How to Hike Alone Safely

There’s nothing like a good hike to bolster your spirits and reactivate your love of nature. You usually go hiking with a buddy, but this time, they’re unavailable. You figured that since you have enough hiking experience, you can go it alone. How do you stay safe on a solo hike?

Here are some hiking safety tips when by yourself:

Although hiking alone can boost your confidence and self-reliance, the activity can be fraught with dangers if you’re not careful. Ahead, we’ll talk more about the 11 tips we outlined above so you can make a plan for a safe solo hiking expedition!

Hiking Alone? Follow These 11 Safety Tips

Make Sure You’ve Got the Basics Down

Hiking by yourself is not the same as roughing it with a group. Whether you realize you’re doing it or not, when you’re in a group, you’re relying on others to make some decisions for you while you go along with these choices.

For example, there can only be one person leading, so whoever that is, you’re expecting them to navigate. There’s no need for you to pay as close attention to navigation because someone has it covered. Maybe another person in your group checked the weather so you didn’t have to do that either. You could have even had someone in your group pitch a tent, pack food and supplies, or bring potable water.

When you’re on your lonesome, it’s your responsibility to do all those tasks by yourself. You need to lead the path and determine the correct route to take. If the trail splits, you must know which path will get you back to where you started from.

You’ll have to watch the weather (more on this later), pitch the tent, and bring enough supplies (we’ll talk about this too ahead). You don’t want it to be sunset on a campground with no one around for miles and you don’t know how to pitch your tent. You can’t expect anyone else to help you, and it’s hard to learn what you’re doing with reduced visibility.

Therefore, ahead of your solo hiking expedition, we’d caution you to refresh yourself on the basics or even learn them for the first time. Here are the skills we’d advise you to master.

How to Use a Compass

A compass is one of your most valuable tools as a hiker, but only if you know how to use it. For example, do you know the difference between north and true north? The latter is the real reading of where you are when facing north, which is different from the reading of north on your compass by a few degrees, sometimes as much as 20 degrees.

By understanding your declination value, you can adjust your compass for true north. This will make your readings more accurate.

How to Read a Map

Compasses are useful to a point, but you need a map to get the full use out of them. Most hikers use a topographic map, also known as a topo map. These maps can be confusing at first glance, so make sure you take the time to familiarize yourself with one.

For example, topo maps feature contour lines across various terrain. The more contour lines, the steeper the terrain will be. The lines delineate elevation, so if you see fewer, that means the land you’ll pass is flatter. Depressions in a topo map represent a gulley, hill, or another area of decline.

How to Prevent Altitude Sickness

If you reach high enough altitudes on your hike, you have to concern yourself with altitude sickness. This condition can cause shortness of breath, nausea, and headache. You may be physically unable to continue hiking.

Altitude sickness is more than inconvenient; it can be deadly if you’re not careful. High-altitude pulmonary edema causes fluid to fill your lungs while high-altitude cerebral edemas lead to possibly fatal brain swelling.

To prevent altitude sickness, take your time hiking high altitudes, spacing out your trip over a couple of days rather than hours. Your body can adjust to higher altitudes if you give it the time, but rushing things can make you very sick.

How to Make a Campfire

This is one of the basics of camping, but it’s okay if you haven’t made many (or any) campfires by yourself. When searching for wood, you want long, large wood pieces, which are firewood. Sticks and branches, which are known as kindling, won’t last as long. Tinder, which can be forest needles and tiny twigs, lasts the least amount of time.

Stacking your firewood pieces into a triangular cone shape is an easy option for solo hiking beginners. It’s not your only configuration when making a campfire, but it’s good for now. Make sure you bring a lighter or match. A firestarter product can also work.

When you’re done with the fire, take a bucket of water and pour it over the flames. Be safe and keep your distance as you do this.

Choose a Place You’ve Hiked Before

Okay, so you’ve got the hiking basics down. Next, you have to choose where you’ll hike. It can be really tempting to pick that park or trail that you’ve always wanted to hike but your buddies would never agree to.

This is one of the worst mistakes you can make as a solo hiker. When you go to a new park or trail, you have literally no idea what you’re walking into. Sure, you can research the park inside and out–which we always recommend anyway–but what you’ll experience once you’re there versus what you’ll glean when researching can be two very different things.

You need to know which trails are available and where they go from start to finish. Hiking the trail is one of the best ways to find that out, as that kind of info is rarely detailed as meticulously as you need if you’re relying on online reviews.

