Solo Hiker? Not really.

Traveling solo as a woman gets all kinds of scrutiny. A blog post by Dame Traveler got me thinking about my own solo travel. I’ve done my fair share of it. A day in Bogota, Columbia here, a day in Denver, Colorado there. Wandering the streets of Dublin. Walking in my own neighborhood at all times of the day and night.

And then there are the hikes I take on solo. Whether it’s a day hike at a local or state park or a solo backpacking trip, I try to be prepared. I always let someone know I’m going solo – when I’m leaving, where I’m going and when I expect to be back. I carry a SPOT device so that I can reach out if I get in trouble and my family can call for help if I don’t show up on time. I keep to trails and I will turn back if I’m uncomfortable or don’t feel safe.

For me, the most challenging part of my solo experiences, beyond my own physical and mental limitations, is the reactions I get about my adventures. I find myself having to explain why I feel safer and more in control of my situation in the backcountry than in the city.

When I think about the hundreds of miles I’ve hiked in the last five years and compare that to the times I’ve been traveling to and from work, I’d say I feel much safer in the wilderness on a hike. I’m sure for some that may sound crazy.

But if you think about it, which I don’t recommend for long, in a city there are a lot of people. Following someone is easy and with all the people around it’s easy to blend into a crowd or catch a person off guard. I’ve read stories about women who were stalked in their own neighborhood. Concentrating on all the possible bad things that can happen is understandably demoralizing and often is the reason many women don’t feel comfortable traveling alone.

And then there are long-held perceptions and attitudes. I recently had someone mention that folks in the Midwest are more likely to think that women shouldn’t travel alone. I also have noticed that age and experience also plays into these beliefs. If going on a backpacking trip isn’t part of your experience, getting started can be challenging. Going it alone? That’s for adventurous types.

So how to overcome the perceptions? Education goes a long way. Finding like minded individuals with the same interests builds both skills and a community of cheerleaders.

A Supportive Community

I’m really lucky to be surrounded by an inner circle of men and women who are at the heart of my support system. They are of different ages and relationships to me. Four of them are my closest supporters – the men in my life. Each one brings his love and protectiveness to council and encourage me on my adventures. And then there are the amazing ladies who are my trail companions.

But first a little about my biggest fans. The group I lovingly call “my boys”.

My Dad

He is the person I now understand is where I got my wanderlust. My desire to visit new places. This man who protected his little girl and wanted her taken care of has been challenged by my independent spirit. With time he’s come to a place where I know he is cautiously supportive. Lately he’s started sharing gear hacks with me as he’s rediscovered his own passion for camping and traveling. As always, he reminds me about being careful and safe.

My Brother

I still can’t believe I got as lucky as I did in this department. We needle each other constantly and are each other’s fiercest defenders. While we live more than 1,000 miles apart and simply because of our age difference we didn’t grow up sharing outdoor experiences, he seems to innately see my abilities and my limits. He’s one of the people I can call for council if I need. And he’s pretty bad-ass in his own right, taking on Spartan races all over the world.

My Son

Truth be told this whole hiking thing is because of this wonderful young man. His involvement in Scouting landed me on a backpacking crew that hiked at Philmont Scout Ranch. I knew nothing when I started about hiking and backpacking. As we trained and completed that trip, I fell in love with being on trail. I learned what a lot in the process. Now he’s one of my biggest advocates.

My S.O.

He prefers to relax rather than hike. He also gets how important being out on trail is to me. He’s protective and supportive. Not once, including the summer I backpacked Isle Royale solo, has he held me back. I’m now in the process of guiding him to be my SAG for end-to-end or segment hiking when we are traveling. For someone who has little interest or knowledge, he’s dived into the role when I’ve asked. I love him all the more for it.

These guys trust and know that while I’ll push a few boundaries, I won’t willingly put myself in a situation that could get seriously out of control. They know I’ll keep them informed of my plans. And they also all get my need for the solitude and adventure.

In addition to those four I’ve got two additional groups who support me and have taught me so much of what I’ve learned to be prepared to be an outdoors adventurer.

When I hike solo I also “carry” a few others with me. From the fellowship they provide on group hikes, planning advice and encouragement as well as the skills I’ve learned in their company…

My Outdoors Brothers

These guys … a small, patient crew who don’t care that I’m a woman, have taught me most of the skills I’ve brought to my hiking life. There’s Michael who provided the laid back counterpoint to my headstrong ways while we served as leaders in Scouting together.

There’s Corey who I shared that formative Scouting hike at Philmont with. His passion and knowledge of basic skills helped fuel my interest. Having someone that knew I’d be the red lantern of the crew, yet was always there holding that lantern with me and literally lifted me up and kept me from falling when I needed it most helped me better understand why having a crew that’s got your back is so important. Not to mention he’s got a serious outdoorsy beard, a badass wife and a mini-me crew of his own.

Let’s Not Forget the Ladies

There is something truly empowering about having a community of people who share your abilities and challenges. I don’t like concentrating on gender, but in this case I’m going to call it out because this is one of the most supportive groups I have walking with me literally and figuratively.

I have been lucky to have been accompanied by several women and groups on my journey in hiking and backpacking. The first is Cheryl. We paired with Corey on that first Scouting adventure. Her experience and support was invaluable to overcoming both the preparation and perceptions we encountered. I will never forget the conversation we had with a male Scouting leader at the end of our Philmont trek. He commented how hard it was for us to have taken on the role because women didn’t chose to do that kind of thing. We looked at each other, laughed and responded that we couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. We’d definitely chosen to be there.

Then two years ago, I found Women Who Hike and have since grown my hiking crew to include so many wonderful women. I can’t begin to name all of the women who have played a part in encouraging and further educating me. They’ve welcomed me and helped me to see how important trust in my own abilities. They inspire me. I’ve learned so much from each of them and look forward to every hike.

Find Your Advocates

My advice for anyone who’s on the fence about solo hiking is to do it. Prepare and ask for advice. And most importantly, find support. Whether it’s from your family, friends or a group you sign up to learn with.

I’d love to hear about your first solo adventure. What were your perceived obstacles? What did others say or do to discourage you to do? How did you overcome the objections and your own concerns?

Next Post Preview: November 17 is National Take A Hike Day. I’ll be sharing about the trail I’ve picked so check back to read about it soon!

Copyright Ruth Wikoff-Jones, | No Use Permitted Without Prior Permission

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