Being a Woman and Hiking Alone

Today is International Women’s Day and it seems fitting that I write about something that has been on my mind for some time now: what it feels like to be a woman who hikes solo.  I have set out on hundreds of hikes now and over 95 percent of them have been solo.  Reflecting on all of those hikes, I can say that I have never felt unsafe or insecure due to my sex. Not once.

My first hike alone in the winter – Greeley Ponds Trail to Mt. Osceola East Peak.

So why do we as a society still struggle with the concept of our women going alone?

Even after all the growth we’ve made in empowering women, the world still struggles with the idea of “the gentler sex” setting out alone, especially into the wilderness.  I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been asked by both men and women if I’m hiking alone. When I confirm that I am, it is usually followed by a comment to “be careful,” or “you’re brave.”

I’m not brave, I’m just a regular person doing what I like to do and I happen to also be a woman.

Hiking Mt. Carrigain when I wanted to die because I was so tired but I pushed through and made it to the summit.

I’ve read several posts by fellow female hikers on this site as well as others and the message is always the same. We don’t want to be treated any differently than our male counterparts and we would appreciate it if the world would stop looking at us as weaker because we aren’t male. Just because I have a vagina doesn’t mean I’m not capable of doing the same things as a man; in fact, I can do something a man cannot.

If I can give birth to a human being, and if I can grow a person in my body, then I think I’m strong enough to hike a mountain ALONE.

Tuckerman’s Ravine when I hiked Mt. Washington on my own.

It has been encouraging to see so many women hiking on their own in my ventures. We smile at each other as we pass along the trail, an unspoken bond of sisterhood between us. Blazing the trail for future generations of young women; showing them that it’s OK to be alone and happy.

So what does it feel like to be a woman hiking solo?

The bushwhack on Owl’s Head – a 19-mile hike.

Iconic picture of Bondcliff – a 21-mile hike.

In all my years on this earth, after everything I’ve accomplished, nothing has given me more confidence than hiking on my own.  I’ve earned a master’s degree, taught special education for over seven years, battled severe anxiety, and dealt with loss. But going through all of those things hasn’t given me the sense of pride that hiking alone has.

I have never felt more confident in myself and my own abilities as I do when I’m out there in the woods, on my own.  I wouldn’t be the woman I am today if I hadn’t taken that first hike solo over two years ago. I’d never have discovered just how strong I am, not only physically but mentally. Every time I set out on a hike, push through a panic attack on trail, or get back to my car after a 20-mile trek through the wilderness, I realize just how strong I am ON MY OWN.

So regardless of what you have between your legs, remember, you are capable of amazing things.

Looking toward Mt. Madison from the Star Lake Trail on my northern Presidential traverse.

You’ll never know just how strong you are until you don’t have any other choice but to trust yourself to make it through. Rather than celebrating International Women’s Day let’s celebrate National Human’s Day. Let’s encourage each other to discover our own strength.  The next time you see a woman hiking alone, rather than telling her to be careful or that she’s brave, just smile and realize you just met someone who is playing a small part in making the world a more equal place for everybody.  

“The hardest walk is walking alone. But if you let it, it’s the walk that can make you the strongest.” – Unknown   

The Franconia Ridge in the clouds after I finished my New Hampshire 48..

 

 

 

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Comments 13

  • Avatar
    Mark Stanavage : Mar 8th

    I have been greeted with dismay and urgings to be safe too, when I say I hike solo. Some people don’t realize that nature and the common bond hikers share seems to bring out the better elements of society. The mountains don’t care about color, creed, income, marital status, gender. When we are out there, be it in the rain, snow, or sunshine, we are all humans. Way to go! May trail magic always find you when you need it most. Good luck and have fun on the Long Trail.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Socked In : Mar 9th

      Thank you and I appreciate your comments! I completely agree about the bond between hikers. I live in a city and have come across way more danger there than in the woods alone. Happy hiking!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Annie : Mar 8th

    I have never felt usafe,or brave,hiking alone. I have encountered problems and embraced the challenge of solving them myself. There is something very wrong with the widespread practice of intimidating women with made-up bullshit about what someone says they should or shouldn’t do. Endless humn potential discarded and pain maximized. Let’s all, including women, hike our own hikes.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Socked In : Mar 9th

      I agree completely and wish there was less fear mongering in this world. There is this quote that I love by Cheryl Strayed and it totally motivates me to not be scared: I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Ashley : Mar 22nd

