Female solo hiking: adventure, joy, and pride
If you regularly read OutdoorsWithNoLimits’s blog, it is because you are convinced that hiking is an incredible source of satisfaction and well-being.
What if I told you that when you practice it alone, the pleasure and pride you feel are intensified to a point you may not yet suspect?
As a woman, you can be equal to a man regarding the organization, orientation, the spirit of adventure.
I see no reason to worry more than a man about hiking alone, knowing that zero risk doesn’t exist anywhere, not even down the street.
In the mountains, there is almost no risk of being attacked. The freaks are in town! The risk of injury is quite rare. Especially if you’re in good physical condition, careful, and well prepared.
However, if this is your first solo hike, you will need reassurance to get started. Or reassure your loved ones!
Then you can take some precautions for our gender. They will allow you to preserve your comfort, but also your safety.
Here is an overview of the advantages and good practices of female solo hiking.
Freedom, rejuvenation, and a mockery against the fanatics of stopwatches
The primary motivation I see on hiking alone is freedom. It brings certain advantages.
Praises of slowness
In a society where everything goes very fast, slow beings have a terrible reputation. The company wants you to be “proactive”, dynamic, and efficient. You need to manage several days into one, especially if you are a mother.
In the world of outdoor sports, competition reigns: more and more gradients and kilometers, in less time. The desire to surpass oneself can have its attractions, at certain times. But continuously it can be exhausting!
In this context, slowness becomes a life choice. To respect your rhythm and desires is to let your mind and body breathe fully. It is the precondition to recharge oneself, to restore oneself in energy.
In a group, it’s complicated to listen to your body. Hikers walk at a different pace. They have neither the same vision of practice nor the same physical condition.
Maybe you feel guilty for not keeping up the same speed? You stay back, constrained, and forced. You are disappointed that you can no longer chat with your darling who is connected to “Strava” mode.
Hiking loses some of its charms when you feel like you’re the fifth wheel on the wagon.
In solo, you walk at your own pace. No one is here to impose anything on you. Far from the “competition” mode that some like, you are free to go on this belvedere that winked at you or to take a break as soon as you need it.
You can get drunk on the beauty of the landscape until your thirst is quenched. Take a picture every 3 minutes if you feel like it.
Marvel at the great flight of a raptor or the convoluted shape of a pine tree.
Cool your toes in a mountain lake with turquoise waters.
The pleasures are endless.
Their only limit is your imagination and your desires of the moment.
“Strava” is a smartphone application that is very popular with men. It allows you to record and share your sporting performances.
The disadvantage of solo hiking can be a lack of sharing.
I want to nuance this point: sharing is only deferred. It takes nothing away from the power of the moment lived, nor from its subsequent sharing.
In these environments where you were the only one to decipher the topographic map, I can guarantee you that you will be full of pride when you return.
After having thwarted the traps of a poorly marked path, gathered the photographs of ibexes, marmots , and wildflowers, found some potential places for bivouacs…
You will return to your friends and/or spouse with memories in your head and strengthened self-esteem.
It’s true, during the hike, you will only have yourself to feel these unique moments.
But you can share this experience a posteriori. Relive the intensity of it with friends who don’t dare to engage in such an adventure. Become an ardent advisor and representative of women’s solo hiking.
 All animal pictures are zoomed. It is essential to preserve the well-being of wildlife while respecting its tranquility. So you will not try to approach them and especially not feed them.
Good practices of a female solo hiker
If you hike alone, you carry on your shoulders, in addition to your backpack, the responsibility for your safety.
For this reason, preparation is even more critical than for a group hike. Alone, in case of accident, injury, everything gets complicated.
Here I share my experience, which I hope will be useful to you because difference helps to improve. But I don’t hold THE truth. My choices are not necessarily the best suited to YOUR needs. They point you in the right direction. With experience, you will find a way to hike that suits you best.
Proper preparation prevents risks and increases pleasure
One step at a time, you will progress
If you are a beginner, experienced hikers around you will give you advice. The problem is that they have mostly forgotten their first experiences. They won’t be able to put themselves in the shoes of someone just starting.
