Is solo hiking safe? I used to hike alone and this is what I’ve discovered.
No, hiking alone just isn’t safe. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginning hiker or an expert. Things can happen to even the strongest, fittest, most knowledgeable of hikers.
Hey, I get hiking alone. The solitude of a solo hike can be peaceful. It’s a blessing to be able to walk off into nature and escape the distractions of our everyday lives.
I’ve been hiking since I was 4 if you can call it hiking at that age. I was carried a lot when I was small.
Those early hiking experiences were with my mom, dad, and grandfather. They used to take me hiking on a large piece of land he had down in Mississippi. A 328-acre property in the middle of a game reserve. So much to explore!
Over the years I’ve hiked alone more than I have with others. Hundreds and hundreds of miles by myself.
I’ve had some close calls. They don’t happen often but when they do… Not good.
I’ve had blisters on my feet that have gone through all three layers of skin, sprained ankles, taken some fairly bad falls, been on long difficult hikes that got so tough I didn’t think I would get out.
I’ve come across a panther, wild dogs, poisonous snakes, and bears.
I’ve come across questionable activities like drugs, nudity, and sex.
I know a guy that came close to dying from hypothermia. He got separated from his family and lost on a desert hike. Temperatures started dropping and he wasn’t prepared. If they hadn’t gotten to him, he would have died.
It’s been years now since I’ve hiked alone. I don’t because it comes with risks I’d rather avoid.
Related Content: How To Find A Hiking Buddy Or Hiking Group
12 Things To Consider Before Solo Hiking
1. Hiking Injuries, Wounds, and Medical Concerns
I hold vivid memories of injuries and medical concerns while hiking.
Most of my hiking injuries have been from blisters, chafing, tripping, falling, and errors in judgment.
I’ve hiked with others who had seizures, vomiting, dehydration and more.
Things don’t always go as planned on hikes. It’s best not to hike alone.
If you’re hiking with someone else, they can help or go get help.
Always remember to take your first-aid kit!
Common Hiking Injuries and Medical Concerns:
- Muscle cramps
- Altitude sickness
2. Underestimating the Trail’s Difficulty
This is more common with beginning hikers, though I’ve been there too. I love a challenging hike! I used to do one very challenging trail each year. Alone. One that always pushed me to the edge of my abilities. On two occasions, I started doubting my ability to finish.
Choose a trail that matches your abilities and error on the conservative side especially if you’re hiking solo. I don’t want you getting stuck on a trail in need of help.
Research Your Hike Beforehand
Many state and national park websites have trail maps and guides that provide a trail’s length, difficulty rating, hiking time, and elevation. Visit the park’s visitor center when you get there especially if you don’t have a trail map. Some trailheads have maps too. They may be printed for you. If not, take a picture of the one they have posted. It will pay off if you happen to get lost.
Whenever possible, I stop in and speak to the park rangers to discuss my planned hike. It’s a great safety practice to let the rangers know where you’re headed and when you think you’ll be back. On more than one occasion, they’ve alerted me to problems with my route.
TIP: I always ask the park rangers which trail is their favorite and why. After all, they know more about the park than I do.
I love buying hiking guides for regions near my home and for the places I visit. The trail details have been invaluable in planning many of my hikes in unfamiliar areas of the country, and I always find amazing trails I would’ve otherwise missed.
I’ve gotten most of my local hiking guides from REI. Local outfitters are great sources too.
3. You Could Get Lost
No matter how well a trail is marked you can get lost. It’s a common problem for hikers.
If you’re hiking alone, you won’t have the insight of your fellow hiker to help you find the way.
The following will help you avoid getting lost and can be a lifesaver:
- Physical trail map
- A backup copy of the map on your phone
- Compass app
- GPS on your phone or GPS device
- A headlamp in case it gets dark
- If you often hike outside the service of your cellphone, consider a Garmin satellite communicator.
Over relying on technology can get you into trouble. Technology is a great help as long as you don’t run out of battery. If you rely on technology while hiking, think about bringing a portable power bank like this one from Backcountry for charging your devices.
Additional free hiking apps to consider installing on your smartphone…
- REI – National Parks
- GPS Essentials
- First Aid by American Red Cross
If you’re prepared with the tools above, you’ll be able to find your way to safety.
4. You Could Get Attacked by Humans
Being attacked and/or raped on a hiking trail is less likely than being attacked in a city but it does happen.
You’re less likely to be attacked if you’re hiking with a group.
Don’t hike with someone you just met off your dating app or online group. Most rape survivors knew their attackers. Meaning, you’re more likely to be raped by a hiking partner than a stranger.1
You’re more likely to be attacked on a trail in or close to an urban environment than on a remote trail, though people have been attacked on remote hiking trails when they’ve wandered into people living on the margins of society or people illegally growing marijuana, etc.
Exercise common sense when hiking alone or in groups. Taking a few simple precautions can save your life.
Hiking with a good friend or a group is often safer than a solo hike.
5. You Could Get Attacked by Animals
Lions, tigers, bears… oh my!
