The Sierra Club says that hiking alone isn’t dangerous in and of itself
as long as you tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back—this is the number one rule of hiking solo. It’s also important to always stay on the trails and pack plenty of provisions.
According to the solo hikers, there are 12 key principles to remember when you’re hiking alone in the wilderness:
- Tell someone where you’re going: Explain exactly where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Have them alert authorities if you don’t return by the specified time.
- Dial in your navigation system: Be sure to always carry a compass, maps of the region, and a GPS tracker (and know how to use
- Never wander off the trails: That’s how people get lost. Stick to marked trails and don’t be tempted to wander off the beaten path.
- Check the weather: Look at the forecast the morning of your hike since it may have changed and pay attention to the weather throughout the day.
- Have an emergency kit: This should include a headlamp, knife, first aid kit, fire starter, rope, and emergency blanket. You don’t have to assemble this yourself—there are lots of lightweight, pre-made kits out there.
- Bring a small survival book: If you don’t already have strong wilderness survival skills, bring a tiny handbook. That way you’ll know what to do with the emergency supplies if you need them.
- Prepare to stay longer than you planned: If you’re on a day hike, bring enough food and water to stay the night. On two-day trips, pack for three or four.
- Bring a solar charger and batteries: This will help keep your phone and other electronics charged.
- Consider carrying a locator beacon: They’re on the pricier side but can be life-saving in an emergency. Satellite phones or inReach devices can work too.
- Talk to a ranger: Never underestimate the power of a local to have the inside scoop on the most up-to-date tips, weather forecasts, and trail hazards.
- Start small: Don’t feel like you have to summit a mountain on your first solo hike. Start with short day hikes to get comfortable with the feeling of being alone in the woods.
- Start with other people: If you haven’t hiked a lot before, don’t start alone. Have friends, family, or local hiking clubs show you the ropes first.
Once you’ve properly prepared, a whole new world will open up for you, they said.
“It’s just you and the trees, you and the animals, you and the earth,” Wunderman said. “You really get to see who you are and the context of that environment.
“It’s also sort of meditative. You’re alone with your thoughts and you just have to be your own company. In some ways that can help you develop a best friendship with yourself.”
Not only that, in addition to hard skills like reading topographic maps or treating bug bites, you’ll gain character-building skills.
“What hiking alone really teaches you is how to rely on yourself,” Wunderman said. “When there’s no one to turn to—no one to solve your problems for you—you have to look inward.
“You learn how to turn off that panic and find your calm, find your breath, and realize, and witness, that you truly have the strength within yourself to solve the problem that you’re facing.”
Plus, unless you’re in an extremely remote place, you’re likely to come across other hikers on the trails, Addis pointed out. Even when you start off hiking alone, you often end up meeting other people and hiking with them along the way.