Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god -Aristotle
As most of us hikers know by personal experience and proven by recent scientific studies, not only is hiking good for your body, it is also beneficial for your mind as well. It turns out, in a study done by Stanford in 2015, hiking in nature contributes to lower depression, lower anxiety, and increased cognitive abilities. (http://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/30/hiking-mental-health-063015/) So in a time where we have so many everyday distractions that can cause anxiety and stress, hiking is a great way to get outside, disconnect, and feel good, both physically and mentally. Hiking for many, is also a social experience, as hiking with a group offers a way to connect with others and share the same passion with like-minded people. But what happens when you don’t have someone to hike with or you just want to get away sans your hiker friends? Go solo!
Solo hikes, for me, are even more beneficial to my mind and reconnecting with myself through nature than group hikes. All those distractions of life we try to escape from by hiking sometime sneak along with you on the trail in the form of your hiking partners. Maybe someone is little grumpy, or wants to complain about their significant other, or just won’t stop talking. Maybe someone is having a bad physical day and needs to turn around ending your hike too. Don’t get me wrong, hiking with friends is amazing, but can be distracting, causing that connection with nature to be lost. When I hike solo, it’s just me, the trail, and the weather; no distractions and a perfect time to re-connect with myself and hike off some of those stresses and anxiety. Solo hiking becomes much more of a spiritual experience for me and I notice how much I am one with the earth. I come back feeling so rejuvenated and grounded at the same time.
But what about the dangers of hiking solo? I can’t tell you how many people freak out when I tell them I sometimes hike by myself. “Aren’t you worried about psycho killers on the trail? What about getting eaten by a mountain lion?” I always smile to myself when I hear this and think about my husband’s favorite movie quote in a scene from Heat where Al Pacino yells at Snitches “You can get killed walking your doggie”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=575xM6Uljw4 Al Pacino’s quote really holds some truth when you look at the stats. On average, around 5,000 people a year get killed by being hit by a car. Compare that to the roughly 35 people a year that die hiking and it doesn’t seem so dangerous. And those mountain lions that everyone is afraid will eat me? According to Wikipedia, since 1890, there has been less than 25 fatal mountain lion attacks in the entire U.S. More people died from contaminated cantaloupes in 2013 than mountain lions since 1890! The facts are mountain lions just don’t eat people and it’s extremely rare to even see one (I’m still waiting to see one even after the 1,000’s of miles I’ve hiked in cougar country).
When I go out on a trail alone, I feel so free- so connected. It’s such a great feeling, knowing I am capable of doing something that scares most people and loving every second of it. When you think about it, it’s only been a couple generations since everyone became so disconnected from the wild and somehow it became “scary”. My Grandfather lived in a time where normal people lived in the wild, slept under the stars, and hiked every day because they didn’t have access to horses or cars. Oh what a time that must have been to live!
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting solo hiking is for everyone but I do think everyone should try it at least once and see if it is for you or not. If you’re new to solo hiking, here are some tips for your first few solo hikes:
- Before any hike, check the weather. Make sure you are adequately dressed for whatever the forecast predicts. If there is any severe weather forecasted (snow, lightening, excessive heat) plan your solo hike for a different day.
- Choose a trail you know well so you’re confident that you won’t get lost. I found that I would doubt myself and abilities my first couple of solo hikes so it helped a ton that I was on trails I already knew.
- Make sure to tell someone where you are going and when to expect you back. Don’t forget to let them know when you do get back.
- Become an expert at reading maps and navigation. If you know how to read a map and navigate well, you won’t have to worry about getting lost.
- Study new trails ahead of time. Look at the map, look at the trail on Google Earth, read trail write ups about the trail. Get to know the trail before you even step one foot on it. I usually save the trail description to my phone so I have access to it when the cell reception doesn’t work on the trail.
- Always bring your ten essentials. The updated 10 essentials are:
Navigation (map and compass)
Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
Insulation (extra clothing)
Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
Repair kit and tools
Nutrition (extra food)
Hydration (extra water)
- Make sure to have a charged cell phone with you (put it on airplane mode to save the battery and no distractions).
- Take a Basic Wilderness Course to learn what to do in case of an emergency. This is something that is beneficial to all hikers and can save your life in an emergency if you don’t know what to do.
- If you do bring a GPS, make sure to mark the trailhead. Don’t ever rely on your GPS only to get you back to the trailhead.
- Take your time on your hike, enjoy the solitude and peace you will feel. Sometimes I like to journal after a solo hike as my creative juices get a boost afterwards.
Don’t be afraid to hike on your own- and remember it’s like
any other fear you have. It can be overcome and each time you go, it gets
easier and easier! Just be prepared and always be smart about what you’re doing
and aware of your surroundings.