7 Tips for Your First Solo Hike
As many of you know already, I love hiking solo.
I find it tremendously rewarding on many levels. It helps with my anxiety, brings relaxation and simple happiness. Hiking solo gives me also a great boost to my confidence and pride of own accomplishments.
A lot of people find trekking solo as equally rewarding – although it’s different for each person. But even extroverts find the experience worth the effort.
In our times, when we are surrounded by people almost all the time it is good to be one-on-one with Nature and listen only to the sounds of wind, birds, and waterfalls.
Should you then hit the trail right away?
Well, wait a minute. Hiking solo is not only sweet roses, chirping birds and nirvana-like state of mind. Before you hit the trails, it is worth checking a few things to make sure you are safe and can truly harvest all the benefits with minimizing the risks.
1. Are you ready for a month-long solo trek?
If it’s your first time hiking solo it is worth considering a shorter hike first. Knowing yourself is a key, of course. If you know you are a loner and an introvert it’s probably safe to go for a longer solo trek.
But if you are rarely alone and generally enjoy the company of people around you, it might be better, to begin with a solo day hike, then a one-night camping trip and so on.
This new experience will help you get to know yourself. You might surprise yourself with how you feel – both with how amazing the experience is or how strange and anxiety-filled.
Do you suffer from cabin fever when you are stuck inside for a few days? Is it because of lack of contact with people or Nature and the general outdoors?
If it’s the first – you might suffer from a sudden longer separation from people. To ease into the new world of solo hiking, you have a few options. You can choose short day-hikes or you can pick hikes with nights at mountain shelters or hotels with other people.
You can choose a popular trail where there is a big chance to meet other hikers and chat with them a bit during breaks.
For some people just to know there are other people not far from them is enough to keep the anxiety in check.
2. Are you physically ready for a solo trek?
Going solo hiking requires a much better knowledge of own capabilities. If anything happens on the way – you are on your own.
It does not matter what your fitness level is – you just need to be aware of it to fit the trail to match your skills and body strength.
If you are unsure, which is nothing unusual for beginners, choose a trail with multiple exit points. This way if you are surprised with your lack of stamina along the way, you can exit earlier on. You might also prepare by having your shelter with you and wild camp (where allowed) earlier than planned.
Of course, you might also find out that you are much fitter than you thought and arrive at a shelter or campsite much too early in the day. No problem – that’s what books are for! Next time you know you can choose a trail that is a bit longer or steeper.
3. Do you have a good solo hiking packing list?
When you go out alone you are on your own.
That’s the beauty and the most wonderful (in my view) quality of solo hiking.
But it also means that if you forget something – you are screwed. Make sure you have a good packing list and go point by point.
And as you are carrying it all by yourself – don’t over pack.
Even if you are going just for a day-hike, make sure you have the absolute hiking essentials with you.
Every ounce counts – take what is necessary but be sensible about each item’s size and weight. Pick as light as you can afford (without going crazy) – but make sure you are comfortable with the choices. A tarp might be the lightest option for a shelter but will you be all right using it? I know I wouldn’t – I need a tent. If you need more tips on shedding some weight off your back - check also this article.
4. Do you know where you are going?
Just knowing that a trail is X km long and beautiful might not be enough.
Prepare by researching the trail. Check what kind of surface you will walk on or if there are any tricky or difficult parts. Are there any streams or lakes that might overflow after heavy rainfall? Any dangerous animals? Does the trail requires special skills or takes you along exposed cliffs?
Make sure you are ready to tackle all unique traits of the trail. If you have fear of heights or get dizzy on exposed cliffs – better choose a different trail.
Make sure you check the weather and know what to expect. If you hike during the fall-winter-spring season, remember that the sunset can come really early. A trail that is a wonderful all-day hike in the summer might prove dangerous race against the time in fall.
5. Are you prepared for unexpected events during your solo hike?
I know, I know, it sounds like an oxymoron to be prepared for the unexpected… but we can prepare for common accidents and possible “bad luck” situations.
Pack a first-aid kit to your backpack and be prepared to deal with typical hiking injuries. To help you deal with other unpleasant stuff, always bring your phone to call for help in case it’s needed.
If you go for solo hiking in a foreign country – always buy an insurance that includes mountain rescue. It’s a good idea to have a small whistle attached to your backpack – to call for help or let the rescuers know where you are.
Unless you go for a really safe and well-marked trail right outside of a big city, bring a map for the area. Don’t rely only on your phone and apps. They are great as a support – but should not be the only map you have.
It is also important to learn the rules of Leave No Trace and think ahead of time about things like wild camping (is it allowed? will it be even possible in that terrain?) or relieving oneself. Take a bag with your to take all your garbage back with you.
6. Do you have something for the solo camping night?
Quite often we get to the camp pretty early on – unless you are a very fit and experienced hiker doing some crazy distances. We set our tent, prepare a meal, change into night clothes… and it’s still only 7 pm or so.
What to do?
So many options! If the weather is fair, you might just love to sit outside and watch the sunset (depending on the season), starry skies or beautiful landscapes. You might want to take a stroll around the campsite.
For me, the best moment is always when I’m all fed, happy-tired and snuggled in a sleeping bag with a Kindle in front of me.
I am a big fan of the kindle – it can hold many books, but also trail guides, insurance details, documents with important info and so on.
Books are heavy and problematic once you finish reading them. Papers get lost or crumbled somewhere in your backpack.
Kindle isn’t all that big and is perfect for the nightly entertainment and holding all needed information.
In addition to the basic survival things, it’s good to have some feel-good things. It can be a candy bar (you burnt a lot of calories, don’t worry) or a bit extra gourmet meal. A favorite tea or hot cocoa can be an awesome treat and reward. Treat yourself – you have just done something wonderful and your body is your greatest friend!
I also like to have a simple notebook with me – to write down notes about the day – some points on the trail, what was easy or surprising. What should be noted for others as a warning or how I felt at a particular moment.
If you are still a bit anxious or even fearful about going solo camping, check this article for handy tips that I hope ease the anxiety.
7. Do you have your camera with you?
I know there are people who can hike without taking photos but I’m not one of them.
I love photographing what I see and my camera is always close by.
It helps me to process the experiences, remember them better and share it all later with friends and other people.
I also like taking selfies and am not ashamed of it.
I am proud of what I can do and want to have a photo showing me standing or walking in some gloriously beautiful settings. I am proud of walking miles, climbing hills and carrying some heavy packs up the mountains.
Photos are sweet reminders that I am awesome and that I have achieved things I should be proud of myself. Sometimes I still can’t believe I did this or that. So I go back to my photos and I feel good. Simple as that.
Do you want to read more tips for solo hikers and campers? Sure! Here you go: 10 tips for female solo hikers!
Have you been hiking solo? Do you want to start?
Would you add any other tip for beginners solo hikers?