So trust your common sense. Start small, and everything will be fine.
Look for an itinerary according to your physical and mental resistance, your knowledge of the terrain, your orientation, your geographical context, and of course your tastes.
The goal is to progress in safety, little by little, to appreciate this solo experience better.
Don’t force yourself into an itinerary with steep ascent if you have never walked more than 3 hours in a row.
Or go on a wilderness hiking trail if you don’t know how to orient yourself.
Topographic guides can be found in specialized bookshops or on the Internet. Levels classify the hiking trails. Generally, you can see a detailed description, a portion of the topo map, and alternative routes. I started hiking solo with this type of guide and found it very useful. Also, handheld hiking GPS is getting more and more popular and can be of extra help for following a track or at least for not getting lost.
Prepare yourself the day before
- Check the weather and adapt the route and equipment accordingly.
- Lay out all your equipment, food, and clothing on the floor.
- Choose your backpack according to what you are carrying, not the other way around.
- Distribute food and clothing that are sensitive to moisture in waterproof garbage bags or food bags (“zip-lock” type).
- Tick a checklist so you don’t forget anything (after several hikes, you can remove items you have never used).
- Put the heaviest and everything for the bivouac (water bag, cooking set, food) at the bottom of your backpack and close to the back.
The minimum hygiene/safety kit
- A residue of biodegradable toothpaste tube (lighter)
- A toothbrush
- A multi-purpose biodegradable liquid soap (dishes, clothes, grooming) or an organic liquid soap for intimate hygiene
- A mini microfiber towel (to wipe your face and upper body)
- A Buff (to clean your lower body and hair)
- Your glasses, or if you wear contact lenses: disposable lenses for daily use
- A menstrual kit just in case
- Earplugs if you can stand it (so you don’t have to worry about the noises at night and have a good night’s sleep)
- Sun protection
- Optional: a lip balm
- Optional: talc in a mini container (deodorant)
- Tick removal tool
- Water disinfectant tablets or a water filter
- Lighter and flint stone/matches (if one lets you down)
- Survival blanket
- Topographical map or photocopy of the itinerary
- Whistle (sometimes there are integrated with some backpacks)
- 3 layer hiking clothes including waterproof and breathable windproof jacket (even in summer)
- Shoes adapted to the itinerary, the season, and your practice
- Hiking poles (they have become indispensable to me because they relieve the back and knees, whatever the age!)
- Mobile phone in aircraft mode to save battery power
Communicate your itinerary
It is essential to communicate your point of departure and destination to someone close to you. This person will be able to summon assistance without news from you according to an agreed deadline.
So as not to panic the person unnecessarily and disturb the emergency services for nothing, have a broad view. A delay can mean an inconvenience but not necessarily a danger.
Preferably choose someone who is reliable but calm. Putting this responsibility on the shoulders of an anxious person will not do him any good.
Be as light as a feather.
Lightness and simplicity are factors of freedom. That’s why I like to hike lightweight. The great principles, as I applied to my needs, inspired me. It helped me a lot in choosing and organizing my equipment.
In this practice as in others, there are excesses. In my opinion, they remove pleasure from hiking (less comfort) or can put into play the safety of unskilled people who would use them without experience (ex. hiking in minimalist shoes).
Each must judge the comfort/lightness ratio according to her personality.
What I do personally:
- Most objects have several uses:
- A survival blanket is used during the day for picnics in wet areas and at the bivouac as a floor mat or hammock bottom
- A Buff is used to protect from the sun or wind during the day, cold and brightness during the night and at dawn, to hide dirty hair (long trek over several days), to soak up any condensation inside your tent if you do not have a double wall
- Lycra sports leggings serve as pajamas and underlay if it is cold, the same for the 2nd layer (fleece or down jacket depending on the season).
- Convertible pants with removable “legs” are used as shorts
- I collect and recycle small containers. Nylon stockings make good ultra-light bags and can be used as a cord or compression fabric.
- For touring hikes, I have invested in specific ultra-light equipment that is a bit expensive but durable, e.g., a titanium cooking set in which my alcohol/wood stove can fit, a down sleeping bag, inflatable hiking mat.
