10 Things People Say to You as a Solo Woman Thru-Hiker

It is a well-known fact that there are more men than women in the outdoors, so it’s no surprise that more men attempt thru-hikes than women, sometimes making a two-foot-wide trail feel like an overwhelming sausage fest. This should not be a reason for any woman to reject the idea of a thru-hike. We need more of you out there, showing people that women are just as capable as men in the wide, wide wilderness.

The sad reality, however, is that people will treat you differently as a solo woman thru-hiker, and tell you different things than your companion-less male counterparts. Without further ado, here are ten things people will ask or tell you as a solo, female thru-hiker.

1. Are you going alone?

This is by far the most common. Sometimes we go to the bathroom together, but that doesn’t mean we have to do everything in groups. Some people are utterly shocked when they learn that a female would venture out on a high-mileage journey by themselves and will ask you this, even if you consider yourself a responsible and careful person. They do not necessarily insinuate that you should be going with a man, but that you should have a partner. Maybe so that in case of a bear chase, your partner gets eaten rather than you.

2. Are you bringing a gun? Bear spray?

Photo from Creative Commons

 

Photo from Creative Commons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After you tell them that, yes, you are going alone, they will subsequently ask you if you plan on carrying any sort of self-protection. They usually go with a gun. Clearly the people who ask this have no idea what ultralight is, because carrying a gun would be absolutely absurd weight-wise, let alone for the multitude of other reasons. Bear spray is usually the next suggestion, which makes much more sense, but is not necessary depending on where your thru-hike takes you. It is very kind of them to be concerned with your safety, but carrying a gun or bear spray won’t save you from shin splints, lightning strikes, or getting lost; that is, the more likely problems you will face on a thru-hike.

3. Be safe… not have fun

Making good use of an ice axe after using it for real on Sonora Pass.

This one always hurts a little. People use different rhetoric when talking to men or women. It is very common for people to tell a woman to “be safe” and to tell a man to “have fun” when they are going on the same adventure, and this will happen a lot while on the trail. Really, safety should be both parties’ priority while going on a multi-month rendezvous in the woods, but for some reason us women get the reminder more often.

4. Is your mom OK with you doing this?

This applies to younger women, but it would be interesting to witness someone ask this to an older solo woman thru-hiker. Legally speaking, most people attempting a thru-hike are above the age of 17, so it is a moot point if mom has given the go-ahead. Why they usually ask if mom is OK with it rather than dad or parents is a befuddlement. It’s probably because the mother is likely to be female as well and historically is the parent that promotes safety. It also brings up the curious thought of, who would decide to NOT hike a trail because one of their parents was not OK with it? Respecting parents is important, but would it really stop any of us from taking on the adventure of a lifetime?

5. Will bears smell you when you’re on your period?

Photo from Creative Commons.

Yup. Not kidding. The sad (scary?) thing is there have been a couple of instances of bears dragging women off while they were on their period. And we all have had the wonderful experience where a dog continually gooses you because you’re on your period. So, yes, they might actually smell you more while you’re menstruating, but this does not guarantee an attack. Nor does it warrant a reason to not go on a thru-hike. Bears will smell you regardless, and there’s no real evidence behind this inquiry.

6. Be careful when you hitchhike.

Photo from Creative Commons.

This is sound advice, and it sucks that women do need to be more aware than men of who their free chauffeur is. While we do advise the utmost caution for men and women hitchhiking, it is not something to be afraid of. Most trail towns are used to thru-hikers and expect them—both men and women. If you’re nervous, don’t hitchhike alone. If you hitchhike alone, remember to be smart about it and trust your gut.

7. Are you afraid?

They are self-projecting here, but are also earnest in their question. For most people, no matter the gender, going out into the wilderness for an extended amount of time is a very foreign concept. There are many unknowns out there, from animals to sudden weather changes, to Mother Nature being herself. We know these unknowns usually affect men and women the same amount, but being afraid is much more of a “female thing” in lots of peoples’ eyes. Time to show them they’re wrong!

8. Silence

Often, once you have revealed that you are thru-hiking a trail solo as a female, your interviewer may become silent. Thru-hiking is a dream for some, and an impossible option for others. There are women alive today who were not allowed to play sports simply because they were female. When they hear what we are allowed to do now, it can be shocking, and a reminder of just how far we have come. Even if it feels like we have so much farther to go.

9. You’re brave.

Woman fording a waterfall on the PCT.

Sometimes they mean this literally, and sometimes they mean it as a euphemism for, “You’re crazy.” What you take on as a thru-hiker is extremely impressive, and a type of adventure not many people live anymore. It is not surprising to have friends who know you as the “outdoorsy one” to call you crazy, because thru-hiking is just so… out there. But it does also require bravery, not because you are a solo woman thru-hiker, but because there are so many variables, both known and unknown, that can make or break your hike.

10. You’re inspirational.

You can’t take this any way other than face value. Men will be inspired by you, and other women will be inspired by you. We still live in a world replete with gender stereotypes. By being a solo female thru-hiker, you are breaking that stereotype and bringing hope that one day, we’ll live in a world where we’re told to have fun too.

