The wonderful world of women hiking solo
Hello, ladies! Do you dream about getting out of your dusty office and out to the wild? I am so with you! Hiking, especially when done alone, can be a life-changing experience. It brings you serenity and peace of mind. It can give you a great boost of self-confidence and pride. Hiking solo lets you think freely and be tuned in to own needs. It makes you focus on yourself, which women rarely have the chance to experience.
BUT. If done wrong it can be dreadful. We might not be able to control the weather or natural disasters. But we are able to control quite a number of factors that influence our experience on the path. The most important organ during a hike is not our legs – but our brain. Don’t be afraid to use it! Prepare well, think what you are doing and enjoy the ride (well, a hike)!
Probably the most important thing ensuring the success of your hike happens before you hit the trail: preparation. There is a place of spontaneity in our lives, but better to leave it for things like crazy spice in your coffee or a new color for your hiking socks. Researching your hiking destination ahead of time can not only make everything smoother and easier but also safer. You do not want to find out the morning of your hike that the trail is closed for repair or calving season. Knowing well in advance about any local issues – travel, currency, access to banks or accommodation on the way is crucial.
Read not only a guidebook (you do that, right?) on your trail but also personal reports from hikers who completed it. Check out forums and discussion boards. They can be an amazing well of useful information! I don’t only read on them – I take everything with me. How? I get it all on my Kindle (US). I buy a guide book and then copy useful information into pdf documents and send them all to kindle as well.
Another must – buy a hiker’s specific insurance. Make sure the insurance covers mountain rescue and activity-related accidents. There is just no excuse for “saving” on it.
When budgeting you need to create a special emergency fund. The realities of the hike might not go in sync with your expectations. Don’t plan on an absolute minimum budget, cutting you off any kind of pleasure spending like coffee or hot soup on the way. That was my mistake when preparing the budget for Scotland vacation. I expected myself to be extremely frugal and only eat my own food… well, that’s just cruel 😀
Check more awesome tips on planning your hike in this post.
Know and care for your gear
Even the best piece of gear is useless if you do not take a good care of it or don’t know how to use it. If you buy something new – make sure you check it out before you hit the trail. Pitch a tent in a park or at least in your room to figure out the layout. You can also prepare for pitching in the rain if the inner can be connected right away to the flysheet. Ensure that your backpack matches you well and that you know how to pack it and adjust it to your body. Learn the differences between various materials to make informed choices – for example, about your sleeping bag or camping cookware.
When you come back from a hike – spend enough time to make sure all your gear is cleaned, checked and put away the way it should be. Nothing spoils a hike like a moldy tent or a broken stove! Make sure your sleeping bag is completely dry and stored loosely. Being alone you depend only on what you have in your own backpack. Choose wisely and don’t forget something essential – there is no one there to give you a hand! Make a list of gear you must pack and check each item or take a look at my own packing list to help you. If you are going just for a day hike – make sure to take a look at the list of 10 Essentials for a Day Hike.
Listen to your body and put yourself first. Only you know best your body’s strengths and weaknesses, unique medical needs or health issues. Trail itineraries are only suggestions – don’t feel like you have to push yourself to do a daily quota of miles. If the trail requires a minimum of distance (or you have no place to sleep) which is beyond your capabilities – choose a different trail. Don’t feel bad that other people run past you or do twice what you do in a day.
Take as much rest as you need, including an extra day rest if that’s what you need. I know I’m not in the best shape and I realize that being a 40 year old is not the same as a twenty-something in terms of strength and stamina. Completing my hike later or making it shorter doesn’t take away anything from my personal satisfaction or sense of accomplishment. You also have the right to be proud of yourself – no matter what others do.
Obviously – if you happen to be really fit and athletic, do more than what is expected! If you are the type that can walk forever, making easily 30 km a day – go for it 🙂
Additionally for solo hikers, when you are on your own, it’s absolutely essential to not take any unnecessary risks. There is no one to help or ease the load. Don’t do anything stupid, don’t push yourself beyond what your body can do.
Scrutinize everything you pack
The downside of hiking solo is that you have to have everything with you. The other downside is that you have to also carry it all. No splitting the tent or other gear. No borrowing toilet paper from a friend. It is easy to overpack when you think everything can be “useful” and “what if”. That’s why having a good packing list is very important as well as knowing the proper technique of packing. It keeps you in check. (Do you need specific packing lists? Here are for women hiking solo in Scotland and Iceland.) If you are unsure what kind of camping cookware you should pack – here is a handy guide.
The list also helps with the risk of under packing. Solo hiker depends on herself alone. The good side is – you can match your gear with your individual needs with no one else requiring a particular kind of stove or tent that might not be ideal for you.
Know where you are going
That’s a big part of preparing for your hike. Check what kind of maps you need, what guides are available and learn what the trail looks like. What kind of markings there are and if you need strong navigational skills to complete it. Even on a well-marked trail, some basic skills in reading the map and using a compass are useful. As a solo hiker, you are on your own – for good and for worse.
