On Solo Hiking As A Girl
By Sierra Hodges, Girls Who Hike Colorado Ambassador
I’ve always hated the fact that when I started hiking everyone was so hard on me about hiking by myself. Granted, when I first started out hiking solo I thought I was a tough, bad ass, hiking woman (I still think that!) but the people telling me it was dangerous to hike alone never really gave exact reasons as to why they didn’t like it. It took me asking questions and digging deeper to really figure it out.
I believe solo hiking to be one of the most therapeutic activities one can do. For me nature becomes my therapist and allows me to work through whatever I may have been feeling that week, month, or year. It even helps me realize maybe the problem has a deeper root that needs to be sorted out or maybe that I was making a situation in my life a mountain when really it was just a mole hill. It’s easy for humans to get wrapped up in themselves. Nature may not be the answer for everyone but I know for a lot of girls I surround myself with it is.
As much as we love our solo time a lot of our family, loved ones, or friends may not take kindly to us gallivanting off in to the forest or mountains with no cell reception for hours. My mother worries about mountain lions or bears eating me. She also worries that I’ll break something and not be found (I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt on this one because I am a horrible klutz). My Fiance also has the same worries. It’s funny though when I’m out there by myself I’m not worried about the animals or breaking something. I’m medically trained in first aid and generally the animals aren’t out to get you unless you get to close to their babies. I exclude mountain lions from that list because Mountain Lions will stalk prey for miles before pouncing. However, bear spray works just as well on mountain lions as it does bears.
To help alleviate worries that the people you love most might have I would suggest always telling them where you are going. I know that sounds simple enough but sometimes we forget to let others know our plans when we are so excited to get out there and get started. It is also hard to tell them because a lot of hikes we do we’ve never been to before. Finding the exact coordinates to a trail-head may be difficult but I would suggest just letting them know what directions you plan to use to get to the trail-head. Are you using google maps or apple maps (sometimes the exact location can differ slightly between the two)? Did you use directions directly from a website such as all trails? This is a valuable piece of information because now they know the name of the trail and how you got to it so that if something were to happen they will be able to have a starting point.
Another helpful piece of information is telling them about how long you think you’ll be gone. This should include drive times because sometimes hikes are on back roads that do not receive cell service until closer to a city. More experienced hikers may be able to better estimate how long it will take them to hike a trail. Factors that affect time on a trail are weather, elevation gain, and the hiker’s experience. This time frame that you provide will help them know when to really start worrying because let’s face it they are always going to worry they’ll just worry more when you’re gone too long.
My favorite option is to take my dog! I realize not all of us are fortunate to own a dog or a dog that loves hiking. Or some of us just might not be dog people which is ok. It does help though to have an animal on the trail with you. Dogs can smell and hear better than we can. I trust my dogs instincts more than I trust mine. My dog never growls so if she starts growling at something or someone I know something is up. Jokingly, I always told my mom that my dog is my cougar bait. Trust me I would never willingly feed her to a cougar in fact she probably uses me as cougar bait because I know for a fact that dog can run faster than I ever could.
Last, but definitely not least, always be prepared! I’m talking bear mace, bells, whistles, knives, tasers, pepper spray, gun (if you’re so inclined), first aid kit, food, water, jacket, rope, fire starter, and whatever else you may think you’ll need. You should always take some form of protection whether it’s to help protect yourself against animals or humans. I have pepper spray, a striking tool, and a taser. I have never had to use any of them and I hope to never have to but if it comes down to it I have them with me in my time of need. It is important to know your surroundings and what animals you might encounter on your hike and plan to bring any equipment that may help you avoid or defend yourself against aggressive animals. Food and water are a gimme but often times hikers don’t bring enough to at least get them through one night if they were to get stranded in the woods. This is important for your survival as it may take hours for rescue crews to find you and that is all dependent on if someone has been able to call them because they know you’ve gone missing. Extra layers are important to help keep you warm. A fire starter of some kind is always handy and most are small enough they can fit in a pocket. First aid kits can range in many sizes but it’s best to choose what you think you’ll need. I always prefer to be cautious so I have a pretty medium sized kit that I’ve also added things to. Make sure you know how to use every item in a first aid kit. This list is no comprehensive nor are all the items things you HAVE to take with you. Again just be aware of your surroundings and the area you’ll be hiking in.
I know it feels like I’m putting rules around hiking alone. I’m not. You are your own person that makes their own decisions. I’m just offering some advice to those that have loved ones that worry about them when they are out in the big bad world alone. I’ve always been a very independent person so it was hard for me to make these adjustments but I promise you it has helped a lot in my relationships. Especially if it is a relationship with a significant other. Trust me they will greatly appreciate the effort you’re putting in to help make sure you’re keeping yourself safe.