The winter before I began my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, I told everyone I knew what I was going to do. The number one question that everyone had for me was, “You’re not going by yourself, are you?”
Most non-hikers think that the hiking lifestyle is more dangerous than it actually is. They think that there are just crazy people who lurk behind trees waiting for innocent, young women to come along. Let me tell you, there are far more crazy people in towns that there are in the wilderness. Also, when you account for the number of people who have actually been murdered on the Appalachian Trail (less than ten) to the number of people who use the trail every year (millions), the murder rate per capita is alarmingly low.
So, if you’ve been fantasizing about a thru-hike, but you know that no one will ever go with you, that’s OK. You can go by yourself!
Why should you hike solo?
- People are nicer to women. People will offer you rides to the trail head while you’re at the grocery store. On rainy evenings, there’s always room in the shelter for one more girl. Sometimes, other hikers will even share their snacks.
- You learn more about yourself when it’s only you. Anyone that’s setting out on the trail to “find themselves” could benefit from a solo hike. You’ll still learn about yourself when you’re hiking with a partner, but you have a lot more “you time” while solo.
- You call the shots! If you’re feet hurt, you can stop earlier than planned. You don’t have to sit around and wait for anyone, and you don’t have to hike uncomfortably fast to keep up with anyone.
- There’s no competition. Men on the trail love to compete with each other, especially their hiking partners. They love to compare who hiked the most miles, who has the lightest pack, who’s the manliest for having the heaviest pack, and who can grow the thickest, longest beard. Without a hiking partner, you can ignore the competition. I don’t have very much athletic prowess, so I think the only competition I could win would be most miles hiked without a shower (over 100, gross, I know).
- You don’t have to answer to anyone about your gear selection. Hikers love to talk about their gear, and they always think they have the best/ lightest/ most-durable/ most high-tech/ best priced gear. I met my boyfriend on the trail, and he is an ultra-lighter. He tried to convince me that my gear was far too heavy and I needed to ditch some of it. Sorry, but I like having camp shoes, extra socks, pants (yes, he did not have pants, only shorts), and a flannel to sleep in. We’re considering doing another long-distance trail, and he’s certain that I’ll only be buying ultra-light gear (he’s wrong).
What about safety while hiking solo?
- Trail men tend to be rather chivalrous. They know who the women hikers are, and they try to look out for us.
- I never met any legitimately threatening men on the trail, just men who didn’t know about boundaries. In the first few hundred miles, some guys are really trying hard to land a trail girlfriend. After awhile, they learn to be more respectful because they know that they can potentially make women really uncomfortable.
- You might end up hitch-hiking solo to resupply in town. See my hitch-hiking how-to article for more information. Basically, take safety precautions prior to sticking your thumb out. Put your cards and ID, cell phone, and knife in your pocket so you can either make a quick escape or protect yourself. But don’t worry, most trail town folk are extremely nice.
- While hiking, I always kept my knife and pepper spray in my hip-belt pocket for quick access. I never needed them for protection though. It’s just nice to be prepared.
- If you get injured, and you have no cell service, dial 911 anyway. Even if the call doesn’t go through, it might still transmit your GPS coordinates. See this Backpacker article for more information on how this works. However, if you do get injured and can’t hike, someone will probably cross paths with you within a few hours.
- If your loved ones are really worried about your safety, they can get you a SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger. You can send your GPS coordinates to your mom when you get into camp, or if you get into a real emergency, you can send an SOS.