As someone from the Pacific Northwest, I practically grew up on trails. Technically, I hiked even before I could walk much (shoutout to Grandpa for his backpacking skills), and I am well-versed in safety precautions.
When it comes to hitting the trails solo, safety tips are similar to solo travel. Here are 7 things to keep in mind!
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1. Stick to More Popular Trails and Seasons
While you may be hiking alone — increased popularity means the chances of encountering another hiker will be much higher. This is an important safety precaution because should you become injured or encounter an issue, you’ll have the reassurance that eventually someone will come along to help.
How do you know if a particular route is well-frequented? First, research the country, region, state, park, etc. that you’re visiting to see if it has a hiking or trail guide online. Regional tourism board websites are amazing resources for researching trails and getting local updates on conditions, parking information, and more. They have the insider scoop on what the most popular trails are — either by explicitly saying so or in the comments of the listed hikes.
Additionally, you can check the AllTrails app, which offers great universal research to find routes. Make sure to turn on the translation on your computer if it brings up the local language site. You can also check out travel blogs by searching “best hikes in ______,” which often pulls up the most popular options.
Traveling solo is also a scenario where you might want to consider going during the high season. Typically, this means summer in most places.
When you plan your trip, make sure to search “best time to hike _____,” to double check. While you might find crowds, it’s better than hiking the snowy Bavarian Alps without a soul in sight and realizing the trail disappears as you climb higher (I might be speaking from experience). Remember that March-May can still be very much winter months in most high mountains.
Better safe than sorry is a cliche for a reason!
2. Join Other Hikers When Possible
The point of picking popular routes is to have the option of human interaction if you want or need it. This is also great for safety, especially if the trail is emptier than you anticipated — hikers are a friendly bunch, so don’t be afraid to make friends while being smart. And remember, this is the fun part of traveling and hiking somewhere besides home!
3. Bring Water and Snacks
I hope this sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people forget this part. There’s so much to research before hitting the trails (especially if you’re navigating a new country on top of everything) that bringing food and water can often be overlooked.
While you are planning your route, note the length and intensity, this will give you a good idea of how much water and food you’ll need. You also know your body best and will be able to judge for yourself what’s appropriate.
Also, research if the water is safe to drink where you are, or just ask the front desk of your hotel or hostel. Tap water safety varies from country to country and even within countries. For example, in Greece, you can drink tap water in Athens and much of the mainland, but not the islands.
If drinking tap water is not advised, plan to buy water beforehand — or better yet bring a filtration system with you. It’s also a good idea to check if the river or bodies of water (if any) along your route are safe to drink from — should you take a wrong turn or end up out longer than you’d anticipated.
Related: Water Filter Bottles for Travel
4. Let Someone Know Where You’ll Be Hiking
You may be heading out on a solo adventure, but that doesn’t mean you should just run off without informing someone of your plans. Much like it’s a good idea to leave a rough itinerary with a loved one on solo trips, treat a solo hike the same way.
It’s a good idea to send a mapped route, hike name, and/or link to an AllTrails page to a friend or family member and if you pass a ranger station or visitor’s center on the way to the trailhead, let staff know. That way if you’re not back by dark, someone is aware and can look for you or alert a search team.
You can also register with the State Department’s STEP Program, so should something happen to you, the local Embassy or Consulate is aware that you’re in the country.
Related: Solo Travel Pros and Cons
5. Bring a Phone and Other Safety Tools
Even if you’ll be out of service most of the time, bring your phone just in case, everywhere, always. Maybe the top of the mountain has great service or you get just enough bars in an emergency situation.
If you have a GPS watch or compass, bring them with you to keep you on the planned route. The most important thing to do before you head out is get a map that doesn’t require Wi-Fi or cell signal, whether that’s a paper map or an offline one you’ve downloaded via Google Maps or otherwise.
A map you can read is also great to have if you are somewhere that doesn’t use English on signage. Even if there are postings along the trail, you may or may not be able to read them.
Related: The Only Map App You Need
6. Know Where Safety Checks Are Along the Trail
Check if emergency contact points exist on your route. Most frequented hiking areas have them, but it’s worth looking into during your research on local sites. Additionally, ask at the park entrance, visitor’s center, or tourism office for more info. This is just another level of reassurance should something go wrong. You’ll want to know where you can go to send an alert, especially if you’re out of cell service.
7. Start Early, Especially in Winter
There’s nothing like a sunrise hike! And if you’re hiking solo, it’s a good idea to get a head start so that you’re back before dark. Okay, maybe you don’t need to start at the crack of dawn (unless it’s mid-winter and you’re aiming for a particularly long route) — but don’t wait until late afternoon if it’s more than a couple of miles. Also, check sunset times where you are — it might vary from back home if you’re much further north or south!
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