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7 Tips for Solo Hiking

You’re just finishing a hike in a not-well-traveled national park and you notice that between you and your vehicle are three massive bison. It’s right around sunset, the park is almost empty, and no cars have driven by for as long as you can remember. What do you do? The answer might be different if you’re alone or with other people. If you’re in a group, chances are even if something bad happens that one of you will likely be well enough to summon help. However, if you’re alone, this is one of those situations where you start thinking “who knows where I am?”, “when will they start to worry if they don’t hear from me?”, and “if this goes south, am I always going to be remembered as ‘tourist who got too close to bison and got attacked’?”

Photo courtesy of Lindsay King

This is an exact situation I found myself in recently, and regardless of the fact that I was doing everything right and trying to keep as much distance as possible, I knew they are dangerous, wild animals and it had a possibility of ending badly. It’s always important to be prepared on hikes, but even more so when you’re on your own. Below you’ll find 7 tips for staying safe while solo hiking:

  1. Consider taking well-traveled trails. This isn’t always the most adventurous choice, but tackling a difficult, remote trail on your own usually isn’t a good idea. Save the dicey trails for when you’re traveling with an experienced group of friends, and stick to the more populated trails when you’re on your own.
  2. Always let someone know where you are and when they should hear back from you. Remember to do this before you head into the park and lose cell reception. Give them the rangers’ office phone number if it’s available. Figure out how long it should take you to hike the trail and then give yourself a couple extra hours to allow time for any trail slow-downs or time it might take to get back to cell reception, and then let your friend or family member know that if they don’t hear from you by then that they should call for help. Emphasize that they are not being dramatic by calling for help—it could save your life. 
  3. Sign the backcountry log book (in and out) if there is one. This will give rangers a good idea of what time you went in and if you made it back out. Also sign the register at the top if there is one there, too. Again, this will give rangers an idea of your movements if something was to go wrong.
  4. Ask rangers for suggestions before hiking. This goes for if you’re alone or with friends. Rangers not only know the parks like the back of their hands, including less-popular trails that have that same wow factor, but they also are up to date on current trail conditions. This includes any closures, washed-out trails, animals or hazards to expect, and other safety tips. For example, some trails might be warm and mild at the bottom but turn into dangerous ice once you get up in elevation a bit. Rangers will be able to warn you of hazards like this before you get into a dangerous situation.
  5. Be aware of the trail conditions and hazards and carry the proper protection and safety equipment. This might mean having bear spray—in your hand, not in your bag—and knowing how to use it properly. It also might mean crampons or other safety equipment for winter hiking. Always make sure you know how to use the equipment and have practiced sufficiently.
  6. Bring a first aid kit. This should be a given on any hike, even a short day trip. Know what’s in it and where to find things quickly. NOLS sells some solid kits for different trip lengths, and they also have great tips in their blog if you want to build your own.
  7. Satellite phones are a piece of equipment that are good to consider. They are pricey, but if you are going to do any amount of off-grid hiking where you won’t be able to get a cell signal, then that could be your only lifeline to help. 

Photo courtesy of Lindsay King

When you’re hiking alone, playing it safe is usually the right strategy. Make sure someone knows where you are at all times and that you’re prepared in case something goes wrong. That way, you can relax on your hike and enjoy all the wonders of the parks instead of worrying about all the things you aren’t prepared for!

Header photo: By Lindsay King

Lindsay King has been a full-time RVer, along with her two cats, Mowgli and Mouse, for over a year. People usually think she’s either completely crazy or abnormally brave to be traveling alone, but she’s hoping to share how doable full-time exploring can truly be as a solo traveler.

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