BY AMY HILL
Thinking about braving the wild and taking your first solo hiking trip? Few things are more replenishing than spending some alone time in nature. Below are some tips to ensure that you have a smooth and safe solo hike.
Arrive Early for Peace of Mind
Depending on the time of year, trailheads for popular hiking destinations often fill up before noon. If you’re looking for solitude and more time to take in the views, aim to arrive at the trailhead around sunrise. When my father and I traveled to Zion National Park in December 2020, the trailhead for the popular Angel’s Landing hike was already full by 7:30 in the morning. We were fortunate enough to snag the last spot, but it was too close for comfort. Popular trails can also be unpleasantly crowded by midday, especially when the weather is just right. Too many hikers on a narrow mountain trail leads to more interruptions and can sometimes be dangerous if steep drop-offs are involved. When it comes to hiking, the early bird truly gets the worm (or the best view).
Know Your Terrain
Before your hike, be sure to read blogs or watch YouTube videos of other hikers’ experiences on the trail to familiarize yourself with the terrain and know what to expect. Trails in the mountains of North Carolina will vastly differ from desert trails. As a solo hiker, it is especially imperative to study up beforehand and use a GPS app such as AllTrails to keep you on the right path. On my first trip to Utah in September 2020, I decided to go for a solo hike in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, which is far more isolated and less frequently visited by tourists. Because I was not used to following rock cairns for guidance, as opposed to a clearly marked mountain trail, I took many wrong turns and became a little nervous once I realized I was no longer headed in the right direction and hadn’t seen another hiker for four hours. Fortunately, I turned around and eventually found a friendly hiker couple to follow back to the trailhead. That evening, I downloaded the AllTrails app to use for the remainder of the trip, which allowed me to use a GPS map of the trail to make sure I didn’t get lost in the desert.
One downside to hiking alone is the risk of running into danger or getting injured. Be sure to let a friend or family member know which trails you plan on hiking ahead of time in the small possibility of an emergency. While it’s unlikely that you will have cell phone service everywhere on the trail, consider carrying a power bank or charging case with your phone for extra juice in case you forget to charge your phone the night before.
On desert hikes, be sure to slather on the sunscreen and carry twice the amount of water you think you’ll need (or more). If a trail has little to no shade, your skin will be feeling the heat by 1:00 p.m. in July. An earlier start is better in hot and sunny locations to minimize heat and sun exposure. To prevent mid-hike blister pain, consider doubling up on socks or bandaging blister prone areas before the hike. Developing painful blisters or a blistering sunburn on the first day of a week-long hiking trip can make the rest of the week’s hikes significantly tougher.
While black bears are typically less aggressive, grizzly bears may be more of a concern when hiking in grizzly country. Although attacks are rare, purchasing a can of bear spray (a canister of capsaicin spray used to deter an aggressive or charging bear, reported to be over 90% effective) just in case could potentially save your life. If you’re concerned about safety while hiking alone, consider starting out in busier areas in the middle of the day when more hikers are likely to be out and about. Just because you’re hiking solo doesn’t mean you have to be truly alone on the trail.