now let’s get in formation let’s be honest. Does the thought of doing a solo hike excite you? Or absolutely terrify you?
A simple Google search will give you thousands of articles, posts, and information for solo female travelers. Yet finding information on solo female outdoor adventure isn’t really talked about. If a solo hike excites you, you’ve probably already hiked alone before or you’ve heard about how empowering it can be! If it terrifies you, you’ve probably been under the notion that solo hiking or solo traveling for a woman is dangerous. You might not feel comfortable outdoors yet. Or you may be worrying about all of the things that could go wrong while you’re out in the woods by yourself!
You’re not alone in your fear. But you shouldn’t let it stop you from doing something new or challenging! This post goes through all of the “what-if’s” to help you feel safe and comfortable on your next solo hike.
Buckle up, it’s a long one! Let’s make sure you arrive at the trailhead prepared for anything — from clothing to creepers!
What If It’s My First Solo Hike?
First off, congratulations on taking the leap toward solo outdoor adventuring! I remember how intimidating it was setting off on my first solo hike. Every noise made me so nervous. I may or may not have hid behind a tree in fear of what turned out to be a baby rabbit. I still get a little nervous when I’m by myself on the trail. But conquering each new solo hike brings me such strength and empowerment — and yes, a whole lot of humility too. You learn a lot about what you’re capable of while alone in the woods.
Here are some basic tips that are a good rule-of-thumb when hiking on your own.
• Plan your hike in advance so you have a general idea of what’s around you, where to go, and what landmarks to look for along the way. Know about how long your hike should take and what the terrain will look like. Print trail maps and download them onto your phone.
• Make sure someone you often see (significant other, best friend, roommate, coworker) knows where you’re going, and what your intended plan and timeframe is.
• Dress in layers and wear hiking sneakers or boots that have already been worn-in.
• Pack plenty of food and water for the number of days you’ll be hiking. If just doing a day hike, still pack a meal or two and snacks.
• Pack a flashlight or a headlamp, even if you don’t plan on hiking at nightfall.
• Always stay alert to your surroundings and greet fellow hikers. This acknowledges that you’ve seen them and lets them know you’re there.
What If I Wear The Wrong Clothing?
What you wear is largely determined by the season you hike in. Overall though, cotton is the Devil and synthetics are a gift from the sweet baby Jesus himself. All joking aside, avoid wearing cotton on your outdoor adventures. It will trap your sweat and moisture, leaving you wet and keeping you cold.
Synthetics such as polyester, nylon, and merino wool will wick-away sweat and moisture while drying quickly. Merino wool also drives away odors, which is great for keeping your B.O. at bay on the trail. Lightweight synthetics are your best bet for spring and summer hikes, while wool and fleece are great for fall or winter hikes. However, no matter the season, dressing in layers and having a warm or waterproof layer packed is key to your comfort. And in rare cases your survival.
Wool socks, even in the summer months (you can get a lightweight pair), are the best for odor, moisture, and blister prevention. Make sure you invest in hiking sneakers or boots that are properly fitted as well! If the weather or terrain will be wet and muddy, opt for waterproof boots with good grip on the soles. If the terrain is rocky, get boots that go above the ankle for added support and balance, decreasing your chances of falling or spraining your ankle. A wide-brimmed hat or baseball cap to avoid sun exposure is also a good idea.
To see some of the clothing and gear I use on my hikes, view my What I Use page!
What If I don’t Know Anything About Hiking Gear?
I get it. When you’re in a gear shop like REI or buying online from sites like Backcountry, the options are overwhelming. And then you add descriptions and vocabulary like cubic inches, external frame, load-spreading hip belts, bladder compatibility. It can make you want to quit and run.
Find a store employee who can answer your questions or do a quick internet search for reviews. For day hikes, a backpack is your most important gear purchase. For extended trips, you’ll also be looking at sleeping bags, sleeping pads, tents, and cookware.
When searching for a backpack, knowing what the number of liters means will come in handy. For weekend trips that are between 1-3 days, find a pack that holds 35-50 liters. For trips between 3-5 days, get a pack that holds 50-80 liters. Also, in most cases, backpacks are measured by your torso length — not your height — so make sure you get yourself properly fitted! Finding packs designed with women in mind will greatly help your comfort! I have an Osprey daypack that’s specifically made for a woman’s body and it’s the best fitting pack I’ve ever tried. Bonus points if it comes with a CamelBak hydration system!
