Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Woman's Guide to Solo Hiking

It's funny how often I'm told not to hike alone.  Uncanny.  Maybe I'm bolstered by statistics that are on my side. Maybe I'm too hard-headed to admit I'm the 'weaker' sex.  Maybe I'm just a daft and stubborn idiot.

Or maybe it's that I think I have more to fear walking to my car after work at night - you know, something routine that I do every day at almost exactly the same time.  Or, maybe, it's that my sole 'fear' of hiking alone has more to do with falling and less to do with being seen as a troll's 'prey'?  I'm not sure. Maybe... no, LIKELY it's a mix of all of that.

Regardless, I know I can't be the only female in the world that hikes alone (and by hiking I don't me trekking the Appalachian Trail, I mean a good 1-2 day hike) so I thought I'd toss some HockeyChic's Personal Pointers out.  Remember that I'm telling you my take on things, that doesn't mean that I might not still be the daft idiot mentioned above.

Most of the items on this first list are on vast numbers of websites... others, most of the ones on my Grit list, I haven't seen at all.  So, the
HockeyChic's Woman's Guide to Alone Hiking/Day Trekking: 

Always pack the 10 basics: 

  1. GPS, Map, and compass (yes, a 'real' one... and these all count as 1 item but you need them ALL)
  2. First Aid kit and "survival bracelet"
  3. Flashlight
  4. Sun screen (and Bug Repellent) and sunglasses
  5. Multi-purpose tool (if you don't know what we mean, look up a "gerber" and think "swiss army knife on 'roids")
  6. Water.  Make sure you look at bladder systems as they are efficient ways to carry.  Make sure you get the right size and don't go to small.  In hiking, size matters... sometimes things need to be small and light, but water is not where you want to skimp unless you're taking purifiers as well. 
  7. Food.  Again, pack for your trip but always take extra, dried goods are great for this (they don't spoil and are lightweight, too)
  8. Matches (waterproof) or a very reliable means of creating fire/heat.  
  9. Take your cell phone.  It may not get signal... but then again, it may! 
  10. Rain gear and dress in layers!  Hot doesn't always stay hot and cold doesn't always feel cold.  (This goes with #5 under the Grit.) 

Now, the HockeyChic's Grit behind being a solo female hiker: 

Always know the 10 Solo Female Hiker Basics:
  1. First and foremost: tell someone where you are going and be as detailed as possible.  I don't care if it's a family member or staff at the Ranger's station (though both would be best), but someone should know your intended destination, route, and intended duration.  Always leave a number for a Ranger's Station, if you can, with a family member along with the above details.  IF something were to happen (again, I fear more for a broken ankle than a stalker), I want people to know where I planned on being because that should be a good indicator of where to look.  
  2. Know your location.  I don't care how many times you've hiked somewhere, take a good map (topo) of the area and a hand-held GPS unit as well as a back-up compass (the old fashioned kind).  You may have been somewhere a billion times, but one washed out trail or landslide can really wreak havoc on plans.  
  3. If you're out overnight either be within easy view of some tents or be completely out of view of anything.  The idea is that you're either in ear shot if needed, or you're invisible if you feel safer that way.  Don't camp near roads and if there's an overnight shelter, check it out first before just packing it in for the night.  
  4. Be prepared to stay longer than you thought.  I say this for a few reasons.  Sometimes we underestimate terrain and get 'stuck' out longer than anticipated.  I hope we never face this, but there may be other times where something doesn't go as planned and you're just plain stuck for the night or for an undetermined amount of time.  Think big storms or (we REALLY hope not) an injury here.  Always have, at bare minimum, a first aid pack and emergency blanket, extra water or means to purify water, dry matches, and survival essentials.  You may think this sounds nasty, but it also doesn't hurt to know how to fish/hunt and, if required, prepare (field dress, scale, clean, etc) animals/fish. Lastly, it doesn't hurt to know the vegetation of the area; which plants are edible and which are NOT.
  5. Read the sky.  Be aware of the weather for the location you're headed to as well as the weather coming that way.  Remember that your body is more prone to temps during 'exposure' to the elements.  Don't forget not to wear cotton because it doesn't retain body heat if it's wet and it doesn't wick moisture away from your skin, either. 
  6. Be Prepared for any bad stuff.  Just to be clear, by "bad stuff" I mean anything dangerous to your actual body/self ranging from boars or bears to poisonous snakes to trolls (bad men).  Have mace, bear or pepper spray, a firearm (if you are licensed to carry, QUALIFIED to carry, and there are no firearm restrictions where you are going - which is actually going to be rare if you stick to state or national parks), and an 'all purpose' or 'multi-' tool that includes knife, shears, etc.  These items help with wildlife - in any form - but make sure that you really know what you're doing. None of these are  helpful to you if you aren't 100% knowledgeable and secure in use.  Also, really take time to study the wildlife in the area that you're headed.  Know how to handle potential wildlife encounters and what the best means of self-defense is (which, sometimes, is merely avoidance!).  A good example is that your bear spray may work better on a bear than a gun (depending on caliber).  Also, most snakes aren't going to chase you through a forest, they're usually only going for self protection, too!  Worst case, know basic self defense against trolls.  Of everything on the trails, trolls are the scariest things.  Know these things. 
  7. Don't take unnecessary risks.  This ranges from NOT taking short cuts to staying hydrated.  Furthermore, don't overestimate your abilities or strength.  
  8. Use common sense.  Yes, this would seemingly go with #7, but it includes your common sense about people and places, too.  If you feel lost, stop and count slowly to 10 before looking around.  Find something you are 100% sure you recognize if you can backtrack.  If you can't, stay put.  Also, if you come across a guy who is overly willing to accompany you, lie about having a partner with you.  Never underestimate the validity of an 'uneasy' feeling about a person or situation and never assume everyone is good and chivalrous. 
  9. Know how to ask for help in different forms.  Remember the 3: Three bursts on a whistle = "help".  Orange flares.  Mirrors.  
  10. Check in.  If you are going on a long hike, sign hiking registers, call home, or do whatever you can to update someone on your location as you go.
As a side-note, I have a dog.  I take my dog.  She's super sweet and loving and, as a general rule, polite and kind to anyone we meet. But once, she flared up on a man and I was more than willing to take her word for it and high-tail it out of there.  Even the most docile family pet can either be a deterrent or a helpful hand (tooth) when necessary.  

So, like I said, I'm not going to proclaim I'm the world's most successful solo-female hiker. I'm not going to say I trek vast forests on my own.  What I WILL say is that I'm not afraid to hike alone because I refuse to NOT do things I love simply because I can't find people to join me.  I hike with people and like it... but hiking alone is very invigorating and enjoyable.  The above list, it's mine and I'm sharing it; not because it's "tried, true, and unbeatable" but rather because it's just about everything I can do to make others (and myself) comfortable with my decision to hike alone.  

1 comment:

  1. You maam are doing my first back packing hiking trip solo and i refuse not to go because i cant find anyone with either the want to go out there or close to the amount of gear i have......i may not have a dog but you are completely on point with everything else. Happy hiking!!!