Peacefulness. Clarity. Creativeness. Appreciation for the world around me. Those are just a few of the things I feel when I experience nature in solitude. Don’t get me wrong-I love enjoying the great outdoors with my friends and family, and having those experiences with them. But just like in our everyday lives, we need that balance of companionship and alone time-and we need that in our time in nature as well. If you hike a trail with others, and go back and hike that same trail alone, and you will notice that you will have a completely different experience-and both bring tremendous value.
When you are alone, you have the ability to really be at one with nature. You have the time to stop and smell the flowers-literally-if you so choose. If you want to stop and smell the sweet aroma of those flowers for an hour, you can do so. You are not on anyone else’s time schedule, and are under no pressure to complete your hike in a certain amount of time. If you want to sit and listen to the sound of the bluebirds singing their melodic tune, you can do that. I also notice that when I am alone in nature, with no words to share with others, the clutter of my mind disappears, and I find clarity in my thoughts. If there are concerns I am experiencing at that time, it’s as if I am able to hear the answers within the winds of the pine trees. With that freeing feeling also comes a little creativity. With the things that keep us busy and hold us back in our crazy everyday lives, the solitude and peacefulness of nature allows our minds to open and truly be able to think. Some of the best ideas I have ever had have been born from one solo walk in nature.
Of course with all of the positive things that come along with this solitary time in the great outdoors, there are still some things that you need to think about in order to make your experience as pleasurable and as safe as possible. There will always be people who tell you how dangerous the world is. The truth is, if you aren’t safe and aware of your surroundings in any situation, there can be hazards. Trust me though, you can do this! There are definitely ways to prepare for your solo hike, and be safe. By preparing and taking precautions, you are able to truly allow yourself the comfort level to experience nature as you should. I have been exploring nature on my own for many years, and whether I am alone or with a friend, I always have pepper spray on one hip and a knife on the other. I have never needed to use either of those things, but it is something that brings me comfort. The tips I am going to share with you are certainly not meant to be a comprehensive list of all things to take into consideration when solo hiking. Different people will swear by the importance of other things, such as hiking poles, a first aid kit, and bug spray. These are definitely important too. However, my mission today is simply to give you a place to start. These are five basic practices that I always try to remember in an effort to make my hikes as safe and enjoyable as possible.
Research Your Journey
Before you take on any hike alone, or even with a hiking partner for that matter, I encourage you to learn about the trail you intend to hike. This is especially true for those newer to hiking, but it is even a good idea for those more experienced. Every trail is different, and honestly, that is one of the things I like the most about hiking. However, each one comes with their own challenges and it is good to know which ones have steeper terrain and are most suited for those with more hiking experience. It is also very important to know the length of the hike, know how well marked the trail is, and know if it is a loop or a trail that you will hike and turn around to come back. If the trail is a loop, the mileage noted will show the entire length of your hike. However, for one way hikes where you will have to turn around and come back to your starting point, double check to make sure if the mileage noted is for one way or roundtrip.
There are many places to find information on established trails, and people in the hiking community are some of the friendliest you will ever meet. There is always someone willing to share their experiences on certain trails and give you information to prepare you for your journey.
No matter where you are heading, you can always check out the local tourism office website. Here in the Lake Martin area, the website ExploreLakeMartin.com has great info on the local trails-and even has details on a hiking challenge that they do.
AllTrails is a great website to get information on trails all over the world, and be able to see reviews from others. Wherever you are, it’s also not hard to find local hiking groups on social media. Here in the Lake Martin area, there is a Facebook group called Lake Martin Hikers. There is also another great group called Alabama Outdoor Adventurer. While that particular one caters to trails across the state, you will frequently see people posting about the trails in our area. I have found people to be very nice and supportive in both, and if you have questions about a certain trail, there is always someone ready to jump in the conversation and tell you everything you need to know. These also tend to be good places for inspiration and have helped me find new trails to hike.
Let Someone Know Where You Will Be Hiking
Before I head out on any hike, I always tell someone I am heading out into the woods. I have never had an issue where anyone has had to come looking for me, but it is better to be safe and at least have someone know where you are. It’s also great to share your location with a friend or family member. Modern technology makes this super easy. I am an iPhone user, but admittedly I am not what you would call a techie. All I have to do though is click on a contact in my phone, and go down to the area where it says “Share My Location.” It gives you options to share your location for one hour, until the end of the day, or indefinitely. I suggest choosing indefinitely, because you can always go back at the end of your hike and stop sharing. Again, I have never had an instance where someone has had to come looking for me. However, I do think it gives me a little more confidence that if I did fall and twist my ankle or something unexpected happened, there is always someone who knows where I am and can easily find me. We don’t like to think about unforeseen circumstances, and I have had countless solo hikes that have been completely safe, but this is one important thing that I ask that you do before heading out into the woods alone.
