Learning to Hike Solo Fearlessly

Over the last year, I have taught myself to hike alone without fear through weekly practice, education, and intuition. It has been a journey of self-exploration as much as a physical one, and I thought that documenting this voyage might help readers embark on their own solo adventure with confidence. 

In the beginning, I questioned everything and was honestly halted by fear. What if I ran into a wild animal or another person with ill intentions while out in the wilderness by myself? Should I be packing a gun on every hike? Is there a limit of miles I should be doing alone? Desperate for answers, I turned to Instagram- which unsurprisingly didn’t help at all. Some folks said I should not hike alone at all, while others sent me pistol recommendations. As I debated the pros and cons of bear spray vs. handguns with strangers and felt heavy with unsettled ideas, I was overwhelmed as to how to navigate these suggestions.

Women on the Trail
Diving into resources online by other women, I loved reading Sandra Saathoff’s piece with the Washington Trails Association on unlearning fear. She mentions that society has taught us ladies to be unnecessarily fearful, and this feeling follows us as we wander into the wild. Overcoming these fears can bring a whole new level of freedom and confidence both on the trail and in life. The reality is that statistically speaking, the wilderness is one of the safer places to be on our own. According to FBI crime statistics, people are safer on public lands- we have a 0.0003% chance of being a victim of violent crime on BLM, Fish and Wildlife Service, or National Park Service lands. This means we are 3,011 times more likely to be hurt by another human outside of wild areas. I have found that the vast majority of people we meet on the trail are focused on their adventure, just like we are. When I look at the hard numbers, divorcing a culture of anxiety to embrace the reality of life outdoors becomes easier. It leads me to believe that the 0.0003% chance of risk is ultimately worth taking for the life-altering rewards we bring home after time outdoors alone. So ladies- what is the balance between being cautious and being present? How do we learn to hike alone without feeling bogged down by worry? Here are a few things to consider.

Knowledge is Power
Research is a major part of hiking in general, but especially important when trekking solo. Before your trip, research the trail you are going to tackle. Educate yourself about the wildlife, terrain, climate, and proximity to emergency services and urban areas. Considering that the real information we need is in regards to the most current trail conditions, I find that apps like AllTrails are underrated as it records the coordinates of recent hikers, and logs their updated notes. The last and most thrilling step of research is talking to the locals. If you can on the way to the trailhead, stop by the local visitor’s center and pick up a physical map- you may even receive words of advice from the locals who know the region best. Diversifying your research will help you connect you to the experience even more, and bolster you with confidence from those who know the area best.

Balancing Confident and Defensive Hiking 
When we rely on a physical form of protection, we tend to let go of our constant alertness; but when we are in a state of fear, it deprives our experience of the freedom that institutes it. The art of being present while remaining cautious on the trail comes down to one thing- balance. When we harness the power of intuition- an effortless, immediate, unreasoned sense of truth, this balance becomes natural. Packing protection that you are comfortable using on a solo hike is necessary, but trusting your gut is another form of versatility and skill with which we have come to lose touch, a skill that we’ve replaced with seemingly dependable order and routine. It’s the difference between knowing where your gun is at all times and having the confidence to use it, and hiking with your hand hovering above the grip, waiting for an emergency that is 3,011 times less likely to happen than at the grocery store. Discovering this poised self-assurance looks different for everyone, but it is something that can be understood through nothing but practice.

Stronger when Fearless
Hiking alone as a woman has given me the strength and understanding of what I’m capable of outside of my comfort zone. It has connected me to my able mind, powerful body, and resilient spirit, and has revealed to me what a badass I am. It has provided me with problem-solving skills that I subconsciously use in every area of my life. When I’m forced to figure out how to navigate diverse terrain and harsh climates and take care of my basic needs, I establish the confidence required for the challenges in my daily life- allowing the courage to take on new opportunities and rise to adversity. Hiking teaches us lifelong skills, lessons, and bold independence- let’s not let our fearful culture ruin it. 

Take care, 
Madison Ford

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