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When I moved to Portland, Oregon in 2014 it seemed that everyone I met was an outdoor enthusiast. Weekend rafting trips, multi-day hiking trips, summits over glaciated mountainsides, all of it was fair game. And yet, when I would express my own interest in these activities, hoping to be invited on the next weekend excursion, it always seemed to fall on deaf ears. After months of dropping subtle hints to my more adventurous friends, I finally came to the conclusion that if I wanted to have an adventure I’d have to have it myself.
While there’s nothing better than getting a big group of friends together for an overnight camping trip or a long day hike, having the confidence to hike solo can be an invaluable component ito your outdoor experiences. You can change plans on a whim, there’s no carpool to coordinate and the pace is completely yours to set. But going out into the wilderness alone can be daunting, not to mention down-right scary. But have no fear, there’s plenty you can do to make your solo hike a success.
If you’re brand new to hiking try starting with a shorter hike (less than 5 miles) on a well-populated trail with minimal elevation gain. This will help you establish your baseline – not to mention break in those new hiking boots.
Bring the essentials
The Essentials or what seasoned hikers refer to as the “10 Essentials.” are ten items that should help you through any number of unforeseen events – or better, keep you from experiencing such events all together.
Do your research
There are a ton of websites out there to help you make the most of your trip, and if you’re ever in doubt – call the ranger station. Remember that the US Forest Service, US Parks Department and most government agencies in particular tend to have more important things to do than to update the trail conditions on their website regularly. There is truly no substitute for the first-hand knowledge that park staff provide.
Be sure to check weather, permit requirements, and where the nearest facilities (water, groceries, gas) are to the trailhead.
Tell a friend
Let a trusted friend, coworker, or family member know what your plans are for the day – and do your best to stick to those plans. Let them know what trailhead you plan to start from and when they should expect to hear back from you. Remember that many trails have spotty or no cell phone service, so don’t plan on being able to text them from the trailhead – or even necessarily the road leading to the trailhead. And remember, when you do get done with your hike and have access to cell service – give them a call! There’s nothing worse than that feeling of dread when a loved one hasn’t shown up when you expected them to.
Embrace the obstacles.
No matter how much planning and research you put into your trip there will always be unexpected surprises. Some of them will be good and some will not. Try to embrace these challenges, they tend to be the best learning experiences and they’ll almost certainly be great stories.
If you follow steps 1-4, these challenges should be manageable. Got a painful blister? No worries, you packed a first aid kit and you’re only a few miles from the trailhead. Got rained-out unexpectedly? All good, you brought your 10 essentials and have extra layers. Took a wrong turn on the trail? Time to pull out your map.
I’ve been in plenty of scary-at-the-moment circumstances in the wilderness (like that time I got my parents and I lost in the Mount Hood National Forest, for example). At the end of the day a good attitude, quick thinking, and a willingness to be flexible with my plans helped to get me through.
Well, that and the cold post-trail beer I always keep in my trunk. Perhaps “Trunk Beer” should be its own tip.
Suggestions? Questions? Other great tips for first timers? Leave ‘em below.