Other hiking gear or items you’ll want to bring along are a headlamp, maps/compass, a first aid kit, waterproof matches and firestarter, a pocket knife, a bandana, hand sanitizer or wipes, sunglasses, sunscreen, bug repellant, and a water purifier. Trekking poles could also be handy on some hikes. And don’t forget a lightweight tripod and camera to capture it all with! Again, to see some of the clothing and gear I use on my hikes, view my What I Use page!
What If I Get Caught In Bad Weather?
Hopefully you’ll have checked the weather before hitting the trail. In many states though, the weather can change very quickly! I’ve recently started using a weather app called WeatherBug, which gives an incredibly accurate and detailed forecast with up-to-the-minute weather.
Rain, Hail, and Snow
All of these elements make you wet and cold. To avoid hypothermia and frostbite, start by wearing wick-away layered clothing and avoiding cotton. If your clothing is soaked, change into something dry immediately. Pack a poncho or garbage bag before your hike to wear in case of rain or to cover your pack with if you don’t have a waterproof pack cover. Bring a waterproof rain jacket or a down-insulated waterproof outer layer if there’s even a slight chance of rain or snow. Thick wool socks and hand warmers are great to pack, too. Seek shelter to wait out the bad weather if you can, and prepare to make a fire if needed. Trail conditions can get slippery and will increase your chances of falling, so having boots with good traction will help. In deep snow, renting a pair of snowshoes is your best bet.
Quickly get away from bodies of water, elevated ridge lines or peaks, and open fields. Avoid lone trees, other tall objects, and metal. Look for a low-lying valley or wooded areas. Take shelter by the smaller trees and crouch down to the ground. Ideally, you’ll want to insulate yourself from the ground too. You can do this by sitting on your pack or sleeping pad if you have one. To know how close the lightning is from you, count the number of seconds between the flash of lightning and the bang of thunder, and then divide that by 5. This gives you the distance in miles (or you can divide by 3 to find the distance in kilometers). For example, 5 seconds equals 1 mile away from you. The WeatherBug app also tells you the distance of the nearest lightning strike so you don’t have to math!
Hiking can be dangerous in canyons, deserts, or other intensely heated areas with little shade. Drink plenty of water and electrolytes (but don’t over-hydrate) and eat salty or high-energy foods. Wear a hat for sun protection and 30+ SPF sunscreen. Consider avoiding big hikes between 11am and 4pm. A wet bandana to keep around your head or neck will keep you cool.
Flash floods are the #1 cause of weather-related deaths in the US! They’re most common in the southwest. Look for trail signs that tell you if your hiking area is known for flash floods, and look for physical signs like water marks or debris. As you hike, be aware of escape routes you could take and try to stay away from hiking in the bottom of canyons. Don’t camp near bodies of water in an area known for flooding.
What If I Run Into A Dangerous Animal?
Before you start your hike, do a quick internet search on what kind of wildlife you might encounter in that area. While you’re at it, research the poisonous plants too. Dangerous animal encounters are extremely rare, but they increase if you’re hiking solo. This is because you likely won’t have a large group of people making noise on the trail alongside you. If you take preventative measures though, you should be safe. I’ve hiked solo throughout bear country and mountain lion territory and never once saw these animals during my hikes.
Prevention : Bears are most active at dawn, dusk, and throughout the night so avoid hiking then if possible. Carry bear mace/spray and have it readily available. Wear unscented deodorant and keep strong-smelling foods in a canister or in your car (dry foods are best to have on you). Sing some Yoncé out loud, clap your hands once in a while, and make sure any possible bears out there are aware of your presence. Some hikers attach jingle bells onto their packs, but the sound doesn’t actually travel very far — unless you’re doing some seriously intense dance moves!