 I always keep these clothes clean so as not to dirty the inside of my sleeping bag and to avoid sleeping in a bag sheet (I hate twisting myself inside, and it weighs less).
Look where you come from to find out where you’re going
The view of yourself: a source of physical and personal development
I often make connections between personal development and solo hiking.
First, because hiking itself – and more broadly, long trek hikes – are sources of personal growth. Second, because the way you look at the world is crucial in both areas.
To become a better person for yourself and others, you must begin by looking inside yourself (introspection and self-knowledge).
But the outside look is also essential.
Because sometimes you can’t change certain stressful situations, but you can ALWAYS change the way you look at them. To decide to experience them in the most pleasant way possible.
When you struggle on a steep hill, you tend to look down, and it’s natural.
Looking far away and around you, observing the landscape, you will be immersed in the walking. You’ll have more fun.
And if you look back, you’ll see how far you’ve come. (In life, it’s the same!). It will encourage you, and the feeling of effort will decrease.
Attention: a prerequisite for orientation and safety
We just saw why the way you look at things is essential when hiking. It’s nice to relax and sweep the landscape with your eyes. But you also need to pay more attention to your environment whether it’s a general atmosphere or the details.
Thus, you record some essential elements (I go north along this molar-shaped massif) that will later allow you to find your way back.
Intuition in women and sensitive people often helps in decision-making. This intuition is based on concrete facts (verbal or body language of your interlocutor, the experience of a situation).
When hiking, analyze your first “impressions” to find the elements on which they are based and validate (or not) your intuition.
By using all your senses, in addition to sight, you will prevent any inconvenience.
For example, if you are in the mountains, the risk of sudden weather changes is increased compared to the plains.
Paying attention to the air temperature, nature, and the number of clouds, the rising wind, ambient noise, will allow you to detect the warning signs of a storm. It will let you make a prudent decision (turn back or change your route).
The more attention you pay to the present moment, the more pleasure you take, the higher the dopamine level in your brain, the more enjoyable, smooth and quiet the hike will be. It’s a virtuous circle.
Animals: the danger is not where you think it is
Men have largely decimated natural predators (bears, lynx, wolves). They are not to be feared in most parts of Europe (in the U.S. and Canada bear encounters can be more frequent) because they do not approach humans they fear and have nocturnal habits.
On the other hand, you must pay attention to more familiar animals, but which can be dangerous in certain circumstances: wild sows (female wild boars) when they are with their young, also some cows.
Generally speaking, you should never cross a herd as this can panic the animals and alert the sheepdogs.
Some shepherd dogs have already bitten hikers who did not go around their herd. When a sheepdog approaches you, you must not make any aggressive gesture, avoid looking him in the eyes (a sign of aggression) and let him sniff you.
Once he understands that you pose no danger to the animals he protects, he will leave. So, if you are afraid of dogs, go around the herds as widely as possible.
Ticks are smaller but very annoying and can cause Lyme disease. If you walk in tall grass, inspect your legs at the end of the day.
Bivouac: comfort, safety, and cleanliness
I can only encourage you to bivouac, that is, sleep in the middle of nature for one night, from dusk to dawn. It’s a magical experience.
I will mention here a few typically feminine aspects.
Leave no distinctive sign outside the camp
I remain convinced (derived from personal experience) that dangerous individuals are not in the wilderness, but in the city.
But if you want to be reassured on your first night out, be sure to leave NO distinctive signs of femininity and/or solitariness outside the camp.
No panties that dry on the rope of the tent, no single cooking set in front of your anteroom, no 36 size hiking shoes (besides, this will save you from continuing barefoot because of a fox thief), etc.
Don’t leave food outside either; it can attract wild animals. Pack everything in a plastic bag to avoid odors and keep it in the tent.
Once you are in your tent, no one can know if it is a man, a woman, or even a group sleeping inside.
You can relax with peace of mind.
Leave nature as you would like to find it
How to do your business in nature?
