I fell in love with solo hiking (or solo walking as it's called in the UK) when I went to the Lake District in 2009.
Since then, hiking has become a big part of most trips I take.
Most of my solo hikes were simply about slowing down and enjoying my destination at a different pace. On solo hikes, more than when hiking with companions, you experience sounds and smells as well as sights that you might otherwise miss. It's also relaxing. It offers time to think about things. It can be as spiritual as it is physical.
I usually create my own itinerary and carry everything with me. This spring, my walking tour will be somewhat more luxurious as I'm going on a self-guided tour, Rivers and Chateaux of the Loire Walk, with Exodus Travels. They plan the trip, book my accommodation, and move my luggage. I simply have to follow their plan.
Whether you're going solo on your own itinerary, enjoying a self-guided trip as I will take this spring, or joining a walking tour, there are a few things you need to know.
Buy the Necessary Hiking Gear
Before you go on your hiking trip you'll want to know that your trip will be a success. You'll want to be in shape for the type of trails and paths you'll face and you'll want to have the right gear.
- Buy good quality hiking boots or shoes. You want to get the boots and shoes you'll be hiking in long before you leave so that you can break them in and know that your feet will be comfortable. I have both hiking boots and hiking shoes. I wear my boots if I'll be hiking trails day after day. I wear the shoes if I'll be hiking for just a few days here and there. My Berghaus hiking boots are waterproof, which I think is essential, and have an excellent tread. I love them! My Merrell hiking shoes are like running shoes in style except that they offer far more stability than a running shoe. I would never consider taking runners instead. Depending on your luck with the sales, you’ll pay between $80 and $200.
- Hiking poles save knees. I was introduced to hiking poles by an orthopaedic nurse from the UK. She said that while they have traditionally been for older people, given the rise in the number of knee replacements at younger ages, there is a movement to get everyone using poles. I tried them and they really do take the pressure off your knees.
- Socks protect your feet. Proper hiking socks breathe, offer better support, and protect you from blisters. You need at least two pairs with you. Try to wash the pair you've just worn every night and let them air dry tied to your pack the next day. That way you'll have a fresh pair every day.
- Definitely have good quality rain gear. A rain jacket and pants are musts. Without them, you may have to call off some hikes. With them, they won't compensate for sunshine but they will keep you dry and cozy.
- Carry a whistle. Whistles are very useful if you get lost. Read the safety section below.
Train for Your Hike
- Go for a walk. You may think you’re fit but long distance walking can be a surprising challenge. I am fortunate to have Lake Ontario nearby. That's where I walk five mornings a week.
- Get out of town and hike. Regardless of how much city walking you do, it's important to get out of the city, on uneven terrain, with hills and valleys to challenge you and roots to trip over.
- Stretch. A lot of walking will make your hips tight. In my case they got very tight. I was shocked a few years back when, after walking all winter, I had trouble lifting my leg over the seat of my bicycle in the spring. That's how tight I got. I've also learned that this tightness, complicated by having a job where I sit all the time, has compromised my lower back and Piriformis muscle. I now stretch a lot. If you want to look them up, here's the routine given to me by my chiropractor: lying trunk rotation, gluteal stretch, seated twist, hip flexors lunge, and then a press up back extension, which is simply lying on my stomach and lifting onto my forearms. It takes about 20 minutes to do them as I hold each pose a long time.
- Strengthen forgotten muscles. About six months ago I started working with a trainer and I learned just how many muscles I ignore daily. Strengthening legs for hiking is about strengthening the glutes as well. I'm amazed how they make me stronger as I lift myself up onto large rocks and the like. Don't ignore your core either–or any other part of your body for that matter.
Hike Solo, Pack Light
Hiking partners have another person to rely on. If you forget something, there’s a good chance your partner has it in his or her pack.
Hike solo and it's all up to you.
When my trip is going to include a lot of hiking, I travel with a day pack and a backpack.
My backpack is 36 litres. It meets most airline carry-on standards (which works in dimensions, not litres, so be careful when deciding on your pack) and restricts just how much I can carry. This is helpful as I don't want to be moving around with a pack so heavy that it makes my trip miserable.