In Case of Sightings or Attacks : If the bear hasn’t seen you, keep quiet and back away while trying to divert your path downwind (so it doesn’t pick up your scent) or wait until the bear clears the area. If it’s seen you, stay calm and make yourself look big by putting your hands up in the air or holding open your jacket. Use a low voice and talk — “Heyyy Bear…” while backing away slowly. Try not to stare at it and definitely do not run or shout. Climbing trees won’t do you any good either as both black bears and grizzly bears can climb. Some bears may bluff charge you, but I wouldn’t wait around to find out if it’s bluffing or not. Use your bear mace/spray as a last resort and only from a close distance to the bear (about 15 feet away).
Black Bears : If this bear attacks, fight back with everything you have.
Grizzly Bears : If this bear comes at you aggressively, lay on your stomach with your backpack protecting your back and put your hands behind your head covering your neck. Playing dead will increase your chances at survival, but if it does start biting you, then fight back.
Polar Bears : This bear is an exception to the rules. Polar bears are one of the only animals on Earth that actively hunt humans as prey. You should never be alone while in polar bear territory and if you see one, run to the nearest vehicle or building as fast as you can!
Prevention : If hiking in mountain lion territory, carry a stick or trekking poles with you and try to avoid hikers with small children — mountain lions are attracted to kids. Look behind you every now and then. You generally don’t see a mountain lion unless it wants to be seen, and they will quietly stalk their prey. This all sounds intimidating, but mountain lion sightings, let alone attacks, are extremely rare. In fact, report statistics say that your family dog or neighbor’s dog is 10 times more likely to attack or kill you than a mountain lion is.
In Case of Sightings or Attacks : Look large and don’t run. Behave opposite you would with bears — act aggressive, shout, throw things like rocks, and maintain eye contact. But if it still attacks, fight back.
Prevention : PLEASE please please do not be one of the hundreds of people I’ve seen walking right up to a moose to take its photograph. They may be cute and awkward-looking, but they can be deadly! Especially if that moose has a calf. Be on the lookout for moose near bodies of water.
In Case of Sightings or Attacks : If the moose sees you and begins to change its behavior, keep quiet and back away. If it’s agitated, it’ll put its ears back and start to click its teeth or smack its lips. It might throw its head up like a horse, show the whites of its eyes, or even urinate. Run to get behind the nearest tree or building. If nothing is around and the moose is charging at you, curl up in a ball on the ground and protect your head.
Prevention : Rattlesnakes, along with other venomous snake species, prefer to hide under rocks or logs to keep cool in the heat. If you’ll be hiking in an area where venomous snakes live, be cautious of your footing near rocks, logs, and shrubbery. Listen for sounds similar to shaking a maraca — this is a rattlesnakes warning that you’re too close. In general with snakes, they’re more afraid of you than you are of them and they’ll likely retreat before you even notice them.
In Case of Sightings or Attacks : Take note of what the snake looks like (colors, patterns, shape of its head) so that if it bites you, you’ll be able to describe it to responders who can apply the correct antivenin treatment. Move out of the snakes path and continue on. If you’re bitten by what you think is a venomous snake such as a rattlesnake, you’ll feel a tingling or burning pain and that area will swell. You’ll get nauseous and have difficulty breathing. Take off any jewelry or tight clothing from the bitten area and wash it with soap and water.
Keep the wound lower than your heart! Seek medical attention immediately — preferably before 30 minutes since the bite! You could also wrap a bandage, bandana, or article of clothing a few inches above the bite to slow your blood flow. Don’t put ice on the bite or make any incisions, and don’t apply a tourniquet! Also, sucking the venom out doesn’t work and will only cause you more harm!
Not only am I a travel blogger, but my degree is in Wildlife Biology. My passion and some of my background is in reptile research and conservation. Call me crazy, but my heart goes out to these danger-noodles (also known as venomous snakes) who are too often misunderstood. As long as you’re cautious and keep out of their way, you shouldn’t get bitten. And if you are bitten, you’re 9 times more likely to die from being struck by lighting than to die from a venomous snake bite.
Prevention : Ticks and mosquitos carry diseases. Apply tick and mosquito repellant that has at least 20-30% DEET to your skin and clothing. Wear long sleeves and pants. Avoid hiking in areas with tall grass. Check yourself thoroughly for ticks multiple times during your hike, and again in the shower. Ticks prefer warmer areas such as the armpits, back of the knees, between the legs, behind the ears, and around the waist or hair. If mosquitos are intense, wear a mosquito head net around a hat to stop them from biting your face.
