The winter before I began my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, I told everyone I knew what I was going to do. The number one question that everyone had for me was, “You’re not going by yourself, are you?”
Most non-hikers think that the hiking lifestyle is more dangerous than it actually is. They think that there are just crazy people who lurk behind trees waiting for innocent, young women to come along. Let me tell you, there are far more crazy people in towns that there are in the wilderness. Also, when you account for the number of people who have actually been murdered on the Appalachian Trail (less than ten) to the number of people who use the trail every year (millions), the murder rate per capita is alarmingly low.
So, if you’ve been fantasizing about a thru-hike, but you know that no one will ever go with you, that’s OK. You can go by yourself!
Why should you hike solo?
- People are nicer to women. People will offer you rides to the trail head while you’re at the grocery store. On rainy evenings, there’s always room in the shelter for one more girl. Sometimes, other hikers will even share their snacks.
- You learn more about yourself when it’s only you. Anyone that’s setting out on the trail to “find themselves” could benefit from a solo hike. You’ll still learn about yourself when you’re hiking with a partner, but you have a lot more “you time” while solo.
- You call the shots! If you’re feet hurt, you can stop earlier than planned. You don’t have to sit around and wait for anyone, and you don’t have to hike uncomfortably fast to keep up with anyone.
- There’s no competition. Men on the trail love to compete with each other, especially their hiking partners. They love to compare who hiked the most miles, who has the lightest pack, who’s the manliest for having the heaviest pack, and who can grow the thickest, longest beard. Without a hiking partner, you can ignore the competition. I don’t have very much athletic prowess, so I think the only competition I could win would be most miles hiked without a shower (over 100, gross, I know).
- You don’t have to answer to anyone about your gear selection. Hikers love to talk about their gear, and they always think they have the best/ lightest/ most-durable/ most high-tech/ best priced gear. I met my boyfriend on the trail, and he is an ultra-lighter. He tried to convince me that my gear was far too heavy and I needed to ditch some of it. Sorry, but I like having camp shoes, extra socks, pants (yes, he did not have pants, only shorts), and a flannel to sleep in. We’re considering doing another long-distance trail, and he’s certain that I’ll only be buying ultra-light gear (he’s wrong).
What about safety while hiking solo?
- Trail men tend to be rather chivalrous. They know who the women hikers are, and they try to look out for us.
- I never met any legitimately threatening men on the trail, just men who didn’t know about boundaries. In the first few hundred miles, some guys are really trying hard to land a trail girlfriend. After awhile, they learn to be more respectful because they know that they can potentially make women really uncomfortable.
- You might end up hitch-hiking solo to resupply in town. See my hitch-hiking how-to article for more information. Basically, take safety precautions prior to sticking your thumb out. Put your cards and ID, cell phone, and knife in your pocket so you can either make a quick escape or protect yourself. But don’t worry, most trail town folk are extremely nice.
- While hiking, I always kept my knife and pepper spray in my hip-belt pocket for quick access. I never needed them for protection though. It’s just nice to be prepared.
- If you get injured, and you have no cell service, dial 911 anyway. Even if the call doesn’t go through, it might still transmit your GPS coordinates. See this Backpacker article for more information on how this works. However, if you do get injured and can’t hike, someone will probably cross paths with you within a few hours.
- If your loved ones are really worried about your safety, they can get you a SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger. You can send your GPS coordinates to your mom when you get into camp, or if you get into a real emergency, you can send an SOS.
My husband won’t let me hike solo because of safety and it has little to do with me not knowing my limits or my skills but because he doesn’t trust people, on or off trail. The thing that he worries about is the fact that there are so many men on trail and a woman by herself can be a target. Fortunately there are lots of ways to up your safety without acting like a paranoid weirdo and most of them are listed in your post! Even if I’m hiking in a group of people I trust, I always keep a real knife (3-5in) and pepper spray on me.
Despite my hubby’s slightly unfounded fears, it doesn’t bother me too much because I don’t really like hiking alone anyway. There are a lot of really great things about hiking solo and I can understand why someone would want to, but for my two cents, it’s just too lonely. 🙂
So stoked that I found this blog! My younger sister and I are planning on doing a little over half of a thru-hike this summer (Maryland-Maine, the sister will be going into her last year of high school, so we’ll have to save the full thru-hike for later), and your blog has come in pretty handy already! I’ve been kind of paranoid about us being young girls hiking alone, but reading this has helped relive some of my anxieties about it.
Most people on the trail are super nice! You’ll definitely be safe with two people. I hope you have a great time!
I hike all the time by myself and I can’t believe how many women ask me, “Aren’t you afraid to go out there by yourself?” That question is the very reason I started a local hiking club just for women. I think it is just a lack of familiarity with hiking that makes it seem scary to women, which is such a shame. I like everything you said in this blog and think you are spot on. Good for you! If you are ever in the Los Angeles Area I’d be happy to take you hiking or backpacking. The Pacific Crest Trail is my neighbor. 🙂
That’s awesome that you started a women’s hiking club! Way to positively impact the hiking community. I think I might actually be doing a PCT thru-hike in 2015 (finger’s crossed).