Pay attention to the trail and be aware of your surroundings. It is pretty easy to space out and miss a turn or break your ankle on a twisted root when not paying attention.
Use trekking poles.
That’s one piece of gear that I include as a separate tip. Trekking poles ( for example Leki Trail AS Poles [US]) are amazing! They give a great rhythm to your walk, help you keep your balance, provide a probe for depth of pools or bogs and can be used even as a sock drying rack 😉 When you use trekking poles your arms pick up some of the work so your legs don’t do it all. And if this argument speaks to you: they help tone your arm muscles beautifully 🙂
Take good care of yourself
That’s another side of the “listen to your body” tip. Take a special care of your feet – learn how to prevent blisters, use a double sock system (first a moisture wicking liner, then a woolen sock), tape the known sensitive areas with sports tape etc. Make sure you have all your medicine on you and that you check their availability in the country you are heading for. It might be that you need to get more from your doctor ahead of time. Don’t forget about sun and insect protection. Again – research what are the local specifics in this area – is there a particular kind of insect to prepare against? Discussion forums can help again.
Be the perfect tourist, not a bulldozer.
Don’t be that tourist. Make sure you know and follow the Leave No Trace guidance. Learn how to poop in the wilderness and always take all your garbage with you. Don’t start a fire anywhere other than in specially designated spots. A burned spot on the ground does not equal permission. Just because someone else made a fire somewhere doesn’t mean it is allowed! Try to stay on trail otherwise, you may be adding to the erosion of soil along the trail.
Hiking alone is wonderful. But unless you go in really remote areas on our planet, you are not really alone. Be considerate of other users of the trail or camping site, as well as people living in the area. Respect the nature and people who would like to enjoy it. Keep your noise down – both on the trail and on a camping site. If you smoke – go far away from other people so you don’t force them to breathe in second-hand smoke.
When you wild camp – choose your spot carefully. Check local laws and make sure you don’t break any.
Choose your clothing wisely
Think hard about the clothes you take! Pack only the necessary items but choose them wisely. Don’t take cotton or jeans for hiking! Wear layers and buy high-quality clothes that will serve you longer and better. The base layer (like this Icebreaker’s one) [US]made of merino wool or high-tech synthetics (like this Rab Dryflow or this Arcteryx RHO) are the way to go. I highly recommend using merino wool for the base layer – read more about its benefits here.
Pay special attention to your sports bra and choose one for hikers. The upper straps can’t be thick and directly under your backpack straps or it can be painful! Same with thick plastic clamps on your back. You don’t need a very thick and padded one, choose light and breathable – made of merino wool or synthetics. I have this Icebreaker one (US)and this Arc’teryx one (US) – both are great. Your undies also have to be made of highly breathable technical fabric. I use merino wool ones (Icebreaker Siren Hipkini [US]), but that’s again a personal preference – check what works for you, but never wear cotton.
Even if the weather forecast is for warm and dry conditions, always pack rain jacket (I like my Marmot Women’s PreCip Jacket [US])and a warmer layer. Be prepared for sudden changes in weather and differences in temperature on higher altitudes – stuff a Buff(US) and gloves into your pack.
Check out my Ultimate Female Packing List for Hiking – and this resource page with reviews and tips on clothing and gear – they are a great resource for all things needed for your next hike.
Eat and drink enough!
This one might seem silly, but believe me – it’s very easy to not eat enough. You might not realize how much calories your body burns during hiking. If you carry a heavy pack, hike a rough terrain and climb often you use up even more energy.
Your engine needs fuel or it dies out on you.
Make sure you eat a good breakfast filled with complex carbs (oats work great), fats and protein. I love my (gluten-free) oatmeal to which I add dried fruits, some seeds (chia, flax, pumpkin, and sunflower), high fat dried milk, sometimes instant cocoa (a lovely treat!) or rice flakes. You might add things you love – nuts, coconut or other grains.
Prepare snacks for the road – protein or candy bars (I love Sneakers!), hard cheese, dried sausage or jerky, biscuits etc. Your evening meal should be warm and filling, providing protein and fat. Hiking is the best time where you really don’t have to count calories – except for when you want to make sure you had enough!
Remember to drink as you hike. Check ahead of time how much water you need to take with you. It’s a good idea to have a small water filter (I can recommend this one: Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System [US])– it helps a lot! But if there are no streams on your route – you have to carry much more on you. Remember to also replenish lost electrolytes. It’s a good idea to eat salty snacks or add special Hydration Tablets to your water.
For more tips (and mistakes to avoid) check my ultimate list of hiking mistakes or why you suck at hiking ;-).
If you would like to read more on hiking gear – check out my other posts.
Oh, and a bonus tip:
Just get out there!
You will do fine and will love it!
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Did I miss something? What is your No.1 tip for women hiking solo? Add in comments!