It’s always been natural for me to be alone, including on the trail. Sadly, society has conditioned us to think that it is unsafe for women to recreate outdoors solo. This attitude is wrong and perpetuates negative stereotypes about women– hiking, running, and camping alone can be both safe and rewarding. So it’s time to put it to rest, if you’ve ever wanted to venture out on a solo outdoor adventure, I’m here to tell you that you can and you should.
For most of my childhood, I was left alone at the foot of the Grand Tetons in a three-room cabin with no running water. No, I wasn’t being held captive — it’s just how life was with divorced parents and a mountain guide for a father. When I was really young I had babysitters, but supervision was still minimal. Sometimes there were other kids to play with, but most of the time it was just me and my husky, exploring the woods and creek behind our cabin. Being alone in nature was just a natural part of life for me and still is.
Even though I have been on the trails solo for most of my life, I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been stopped and asked by other trail users if I was hiking alone and if I was okay. Friends have asked if I ever felt unsafe. Ex-boyfriends worried for my well-being and even suggested that I didn’t know what I was doing. While these comments and microaggressions may have come from a place of genuine concern, they were usually unwanted.
Solo Hiking Is Good For You
Something changes in me each time I hit the trail alone. While it takes more mental effort to go without a companion, my mood shifts and I instantly feel better as soon as I reach the trailhead. Research has proven to us that spending time in nature is good for our mental health, but something even greater happens when you hike alone:
Say buh-bye to self-doubt!
Most of the time our self doubt is mental, but it can also stem from society and media. With each step on the trail you are crushing your insecurities and disproving negative societal stereotypes.
Improve your skills!
When you’re alone, you have to depend fully on yourself, since you’re making all of the location, preparation, and navigation decisions. These are invaluable skills that are not as easily developed in a group.
Gain confidence and strength!
It takes strength, both physical and mental, to prepare for a trip that no one else will be on. Confidence and strength come from the preparation and completion of a successful outing.
Face your fears!
What are you afraid of? Bears, being cold, starving, heights? Without any distractions or assistance, hiking solo forces you to face these fears head-on.
Gain enhanced self-awareness!
When you’re doing something alone in nature you have the time to reflect on yourself and life without the distractions of other people. Hiking alone gives you a chance to clear your head and just let your thoughts flow.
How to Minimize Risk
I have rarely felt unsafe on the trail or found myself in a dangerous situation while hiking alone. But, like most things we do, there is an element of risk. I would argue that hiking alone as a woman is no more dangerous than a man hiking alone.
To stay safe, I always try to:
- Notify someone of my plans and when I expect to return
- Know my limits and don’t push them in unfamiliar settings
- Carry my cell phone and/or a satellite messenger
- Stay alert, including by not hiking with with headphones
- Trust my gut — if something doesn’t feel right, I turn around
Hiking alone doesn’t mean that you will dissolve any fears that you have — it’s more about facing those fears and not letting them limit you. Society feeds us loads of negative content all day long, from the news to expectations from the media on how a woman should be and act. Don’t let society dictate how you adventure – you are capable.
When we don’t try new things because of fear, we live a stagnant life, not moving forward and not reaching our full potential. So, I encourage you to give solo hiking a try. You might love it, or not — but either way at least you know that you tried.