In the United States, we don’t have to worry about tigers but there are big cats, bears, wolves, coyotes, snakes and other animals you just want to avoid like skunks.
If you’re in a group, you’re less likely to have problems with many of these animals than if you were hiking alone. The sheer number of you and the noise you’re likely to be making will scare off many of these animals.
Snakes are scared of humans and will often hide but I’ve come close to tripping over them sunning on trails. Keep your eyes open for them. Listen for rattles if you’re in rattlesnake country and give them a wide berth.
I wanted to touch on insects for a moment. Yes, there are ticks, mosquitos, chiggers, fire ants, scorpions, spiders and things like that. They usually aren’t all that big a problem. But bees, wasps, and hornets can be a problem. Especially if you’re allergic.
I was once on a hike with my dad where he inadvertently put his hand into a hornets’ nest. We laugh about it now, but being swarmed by hundreds of angry hornets is a problem. I’m glad we were teamed up and not hiking alone that day. When adrenaline sets in and you take off running, disasters can happen.
6. Loss of Motivation on Your Hike
Hiking with others can improve your motivation. One of my best friends is in better shape than me. Whenever I hike with him I’m determined not to let him out hike me. If he can make it up the next steep hill without bending over and sucking air, I’m going to make it too.
There’s often an encourager in a group too. If you’re new to hiking, these people can be great morale builders!
Need some motivation? Don’t hike alone.
7. It’s All On You When Solo Hiking
Think twice before taking any long-distance backpacking trips. These hikes require a great amount of physical exertion. If you hike alone, all the camping gear, chores at the campsites, and expenses will all be on you, but hiking with others allows you to share in these to make the experience far more enjoyable.
8. Forgetting or Losing Essentials
What happens if you forget something essential or lose an essential item?
Maybe you fall and rupture the bladder of your CamelBak. I’ve never done it, but it seems possible. Not staying hydrated could be a huge problem.
If you hike alone, you’re out of luck. Hike with a group and you’re more likely to be covered by someone else.
9. Who’s Going to Take Those Epic Photos of You?
If you’re hiking solo, it’s much harder to get those epic photos for posting on social media. Consider taking a hiking buddy. Taking selfies on every adventure just looks sad.
I don’t mind hiking alone. I’ve found it to be a wonderful way to unwind. It’s usually peaceful especially when hiking near a body of water.
Other people I know would go out of their minds after 100 yards. If you’re the type person who thrives on human contact, hates being alone, craves to share the beauty of nature with others, or needs constant attention. You don’t want to be hiking alone. Solo hiking would probably feel like torture.
11. Creepy Alone Feeling
Have you ever gotten creeped out when all alone? Most of us have.
Maybe scenes from a horror movie pop into your mind?
There are times when you may get creeped out on a solo hike.2 A rustle in the brush. The wind howling through the trees or worse yet the howl of a coyote or wolf at dusk.
Maybe you pass a random creeper on the trail or worse they try to hike along with you or close behind.
Hiking alone in the woods can become disconcerting in certain situations.
12. Bad Weather
Rain, sleet, hail, and snow.
Always check the weather before your hike. But what happens when you encounter unexpected weather?
Being alone in unexpected weather events can become dangerous.
Winds can cause limbs to fall from trees. Trails can turn into cascading waterfalls during heavy rains and lazy streams may transform into dangerous rapids within seconds. Large hail can rain down on you… I’ve had these happen. Snow too.
How might you handle these weather events if you’re hiking alone? Hiking with others could be a benefit in many of these situations.
Tips For Solo Hiking Safety
- Well-traveled, well-marked trails are best.
- Know the area where you’re hiking.
- Tell friends and family where you’re going and when you should return.
- Provide friends and family a copy of the trail you’re taking.
- Don’t stray from the trail if at all possible.
- Check-in with friends and family before and after your hike.
- Install a phone tracker app so friends and family can monitor your progress.
- Check-in at the visitor or ranger station and let them know where you’re hiking and when you expect to return.
- Check the weather before your hike and monitor the weather on an app during your hike.
- Know your limitations.
- Always be prepared.
- Stay alert and aware of your surroundings.
- Trust your instincts.
- If you have to drive into your trailhead, make sure your vehicle is suitable for the terrane and is properly serviced.
Hiking alone has benefits but it’s not usually worth the risk. Grab a good friend, family member, or join a local hiking group. Enjoy the added safety on your next hike. It’s so much safer than solo hiking.
Related Content: How To Find A Hiking Buddy Or Hiking Group
- Michael G. Planty, Ph.D., Lynn Langton, Ph.D., Bureau of Justice Statistics, Christopher Krebs, Ph.D., Marcus Berzofsky, DrPH, Hope Smiley-McDonald, Ph.D., RTI International. Female Victims Of Sexual Violence, 1994-2010. March 7, 2013
- Theresa G. Coble, Steve W. Selin, and Beth B. Erickson. Hiking Alone: Understanding Fear, Negotiation Strategies and Leisure Experience. Journal of Leisure Research. Volume 35, 2003 – Issue 1