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Nervous new solo backpacker

I'm an avid day-hiker, who recently decided to make the jump to backpacking and I'm planning on doing a couple solo overnighters this summer. I am looking for any tips or advice other women with solo backpacking experience can share about safety, specifically around other hikers. I realize that the risk of being injured from a twisted ankle or unsafe drinking water is probably much higher than running into another hiker who tries to attack me, but it's still the latter that gives me more anxiety. I have experience traveling solo before, but something about being alone in the wilderness can trigger some panic. I have had a few panic episodes even just on day hikes when there are few other hikers around and I come upon another male hiker, and my flight or flight kicks in. It's absolutely not their fault, usually they just say hi and pass by, and I feel bad for reacting like they are going to hurt me but I can't help it. I guess I am just looking to see if any one else deals with this, and what advice you can share to move past it? I really don't want something like this to keep me from activities I really enjoy doing.

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Re: Nervous new solo backpacker

@jinxypop darn good question and feelings which are very rational IMO.  Sometimes I feel the same way!

Plus you have the double whammy of first time solo nerves AND safety concerns!

Is there no one who could go with you on you're first overnights?  That's what I would recommend.  Get into a routine, with a friend/friends, and then go it alone.

@SurvivalGal  apparently goes out solo, weeks at a time, and seems to me would be a good resource.

Good luck!  And post pictures for us.

REI Member Since 1979 YouTube.com/philreedshikes
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Re: Nervous new solo backpacker

@jinxypop speaking as a fellow female hiker, I can fully relate to your concerns and anxiety around hiking and backpacking alone. I, in fact, still don't do either by myself for all the reasons you mention. With that said, here are a few things that other women I know do to help them feel a bit more comfortable when they're headed out for a solo adventure:

  • Picking busier/more popular hikes and destinations where they are very unlikely to be isolated during a day hike or overnight
  • Always ensuring that a family member or friend knows exactly which trail they're hiking, where they're spending the night, and a good estimate on what day/time they will be back in cell range
  • Registering at the trailhead register when one is provided
  • Bringing a dog
  • Bringing a few items that are smart to have in general, like a multi-tool or knife, whistle, and/or bear spray (which is illegal to use on humans)

Finally, as @Philreedshikes mentioned, hiking with others may just be more comfortable and provoke less anxiety. Typically many areas that have good hiking destinations also have formal hiking groups, including women's-only groups, that will offer and lead organized outings; if you let us know where in the country/world you're located, we may be able to provide a few specific options for meeting other women who like to hike!

You might check out this earlier conversation on solo adventuring we had in the community on the women's board. And we'll also tag a few other of our members who may have some experience with solo adventures:

@SoloAdventurer @aya @bryndsharp @MilkTea @HoughtonLikeTheLake @alaneoutside @Clementine103 @NAP 

At REI, we believe a life outdoors is a life well lived.
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Re: Nervous new solo backpacker

@jinxypop I know this may not be everyone’s first choice and it may be hard for some to do, but I have a 9 mm hand gun that I open carry. You are able to open carry at the age of 21 in any national park (in the USA). But make sure you check your local gun laws for other places to hike. If you go to Alaska, minimum you should carry a .44 magnum as a LAST resort for a charging grizzly bear. Again, not for everyone. 

Other advice: 

tell someone where you are going, where you will be on a certain day depending on how long the trip is, and tell them the date you are supposed to be back. This is so that someone can call emergency services Incase you do not come home/are lost. 

Bring a knife that is fixed and somewhat large, at least 4 inches. It is good for many things but if someone were to see that with the intention of messing with you/harming you, it is somewhat of a deterrent. Also bring mace if you are not comfortable with a gun. 

A dog is awesome to have as well, a medium to large dog is preferred. But also remember all the supplies you will need with this as well as first aid supplies, flea and tick treatment, etc. 

 

Personal beacon devices are expensive but worth it. REI has a few, they are meant for life or death emergencies only. Also consider getting a GPS if you are planning long trips. 

If you are in a large national park and it is busy, try and stay with in ear shot of a trail head or a camp ground. 

In reality, you will be fine. I have been on many hikes in remote areas, large national parks, local state parks, for 1-3 days at a time and I have not had any issues. Granted I open carry and my gun is visible to everyone so it works as a deterrent. Never had to use it. I have been friends with other females that solo hike and they have not had issues with other people. The biggest thing you would have to worry about is getting lost or hurt but as long as someone knows where you are going/where you are and when you are supposed to check in or return, you should be okay. 

