After 9,500 Miles on Trail, Here’s My Top Hitchhiking Advice for Women

Before my first ever thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2017, I had never once gone backpacking. I hardly knew enough about hiking to be out on the trail. One major thing I had never really thought about was hitchhiking — it was something I had never considered that I might have to do.

But on most of the national scenic trails, hitchhiking is a necessity in order to get to town to resupply. While you can occasionally rely on free or paid shuttle services to get from trail to town and vice versa, chances are you’ll have to flag down a ride with a stranger at some point.

Thumbing rides can be nerve-wracking for any thru-hiker, especially for solo hikers and women. However, there are precautions that you can take to make the process as safe and comfortable as possible.

Thumbing a ride on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2022 in Idyllwild.

It’s important to remind yourself that while hitchhiking is generally safe, there is still a risk involved. The advice in this article applies whether you’re an experienced hitchhiker or just starting out: you should always listen to your gut and keep your wits about you.

Now, after hiking over 9,500 miles along national scenic trails in the USA and Canada, I have become quite comfortable hitchhiking alone as needed. Each time I stick my thumb out, I go through a simple checklist in my mind to stay as safe as I can.

READ NEXT – Appalachian Trail Shuttle List

Hitchhiking on the Appalachian Trail in PA.

Getting Ready To Hitch

1. Keep Important Items Close

Before I even stick my thumb out, I do a few important things. I make sure that my wallet, phone, satellite phone, and mace are all handy.

Chances are you normally keep these items attached to your backpack or put away somewhere. When a car finally pulls over, it can be easy to throw your pack into the back without thinking. Try to get in the habit of pulling these items out first. If you don’t have them handy in case of an emergency, then they are not useful to you whatsoever.

2. Let Someone Back Home Know

After I get those items out, I might text my mom, dad, or a friend to let them know that I am starting to hitchhike. At least then someone has a general idea where I am and what I’m doing.

Admittedly, after being on trail for months on end, this was not something that I did regularly. But it’s a great habit to form, especially if you’re solo or are uncomfortable hitching in general. Then once I get into the vehicle, I keep my phone, sat phone, and mace in my hands or lap for the duration of the ride.

Keeping my mace handy as I walked along a road in Florida.

When a Car Pulls Over

When a car finally pulls over, you have a short period of time to complete a few more important tasks.

If I’m hiking alone, I might attempt to take a picture of the vehicle or the license plate. Sending that to a family member or friend is a great way to ensure your safety in the event of something unpredictable.

I also try to get a good look at the vehicle and driver as soon as they pull over. Do they look disheveled or uncomfortable? Typically, within the first minute or so I can get a good idea of whether or not I feel comfortable accepting the ride.


3. Make a Judgment Call

This is a good moment to use some quick common sense. Personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable getting into a vehicle alone if there were more than one man inside the car. I especially wouldn’t take a ride with a group of men. To me, that’s a pretty common-sense choice. I once had a car full of young men ask me, “What’s in it for us?” when they saw my thumb out. It goes without saying that I declined that ride offer.

I’ve even turned down rides with couples. Once, while walking along the Florida Trail, I got offered a ride and a place to stay by a couple. Something about the encounter gave me a bad feeling. Even though there was a woman present, which you might imagine would have made me feel comfortable, I still decided to decline. It’s important to listen to your gut no matter what.

Early on in my backpacking career, I made the mistake of not listening to that intuition. At one point while I was hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2022, I attempted to catch a ride to save myself a 1-2 mile walk. A vehicle pulled over, and within the first few seconds, I got a bad feeling. The man seemed disheveled, and his car was a complete wreck. The whole situation definitely didn’t make me feel comfortable.

At the time, though, I was much less experienced hitchhiking. Truthfully, I didn’t know how to get myself out of the situation. I wound up taking the ride and it was one of the scariest hitches I’ve ever been in. I was fearful the entire time, even though nothing wound up happening. Remember, you can always decline a ride!

If you get a bad feeling about someone, it is completely OK to make up an excuse as to why you cannot get into the car. Some easy ones are that you left a piece of gear behind, you are actually waiting for another hiker, or someone else is coming to get you.

It is much easier to think of an excuse to get you out of the situation before you get into the car, versus after the ride has started. Trying to get out of the car after the fact would truly be a worst-case scenario.

Hitchhiking along the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania.

4. Know Where You’re Going

Once you are in the vehicle and en route to your destination, there are a few more important things to consider. Importantly, you need to know where you are going.

