Safety is a huge concern these days. Safety when you’re out on the trails is no different.
For this reason a lot of people prefer group hiking as opposed to solo hiking and I can understand why, but I have to wonder if you’re missing out.
Solo hiking has many of its own rewards and can offer hikers a completely different experience to hiking with others.
We are social beings so a lot of the time we prefer to share experiences with others and there’s nothing wrong with that, but the need to be connected to others has taken over our lives.
We need to be connected to others via social media; all the time. It’s incessant.
As a result, we are constantly barraged by other people’s thoughts, advertising and we have an ever changing social climate as a result of everyone feeling that they have a right to be heard these days. Blogging is another example of this; we go in search of truth from other people.
But who says they have all the right ideas? Self- examination and self-contemplation is difficult in our fast-paced and loud world.
Rarely do most people encounter a quiet moment; between the kids, the TV, the Facebook videos or the Ipod.
Solo trail walking can offer us the opportunity for quiet contemplation and it has its own set of advantages:
The quiet and stillness of the bush gives you a real chance to examine yourself, relax and enjoy the view, encounter wildlife or delight in a mound of moss that no one else would find interesting. You can just ‘be’ without feeling the need to contribute to trail talk or to aid others to keep positive throughout a longer journey.
You can go at your own pace. You don’t need to wait for the straggler or strain to catch the pace maker, you can just relax into your own personal rhythm.
You have responsibility only for yourself. You can challenge yourself to increase your pace without consideration of your slower partner and you can decide to alter your route without any justification.
Hiking alone means you can only rely on yourself; your own skills and your own self-reliance.
But it can also pose significant challenges if you find yourself in a sticky situation, so there are other factors to consider:
You need to be confident in your own skills. You need to be 100% certain that you have the fitness, capability and mental strength to carry out the journey that you are planning, be-it a day journey or a multi-day trek. You can’t turn to your partner for some encouraging words when the trail gets tough and you need to know that you have the ability to handle yourself in the event of an injury.
If you’re planning to head out on a multi-day journey you also need to carry everything yourself. From your shelter, kitchen equipment, first aid, navigation needs and food/water so there is a greater need for physical fitness in order to carry a larger pack over greater distances.
Respect the risk and start small; ensuring that you have tested your supplies and your ability before heading out to remote areas. You also need to be confident walking in all conditions. Heat, rain or falling trees in high winds all pose their own significant challenges, so before you set off you need to be confident in your ability to read the weather and predict heavy rainfall events etc.
What if you get lost? Without a second person to confirm your navigation and with the solitude to ‘zone-out’ while walking, hiking alone can pose a serious risk of getting lost. As always, it’s important that someone knows where you are going and when you will return. It’s also equally important that you have a GPS as well as map and compass. If you find yourself lost, it’s important to stop. Think about where you have been and where your map says you should be and plan an exit strategy. Be smart, check light conditions and if it’s late in the day it could mean making camp before you attempt to exit the following day. Don’t wander in an effort to re-find your place, there’s a good chance you’ll wind up further away than closer to your exit.
In Australia there is always a very real possibility that you will encounter dangerous wildlife on your adventure- after all, everything in Australia has the potential to kill you if the tourism alerts are meant to be believed. Snake bites are a real threat (however unlikely) so make sure you are carrying the right provisions to deal with these events (a topic to be addressed in future posts) and choose to travel solo in the cooler months to lessen your chances of an encounter.
Sadly, it’s also pertinent to be aware of human dangers. If you’re a female travelling alone be mindful of the dangers and if you encounter someone who makes your hair stand up on end – make note of that feeling and don’t ignore it. If you’re in conversation make reference to your hiking partner who is due to meet you and potentially carry something that could be weaponized if need be.
Solo hiking offers a unique opportunity to just stop the noise. A chance to listen to the small voice we all have within, but it also has its challenges.
Before you set out on a solo adventure, take stock of your skill level and mental fortitude, know the area and trail that you are setting out on and be aware of fast changing weather conditions and be prepared to handle them. Ensure that you have well stocked provisions including first aid and back-up map supplies and ensure that you have let someone know about your trail plans.
Solo hiking demands that you be prepared for all situations. Ensuring that you have carefully considered all aspects of your hike will help to ensure that you have the most fun and stay safe out on the trails.