In Case of Sightings or Attacks : Smack and swat at any mosquitos you see (duh). Lemon, minced onion or garlic, salt, baking soda, and aloe vera are all items you can use to reduce the swelling and itchiness of mosquito bites. If you find a tick on you, use tweezers to pinch it as close to the surface of your skin as possible. Pull upward quickly and don’t twist! Wash the area with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. Drown the tick in alcohol, wrap it in tape, or flush it down a toilet — basically never crush it with your fingers. If you find a rash that looks like a bulls-eye or feel feverish or nauseous after a hike, seek medical attention.
Prevention : In the US, the only concerning spider species are the brown recluse and the black widow. Avoid flowering plants and be cautious around rocks and logs. Avoiding brightly colored clothing and sweet smelling lotions/perfumes will decrease your chances of spider and bee encounters. Check your shoes and your pack before putting them back on. Consider tucking the hem of your pants into your socks or shoes.
In Case of Sightings or Attacks : Stay calm and still if you see spiders, scorpions, or bees. Dangerous spider bites may cause weakness, hives, shortness of breath — or in the worst case anaphylaxis, sweating, chills, cramps, and rapid pulsing. Scorpion stings cause similar symptoms and both should be washed with soap and water and kept lower than heart level. Spider, scorpion, and bee stings feel a little better by applying a cold pack or cold water for 10-15 minutes at a time. Seek medical attention if you’re allergic to bees or having a bad reaction to the bite or sting.
What If I Get Lost?
If you’ve pre-planned your hike and you brought a map, you should be okay. But getting lost can still happen. Maybe the map is confusing or you go down the wrong trail or the signs and markers are lacking. Maybe a large animal or a knocked over tree is in your path and you need to veer around it. If you think you’re lost, just S.T.O.P.
S : Stop
T : Think
O : Observe
P : Plan
Do you remember how to get back to where you last knew your location? Can you navigate back to certain waypoints you passed like a sign, a lake, an oddly shaped tree? Are there any roads around or noises indicating civilization like cars driving or lawnmowers or people talking?
To prevent yourself from getting lost, it’s a good idea to not only pre-plan your route, but to tell any park rangers or friends/family where you’re headed and when you think you’ll be back. Have a map with you on hand, and a backup copy pre-downloaded onto your cellphone. It couldn’t hurt to have a GPS and a compass on you too. Stay on the path as much as possible, and if the trail you’re on has one, sign the logbook with your name, date, and time.
Investing in a SPOT device could save your life. A SPOT device has satellite technology and the perfect features in cases of emergencies or getting lost. “SPOT offers peace of mind by allowing you to track your assets, notify friends and family of your GPS position and status, mark waypoints, track your progress on Google Maps™ or notify rescue officials in an emergency.” — FindMeSpot.com
You can send a pre-determined text or email to your friends/family (ex : “Send Help!” or “Doing Good!”). Choose a timed interval to have your SPOT device record your location (ex : every 2.5, 5, etc minutes). Or send emergency responders your GPS location with the touch of a button. My boyfriend and I used our SPOT device to let our family know that we were okay when we did a 3-month backpacking trip through Central America. This way, they didn’t worry as much and they could track our route to see our progress!
What If I Get Hurt or Sick?
Your chances of getting hurt or sick decrease if you know your limits, watch your step, and wear proper clothing and shoes. They increase if you’re hiking in bad weather, if you’re hurrying yourself, and if for some reason you decide to drink from a brown puddle. You should always pack a first aid kit! Let’s go through the most common hiking injuries and sicknesses to better prepare you.
Too much sun and forgetting to reapply sunscreen could lead to a sunburn. If the sunburn is really bad, it could lead to sun poisoning. Symptoms could include skin blisters, headaches, fever and chills, nausea, dizziness, and dehydration. Get out of the sun, drink extra fluids, apply aloe gel, and take an ibuprofen. For bug bite info, see the above section on dangerous animals.