You also must become an expert on the wildlife in the area. Does your park have bears? What kinds of bears? What time of year are they most active? What other creatures do you have to worry about? These are questions that you can typically answer from experience.

Other benefits of visiting a campsite, park, or trail you’re already familiar with include:

We do want to say one thing about hiking where you’ve already gone before. Familiarity can breed complacency, which is not what you want. You need to keep your wits about you at all times when hiking alone, even if you’re very familiar with where you’re going.

Don’t Go Too Far Your First Time Out

This tip might get under your skin, as you think of yourself as a very seasoned hiker. Like we said before, there is a difference between hiking on your own versus doing it with someone else. You have to do all the route planning, packing, navigating, tent-pitching, fire-making, everything. This can be more exhausting than you’d think.

By challenging yourself to hike further than you have before or by attempting to reach a threshold you never have with a group, you’re putting your health and your life on the line. You are all you will have to rely on if you get sick or injured on a hike.

We recommend choosing the easiest trail at the park for your first time out alone. If your park only has one trail, then do about a quarter of it, or slightly less than that, and then return back to your campsite. The next time you decide to hike alone, you can do the first half the trail, then the second half until you work your way up to hiking the whole thing.

It’s always better to use less of your energy when hiking by yourself than more of it. You’ll have that energy to dedicate to other activities such as finding firewood or setting up your tent for an evening of peaceful rest.

There’s No Need to Chitchat with Strangers

Populated trails are a good idea whenever you can select them since you know there’s always at least someone a stone’s throw away. If you’re ever lost, stranded, or injured/sick and unable to get up or walk far, the aid of a fellow hiker can save your life.

This does not mean you need to make best friends with every last person you see, especially if you’re a woman. Solo hikers are much easier prey than those in a group because there’s no one to come to your defense.

Listen to your gut. If someone gives you a bad feeling, then go out of your way to avoid interacting with that person. Should someone try to engage in a conversation with you and you don’t feel comfortable with it, you don’t have to talk to that person.

The good news is that murders on the hiking trail don’t happen all that often. According to backpacking meal resource Greenbelly, per data from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, of the three million hikers that pass through the Appalachian Trail per year, every four years, one hiker will be murdered.

That data has held steady since 1974. With three million hikes a year, by multiplying that by four, that means one in 12 million people get murdered when hiking. It’s a chance of under 0.0003 percent.

This statistic should make you feel safe, but it’s still a poor idea to let your guard down for just anyone. Be suspicious of everybody you see on the trail except for park rangers. Most people will have good intentions, but in case someone doesn’t, you’ll be ready.

Always Stay on the Trail

This might seem like a no-duh kind of tip, but we had to mention it anyway. Just like you shouldn’t choose a new trail when hiking alone, now is also not the time to venture on a trail that you’re not familiar with. Yes, that’s even if you’ve heard that it contains a beautiful lake or you can see a rare bird species.

Truth be told, you don’t know what’s down the path because you’ve never been there. Someone could have given you bad information or you could be confusing this trail with a different one. Either way, all it takes is one wrong turn and you’re lost. You can’t even describe to someone else where you are because you don’t know.

You’re also clueless about what nature of wildlife lives here or which hazards may abound. It’s just a bad situation to be in, especially when you’re relying on only yourself to get back home safely. Wait until a subsequent camping trip and bring your buddy on the trail with you. At least then, you’ll have a backup if you need it.

Have Some Way to Communicate Besides Your Phone

Although your life likely revolves around your smartphone much like everyone else’s does, your phone is all but useless when hiking. It’s not like you can plug your phone into a charger out in the great outdoors unless you know for certain that your campsite has power.

Okay, but that’s what portable chargers are for, right? Sure. Yet even if you could maintain your phone’s battery, you won’t be able to do a whole lot with the device. Service is spotty at best at parks and on trails.

If you need to call someone and all you have is your phone yet it’s getting no reception, that can be very scary. How will you keep in touch with your loved ones? We recommend having another communication device outside of your phone.

The DeLorme InReach Explorer is one such option to consider. This two-way satellite communicator from Garmin has all sorts of features you’ll use all the time when you go camping or hiking.

Send a text message to a friend or family member that’s 160 characters or less and receive texts as well. Pass along GPS coordinates of your current location to your friends vai text so they know where you are. You can even send emails or get on social media to update all your loved ones on there.

