Solo Hiking for Women: Staying Safe in the Outdoors
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Are you interested in solo hiking for women? Do you love the outdoors, but you're not sure whether or not it's okay to go on your own? Here's my guide to staying safe in the outdoors as a woman.
But before we get started on the actual trip, let's look at how we can keep our homes safe when we're traveling away from home—whether it's on a hiking trip or something else. Even if you live in a great neighborhood, it's worth taking a few extra steps to keep your home safe. Check out these home gadgets that will help you boost your house security while you're on your trip.
Why would you want to hike alone?
This is an excellent question. While I encourage women to get outdoors whether on their own or in a group, there's something special about solo hikes and backpacking trips. I love walking, hiking, backpacking, and camping alone—it gives me time to reconnect with myself and with Nature.
When I'm alone with myself on the trail, it allows the time and space for things to come up. I gain new perspectives on my life. I
Is it weird to hike alone?
I don't think so! It's one of my favorite activities. I love being outdoors, and I love hiking alone. When people are surprised to hear that I hike long-distance trails like the South Downs Way and The Ridgeway on my own, I take it as an opportunity to educate them about the beauty of solo hiking for women.
The power of solo hiking for women
Solo day hiking is normal for me. It's lost its novelty. Now, it's just something I do.
But I always feel really empowered when I return from a long-distance trail that I've hiked on my own. It's an adventure, and I'm out doing something that years ago I would have been too scared to do on my own. It feels great.
If you're especially fearful of solo hiking, this means it's currently out of your comfort zone. By taking the step to do a solo hike as a woman, you'll be expanding your hiking comfort zone. Not only that, but you'll probably find that you become more adventurous in other areas of your life—your comfort zone will be expanded in terms of other activities, too.
You might find that public speaking comes easier to you, or perhaps you decide to speak up more at work. These things have nothing to do with solo hiking as a woman, but they are an example of the kinds of things that might come easier to you after a solo hiking experience. They come from expanding your comfort zone, and stepping up with confidence to do new things.
The risks of solo hiking
The risks for solo women hikers are pretty much the same as for everyone else—with one possible addition.
- Animal attack. I live in a part of the world where I don't have to worry about animal attack—but there is always the concern of “two-legged” animals. I think that's probably the thing that most women fear when they consider the risks of solo hiking for women.
- Dehydration. When you're hiking solo, you need to be sure you have more than enough water for yourself—you won't be able to rely on anyone else to top up your water supply. When I was walking the South Downs Way alone in record July heat, I had to make a significant detour one day because I was running out of water. Also be sure to carry extra food.
- Getting lost. When you're on your own, you absolutely need to know where you are, where you're headed, how to get there, and how to relocate if you get lost. Know how to read a map and use a compass; don't rely on technology, which may fail.
- Injury. When you get injured on a solo hike, it's up to you to rescue yourself. Know how to contact emergency services in your part of the world, and sign up to emergency services via text message before you leave home. You can do this in both the UK and USA; check your country to see if it offers this service.
- Weather. Make sure you have appropriate clothing for all occasions—even if the sun is shining when you leave home. Bring extra clothes in case of emergency: sun hat, warm hat, gloves, extra layers, etc. Know the signs of hypothermia, hyperthermia, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke, and know how to prevent them.
I live in the UK, and I spend a lot of time outdoors alone. I have never, ever felt unsafe. I never hike with earbuds in my ears, though—I always stay alert to my surroundings.
First of all, know that attacks of women hikers are incredibly rare. They get a lot of media coverage because they are the stuff of nightmares, but they are by no means an everyday occurrence.
While I have occasionally hitched a ride with locals when hiking in England, I'm aware that it's not generally considered a safe practice. The general advice if you're hiking a long-distance trail in the United States, for example, is to not hitch into town alone—and to always keep your phone and your wallet on you when getting a ride from someone (your backpack will probably be in the back of a truck or in the trunk of a car).