“Leaves of 3, Let it be.” “Berries white, Run in fright.” Poison ivy has 3 almond-shaped shiny leaves and grows as a vine or shrub. The plant is light or dark green and turns red in the Fall. Each leaflet has a few or no serrated teeth along the edges, meaning they’re mostly smooth. If you touch it, your skin gets an incredibly itchy rash, inflammation, bumps, and blisters. Immediately wash your skin with soap and cold water or rubbing alcohol. Never hot water as hot water opens your pores, causing the plants oils to spread into your skin even more. Calamine lotion may also help relieve you. Wash your clothes with detergent that has bleach. Some people prefer to just throw the clothes away to ensure they’ll never suffer again by touching the affected clothing. Gear and shoes can be cleaned with alcohol while wearing rubber gloves.
Blisters are the #1 trail injury. To prevent them, choose shoes that are not too tight or too loose, break them in before your hike, wear wool socks, and keep your feet dry. If you get a blister, it’s better to let it breathe whenever possible, but if it’s too irritating you can stick a bandaid, tape, or moleskin on it.
To prevent your thighs from chafing while hiking, wear synthetic underwear and avoid cotton! You can also apply a product to that area called Body Glide before your hike of the day. It’s a mixture of antiperspirant and zinc oxide (you could also just use zinc oxide by itself). But don’t apply it if your skin has already been rubbed raw — it’ll sting! Rinse your body off at night to rid it of the salt and sweat you collected.
You may experience altitude sickness if you’re hiking above 8,000 feet. Reduced oxygen and changes in air pressure can cause you to experience vomiting, headaches, insomnia, and a lack of coordination. Allow your body enough time to adjust to the altitude by hiking at a slow pace over a series of a few days. If the symptoms are too much, get more oxygen and descend to a lower altitude.
When your body is lacking in salt (lost by sweating), sometimes your muscles can fire. You might also experience muscle cramps, especially in your legs, if you’re lacking electrolytes, if you’re dehydrated, or if you’re pushing yourself too hard. Drink plenty of water and beverages such as gatorade. Eat electrolyte-rich foods such as peanut butter, bananas, dried fruit, nuts, greek yogurt, or beans. Start your hike at a slow pace and do some stretching beforehand.
A sprained ankle is likely caused from wet, slippery, or rocky terrain along with boots that don’t go above the ankle. If you get a sprained ankle on your hike, elevate your foot and keep your weight off of it. Put ice/snow or cold water on it to reduce swelling (you can use your Camelbak hydration system filled with cold water). Yell to fellow hikers for help. If nobody is around, create a makeshift ankle brace and hop/hobble back to the start of the trail to find people who can assist you.
Giardia is caused by a microscopic parasite found all over the world in places of poor sanitation — especially in unsafe drinking water. Symptoms include abdominal cramps, watery diarrhea, bloating, fatigue, and nausea. To prevent yourself from getting this intestinal infection, boil your water for a minute or more, and filter it. Most cases clear up within a few weeks, and serious cases require antibiotics.
What If I Go Hungry Or Run Out Of Water?
It can be pretty freaking stressful to realize you didn’t pack enough food or water for your lengthy hike. Before you give up all hope and run off to perish in the bushes, try looking for a clean body of water (make sure to filter it) and edible plants in the area. Create a fishing pole, set some makeshift traps, carve a spear, or be prepared to eat bugs. Or you know, put away your pride and ask a fellow hiker if they have any spare food.
What If I Can’t Get Cell Service Or Wifi?
For me, not having cell service or wifi is an accomplishment while hiking. It means I’ve made it to the real wild. Drama, work priorities, and online distractions are left at the trailhead. I can’t be reached, and sometimes that feels incredibly blissful! However, it’s not so helpful if you’re lost or in danger. Again, consider getting a SPOT device to send messages to your family that you’re ok. To get wifi anywhere in the world, buy or rent a wireless hotspot such as a Skyroam device. It gives you 24 hours of unlimited internet at a reasonable daily rate!
What If I Come Across A Creepy Guy?
Not everyone is out to get you. But it’s still important to be wary of the people around you. Solo female hiking might draw unwanted attention to yourself just for being the B.A. outdoorsy chick that you are (or want to be).