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Comments 17

  • Nemophilist : Dec 8th

    Hahaha! All of those were said to me, though as a 60 year old woman, #4 was “is your husband ok with you doing this?” Great post! Happy Trails!

    Reply
    • Debbie : Dec 28th

      I am 63 and want to hike the AT by myself in april of 2020 been getting things ready …Any advice would be greatly appreciated since you are my age and already done it…please email me

      Reply
  • Stan : Dec 8th

    As a 65 yo male I’ve been asked most of the same questions (except #5) and gotten the same comments. I just think people are concerned but also a bit jealous. It’s all water off a ducks back.

    Reply
  • Debbie K Scott : Dec 8th

    Loved your story, I’m a bit of a free spirit myself. Of course you want to plan and absolutely be safe about everything and everything that could come up! I live in Montana so you never know what the weather’s gonna be one minute to the next.

    Reply
  • robin jones : Dec 8th

    I love hearing stories about hiking on the PC is one of my dreams to do it but I’m afraid pain in my hip that I would not be able to make it through hike I love being outside walking experiencing things that are new to all that are hiking on the PC and other people that are hiking out there please be safe and careful and hope you make it safely through I want to hear more stories maybe one day I will make it

    Reply
  • Alex : Dec 9th

    It’s funny, I also got all of these said to me…!!

    I am a white male.

    Cheers

    Reply
    • Peggy Mueller : Dec 9th

      Hike on… I live alone so yes, I know. I am outdoorsy and people do treat solo different. It may be some out of concern, don’t know. But the moments standing in God’s majesty makes it worth it. Thank you for your story. Do you have a trail name yet? I’m thinking the Appalachian for me…

      Reply
  • Hannah : Dec 12th

    I went on a weekend hike by myself this past spring and my mom BEGGED me not to go alone. She was so scared. Once I came home (unscathed!) she said “I’m so proud of you. I’m glad you did that.” She told all her coworkers and kept them updated. She said they were so inspired. And that was only a weekend hike! Imagine how she’ll react when it’s time to tell her about my thru hike.

    Reply
  • firehound : Dec 12th

    Thanks !

    Reply
  • Pando : Dec 15th

    The next lone male I encounter, I’m going to ask those same questions/comments, other than the period question. Just to see how long it takes before they strike me. Ya know, like a sociology experiment.

    As the only male with 6 sisters I guess I’m lucky to have been trained early to minimize the mansplaining

    Reply
    • Bobo : Dec 17th

      I am male and I have been ask all of those question exept N°5.
      Most off the time it is just ppl beeing nice.
      I often told other thru hiker to stay safe.

      The did you bring a gun was realy odd to me because I am not from the U.S. and in switzerland nobody in his right mind would think that a gun will keep you safer.

      Reply
  • NXNW-Joe : Dec 16th

    Have Fun!

    Reply
  • Kevin : Dec 20th

    Several people died on the PCT this year…. and they were all females. So I think the “be safe” for women over “have fun” for men may be accurate.

    Reply
    • Trash Panda : Jan 7th

      You’re actually incorrect on this one. One of the thruhikers that passed away in 2017 was Marvin Novo–he apparently died due to heat-related issues near Whitewater Preserve.

      Anyone headed out into the Sierra Nevada last year during peak melt certainly needed a reminder to be safe. The PCTA was urging folks to reconsider, and I frankly think it was basically just luck that more people didn’t die or get seriously injured, whatever their gender. It was crazy out there and there were times when all of the people I was with had scary ‘that was close’ moments. I think that Strawberry and Tree’s smaller stature definitely put them at a disadvantage, but there were plenty of large strong men out there with absolutely harrowing stories of near-misses at creek crossings.

      2017 was pretty atypical, though, and I’d encourage hikers anywhere else on trail to have fun. If anybody told me to stay safe I’d tell them “you too”.

      Reply
  • Emily : Jan 5th

    This is exactly what I was going to write my first trek.com blog post about. Now I am relieved I don’t have to embarrass myself with subjecting y’all to my poor writing skills, I will find a new subject for that. I have heard all of this time and time again as well. At first it didn’t bother me as much, and now it is a bit. I would like to think its because people really do care about your wellbeing, and not coming from a place of sexism. I guess I don’t know the answer to that for sure, but I know how it feels to constantly hear these ” suggestions.” I think its different for women because we hear this shit even when we ARENT hiking!

    Reply
  • Chill-Out : Dec 26th

    Wait, What?? Why proliferate gender based stereotypes. I’ve heard these questions asked to men and women thru-hikers. It’s just curiosity. Unless you’ve taken on a long distance hike, it’s difficult to understand. You really find this out after you finish and get even stranger questions. Stop with the women vs men thing. I’m so over this. If you are secure in who you are as a person, who cares?

    Reply
  • Arnold "Bloodhound" Guzman : Dec 27th

    Ha! Now, when I’m out there doing trail magic, I’m going to make it a point to tell lone women hikers to “Have fun”. Then I’m going to slap an ice cold PBR tall boy in one hand, and a Snicker’s bar in the other!

    Reply

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