What to do if you come across a suspicious hiker:
- Act confident. This itself can go a long way. Don't hunch your shoulders and try to make yourself small. Stand tall and act confident, even if you don't feel it.
- Make eye contact. Greet them as you would any other hiker—and notice if they ignore you or act strangely. It's always a red flag for me if a man doesn't greet me as we pass on the trail, and I will check behind me as I walk on. Nothing has ever happened; they always keep going. But it feels antisocial, so I do look behind as I continue onward.
What not do do if you come across a suspicious hiker:
- Don't admit you're alone. If the person strikes up a conversation with you, let them know that your group is behind you on the trail, and you've gone ahead to check things out.
- Don't be polite. If the person begins to act in a hostile or aggressive manner, don't feel the need to be polite. Keep your distance. If the person suggests that they might want to join you on your hike, remind them that you're with your group, and it's a special occasion and it wouldn't be appropriate for them to join you.
Prepare before you go
One thing you can do to prepare for the very unlikely situation of an aggressive hiker is to take a self defense course or sign up for martial arts. I have a brown-black belt in kickboxing, and it's definitely given me a lot more confidence—both on and off the trail. I'm hoping to get my black belt next year, and I know that will give me even more confidence.
Learn survival skills, in case things go wrong and you get caught outdoors. Know how to be safe in an emergency situation. Know the 10 essentials for hiking and camping.
Also: know what you're doing! Before I ever went camping on my own, I took a wild camping course in south Wales. I went out with the instructor and one other “student.” I got to borrow all of his gear: tent, stove, etc. We camped in a campsite the first night to try out the gear, and then we went wild camping the second night. It was fantastic, and I went away and bought all my own gear. I felt much more confident going camping alone after that because I'd had some basic instruction in what to do—and I knew exactly what gear to buy. If you want to learn about backpacking, I highly recommend this blog post: A Complete Beginners Guide to Backpacking. It also includes common mistakes you'll want to avoid.
If you're new to hiking
If you're new to walking/hiking, then take a look at An Ultimate Guide: Hiking For Beginners on a Budget. It will give you an idea of how to plan your first hikes, and what gear you'll need. Check this out before planning your first solo hikes.
Always tell two people your itinerary, and let them know when you'll be back. If you're on a long-distance trail where you'll be out for multiple days, then tell them where you'll be staying or camping each night. If you have gpx files, share them with these safety contacts. Let them know what to do if they don't hear from you at a certain day or time.
Safety tips for solo women hikers
Know basic outdoors safety. I recently wrote a blog post called Hiking With Autism: How to Get Outdoors When You're on the Autism Spectrum. Check out some of my tips there. Because I have Aspergers/autism, I probably research, plan, and prepare for things more than the average neurotypical (not autistic) person.
Check the weather. Know how to navigate with a map and a compass. Bring appropriate gear with you. Plan, plan, plan.
Some things you might want to carry for safety (these are relevant to all hikers, not just women):
- Bear spray. If you live in a part of the world where there are bears (I'm not), and if it's legal for you to carry this in your country, get some bear spray.
- Emergency blanket. This is something I always carry in my backpack, even when I'm just out for the day. A silver emergency blanket is small, lightweight, and it can provide extra warmth when it's unusually cold out and you need some help staying warm.
- Emergency shelter. These aren't just for emergencies. If you're out and it starts pouring rain, you can unfold your shelter and sit inside it for a cup of tea, lunch, or a simple break. Get at least a two-person shelter: that will give you room for yourself and your backpack. If you regularly hike with a friend, get a four-person shelter. These can also keep you warm if you're freezing on a winter's walk, yet you want to stop for lunch.
- First aid kit. I have a large one like this that I use when I go hiking with other people, but to be honest I only bring a small one when I'm out on my own, plus Compeed for blisters. If you plan to spend a lot of time in the outdoors, take an outdoors first aid course and get certified.