First off, don’t ever disclose that you’re alone. Even if the hiker you’re talking to doesn’t bring it up, casually drop a hint that you’re “with” someone. If I get a weird vibe from anyone, I’ll say something like “Well, I should go catch up to my boyfriend now.” It’s also important not to give too many details about where you’re headed or what your plans are to strangers.
If someone is trailing behind you and it’s making you paranoid or nervous (or if you’re me — annoyed and rushed), pull off to the side of the trail and let them go by. Pretend you’re stopping to take photos or to get a drink of water.
Never put both earphones in your ears if you choose to rock out to music while hiking. Stay alert to the sounds of oncoming footsteps or distant talking.
If you’ll be camping on your trip, try to pitch your tent among other campers. It always makes me feel a little safer to know that other people are around in case I need help. More people means less chances of a creeper trying anything, and it means more pairs of eyes looking out for you.
Some women wear whistles and bring mace/pepper spray. And not just to deter the wildlife.
Got a dog? Bring it along! Got a friend with a dog? Ask to “borrow” it for your hike! Dogs have extra powerful senses, can dissuade anyone from trying to mess with you, and are just plain fun to adventure with!
Lastly, it’s extreme, but I knew a female hiker who would bring her phone with her and snap secret photos of everyone she crossed paths with on the trail. She said “This way, if anything happens to me, police or rangers who find my phone will have evidence of the last person I saw. Then they can go to that person or suspect with questions and hopefully figure out what happened to me.” Let’s just say she was studying criminal justice and was always extra-prepared for everything. (Sidenote : If you go with this idea, make sure the sound on your phone is off. And that you’re ok with eating up your battery life.)
What If I Need To Poop or I’m On My Period?
Ladies. Meet Timmy. Timmy is my trowel. Yes, I sharpied a face onto my poo shovel and named it. If you’ll be hiking all day, chances are you’re going to have to poop at some point. Especially with all the energy foods like granola bars and fruit that you’ll be eating. Get a trowel (and make your own Timmy!) to dig a “cat hole” with when you’ve gotta go #2.
Find a secluded spot far away from water sources and off the trail to dig your hole. Squat down or level your bum above the hole with your legs spread out in front of you and your hands holding your weight behind you (like a crab-walk). You could also try to find a rock or log to sit over, or lean against a tree. When you’re done, use biodegradable toilet paper (or regular toilet paper, but make sure you pack it out with you in a ziploc bag), and cover your hole with dirt/snow and a rock or log on top.
Now, let’s start about Shark Week. Aunt Flow. The Big Red Monster. Whatever you call it, your period sucks. Especially when you’re hiking. Here are some tips to make it suck less.
Invest in a diva cup. To this date of publication, I’ve never used one myself, but I hear it works wonders for hundreds of other outdoorsy and travel-obsessed women. Read a review about what a diva cup is and how it works here.
If you’re not into the diva cup idea, tampons are better to have than pads when hiking. Bring unscented wet wipes and hand sanitizer to feel a little “fresher”. Moisture-wicking underwear will also help you in feeling a little more comfortable. Bring ziploc bags to pack out your toilet paper and feminine products. Some female hikers double up their ziplocs and wrap duct tape around them to lessen the scent and hide the appearance of what’s inside.
You should also know that No — your period will not attract most dangerous wildlife to you. However, menstruating women should be careful if in polar bear or komodo dragon territory.
What If I’m Not Quite Ready To Hike Solo?
I really hope this post hasn’t scared you away from trying your first solo hike! But if you’re not quite ready to take the plunge, talk some friends into going with you. Or find a meetup group to join! Meetup is a website and an app that’s filled with groups for all topics of interest — especially hiking and outdoor adventuring. Creators of the groups host events and outings for members to participate in together. Gather with like-minded strangers (aka new friends) for a hike, backpacking trip, kayak adventure, and more! Joining a few hiking-related Facebook groups, such as Women Who Hike or Hike Like A Woman, will give you inspiration until you’re ready!
Which of these tips helped you the most?
Do you have any other concerns about solo hiking? Tell me what they are in the comments!
Sharing Is Caring