My Journey to Hiking as a Solo Female
The first question I get when I tell people about my thru-hike is “Who are you going with?” The second question is “Are your parents ok with this?” Hiking in the wilderness alone can be dangerous for anyone but women often have extra concerns when going solo. Over the past two years, I have gone on multiple overnight backpacking trips by myself ranging from a few nights to multiple weeks. Becoming comfortable hiking as a young solo female has been an empowering process that will benefit me as I set off on my Appalachian Trail thru-hike in less than two weeks.
Learning to enjoy hiking solo
My first solo hiking experience was two summers ago (I was 17) on the Long Trail in Vermont. For the first half of the five-day adventure, I found a friend to join me. She hiked with me for two and a half days and then I continued solo for the second half. The first night by myself was terrifying. When I arrived at the shelter, there was no one else there. As I ate my ramen bomb (ramen with instant mashed potatoes) fears of bears and strange men swirled through my head.
Luckily around 8 pm two other boys around my age came to the shelter and told me they were spending the night. I was relieved to have other humans nearby in case anything went wrong. They even offered me Swedish fish which is my favorite candy. I think they knew that was a good way to make an instant friend.
The next day was my first-time solo hiking. As I hiked up Mount Mansfield, I got strange looks from tourists in flip-flops. I felt extremely proud to be hiking solo and carrying a large heavy backpack. I quickly learned the joys of hiking solo, including being able to take a two-hour long break on top of Mansfield since I was on my own schedule. On that trip, I learned how much I enjoy hiking alone although the idea of camping alone still freaked me out.
Making friends can be fun too
Last March I set off on my shakedown hike solo. I quickly made friends and never camped alone. Most days I started hiking before the rest of my tramily in order to get some solo time. By afternoon they would catch up to me, and I would hike with them for the remainder of the day. I was happy to be able to find a balance between the desire to conquer those two weeks solo and getting to spend time with my new friends. I realized that tramily’s make everything a million times more fun and hiking with others doesn’t take away from my accomplishments.
Camping alone is less fun
This summer I went on a week-long backpacking trip on the Massachusetts section of the AT. The first night, no one else was at the tent site where I was camping. This was my first time camping alone and once again, I was terrified. Every squirrel crunching on leaves was a bear, and the wind in the trees was someone coming to murder me. Even with my pepper spray next to me and calming music in my earbuds, I barely slept. The next night was the same situation, but I was able to sleep a little bit better. Throughout these two days, I only saw three other people.
The next evening, I arrived at Goose pond to see a clothesline set up with socks hanging on it. I gave a sigh of relief. Although I enjoyed hiking solo, I was not looking forward to spending another night camping alone. As I walked up to the porch I saw three other women sitting at the picnic table. I wanted to run up and hug them out of the pure joy of seeing other humans but COVID was raging and I figured that was a bad idea. We all set up our sleeping pads on the porch of the cabin and I fell asleep easily knowing that there were other people around me.
I camped with them for the next two nights as well. On the last night of my trip, I camped alone once again. This time, I was able to accept the fact that I was alone and felt less scared of the unknown creatures around me.
I am grateful to have learned how much I love hiking solo. Being able to go at my own pace, thinking for hours without any obligation to talk, and choosing where and when I stop for the day are my favorite perks of hiking solo. I don’t think I will ever enjoy camping alone but it has gotten easier over time due to practice and tricks I have learned to make myself more comfortable.
How do I make myself comfortable while staying safe?
My dad bought me bright pink pepper spray before my first overnight solo trip. I always hang it on the outside of my backpack where I can easily access it. Having it in plain sight so that someone passing me knows that I have it and can defend myself makes me feel more comfortable and confident. I also sleep with it next to me and sometimes fall asleep holding it.
I took Krav Maga self-defense classes before my first solo hike. Although I took these classes a year and a half ago, I still remember the main skills and lessons. I know what to do if someone were to grab my neck and choke me or if someone pulls a gun on me. I feel much safer knowing that I will be able to react effectively if I am put in one of these scenarios.
I carry a Garmin inreach mini on all of my overnight hikes. Another gift from my Dad, this ensures that I can be rescued if anything goes wrong. I use it to text my parents once a day so they can track my location. It also has an SOS button that I can press in an emergency.
I sleep with my pocket knife next to me along with my pepper spray. This may sound extra, but it’s more for peace of mind than for my actual safety. If I hear the leaves crunching in the middle of the night, I remind myself that I have a knife resting next to my head that I can grab in an instant. This makes me sleep much more soundly.
When I don’t have earplugs, using earbuds with gentle music is a great way to drown out unwanted noises. When I am having trouble falling asleep while solo camping, have calming music can help me ignore the squirrels running around my tent. I also like to listen to podcasts and pretend that there are real people talking around me.
I am excited to use these skills to make myself comfortable and safe while thru-hiking the AT. I want other women to know that fun and safe solo outdoor adventure is an attainable goal. The countdown to my thru-hike is getting very real! If you want to follow my journey, subscribe to this blog, and follow me on Instagram @duck.goes.hiking. Happy trails!
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