Tips for Hiking Solo
In 2017, I started hiking solo because I got tired of waiting for my then boyfriend to be available to go on the adventures I wanted to. Yolo, right?!
At first, it was scary, I started with short local day hikes with our pup, Sequoia. I live in the Central Coast, so I hiked all over Malibu, Ojai, Santa Barbara, and Ventura with Sequoia. It was a comfort to take the dog with me, mainly just to have someone to talk to!
Then I learned about the SoCal 6 Pack of Peaks and I really needed elevation training since I was preparing for Mt. Whitney. So then I pushed further out of my comfort zone and hiked to Mt. Baldy and San Bernardino Peak, still with Sequoia.
Then July came around and I got a last minute permit to Mt. Whitney. Again, my boyfriend couldn’t go. So I drove up the 395 solo on Friday after work (Sequoia stayed home). I’ve been on this drive many times before but this was my first time solo. I picked up my permit and drove up to Portal to camp at 11pm. I was scared but so excited. I was here and tomorrow I was hiking Whitney. I slept in my car but barely got any sleep, I was so nervous. Then after a few hours of tossing and turning, around 1am I saw a lot of headlamps at the parking lot, so I decided to get up. I started hiking solo at 2:30am, right after I saw a bear in the parking lot.
Honestly, I have no idea how I talked myself into that one. And surprisingly I was very calm when I got up, got dressed, saw the bear and started hiking. Up to that point, that was the earliest I had ever started hiking, I had never seen a bear either. But I just did it. I got up and started hiking.
Along the way, I ended up meeting other hikers and tagging along for a bit here and there. Everyone was extremely kind and supportive.
I didn’t make it because I got altitude sickness. Lesson learned, don’t drive up from sea level, sleep for two hours and start hiking to 14,505 feet. Bad idea. But even though I didn’t make it, this was a huge turning point for me with hiking. I got up, drove solo, camped alone, started at 2:30am solo, and saw a bear!
Now sometimes I hike solo and other times I hike with others. I’m a very social person and I really enjoy the company, but sometimes I just want to do me and clear my head.
Learning to be comfortable hiking solo has been an extremely empowering experience.
Here are my tips for getting out there and hiking solo. It’s a process and your comfort for it won’t happen overnight.
Start with popular trails
It’s a huge comfort to know there are others on the trail, especially when you’re just getting started and your mind is taking you through everything that could possibly go wrong.
Popular trails are usually easier to navigate, you can ask people questions or for help along the way. Even local trails that you’ve done before are a great place to start. You just want to pick places that will ease your mind and ease you into being comfortable being solo.
You will make friends on the trail
Almost every solo trip, I’ve made friends on the trail. I just chat with people along the way and it’s the best way to make friends with people who are interested in the same thing as you.
Don’t completely disregard your fears. Things can go wrong and you need to be prepared if they do. Carry enough food and water, bring sunscreen, headlamp, a map, and jacket in case the weather changes.
I also like to carry an In-Reach device especially if I’m going somewhere with no cell reception. I carry the Garmin In-Reach Explorer + so I can send texts, have a digital map, and have SOS. I also always carry a knife, solo or not. It comes in handy for everything!
Tell someone where you’re going
Again, better safe than sorry! Let someone know so if you’re not home by a certain time, they can call for help. Keep doing this even after you’ve been hiking solo for a while. And do this even when you’re going with someone.
Know it’s mentally challenging
You will be scared, your mind will run you through the worst case scenario, and just know that hiking solo is almost 100% a mental challenge.
Trust your instincts
Yes, your mind will run through the worst case scenario, but your instincts are telling you that something is off, trust them. If you feel it’s getting late and you should turn around, do it. If you’re running low on water and need to turn around, do it. If you saw a creep on the trail who made you feel uncomfortable, get on the defensive. If the camp spot feels creepy, don’t camp there, keep walking until you find something better. Keep yourself safe.