7 Tips for Solo Hiking
Hiking solo can be a dream. All that glorious wilderness, all to yourself, whether it’s epic mountains, an untouched beach or a heavenly forest. You’re master of your own mission (setting your own pace and schedule), you’re more likely to feel present and connected with the environment, and you’ll probably spot more wildlife too. But for all its bonuses, walking alone is not for everyone. It requires skills, knowledge and a little extra planning, plus it carries increased risk. It’s rewarding and challenging. Is it right for you?
- Understand the Risk
First up, it should probably be noted for the record that if you ask any ‘responsible person’ – eg bushwalking organisations, national park bodies, police, etc – they’ll tell you to always walk in a group. Three people minimum is the general guideline: one to stay with the injured in the event of an incident, and one to seek help. If something goes down, it’ll be up to you to get yourself out of trouble and back to safety. Walk alone and there’s no one to bounce ideas off when decisions are required, to help haul you back up a cliff, to lift your face out of a creek if you slip over and knock yourself out. Be sure you’re ready to accept the challenge and the risk.
- Is solo hiking really all that bad?
Not necessarily. It’s easy to get lured into herd behaviour when walking in a group, and sometimes there’s a misplaced sense of security. Some people can get so engrossed in conversations that they miss turn-offs. At other times, group members assume that someone else in the party knows what they’re doing and where they’re going, when in actual fact no one does. An experienced solo hiker can arguably, at times, be safer than a walker in a group that lacks experience or a designated leader who is monitoring the mission and making good decisions.
- It’s not for beginners
To be a safe solo hiker you should be well versed with in the ways of the trail before branching out on your own. It takes many hours in the outdoors to accumulate all those little gems of knowledge that build up a solid base of wisdom that will help you recognise and avoid potential dangers. I’m talking about things like your sixth sense for knowing when you’ve strayed off route, an eye for spotting the ever-so-slightly worn dirt of a faint or overgrown trail, the well-tuned awareness of knowing where you are at all times, and recognising when the clouds are looking ominous and you should seek refuge. If you find yourself relying on others to navigate and make decisions, then wait until you feel confident doing it all yourself.
- Choose the right route
Hiking solo can be almost risk-free on a well-trafficked route such as Tasmania’s Three Capes Track where there’s a steady stream of hikers who are going to discover you in the event you twist an ankle or worse. In addition, rangers in every hut means you’re never far from help. Hiking solo on a rugged and remote alpine route that doesn’t see other walkers for days on end however is another game altogether. Weigh up the risks. Is there a proper track to follow? Are there hazards like river crossings, steep cliffs, exposure or technical terrain to consider? How far from civilisation will you be? Will there be mobile coverage? Select a route based on your skill and confidence.
- Safety measures
I once tripped and fell in the middle of a 10-day solo hike, taking the skin off both knees and carving a decent gash in one. Attending to yourself in a crisis when there’s blood gushing everywhere is not everyone’s cup of tea. Solo hiking is not the time to scrimp on your first aid kit, nor is it ideal to head out without some knowledge of wilderness first aid. Skills like knowing how to dress a wound, manage snakebite, recognise the early signs of hypothermia, etc are really handy to have. Don’t rely on having phone coverage to call for help, and while a personal locator beacon (PLB) is excellent back up it shouldn’t be seen as a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Emergency services expose themselves to risk when rescuing others so don’t push the limits with the thought that someone can always come and pick you up in the chopper if something goes wrong. More than ever, ‘let someone know before you go’. Leave your plans with a responsible person and check in with them when you return.
- Be conservative
Solo hiking is not the time to explore off track for a bit, commit to ambitiously long or fast schedules, or to head out when the elements are against you. Build in a safety buffer. Allow extra time. Carry a little extra food. Pay extra attention to where you are at all times in relation to your map to avoid getting lost. Don’t rush. Watch where you put your feet, and don’t push on when you’re feeling tired (that’s a recipe for disaster). Ultimately, avoiding incidents in the first place should be at the forefront of your mind at all times.
- Can you handle the solitude?
Some people adore it, others struggle with it. Being alone with your thoughts makes some people really uncomfortable - there’s nothing to anchor your mind and no conversations to distract you. Personally I consider this a huge bonus. When there’s no external talk happening, internal chatter slows down too and with everything ‘quiet’, clarity and epiphanies often arise. Hiking solo is like a meditation and meditation does good things for the body and mind. Also like meditation, it’s not always easy, but that peaceful state of mind is definitely worth pursuing.
Author - Laura Waters is a regular solo hiker and author of “Bewildered,” about a life changing hike on the Te Araroa Trail during which her hiking buddy pulled out on Day Two. She is now also a guest contributor for Ultralight Hiker.
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