It’s really a blast! Be safe! Have fun! 

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Re: Nervous new solo backpacker

Just an addendum to Houghton's post;  if you do carry a weapon, make sure you get some training and practice with whatever you decide on.  Enough that using it is second nature;  if it's for real, you won't have time to figure it out.  I remember when I was studying fencing;  on average, a fencing move takes 1/10 of a second.  1/20th to decide what to do and the other 1/20th to do it.

Retired medical technologist and engineer
REI member since 1978
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Re: Nervous new solo backpacker

@jinxypop Excellent question and lots of good info here already but I see two other things that are worth mentioning.  I'm a big guy (6'2", 290+/-) and I regularly get "the look" if I'm solo and meet a lady alone on the trail (not sonmuchnif the wife and / or kiddos are with me).  I've tried maintaining pace and nodding, speaking, slowing down, speeding up, etc., but not found the magic sauce for not seeming intimidating in that situation.  On behalf of guys though, please know that sometimes were as nervous as you passing on the trail 🙂

That said, I also train martial arts, primarily Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at the moment and there are a lot of ladies that train with us.  Many with similar concerns to what you've noted.  In every case, it's cool to see a) how much confidence they get after usually very few lessons and b) how that confidence manifests in other areas.  

There are tons of excellent suggestions here but, if I could offer 2 things:

1. know that some of the folks you meet on trail are just as nervous as you anday act weird to get out of the awkward situation.  I've tried to get on the habit of maintaining pace and just offering a "good morning", "good afternoon" or "happy trails" with a smile 

2.  Self defense is awesome, whether it's with a weapon (knife, spray, gun or your body) but it's crucial to understand that weapon before you need to use it.  Using your body as a weapon (offensive or defensive) has the added benefit of never being able to leave it at home and it always makes it through metal detectors. 

 

Happy trails 🙂

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Re: Nervous new solo backpacker

So, I just got a chance to read over my post and realized that it may be worth pointing out that I can do English 🙂

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Re: Nervous new solo backpacker

@jinxypop Happy to give you some tips if you're curious.  I'm a very petite woman (hello, easy target!) who really enjoys getting to some super remote areas on her own....no dog, no gun.  Avid hiker and lover of nature therapy.  I've even stumbled upon some not-so-friendly-to-POC areas by myself but if you're prepared and confident, you should be fine!  I've felt nervous, sure, but the enjoyment I get out of a solo adventure in the wild is well worth it!  

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Re: Nervous new solo backpacker

Good question.  I think that you are right that a pedestrian injury is more likely than getting attacked by someone (yea, most likely a guy) but assault is a possibility that can not be dismissed.  

I’m a guy, sometimes hike solo, and try to be non-threatening.  I’m so sorry that this is even an issue.  But it is.  

My guess is that you are safest in populated places where there are other people or in very remote places that only sincere explorers make it to.  But camping out you may not have much control over being around others or being alone.  

Carrying a weapon is probably a deterrent.  Guns come with political baggage and the statement is “I could kill you” but I don’t really blame women for wanting to make that statement.  If you are not a gun person, a big knife might work.  

An emergency signaling device, like an InReach, may be a deterrent.  It is not an immediate deterrent but it does mean that you have thought through what you are doing, people know where you are, and people will come looking.

The first time I solo backpacked I was nervous about everything unknown.  I think this is a common experience.  Time and experience this everything going well will help calm your nerves.  With time, an no incident, you feel more comfortable.

I also recognize that may not work when your fear is that someone will assault you.  That is something you have no control over.  I’m thinking of the PCT and one fear is mountain lions - a predator that is out there any may decide to assault me.  I don’t know when and have no control.

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Re: Nervous new solo backpacker

@jinxypop @Philreedshikes

Thanks Phil,

I skimmed through the responses here about your questions/concerns on going solo into the wilderness, just keep in mind that free advice is often worth what you paid for it, without at least considering the source. While most of the responses are rather commonsensical and/or easily googled, very little is, shall we say, on point.  

On the other hand, I have been a wilderness enthusiast, land and sea, for almost 35 years, most of that as a wilderness survivalist, and much of that SOLO (coincidentally, I also used to teach martial arts).

