Over the years, I have found hiking to be a great social activity. These shared experiences help build life-long friendships and create many wonderful memories. You trust your companions will keep you motivated, entertained and hopefully save you from getting lost. It’s being out in the middle of nowhere that I believe allows relationships to flourish, to have real conversations away from modern-day distractions.
For that reason, I always walked as a part of a group, or 1-1 with a friend. I didn’t see the point of going solo, as half the joy of walking came from sharing the experience. I enjoy a good chat while hiking, so I was convinced going solo would be boring and that I would lack the motivation to finish the walk.
As everyone’s lives inevitably get busier, I didn’t always get to choose when my friends were free for hikes. So, it was ‘go alone, or not go at all’. To my amazement, going solo was actually quite nice. Walking at your own pace was a big benefit, especially as I have little legs! The peace and quiet also help clear your head, and to an extent, allow you to create a deeper connection with yourself and your surroundings. Just you, alone in nature, creating the ultimate definition of ‘me-time.
I never really thought twice about going solo. I have come across many people who seem confused and concerned by seeing a lone female walker out in the mountains. It was only until I started posting pictures on social media that I realised many women are still afraid of hiking alone. I won’t pretend to understand all the reasons as to why that is, but I imagine ‘stranger danger’ probably plays a part. However, I have always thought that I would rather be alone in the mountains than alone in Leeds City Centre.
Therefore I wanted to offer some advice for women who are worried about going solo. As much as I think there is no easy fix for the ‘stranger danger’ anxiety, I believe getting to a point where you are confident in the mountains is key.
Step 1 – Navigation
I walked in groups for a long time before I went solo. My friends helped me learn to use a map and compass, and I used our walks to practice my navigation skills. These days, there are lots of group walks/navigational courses you can take to help with this. I honestly think this is one of the biggest steps toward getting comfortable in the mountains and despite the use of mobile apps, learning the ‘old-fashioned’ way should not be overlooked.
Step 2 – Release your inner mountain goat
It’s important to spend time in the mountains, experiencing different gradients and terrain to get an idea of your mental and physical limitations. Simple things like a change in weather can make a steep downward slope much more difficult. But with practice, it will help build your confidence, and you soon release your inner mountain goat.
Step 3 – Having the right equipment
Most people think I am crazy for how much I carry on walks, but no one plans on having an accident, so it makes me feel better knowing I’m as prepared as I can be! For a solo walk (and most other walks) my rucksack contains a map, compass, GPS, spare batteries, first aid kit, emergency blanket, emergency whistle, head torch, little torch in my front pocket, extra layers, food, spare socks, foil blanket, blister plasters and probably other things I can’t think of right now.
It may seem excessive, but I have been in situations where I have needed some of these things, especially the head torch. But I know that if I was alone and had an accident, I had everything I needed to keep me safe.
Step 4 – Stay in familiar places and ask a friend for support
The first solo walks I did were in places I had hiked dozens of times, I was comfortable with the terrain, which helped reduce my fear of getting lost! It’s also important to let someone know where you’re going and what route you intend to take.
If you have always walked in groups, you could start by hiking with just one other person. Then, if you have willing volunteers, ask friends if they will meet you at pre-determined ‘checkpoints’ along the walk. That way, at least you know you will see some friendly faces along the way.
Walking alone can be a very rewarding experience. Being aware of the dangers of solo hiking isn’t always a bad thing, we all need to be cautious when we are out on our own, whether in the mountains or down the street. Like anything, practice and time will help you feel more confident. My solo hikes have all been a positive experience, but I don’t get complacent and always stay prepared.
I hope this helps and happy adventures!