Have you ever wanted to get out on a hiking trail but found that none of your friends were free when you planned to go? Did you do the unthinkable and cancel your hike?
I have. More than once. Sadly, when no one was available to hike, I abandoned my plans because I was too afraid to go hiking alone. You see, I’m pretty clumsy by nature so it’s never a question as to whether I will fall down or hurt myself in some way, but when I will do exactly that.
I was living in a campground in Bryson City, NC when I started hiking and my campground family always insisted that hiking alone was just too dangerous. They were sure that I would break a leg, or get attacked by bears, or fall off a cliff, or worst of all, meet up with the weirdo they were sure lurked right around the next bend in the trail.
So, what did I do? I pulled up my big-girl panties, threw on my backpack, and headed out for my first ever solo hike.
It became an amazing and empowering experience and now that I have several years’ worth of solo hikes under my belt, it’s time to share what I have discovered about developing solo hiking confidence. With a little prep work, you too can overcome fears of hiking alone.
How did I go from a scaredy-cat to a strong, mostly relaxed hiker? I began with some deep soul searching while asking myself some hard questions. The revelations that came helped me become the confident hiker I am today.
On my first few solo hikes, I discovered that there are two primary types of hikers – the few who admit to having fears of hiking solo, and the many who don’t.
I definitely identify with the few, and I often admitted to being fearful when out on a trail by myself. I’ve freaked myself out for no reason so many times I can’t count them all on both hands.
Admitting to my fear was so powerful primarily because when it comes to hiking, I definitely lean toward reality. I recognize and accept my limitations, mentally as well as physically.
I know how far to push myself, and I know when I need to back off before I freak myself out or get hurt.
I still have days when I don’t want to be on the trail alone. I freely admit that I was too apprehensive to hike by myself for quite a few hiking seasons.
When did that change for me? It changed when I got serious about my hiking skills and devoted time, energy and money toward becoming a stronger, better trained hiker.
With skill comes confidence, and once I had even just a few essential skills, I began to trust myself. Today, I have no trouble being alone on a trail.
Hiking alone does not mean I am lonely; I’m far from it. In fact, I get my best ideas and work through challenges I’m struggling with when I’m not distracted by other voices or hikers with a different pace than mine.
When I’m alone I can concentrate on what is bothering me or ponder big decisions I need to make. I delight in alone time on the trail and seek it out, plan for it, cherish it.
Nevertheless, I recognize that some female hikers would do anything to avoid being alone. Aloneness might suggest uncertainty, anguish, uneasiness, anxiety, fear, and potentially, panic.
So, what’s the best way to calm solo hiking fears? Discover why are you fearful. Is being alone on a trail alarming?
Your perception of hiking alone and being fearful is not a right or wrong attitude. It’s a comfort level issue and that’s something you can work to change.
A female hiker should never feel ashamed because she’s afraid or uncomfortable to be on a trail by herself. No one should encourage or push her to hike alone, especially if she’s not physically or mentally comfortable with the idea.
However, if you’re a woman who’s wanting to be challenged in a way that encourages personal growth, you should give solo hiking a try. As I have learned over the years, there’s no better way to stretch yourself than to solo hike, even if all you have time for is a day hike.
From my own experience, I found that a decent length day hike, on a well-marked trail, is enough to uncover an assortment of solo hiking fears. If the outing is structured for a positive outcome, a great deal can be learned about your own physical and mental limitations.
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If you’ve taken a solo hike and discovered that you have fears about hiking solo again, what should you do with that hard-earned information? Use it to become a stronger hiker or decide to be at peace with walking away from solo hiking if it truly isn’t for you.
The following 5 tips will help you gain more expertise and knowledge so you can determine if solo hiking is right for you:
- Watch YouTube videos created by female hikers. Two of my favorites: Homemade Wanderlust and Chica and Sunsets.
- Read books written by hikers who understand the trail. Jennifer Pharr Davis Books
- Seek out other hikers and ask questions. Check Facebook for online groups.
- Journal about your experiences on the trail and what you have learned from each hike. All-Weather Journals.
- Sign up for a hiking course. There are a lot of options out there and this is just one of them REI Courses
Acknowledge Your Fears And Move On
Solo hiking fears are at least partially rooted in the fear of being alone, which may cause female hikers to worry about not having someone else to:
- blame for the missing bug/bear/sunscreen spray,
- fill in missing navigational or camping skills,
- rely on in an emergency.
What can you do about those issues? Toss them out the proverbial window and put yourself in charge. You are a responsible person, you can solve every one of the problems on the list with just a little training and active preparedness.
Trust that you can handle whatever comes up. Knowing you can do whatever needs to be done is half of the battle, and once that’s won, you will find that you are your own best company.
Whenever I hike solo, I make sure to indulge a bit, congratulating myself for knowing I was prepared, trained, and ready to step out of my comfort zone. My solo trail time is for me and me alone; me time which is often lacking in this busy, busy world.
My indulgences? I pack a scrumptious lunch complete with rich, delectable high quality snacks. I choose a great hiking destination, somewhere that will amaze me with its beauty.
When To Go
Are you ready to plan your solo hike? For the perfect solo hiking day, bring a camera and journal and really enjoy being outside, alone, rejoicing in the trail and all it has to offer. Maybe pick up a plant or bird identification book and be sure it’s in your pack before you set out on your hike.
Embrace the Journey
If your regular hiking partners are anything like mine, they love to charge up the trail and ignore all of the beautiful sights and sounds around them. Today is your chance to stop and admire every single one of those sights and sounds with no guilt or time pressure. Relish the solitude and the ability to just be.
Take off your boots and soak your feet in the mountain stream. Notice the way the sun reflects off the water and makes it shimmer like waves of jewels. Listen to the birds calling to their mates and imagine what they might be saying to each other. Delight in the breeze blowing through your hair and the sun warming your body. Revel in the beauty of the wild flowers you pass and know that you can stop and snap a photo anytime you like.
An unexpected benefit of facing your solo hiking fears may lead you to places you never dreamed of. You may discover a new career, a new hobby, a new love. The possibilities are endless!
Being alone is not something that should be feared. Conquer fear and you will grow in more ways than you ever imagined.
Admittedly, overcoming my fear has not been easy. I’ve been the scaredy-cat hiker quaking in my tent at 1:00 in the morning, wondering what that noise was in the nearby bushes.
But here’s the most important thing I want to share with you: I didn’t stay stuck in my fear. I pushed beyond it and learned to trust myself.
Conquer your solo hiking fears. If I can do it, you can too.
There are thousands of trails out there waiting for you. Be fearless in what sets your soul on fire!
Don’t let solo hiking fears hold you back from pursuing the great rewards that will come from hitting the trail by yourself. It would be a shame to miss out on them.
Email me if you need some encouragement or advice: [email protected]
I would love to hear your thoughts on hiking solo, and if you have any other tips to get out on the trail, please share them in a comment below.
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