In fact, I just finished a month-long solo in on the local "Gabrieleno Trail". It's sheer serendipity that I made some notes during that hike for an upcoming soloing post. You may want to watch for it. As to your original post...  

"AFRAID?" 

Over the decades, I've gone from being the "only" girl in the backcountry, to one of the "few" girls in the backcountry, to one of the few solo girls in the backcountry, and over that time, one of the first questions I STILL get asked is, "Aren't you afraid?" (typically in reference to bears/animals). NO!  

The truth of the matter is, almost all cooks, creeps, and crooks stick to the frontcountry (those areas/camps nearest to town). That's because most of them don't have the gear or guts for the backcountry! In my experience, once you get there, you are already likely to encounter people, male and female, who are like-minded and well experienced. 

If you're "petite", as you say, martial arts only gets you so far! (perhaps unless you dedicate yourself to years and years of training). For petite girls, your "training" should focus on escape-and-run tactics.

As to a knife against a bear, some people should stop watching reruns of The Revenant (almost complete B.S.!) Otherwise, YOU are your biggest problem in the wilderness, not the animals.

As to a gun (specifically, a "side-arm"), statistically, you are more likely to either shoot yourself or be shot with your own gun. In ANY case, unless you are going into grizzly country, only morons take a gun into the wilderness! (and yes, I owned a gun for a number of years, so not anti-gun, just tend to be smarter than those who have them). Besides, unless you are capable of taking a human life, DON'T get one!! (but do get training if you do!!!)  

YOUR SO-CALLED, "EXPERIENCE" 

First, there are four types of hikers/hiking: at the far left of the evolutionary scale are day hikers, then there are distance hikers, wilderness hikers (like myself), and bushwhackers. Generally speaking, I hold little respect for day hikers' so-called "experience" because statistically, although they are engaged in the most rudimentary type of hiking, they are responsible for the VAST majority of Search And Rescue missions, not only among other types of hiking, but among ALL types of wilderness activities!  

I could EASILY go on, however suffice to say that even if you are good at day hiking or distance hiking, when it comes to switching to WILDERNESS hiking, you should consider yourself a rank beginner!!

Wilderness hiking takes a complete understanding, and implementation of, The Five Essential Steps: 1) Planning, 2) Preparation, 3) Proficiency, 4) Backups, and 5) Basic survival concepts and strategies (more on this in my planned post). This goes double for soloists!  

Second, psychologically speaking, people tend to think being good at one thing automatically means you're good at something else, particularly when those things have some basic similarly.

Take for example, Christopher "Alexander Supertramp" McCandless, who trekked into the Alaskan wilderness and died. His cause of death may have been starvation, but the REASON he died was STUPIDITY! He spent years walking through towns and countrysides, then had audacity to think he was ready for REAL wilderness.  

As it is, it never fails when I pass through the frontcountry to be inundated with day hikers asking for directions (meaning they don't even have a map!) My usual response, after a head shake and an eye roll, is usually "Go home, get a map!" (or words to that effect).

In the backcountry, it's a little different (other than an eye roll) because the consequences are more severe.  

BOTTOM LINE 

I've said it before and I'll say it again, "Only two kinds of people go solo into the wilderness; those who REALLY know what they're doing, and those who really DON'T!"

Based on what you've said so far, you DON'T! Frankly, I'd say you are YEARS from being ready!! And by the way, being lucky is NOT the same as being ready!!!  

Getting the right gear (which everyone seems fixated on for some reason) isn't even a start, it just goes without saying. Getting good experience with good backpackers is a start, but being ready to solo - SAFELY AND COMPETENTLY - means being self-directed, self-determined, self-reliant, self-confident, self-sustaining....

Being solo, by definition, means being ALONE! So, if you break an ankle, could you handle it? How about if you lost a tooth filling? (which happened just several days into my last outing). Could you kill, and eat, a rattlesnake? (which also happened a few days into my last outing). How would you react to waking up just a few yards from a bear? (yes, ALSO happened on my last outing).  

Moreover, do you have the depth and diversity of knowledge and skills that would allow you to handle any likely condition (terrain and weather) or possibility? The experience? The common sense? (aka, The Four Cornerstones of Survival). Offhand, I'd say decidedly not!... so far.

It's not impossible, but it's not quick or easy. Frankly, without knowing more about you, you may NEVER actually be ready to solo in the wilderness. Then again, what do I know. Everyone wants to shine, but no one wants to polish, so whatever.

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