As someone who hikes solo frequently, I can tell you that you need to be smart. It’s best to gain some experience before you take on challenging routes on your own. You should always be safe in the great outdoors, but the importance grows when you’re all alone. Here are some essential boxes to tick before you venture out sans others:
Carry plenty of water.
I cannot emphasize this enough. You are screwed if something happens and you’re stranded with no water. That is one of the worst mistakes you can make. Always carry extra water. If you are going to be around some natural water sources during your trek, you can always bring along a filter and then purify more if you don’t want to carry a large amount.
Be very informed.
The more you know … Honestly, it’s best to have a ton of information about every hike you do. I go online and read detailed descriptions of the hikes on blogs. I examine the pictures, write down important notes, and pay great heed to the directions given. It’s so easy to go the wrong way at a crossing or a fork in the path. Keep track of your mileage with a Garmin or Fitbit or something comparable so you know if you’ve gone too far in a certain direction based on the trail notes you have.
Carry a map of the area.
They’re usually available online or at the ranger stations. It’s so easy to pick one up, and they can be indispensible in case of simple confusion or a real emergency. There’s no real excuse not to have one on hand. At the very least, take a screenshot of the map at the trailhead on your phone so you have something.
Make sure you’re stocked up.
This means plenty of snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, bear spray (where applicable), a flashlight/headlamp, first aid supplies, and warmer layers of clothing if needed. It’s a little extra weight, yes, but if something unexpected does happen you’ll be very glad you took all of it. I’ve had to run miles down trails to beat the dark because I forgot to bring my headlamp. It was terrifying. Be prepared.
Carry a medical kit.
You can find an individual version that weighs practically nothing. You’re out in the wild – you don’t know what might happen. It’s easy to get scraped or cut or bruised, and what if you twist your ankle or smash a finger somehow? You can’t fix everything with one of these, but it’s a good start.
Check weather conditions the day before.
This is very important and often overlooked. You may be up in higher altitudes than usual, in different areas, or on foreign terrain. It’s essential to know how the temperatures and conditions may differ from where you live. Even if you’re in the valley and going up into the mountains above, the weather can differ drastically.
Make sure someone knows your whereabouts.
Informing someone of where you are going and when you should return is a great way to make sure that alarms sound if you’re gone longer than expected. It can’t hurt, and it’s a basic precaution. If you are venturing into an area where a wilderness permit is required, the rangers will also know your basic whereabouts and when you should be back.
Exercise caution and good judgment.
Just be smart. Trust your instincts and don’t do anything that you think you shouldn’t. I recently lost my favorite hat in a gust of wind over the side of a mountain. The entire slope was very steep and composed of loose rock. I attempted to climb down to my hat, though I knew I was being foolish, and very nearly got caught in a rockslide. If I had started going, I never would’ve stopped. A hat isn’t worth getting badly hurt out where no one can hear you calling for help.
Don’t take on more than you can handle.
Be realistic. What’s your experience? What’s your conditioning? Have you dealt with high altitudes before? Do you feel truly comfortable venturing out into the wilderness alone? Don’t let your ego and pride tell you to bite off more than you can chew. Build up your endurance gradually.
Allow yourself plenty of time.
You won’t really know how long a hike takes you until you do it. There are so many factors involved. You can use someone else’s time as a guide, but you aren’t that person. You may be faster, or slower, or great with gradual inclines but struggling on steep rocky climbs. The weather may be harsher than expected. Make sure you give yourself ample wiggle room just to be safe.