Many times along the national scenic trails, you will simply have to hitch one direction on one road to get to town. In those cases, it is very clear where you are headed and easy to pay attention to the directions.

But sometimes, you’ll get a longer ride with more twists and turns. During those times, it is important to know where you are headed. If the driver takes an unexpected turn and you don’t realize, that could be dangerous.

Try to get at least a general sense of the route to town and how long it should take before you get in anyone’s car. Don’t be afraid to speak up if your driver isn’t following the route you expected.

5. Be Mindful of How Much Personal Information You Share

When you are in the vehicle, drivers will usually make conversation with you along the way. I’ve met some of the most amazing people while hitchhiking. Typically it is a very fun and lighthearted experience that has restored my faith in humanity time and time again.

But every now and then, you will be in a car with someone who makes you feel uncomfortable. In those times, it is important to remember a few things.

When answering questions about yourself, try not to mention that you are hiking solo. Someone might ask you where you are going or request more details about your plans. Be cautious and conscientious when giving out information like that. You never know what could come back to bite you.

Walking along a road in Newfoundland, Canada.

If You Feel Unsafe During Your Ride

6. Stay Calm

The time may come that you are in a hitch and you feel unsafe. Hopefully, you have planned ahead and have items on-hand to protect yourself. Hopefully, you texted someone to let them know that you were hitchhiking and where you were going. But let’s say you didn’t.

I have certainly been in vehicles where I felt very unsafe and I didn’t have my mace or sat phone handy, and I also hadn’t told anyone that I was getting in a stranger’s car. That isn’t something I recommend doing, but in those moments, all you can do is remain calm. Continue talking to the driver and don’t act alarmed. Try to talk yourself out of whatever the situation may be.

While hiking on the PCT in 2022, I got into a hitch with a man who became increasingly creepy as the ride went on. Towards the end of the ride, he began asking for my information and offered to give me another ride again later. He was dropping me at the grocery store and knew I needed a ride back to the motel. I should not have shared that information with him! But I did so accidentally.

In this instance, I took his information down and acted like I would need a ride later. But once I got out of the vehicle and was safe, I never saw him again. Sometimes creepy drivers will attempt to get you into the car a second time. This should always be a red flag. Do not take multiple rides from hitches unless you are certain it is a safe individual.

Hiking along a highway in Newfoundland, Canada.


Keep these tips and tricks in mind, especially when traveling alone. No matter how experienced you are at hitchhiking, the risk is always there. But practicing basic precautions and self awareness will go a long way toward mitigating any potential danger.

While catching a ride with a stranger may seem scary, over time, you will become comfortable doing it as needed. The more times you do it, the more confident you will become. In time you will hardly remember that you used to be scared to stick your thumb out.

Attempting to catch a ride to L’ance aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland, Canada.

Featured image: Photo via Peg Leg. Graphic design by Chris Helm.

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Comments 7

  • Nature Boy : Feb 22nd

    Thank you for the tips, Pegleg. And good to hear from you again, after your amazing year, and amazing doggedness of writing for us the entire way – thank you again for that! I hope you are doing well and that we get to read more from you in the future.

  • Carole Hall : Feb 22nd

    Hello, I’ve been thinking about you. How have you been? Did you find a job that you liked? I do miss your frequent posts. Have you figured out what your next adventure will be? Bye for now. 🙂

  • Adrienne Brune : Feb 23rd

    I have to admit, I was surprised by how giddy I felt seeing a notification in my email that you had a new post! I’ve missed reading from you, Peg LeLegAfter all those miles and months of regular posting, there has been a void in my life!

    So glad to see your posting again and I hope you are well and gearing up for another adventure!

  • Old Man Paul : Feb 23rd

    Great advice for anyone.
    Great to see another post!
    Hope to see a book out soon about your adventures!

    God bless and….
    Keep on Truckin’

  • Holly : Feb 23rd

    Hi Peg Leg! It was so great to hear from you again and these tips are really really good. Take care.

  • Rick : Feb 23rd

    Hi Peg Leg , I really enjoyed following you on your adventures however it is very dangerous for a girl to hitchhike no matter how well you think you are prepared. If it would be absolutely necessary to hitch I would recommend wearing baggy and less revealing clothes. Not trying to be a karen just trying to be helpful

  • Carole Hall : Feb 23rd

    Hi Peg Leg. It’s nice to see you again. I miss your frequent postings about your trip. Hope you’ve found a job you like and are having fun planning your next adventure


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