Too many so-called hiking authorities have wrongly turned a positive suggestion “For maximum safety, hike with a companion” into a negative absolute: “Never hike alone.”
While there is no question that it’s safer hiking with a group than solo, “How much safer?” is a legitimate question to ask.
Is the risk of hiking solo so great that each and every hiker should wait until he/she has company in order to hit the trail?
Absolutely not. Go take a hike. Alone. The risks, while often overstated, are real, and the precautions needed are crucial, but such risks and the requirement for additional precautions are not reasons to decide you can’t hit the trail solo.
Having two or three in your party is a definite advantage if something goes wrong; someone can go for help. Four or eyes are better than two; a hiking partner may notice a danger that you overlook. You might remember essential gear your hiking buddy forgot. This safety-in-numbers theory holds for hiking as it does for most forms of outdoor recreation from camping to kayaking, rock climbing to mountain biking.
Hiking with a group-or at least with a trail seasoned friend-is a good idea for first-time hikers. Most inexperienced hikers are uncomfortable going solo.
Sometimes, after a few hikes, a craving for solitude develops–by which time you should be able to take care of yourself on the trail. There’s a lot to be said for solitary hiking, as the writings of Thoreau, Whitman and Muir would seem to indicate.
I can speak with some authority on the subject of hiking solo since I’m often alone on the trail. Most of my friends have what they remind me are “real jobs” and can’t answer the call of the wild with me in the middle of the week when I tend to go hiking.
I enjoy hiking with my male friends, with my spouse and my children or “on business” with a ranger or a trail advocate showing me a new trail. Solo hiking, however must encompass about 80 percent of my hiking experiences.
Intrigued as I am by the natural world and grateful for the escape from everyday life, I’ve rarely been lonely on the trail. Not only do I value my time alone on the trail, I find that I often return with a deeper appreciation for the people in my life.
A significant number of hikers have a craving for solitude, which can only be accomplished by solo hiking. These hikers need time alone in the woods or on a mountain to recharge their spirits and be happy.
Some people need solitude occasionally, some regularly, and find the best opportunity for getting it is by taking a hike. Hiking solo serves to nurture a special relationship with yourself and with the natural world, and perhaps even provide a time to contemplate your spiritual path.
Tips for the Solo Hiker
1. Know your limits. No one is going to monitor you but you. Don’t exceed your personal speed limit or overreach your capabilities.
2. Leave your itinerary with a trusted friend or relative. Even better, be personally accountable by reporting your whereabouts to someone at an appointed time.
3. Adhere to your stated plans for both your hiking route and schedule.
4. Go out of your way to contact park staff or land management personnel. Visit visitor centers. Check-in at ranger stations. Sign-in at trailhead registers.
5. Add to your first aid kit. It should contain more supplies to care for yourself-over a longer length of time, since there is a greater likelihood no one will be around to help you or go for help.
6. Carry a whistle and mirror to signal for help and assist rescuers in locating you.
7. Stay alert. Even a minor mishap like a slip and fall or twisting an ankle can be a serious incident for a solo hike.