    I only started hiking last fall on a regular basis. 90% of my hikes have been day hikes with my dog. Not once have I ever felt unsafe or at risk from my “biggest predator”: a man. In reality I might pass one person on the trail, and I hike at a national park at least twice a month. Despite these facts, when I stated I wanted to backpack on my own for the first time it was met with such anger and caused so many disagreements between myself and my family I ended up not going. I completed my hike, but instead of doing it in one afternoon and the following morning and taking my time, I jammed in seven miles in under five hours so I’d be back to my vehicle by dark. My family went so far as to say my boyfriend of two years should have stopped me from wanting to go alone, and that it was “extremely concerning” that he was ok with me backpacking alone. Never mind I grew up on a farm, own a 70 lb dog that guards me with his life, and had all the right equipment…simply because I’m a 20 something woman I was immediately in more danger. My boyfriend (who had also never backpacked alone) could go do the same trip and not a soul would find that odd. The only difference is gender.
    I enjoy hiking alone and testing my body. I like the challenge of seeing what I can do alone, but the negative response from my family literally was so overwhelming it was easier to just do what they wanted than to continue trying to argue my abilities. Not only did it hurt my pride, it made me feel silly and childish for wanting to do things on my own. It has been a few weeks since that incidence, but it still bothers me. I hope that eventually I can be like the women I admire who hike and backpack without giving in to the pressure to not go “alone.”

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Socked In : Mar 22nd

      I’m sorry to hear you are getting so much backlash from family. There have been several times when I stated I was going to do a specific hike and would get some flack from family but mainly they have been supportive of my decisions to hike alone. I think the more I do it, the more comfortable they get with me doing it as well. I carry a satellite phone that can track me which my husband loves, and has made him more comfortable with my long hikes, especially in winter. I get more negative comments from coworkers or people who don’t know me now than from family so I don’t usually talk to people in my daily life about hiking – it’s not worth the comments I get. Do what you feel comfortable doing and listen to your instincts and you’ll be fine. I hope you continue to set out solo if that is what you enjoy – don’t let other people’s opinions stop you from being happy 🙂

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Alice : Jul 18th

    This perfectly describes how I feel! I get so frustrated after a while because all I ever hear are people saying they are scared for me or see the shocked expressions on their faces. It is sad that people feel because we are women we can’t do what we enjoy—alone.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      socked in : Jul 18th

      I completely agree and it is so hard sometimes when people doubt us just because we are not men?!?! Just keep on doing your thing and every time you are successful know that you’re proving them wrong 🙂

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Rosie : Sep 25th

    Love this blog! I sooooo agree and share your feelings. Thank-you for writing about this.

    My Dad started taking me hiking and backpacking in the NH White Mountains back in 1962, when I was 5. It became a normal thing for me to be in the woods, or on a trail, or in a hut, lean-to or tent. It never occurred to me that a girl/woman shouldn’t be in the forest alone!! I do remember many times being the only child, and often the only female, on most of those hikes with Dad. We didn’t hike to hit a list or beat book times or have an epic adventure. We went into the woods or up mountains because we felt good there. I’m glad that in later years I did do ‘lists’ and did hike with a variety of other people. But, as much as I love my friends and family, hiking with them robs me of the experience of solitude I need in order to rejuvenate. I don’t want the distraction of constant conversation, different hiking speeds and break needs. I want to stop and look at things; I want to day dream; I want to stay on a summit or sit at a pretty spot in the woods for hours. I want to find that ‘white space’ in my brain where only single simple thoughts live. Peace.

    When my Dad started to show signs of dementia, I knew it was time for HIM to stop hiking alone, so we went together and continued to create wonderful memories until he died. My husband hiked for some years with me, but lost interest. It was never his passion…but it IS mine. So, now I hike alone year round and go on an annual solo backpack each Sept. My husband drops me off then picks me up 4 or 5 days later at an appointed time and trail head. I rarely see anyone, and the few I do see are often solo wanderers like me (all males, though!) and ‘get it’ and ask no explanation or make any comment on why I am alone. We can see it in each others’ eyes and relaxed body language. I know you must understand. I have never come across another female backpacking alone in all these years except for AT thru hikers.

    The only problem I’ve ever had was last year when an out-of-state older couple saw me sitting in the woods waiting for my husband to pick me up in Crawford Notch. They would not leave me alone. They kept driving away and coming back. They believed that I was homeless and that I must surely need them to give me a ride and/or bring me for a meal somewhere. They would NOT accept that I had hiked alone for days and that my husband ‘let’ me do that. They were kind, but insistent, and they were convinced that I was lying. I finally put my pack back on and headed up the trail until they drove away. As soon as they did I turned and ran across rt 302 and hid along the RR tracks behind some lumber until they left for good. If I had been a guy they never would have questioned me, never.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Socked In : Sep 25th

      Thanks for your kind words! I’m so happy that you liked the post 🙂 Happy Trails!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Quail : Dec 11th

    what a refreshing exchange – the positive comments are just what is needed, as well as the consolation of hearing familiar negative trends (the one about being made to feel selfish about going hiking – yep!)

    thank you all

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Socked In : Dec 11th

      Very much appreciate you taking the time to read my post and I’m glad that it was uplifting for you 🙂

      Reply

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