Trailhead Adventures

If I were to guess how much of my hiking was spent hiking solo verses hiking with others, I would say my solo hikes account for 90 to 95% of my overall time spent hiking each year.  And truthfully, I enjoy it that way.  I find the calm and quiet periods alone on the trail to be some of the best moments of my day.  Being able to hike at my own pace, to spend time photographing scenes I come across, and most importantly being able to give my full attention to the hike without the distracting element of conversations are just a few benefits of solo hiking.

If hitting the trails solo for a day hike or even a weekend trip is something you are interested in, but you have fears or safety concerns, then this post is for you.  I will cover what I feel are the 6 most important tips to know before arriving at the trailhead.

A note to my female readers:

Solo hiking for men and women can sometimes produce different experiences when it comes to interacting with other male hikers on the trail.  For tips on dealing with these creeps, I recommend reading “Hashbrown” Maxwell’s article on the topic.

1. Pick a well traveled and marked trail

Start building up your solo hiking confidence by picking a popular trail to hike or a trail that you have hiked in the past.  Parks (both State and National) will often invest additional funds to improve trail conditions and markings on the most popular trails.  Start by picking a park you would like to visit, and checkout the trail options (visit our Destination Guide for some inspiration).  Pay attention to the trail distance and type, elevation gain and terrain type as you don’t want to pick a trail that might be too difficult.

2. Prepare for your hike

Make a list of items you will need on your hike.  Consider the weather conditions, elevation and distance when planning your food and water requirements.  I have a list of items that I take on every hike with me.

3. Leave hike details with a friend or family member 

I use to be the biggest offender when it came to violating this tip.  As ridiculous as it may sound, I sometimes feel as though I’m bothering people when I do this.  Sometimes I just fire off a text message letting my mother know that I’ll be hiking all weekend at *park name* incase she try’s to reach me and cannot get through.  Unfortunately, that is not enough information in the event you injure yourself and need help.  

A few years ago I was hiking in the Dolly Sods Wilderness, West Virginia.  I decided to hop on a trail that was known for being a muddy mess.  I took this trail because I thought I could grab some beautiful photos of Adler Run flowing into Red Creek.  At one point on the trail I stepped into what I thought was a 1-2 inch deep puddle and immediately sunk in mud to my waist and my leg slid in between two boulders.  I was stuck and hurting.  Fortunately for me I was hiking with a friend who used his belt to help pull me out, but I couldn’t help thinking later that evening “what if I was solo and I just left my mom a text”. 

Be clear with your location, planned route, estimated starting and ending date/time.  

4. Pack enough food and water

Snack on some trail mix while you hike or take breaks to eat even if you don’t feel hungry.  Don’t just drink water.  Consuming too much water without mixing in food or Gatorade could trigger Hyponatremia. I’m a fan of Clif Bar Shot Bloks ’Strawberry’ as a snack when hiking, especially on hot days or hiking in conditions where I am drinking lots of water.  

5. Check weather conditions before you leave

Weather conditions change all the time, and the forecast could have changed enough to where you need to rethink the clothing you had planned on taking.  Consider the elevation changes as wind conditions and temperatures can change drastically.  I remember climbing Mount Lassen one summer day where I started the hike in shorts and a short sleeve shirt, and needing to change into pants and my jacket near the summit.  

6. Beware of potential wildlife encounters 

Know your surroundings and the type of wildlife that can be found in the area.  If hiking in bear country, consider packing your food in a bear canister and carrying bear spray.  DO NOT HIKE WITH HEADPHONES.  Not only can you not hear sounds that could warn you of a potential danger ahead, but it might also block out warnings from other hikers yelling warnings to you. 

Solo hiking can be a rewarding experience for those looking for a bit of solitude in nature.  Can you think of any other tips I should include?  Let me know in the comments below. 

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