Create waypoints of your route so those at home can follow your travels as your hike progresses. Follow along using a map on screen and review your past tracks. The InReach Explorer even includes a digital compass with an accelerometer and barometric altimeter.

Garmin’s search and rescue monitoring center is available 24/7, and you always have a direct link to the team through the InReach Explorer. You can ask questions of the squad or send out an SOS message if something has gone wrong.

Skip the Headphones

There’s something about listening to music in the great outdoors that’s so much better than doing it at your computer or at the gym. It’s like you hear every note so much more clearly with an amazing backdrop of forest or mountains.

You’re excited to catch up on a few new albums you’ve missed or even the latest podcasts you’ve had queued up for a while. Since you’re not hiking with anyone else, putting your headphones on won’t be rude.

Yes, but it will be foolish. It doesn’t matter whether you prefer earbuds or over-the-ear headphones. Both types of headphones prevent you from hearing what’s around you, reducing your awareness.

At the very least, between listening to music on your headphones and looking down at your Garmin InReach Explorer, you could bump into someone. That would sure be embarrassing. At worst, you could fall off a cliff because you’re not paying attention.

Even if you’re watching where you’re going but you still have headphones on, it’s a recipe for disaster. You wouldn’t be able to hear someone or something sneaking up behind you, like a nefarious character or even a bear. You could end up hurt or killed because you’re lacking situational awareness.

Save the music or podcasts for the drive to and from the campsite. We don’t even advise using headphones when you’ll all zipped up in your sleeping bag trying to fall asleep. If someone is outside of your tent, you need to be able to hear it.

Tell the Rangers Your Hiking Plans

You do always have someone on your side as a solo hiker, and that’s the park rangers! Become chummy with the rangers upon your arrival to the campsite. Mention that you’re hiking by yourself for the first time. Tell them where you’re from (city or town name, not your personal address) and how long you plan to be at the park. You can even let the rangers know where you’ll be camping out.

It’s the rangers’ duty to uphold the safety of everyone in the park. They may come by the area where you’re camping to check if you’re okay. If you’re not there and you haven’t been there for quite a while, the park rangers can contact the authorities and launch a search effort themselves to hopefully find you.

Let Your Friends and Family Know Too

You also want to keep your family and friends in the loop when you go hiking. Tell at least one or two people about your hiking plans, including the exact name of the park you’re visiting and how long you’ll be there. If you have a GPS communicator like the Garmin InReach Explorer, let your friend or family member know that you’ll send them your route and coordinates.

This is another safety measure. Although your friends and family aren’t at the campground like the park rangers, they can call the police or the rangers to let them know they haven’t heard from you.

We do want to caution against posting about your camping trip on social media. When you let the world know where you’re going and when, you’re advertising to bad people that your home will be sitting empty for several days. This can be the perfect opportunity for a so-called friend of a friend to rob your home.

You can also attract unwanted attention by posting about your activities on social media. Someone who sees your post might decide to join you at the campsite, which you do not want. Save your photos and posts about the hike until it’s over and you’re safely back home.

Anticipate the Weather You’ll Have

If you were going to rent a beach house for the week, you’d watch the weather like a hawk to make sure no rainy days were ahead, right? You need to do the same for your hiking trip. Ideally, you want clear, comfortable weather the entire time you’re at the campsite, as that will make for the most effortless experience.

If it’s going to rain for a few hours one afternoon, that’s not such a big deal, but downpours three of the four days you’ll be camping are not the best conditions for hiking. You might also want to reconsider your trip if you’re going to have windy conditions.

Strong winds will make every aspect of camping harder. Your compass might not work properly, pitching a tent will be a struggle, and even hiking will feel more difficult when the wind is pushing back against you. You may spend your whole night tossing and turning, spooked by the sounds of the wind in nature.

Pack More Than Enough Supplies

If you were the packer among your hiking group of friends, this is a good thing! You know how to pack adequately for several people. For your solo hike, we’d recommend bringing a few days’ extra gear and food just in case you get stranded, the weather turns bad, or you have to stay at the campsite longer than planned for any reason. You won’t have to have to risk foraging for food or going without, as both can be deadly.

Just don’t pack so much extra gear and supplies that you can barely carry your backpack!


Hiking alone is something you can do safely and smartly provided you prepare ahead of time. With the advice in this guide, you’re ready to hit the trail solo and make lots of incredible memories when you do!