- Head lamp. I have an old version of this one, and it's lasted me for years.
- Navigation tools. Carry a map and compass, and know how to use them. If you're going to carry a GPS device or navigation app on your phone like OS Maps, be sure you have a power bank or mini solar panels to charge up in case your battery runs down.
- Pepper spray. If it's legal to carry in your country (it's not where I live), get a canister of pepper spray if it would make you feel safer on the trail.
- Satellite messenger. I don't have one of these, but I've been looking at them for years. The two that I've got my eye on are the Garmin in Reach Explorer+ and the Garmin inReach Mini.
- Whistle. I have a whistle on every backpack, and know how to use it. (I'm not joking. Do you know the signal for distress? It’s six good long blasts. Stop for one minute. Repeat. Continue in this manner until someone reaches you, and don’t stop just because you’ve heard a reply—your rescuers may be using your whistle blasts as a way to figure out exactly where you are.) I bought several whistles so I wouldn't have to move them around from pack to pack.
5 more tips for women who want to hike solo
- Be vague. When I go hiking or camping, I don't share the location of where I am on social media. When I went on a two-week adventure earlier this year, I only posted a photo of my campsite after I had packed up everything to move on. When I'm on a long-distance trail, I often share photos at the end of the day, or with a lag of a day or two, so people don't know exactly where I am.
- Keep your distance. If you're scared of wild camping on your own, stay away from easy access points, like roads. Something is more likely to happen in places where there's an easy getaway.
- Listen to your gut. Your intuition will tell you if something is wrong. You might feel a tightness in your abdomen. You might just feel that something is “off.” Pay attention to this.
- Plan, plan, plan. This should be clear by now!
- Use common sense. Be aware of your surroundings, like you would with any kind of travel—even in your home town. Don't hike with earbuds in. Stay alert.
Solo hiking destinations to get started
Work your way into your solo hiking, backpacking, and camping adventures. Start with a short day hike in your local area: the closest place you can hike to your home. Either that, or start with something familiar—a trail that you've done before, with friends. Start with something easy.
Then plan a longer hike on your own: something where you can stay in B&Bs or hostels, where you don't have to camp alone. Something like the South Downs Way or The Ridgeway. The South Downs Way was my first long-distance trail (it's just 100 miles, or 160 km) and I stayed at inns and B&Bs the entire way. I was alone on the trail, often for hours at a time, but at night I had a room with a lock on the door.
Consider a solo camping adventure
Start with whatever feels safe, like a campground in your area. The first time I went camping on my own, I hiked from my house to a campground that was several miles away. I camped for one night, then I hiked back home the following morning. Easy!
Earlier this year, I took off on a two-week solo adventure. I booked a night at a campground I had never been to before, and ended up staying for two nights. From there, I went to another campground I had never visited before, and I stayed there for four nights. I found the most remote, isolated camping pitch at the campground, and I stayed there. It felt incredibly remote, almost like wild camping—but with the luxury of toilets and showers a short walk away.
Next year, I want to do a longer backpacking adventure where I'll be wild camping on my own. This is the next step for me. I've worked my way up to this, and I can't wait.
Need extra encouragement?
Read this article: Why you CAN (and should) go hiking on your own. Then get planning!
What's your next solo hiking, backpacking, or camping adventure going to be? Please share in the comments.
- Solo Trail Running for Women: Staying Safe in the Outdoors
- Tips for Traveling Alone: Solo Female Travel Tips
On the podcast
Read about my two adventures along England's most popular National Trail in this second edition of my book Alone on the South Downs Way. This book contains all the blisters, sweat, and tears from my first life-changing journey—and all the joy, presence, and magic of the second one.
More than just a walking travelogue or memoirs of a walking holiday, this book contains my reflections on walking the trail, including lessons learned and practical information to help you plan your hiking adventure. It includes a suggested packing list, gear recommendations, and other useful tips, such as when to walk the trail, where to stay, and how much you'll need to budget.