When I pack my carry-on suitcase, I do it the night before. No worries. Read Bare Minimum Packing: Here’s Your Packing List. But when I'm going to carry a backpack, I start earlier. I scrutinize the pile I want to pack and take pieces (and weight) away from it day after day.
Where to Hike Solo
You don't have to take on Mount Everest to enjoy a spectacular hike. You don't have to walk across England to experience that country's walking culture. Hiking and walking are available to all at just about any fitness level. You just need to know your own strength and stamina so that you plan a successful trip.
There are so many spectacular hiking destinations in the world. Here are just a few posts that will give you information on hiking in specific locations. Most are about day hikes.
- Plitvice Lakes, Croatia: Sprinklers and Waterfalls
- The Spectacular Isle of Skye Without a Car
- Solo Travel Destination: The West Highland Way, Scotland
- Beyond Sydney: Bushwalking in the Blue Mountains
- Solo Travel Destination: The Great Walks of New Zealand
- Solo Travel Destination: Isle of Wight, England
- Hike with Me in Patagonia – 18 photos
- Another Hiking Humiliation and Then… Redemption
- Solo Travel Destination: Cinque Terre National Park, Italy
- London and the Lake District: 12-Day Itinerary
- Solo Walking: the South West Coast of England in Photos
- Pic of the Week: The Wave
- Solo Travel Destination: Moab, Utah, United States
- Meetup.com Got me Hiking in Hong Kong: And It Was #$@&%*! Hard!
- Of Gobbins and Giants: Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route
Solo Safety on Hiking Trails
Some trails are quiet, which is wonderful. Solitude is often what we seek as we travel solo. But when hiking, things can happen. We have to think of safety as well. Here are a few rules that I hike by.
- Plan the hike and let someone know the plan. This is the most basic of rules. Plan where you're going to go and leave the information with someone responsible. Whether that's your hostel manager, a note in your room or a text to a friend, make sure that someone knows your plan and make sure that you stick to the plan.
- Take water and food. It doesn't have to be a lot of food, but carry something with you in case you get off the trail or that restaurant you were anticipating at the halfway mark is closed. You need to have something to sustain you in case something goes wrong.
- Know when sunset is and how long your hike is. Make sure that your plan gets you back well before the light leaves.
- Know the trail markers. These can vary from country to country, so know what the trail markers mean before you head out.
- Notice how busy the trail is. If you're seeing people every five minutes or so, you don't have much to worry about. Should something go wrong, someone will be along soon and be able to help. If you seem quite alone on the trail, take extra precautions.
- Stay on the trail. You may be tempted to divert to a waterfall, but stay on the planned route.
- If animals are a concern… People who hike together make noise. They chat. Hiking solo is a quiet activity. Take a bell or a whistle with you if you have any concern about animals. Bear spray may be a good idea too.
- Crossing rivers or streams. Take the extra steps to use the bridge. If none is available, go where the water is shallow. A deep, fast-moving stream can easily knock you over.
- Take note of landmarks. Yes, you need to watch your step but look up. See what's around you. Enjoy the beauty. And, as you do, take note of landmarks that will help guide you back if need be.
- If you get lost… S.T.O.P
- S – Stay calm. Relax, sit down, and take a sip of water, breathe slowly.
- T – Think. Get out your map and see what you can learn.
- O – Observe. Look for landmarks, look for footprints.
- P – Plan. If you know the route, go carefully and mark your trail along the way.
- And if you're really unsure, stay in one place. It's a rule of the woods. You're easier to find that way. Periodically blow your whistle three times. Three blasts of the whistle is an international distress call.
Not So Solo Hiking and Walking Holidays
You can plan your own hikes, but if you want walking to be your main mode of transportation, you may want to join a walking tour or use the services of a company offering self-guided tours. From France to Japan to Patagonia, you'll find companies that will give you the extraordinary experience of a hiking holiday without the planning and with greater ease, as your gear is transported between towns.