It is a taboo but necessary subject. Doing your business is as natural as sleeping or eating. Our embarrassment in evoking it is purely cultural — another point in common with personal development: some psychological blocks to overcome.
Our habit of using toilet paper is not the best in environmental and hygienic terms. In some Middle Eastern countries (Jordan for example), you will not find toilet paper in the toilet but a cleaning jet. When you eat in the desert (with your fingers), if the use of the left hand (the impure hand) is prohibited, it is not for nothing. It is simply the hand that cleans.
So I chose to apply these good habits during my bivouacs. I always take a plastic cycling bottle with me. I clean myself with a jet of water and add a drop of liquid soap when necessary. After that, it is enough for me to wedge the bottle between the legs by exerting pressure with the knees, to wash my hands, without wasting water.
I never use tissues or toilet paper. I’m angry to see so many lying around near paths and behind the slightest bush. It may be paper, but it takes a long time to decompose. And it’s repulsive to the people coming after you.
For the night, I looked for a long time for a solution not to have to leave my shelter. Now, I deal with it. A few moments in the cold make me appreciate even more the warmth of my sleeping bag. And sometimes I linger to watch the stars and listen to the nightlife.
If you are curious, you can always try this little accessory. Women use it to pee standing upright in group outdoor sports when there is no other way to do it (mountain climbing, mountaineering, cross-country skiing). Some non-sporting women use it in public toilets for hygiene reasons.
We are the equals of men on this side too.
When it comes to hygiene in New Zealand, they are not kidding around. Their public restrooms are the cleanest I’ve ever seen. In some national parks, you must purchase a “poo pot.” You risk a hefty fine if you do not return the filled box for disposal where intended.
In other natural areas, you are asked to dig a hole of about 20 cm to do your business. You can buy small trowels for this purpose in any outdoor store.
It is a good habit to take to preserve the beauty of nature and especially to avoid the propagation of bacteria or parasites found in fecal matter. The ideal is to find a place far from a path, from a watercourse, and if possible in the sun so that the decomposition is faster.
But sometimes the ground is too hard to dig. In this case, the soil at the foot of the conifers will do; it is particularly soft.
Then cover the hole with a stone when possible to prevent an animal from digging.
If you are in a rocky area, put yourself in a hole between two rocks, and use another small stone to cover your things. They will dry out and decompose due to the elements, without contaminating sources.
How to manage your period when hiking?
It is best to hike outside during this period. But if menstruation comes unexpectedly, you must be farsighted. So have a freezer bag for this use, keep a few tampons or a cup if you can stand it. Add another plastic bag for garbage, and you’re done.
Make sure you leave no trace behind. A hollow in the rocks often makes a comfortable bathroom out of sight. Just squat down and lean on one of them to wash comfortably.
Every hike is a new learning experience, and as long as you are well prepared, confident and want to go, nothing bad will happen to you.
Many women hike or travel alone. The best way to test itinerant hiking is indeed a two-day hike.
For me, I never feel as at home as when I’m in the mountains. I feel a deep fulfillment there, and as Tricia M. Parker, a licensed mental health counselor so nicely wrote about it, I find awe in solo hiking. And an acute awareness of being only a modest and fragile particle in this grandiose nature.
It is where the power of hiking in the mountains comes in: to strengthen both your sense of confidence and your humility.
Being in nature makes you feel part of the world while making you feel deep respect for your environment.
I strongly encourage you to try this experience and come back here to share your progress.
Hey Lara! This is very insightful, detailed, and complete. I’ve never hiked alone and looks like I am not yet 100% ready to do so. Perhaps in the future. Saving this for future reference. Cheers!
Liz Chambers says
Lara, agree so much. Slowing down is so hard for me sometimes, and many times a good multiday trek is the best treatment I’ve found. Nature has a way of resetting things. Thanks for sharing all your insights and experience!
Lara Sein says
Thanks Liz, yes nature is the answer.
Rinjani Foundation says
Travelling to unfamiliar territory frequently presents new and exotic experiences to you. Your trek may take you into direct contact with new cultures.
Lara Sein says
I agree with you, discovering new cultures is the ultimate experience when hiking in new countries.