I prefer to hike alone, especially cause like you said, I get to call the shots about daily mileage and stuff. Plus people treat you different if you hike with a guy, they direct all questions to the man as if you’re just tagging along rather than an active participant and that drives me nuts.
When I did my GA-NOC section hike the only thing that I ever was cautious about was if a guy said “Soo wait, you’re all alone?” to which I’d reply “well there are people in front of me and people behind me that I’m kinda with” (which was a stretch) but it lets people know that if you don’t show up somewhere someone will notice, but not to worry! that’s just a precaution, I seriously seriously doubt anyone had anything but pure curiosity in the apparent novelty of a solo girl hiker.
I know what you mean about the first part. After I completed my thru-hike, I went back for a section hike in Georgia the next spring. Some guy at a shelter started trying to explain to me how long the trail is and that he’s going to hike all of it (he was 30 miles in). Finally, I was like, “I know. We thru-hiked last year.” Referring to myself and my boyfriend who I met in Vermont the previous year.
The dude was really surprised and was like, “Wait. He thru-hiked last year?”
I explained, “We both did.”
Guys that are actually experienced hikers are never surprised to find women who hike solo and hike long distances, but the newbie hikers can’t believe it for some reason.
I’ve seen this in action. As a woman, it’s a nice little test of how much they’ve been in the outdoors. Also, younger hiker guys who did boy scouts may be used to the outdoors as a dude zone. This was the case with my boyfriend, and then he was like, ‘Oh, there’s lots of nature ladies.’
Love your blog. I recently finished the Camino de Santiago de Campostella in northern Spain. It was the adventure of a lifetime. Of course, the number one question was – “Why?” And number two “Are you going with a group?” The answer to number one is still being worked on, the answer to number two was, “Nope. Goin’ solo.” I think it’s important for women to be role models for other women and for men, as far as strength, self reiance, and confidence are concerned. We bring attributes to the trail that broaden the experience for everyone.
Ever since I heard about the Camino I’ve been trying to figure out a way to do it. Your post has inspired me to work harder to make it a reality. Thanks!
That’s amazing! I would love to do the Camino one day. You should definitely go for it!
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May 12 2013 I started my first section to hike the AT solo. I had started planning and preparing 3 years earlier at age 62. I waited until 65 yo so I would have some kind of health coverage. That will give you a sense of how frugal my planning had to be. I completed 468 mi, finishing Ga, Nc,&Tn, wow! I impressed myself. I plan to go back thissummer soon as I can.. I miss the blaze. I traveled alone but never felt lonely.
Wow! Congratulations on your accomplishment, that’s awesome. I know what you mean about missing the blaze. The weekend isn’t complete if I haven’t been on the trail even for a few miles. I’m lucky enough to live within 10 miles of the AT and feel duty bound to get out there every chance I can.
Please contact me. I so want to do the same hike you did and I’ll be about your age when I start. I am on Facebook also.
This is really reassuring to read, as someone who’s about to attempt the Long Trail by myself. I’ve got some family members trying to talk me out of it.
Do it! You’ll meet lots of other hikers on the Long Trail.
Awesome blog! Would you happen to have any advice for someone hiking solo across the entire US from Pennsylvania to California?
Thanks for sharing your experience and enthusiasm for hiking. I’m getting ready to take a hike tomorrow that is part of a two day backpacking trip in Colorado. I’ve been camping by myself, but have not yet gone hiking or backpacking alone. I enjoyed reading your tips and tricks, like carrying pepper spray and a knife. I hope I won’t need it. I think you’re right though when you say there are more dangers in the city than in the wilderness.
Cool, Thanks Hashbrown! I would add as the biggest tips: tip 1: When people you meet during the day ask you “How far are you hiking, or where are you staying?” Answer vaguely. Don’t tell ppl your exact camping plans. It’s also a good idea to say you are catching up with some friends later “down the trail” if it is clearly a day-hiker asking you about your mileage for that day. Tip 2: if you come to an empty shelter at night and someone comes in after you and your instincts tell you something is not quite right, the best thing to do is just pack up your stuff and relocate. Or for that matter, you come to a shelter and there is only one other person there and your gut tells you that you should not stay, then it is perfectly right to move on. Thankfully I never found myself in this situation, and I was in shelters alone for about 1/3 of my hike as a 2011 SoBo.
So excited to read this blog! I’ve been really worried about hiking any long-trail alone. (I think my mom has watched “Taken” a thousand times too many and refuses to support my ideas of solo thru-hiking). I’ve done a few pretty low-key backpacking trips but always with a group of people, and the thought of going alone can be scary. BUT this article has given me such a great confidence boost. It’s so nice to hear about other women thru-hiking. Great blog! Thank you!
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Hopefully “Wild” is gonna fix this culture of doubt for many of you ladies. It’s always a pleasure to see a solo female face, often accompanied by a well behaved dog, out in the NH Whites. As a Trail Angel that (usually) picks a static position to hang and wait for Thrus in Crawford Notch a couple weekends in Sept, I can assure any doubters out there that there are many of you.
A shout out to Spider, and Sunshine, a couple individual NOBOs who I met up on The Twinway on Sept 13 ’14 that I know made Katahdin. Congrats Ladies.