I’m a solo female adventurer.
People have often told me never to hike or explore alone. However, I have an unusual work schedule that doesn’t often match my friends’. And I enjoy sports, like mountain biking, trail running and other activities that I can’t always recruit friends to do with me. I’m not the type of person to let that stop me. Instead, I try to be smart and safe. Over the years I’ve cultivated a list of things I do to stay safe. The info in this article isn’t meant to scare or discourage you from recreating solo. In contrast…it’s meant to give you the skills and the awareness to successfully tackle any outdoor pursuit you want to, even if it means you have to be solo!
#1: Situational awareness One of the most valuable tools you have is your situational awareness, or, knowing what is going on around you. Criminals target individuals who seem scared, timid or oblivious to their surroundings. Always be aware of your surroundings and the people and/or animals in them. Awareness gives you the ability to change course if something up ahead doesn’t look right to you. And try to maintain awareness in situations where you are uncertain. For example, even if you don’t know where you’re going don’t look lost! Walk, hike or ride with confidence so you don’t look like an easy target. #2: Tell someone where you’re going So, if you choose to adventure solo, then make sure you tell someone where you’re going, including: *Parking location *Your approximate route *Estimated finish time If you use smart devices like the apple iPhone or a Garmin watch you can share your location with loved ones or use live tracking so they can find you. If your device requires a cell connection to show your location, you will at least provide them with your last known location prior to going off grid if anything happens.
#3: Don’t always take the same route #3 applies more to your daily runs or dog walks. Avoid taking the same route every time you leave your front door. Criminals thrive on routine - you don’t want someone to know that you’ll be on a particular bike path every day at the same time. A side note: if you use apps like Strava or Map My Run make sure you set a privacy screen around your home. You can go into the settings function and set a distance from 1/4 - 1 mile radius around your home that will be hidden from your maps if you begin an activity from your home. You can watch my full video on how to do this step-by-step here. Why should you do this? If you don’t, anyone who follows you on Strava tap into a satellite view of your run and literally see the house from which you started. We don’t want that! Check the privacy settings in the tracking app you use to determine if you can hide your starting point. #4: Don’t travel during peak animal hours I try to avoid solo wilderness activities at dusk or dawn, when animals are most active. #5: Be prepared for all weather Even if you don’t plan to be out for long, pack extra snacks and appropriate layers.
#6 Wear bright clothing My friend Lucy always reminds me of this tip and I love it. If you go missing while on a trail and the police ask other hikes if they’ve seen you, no one is going to remember a lady in all black or other standard clothing. However, they might remember the lady in the bright pink shirt and leopard print hiking tights! My point is, wear something that stands out so people will remember encountering you should anything go awry.
#7 Carry a personal safety device There are lots of options when it comes to personal protection. I choose to carry
a simple personal alarm and pepper spray. The alarm can be hooked on my backpack for easy access. It has a simple pull tie that emits a shrill alarm when activated. In my opinion, in an encounter with a dangerous person (or perhaps animal) I need an element of surprise to get away. The alarm gives me that time.
Other personal safety devices include: Pepper spray - My small pepper spray can be carried or attached to my backpack. You should try to buy a spray that includes a test can so you can try it out and understand how it works. Bear spray - I will carry this in the spring when bears begin to come out of hibernation or if there have been recent sightings where I am hiking. Make sure you research how to properly use bear spray. Knife or other weapon - I don’t personally carry another weapon because I don’t trust my ability to effectively use them and don’t want the weapon to become a liability that can actually be used on me.
Emergency beacon - There are emergency beacons that function with satellites. These items are great because you can manually send check-ins to loved ones, you can call EMS and more. I currently have a Spot I use when biking into the back country but I find it counter-intuitive and clunky. I am currently looking at purchasing a Garmin InReach mini for my next emergency beacon. #8: Learn a grappling sport and practice it regularly I listen to a lot of podcasts. You could call me a podcast junkie. A consistent piece of advice I hear from experts in the military is the best skill you can learn to protect yourself is a grappling sport, like jiu jitsu. Self defense courses are valuable. I’ve taken several. However, after attending the class I never use those skills again (I should be grateful I’ve never had to)! After taking several one day courses I don’t think I’d remember most of the teachings if faced with an attacker now. Instead my goal this year is to start taking jiu jitsu on a regular basis, so I learn self-defense for all situations and practice the skills until they are in my muscle memory. There are lots of martial arts and grappling sports out there, so try out a few and find what works for you.
#9: Listen to your spidey senses Do you ever get the sense that something isn’t right? You feel the hair on your arms and the back of your neck raise up? Something in your gut is telling you “get out of here!” This voice is your intuition and you should listen to it! I feel like we’re taught to ignore that voice these days. You are hiking and you see an individual that makes you feel uncomfortable we’re taught, don’t be rude. Don’t turn around or alter your path. That person might get offended! Or you might seem mean. In my opinion, who cares!? This is your safety and your life we’re talking about. Your intuition warns you for an important reason and you should learn how to tap into it and listen. And I always weigh the risk to reward of any outdoor activity you're planning to do solo. I hope you take away a few key ways to stay safe in the great outdoors.
Now go find a little adventure!