Should Women Hike Solo? Absolutely, Says One Trail Veteran

I broke all the rules. I hiked all alone. I had no experience, no cell phone, no snake bite kit, no weapon and worst of all, I broke the biggest unspoken rule: I did this as a young female….a GIRL, really, according to my dad.

I did all of this for 2,160 miles of unbroken mountain trail. Yes, I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT), granddaddy of all hiking trails, solo in 1998 at the age of 26. And it was the best, most peaceful, healthiest, happiest time of my entire life.

Statistically speaking, I was in more danger driving to the trailhead than at any point while walking alone in the woods. But that truth holds little weight when bartered with worried naysayers, passersby and family members who chastised me, shook heads and pooh-poohed the entire idea of a young lady living day-by-day as a traveler in the wilderness.

After hearing all the concerns time and again, I’ve grown weary. No American bats an eye in our modern age when women shop alone, drive alone or eat alone. But hike alone, and you are most assuredly going to turn heads and acquire unsolicited lectures.

The bottom line is: a woman hiking alone is no different than a man hiking alone. If you’re hiking alone, whether male or female, you just have to exercise a few common sense precautions. Of course, there are no guarantees with any undertaking in life; however, I can promise a more intense experience when alone.

After the AT, I started dating and eventually married another hiker­­ — together we have backpacked more than 3,000 miles of trail. As much as I love hiking with my husband and friends, I see more, hear more and remember more when I’m alone. Without the distraction of another person, I become more in tune with sounds, sights, smells….all the delightful sensory experiences of the wilderness fill the mind and I am truly free. On my AT solo hike, I discovered how to get in touch with my own intuition and my spirit. I found, ultimately, to trust the world, other people and my own self. The implications of these things color everything I do to this day, creating a deep well-spring of reserves to draw upon. In other words, there is a lot to be gained from hiking alone, girls.

Traveler’s Notebook: Tips for Hiking Solo

* Don’t listen to naysayers, worry-warts and critics. Do what you want to do, when you want to do it. You are much safer in the woods than you would be at home.

* Do your homework. Know where you’re going, what to expect, what gear you need, how bad the weather could be, how to be safe in areas where bears are present, and have the right gear, maps and trail information.

* If possible, leave a rough itinerary with someone you trust.

* Never tell someone you don’t know on or off the trail that you’re hiking alone. If a person asks, and you’re not comfortable, say that your friends are hiking with you, they’re right behind you and should be joining you any minute.

* Don’t ever camp near roads or in sight of the trail unless you’re with several other hikers.

* If you’re feeling uneasy for any reason about a road crossing, scout it out from the safety of the trees before barging out into the open. Humans at road crossings are going to be your only real threat, if you have any.

* Try not to hitch-hike to and from towns along the trail without the company of another hiker.  I often pre-coordinated hitching as a group into towns on the AT with other hikers I met along the way.

* Trust your intuition always. Intuition is real, and it’s there to protect you.

* Expect to be a bit scared camping alone the first dozen times. Eventually, you will grow to feel comfortable sleeping outdoors, but you have a lot to unlearn, having been raised under a roof.

* Hiking is about getting away from your worries. Follow your common sense rules, do what’s comfortable for you and don’t worry. And have fun!

Karen Borski Somers is a native of Spring, Texas, and currently resides in Huntsville, Alabama, with her husband, two daughters and their hiking sheltie. An avid hiker and cyclist, she has logged more than 9,000 trail miles in 36 states, including the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. Click here to read her journal concerning her journey on the 96-mile Lone Star Trail in Texas.

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Responses to this article

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Linda Jeffers October 17, 2011 Reply

Great writing. I miss long distance backpacking.

Kim Cole March 26, 2012 Reply

Karen, great article and thanks for writing. I currently live in Madison and am considering attempting a solo hike on the AT. Not the full distance to start but would like to spend my vacation there. Would love any additional tips you might have for a 55+ attempting her first solo hike.

MJ June 5, 2012 Reply

Hi! Your article is very encouraging. My friends are concerned about my hiking alone. I’m an 18 y/o girl who will hike the Appalachian Trail next spring.

Leah August 24, 2012 Reply

I’m doing research on how other people feel about girls hiking alone. My parents are heavily against me doing anything by myself unless it’s in a town (somehow driving on major highways is safer than finding myself a trail). They’re concerned about potential rapists and kidnappers finding me. I’m sorry, but I have no desire to never hike because I never get a friend to go with me. I also savor being outside alone. It’s called play it smart and not hold out on life–and hopefully find some hiking and kayaking buddies, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Alyse October 2, 2013 Reply

Thanks for this. I completely agree with you. I’m a young woman (24) who often hikes alone. I get MANY lectures from family. It’s very annoying. Glad to see that many other women agree that it’s fantastic to hike alone.

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