One of the most important things about enjoying the outdoors is hydration. During the summer months, it is extra critical to watch the temperature and be careful about going out during extreme heat. Even if it feels fine when you step outside, you don’t know the coverage that awaits you on the trail. A trail that looks like it has a lot of shade and canopy at the beginning of the journey, may have no coverage at all a mile in. Being exposed to the direct sun can overheat you quickly. During the summer there are times that you may want to forgo that hike altogether, or turn around if you see that the terrain and lack of canopy have the capability to expose you to direct sunlight. Heat stroke is no joke and is not something you want to experience-especially on your own. Of course you want to make sure you have more than enough water on those summer hikes, but you may not pay as much attention to staying hydrated in the fall and winter. Don’t get too comfortable and forgo carrying water along though. Even when you are out in the cooler months, you will still be exerting energy and need to make sure you stay hydrated. In my opinion, the backpacks with a bladder are by far one of the easiest ways to carry water. These bags have a removable bladder which you can fill with water, and they have a tube that allows you to drink directly from the bag. There’s actually several brands to choose from, and they are eco-friendly and super easy to carry around. I received a CamelBak as a gift several years ago and I love it. I’ve only had to replace the bladder once, and it has been one of the most used gifts I have ever received.
Have The Right Shoes
I also can’t undermine the importance of having the right shoes. Cinderella’s whole life changed because of one shoe, and once you hit the trails, you will quickly see how life will change with the right shoes too. I remember life before the right shoes. Your typical walking/running shoes are fine for flat paths. However, the first time I hit a trail with inclines and steep sides, I realized the lack of grip I had. It wasn’t just a comfort issue, it was a safety issue. Of course the wrong shoes pose a risk whether you are alone or with others, but that consequences increase if you are alone. After that hike, I took myself to a local outdoors store that day and started trying on hiking boots. What I quickly found on that shopping trip is that there are a lot of options. I tried several on and discovered many were totally uncomfortable. Maybe there is a breaking in period, I don’t know. However, it was immediately clear that there were some that were not going to work for me. Luckily the store I went to had an incline that you could walk up and down to see what they felt like when you were walking in different situations. That makes a lot of difference. You don’t want shoes that are too tight, but you also don’t want too much movement when you are going up or down. I tried them all that day, and I’m so glad I did. What may be right for me may not be right for you. I did find that one was a clear winner for me though. The one that was most comfortable to me, and gave me the most security going up and down that incline, was a high top boot by Merrell. I knew I wanted something that was waterproof also, and whatever brand and style you decide on, I definitely recommend finding one that has that one feature. It has come in handy many times and has kept my feet warm and dry. Mine are so comfy and have made me more confident of being able to hike different terrain. The pair I have now has lasted for years and they are still going strong.
Stay On The Trail
If you have gotten this far, it’s pretty safe to assume you are one with an adventurous spirit. That is such a great quality in my book, but it’s also important to be smart with your adventurousness and always stay on the trail. Hiking solo is not the time to take the road less travelled. While we with that thrill seeking desire want to see all there is to see, it is important to remember to be the trail hiker, and not the trail blazer. The trails are marked and it is very important to stay on the marked path. Trust that those that have gone before you have blazed the trail and have made a path that is worthy of all your thrill seeking. They have marked a path that is safe though, and by going off of the path, you can easily get lost or run into hazardous situations. You never know what hazards await, and you don’t want to find out.
You CAN Do It
Hiking alone is something you can do-and do safely. It is a peaceful experience that I hope you find as fulfilling as I do. Even as a solo hiker though, it is great to take advantage of some of the resources such as your local online hiking groups. They can provide a wealth of knowledge about the trails, and can be great resources in giving you additional tips to help you on your way. This is only meant to be a starting point in your journey, and the more you get out there, the more you will learn. These tips are also meant specifically for day hiking. Backpacking and multi-day hikes are a whole other ballgame, and while they are something you can aim to pursue as well, there are many more needs required for those. I would also like to point out that while I did mention a couple of brands, I have no affiliation with them. These are just simply brands that I have used in my personal hiking that have worked well for me. I am a big proponent of trying different ones to see what works best for you. By making sure you have adequate gear and having prepared ahead, I’m confident that you will be doing lots of independent adventures in the near future. One more thing to remember though-if you are going to be hiking solo…….. you are going to have to up your skills on taking selfies!