me, top of the list is solitude. Hiking alone allows me to escape the distractions and noise of everyday life. Many people enjoy solo hiking because they can immerse themselves in nature and enjoy the experience at their own pace.

Solo hiking also means you never have to plan around other people. I took up solo hiking when I realized I was missing out on adventures because none of my friends were available or wanted to go.

Lastly, some people feel a sense of accomplishment and pride when they hike alone because they have to rely on their own skills and abilities to complete the hike.

Happy Hiking!

I hope this post encourages you to take your first solo hike! If you have any questions, hit me up in the comments section below. If you’re an experienced solo hiker, I’d love to hear why you enjoy hitting the trail alone.

Other Posts That Can Help You On Your Solo Adventuring

The Ultimate Fall Camping Guide (for tips about keeping dry and warm in bad weather)

Naismith’s Rule: How to Predict Hiking Time (for help predicting the amount of time it takes to complete a hike)

Trip Plans and Why You Need Them (how to design a great trip plan)

Separating Fact from Fiction: Debunking Popular Outdoor Myths (a few dangerous outdoor myths debunked)

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