5 Situations to Protect Yourself from While Solo Hiking

You’ve done your research and found the per­fect hike for this week­end. It has every­thing! A riv­er, water­fall, for­est canopy, and the much-need­ed soli­tude to reset your mind and soul. Sat­ur­day final­ly rolled its way to you and you’re ready. The car is fueled, hik­ing snacks packed, camel pack filled, and off you go!

One thing often over­looked, is that the soli­tude we des­per­ate­ly crave and trav­el great lengths to find often serves as a cat­a­lyst for dan­ger. With great soli­tude and remote­ness comes great vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. Below are five sce­nar­ios and the prepa­ra­tion you have for them.

The Lone Wolf
It’s an unfor­tu­nate truth that some indi­vid­u­als prey on the vul­ner­a­ble. When you’re an hour from the car hik­ing by your­self, you’re inher­ent­ly vul­ner­a­ble. I’ve observed numer­ous “out of place” indi­vid­u­als that are at least 30 min­utes from the car along a trail appear­ing to be up to no good. After liv­ing in Cos­ta Rica I start­ed hik­ing with a small machete. Once I moved back to the US I real­ized that my machete did a lot more than help me clear jun­gle and man­age snakes. It was a clear and strong mes­sage that I’m not an easy mark and to leave me be. I’ve been very hap­py to have had the machete rest­ing in its sheath on my hip in clear view when I encoun­tered a group of men on a trail that looked like they were look­ing for a vic­tim. Not today…

Bears
Remote­ness = wilder­ness (and all that comes with it.) Bears are a nec­es­sary piece of the for­est of which you find reprieve. In most instances, bears have lit­tle to no inter­est in you. How­ev­er, if you’re car­ry­ing food, smell par­tic­u­lar­ly deli­cious, or run into a mama bear, then your expe­ri­ence will like­ly be much more dra­mat­ic. Unless you’re versed in Kendo, I doubt your machete will help you much with a bear. Instead, make sure you’re equipped with a bear whis­tle and/or bear spray* so you can deter the bear from a greater dis­tance away. Remem­ber to make your­self big and use a strong voice, “No bear, back up bear!” One clever trick to man­age a bear that approach­es your vehi­cle in a car camp­ing sit­u­a­tion is to waft dirty hik­ing clothes near any vents/cracked win­dows.

Cougars
This one’s tricky. If a cougar wants a human snack they can stalk then attack and we wouldn’t know what hit us. That being said, there are ways to iden­ti­fy cougar coun­try and best prac­tices if you’re one of the rare ones to come face to face with a big cat. There are often warn­ing signs at trail­heads if cougars have been spot­ted in the area.

Keep cog­nizant of tracks as you hike. Cougars leave a four-toe print with­out claw marks (since they’re usu­al­ly retract­ed). Also, they often scratch trees to sharp­en their claws and to climb the tree. In fact, cougar spot­tings are often tree­top. Try to make noise while you’re hik­ing. Star­tling cougar isn’t a good intro­duc­tion. Make sure if you do run into a cougar that they’re not backed into a cor­ner, but rather have an escape path. Also, make your­self as big as pos­si­ble while slow­ly back­ing up. Show your teeth and main­tain eye con­tact. Be think­ing of what weapons you can use if they attack (a walk­ing stick, near­by rock, your machete, etc). Hope you have some good kar­ma to see you through. Keep alert after an encounter since they have a ten­den­cy to stalk their prey.

Injury
Yes, even healthy 20 some­things get injured hik­ing. A sim­ple ankle sprain can be life-threat­en­ing if you’re not pre­pared.

Step 1—Tell some­one where you’ll be hik­ing and when you should be home. This is a must. Imag­ine your­self hik­ing in a gor­geous state park when while admir­ing the intri­cate canopy above you mis­step and roll your ankle from the count­less vari­a­tions along the trail. You hear a pop on your way down into agony. No prob­lem, you can reach your phone, right? Nope, no ser­vice. If no one knows where you are, then no one will know when you should be home and where to search and res­cue you.

Step 2—Carry one of the count­less GPS nav­i­ga­tion tools that come equipped with an emer­gency res­cue fea­ture that will send out an S.O.S. to author­i­ties along with your exact GPS loca­tion.

Step 3—Carry the essen­tial wilder­ness first aid items, such as mole skin, emer­gency blan­ket, life straw, gauze, wound dress­ing, Benadryl, up to date epi-pen (if you’re aller­gic to bee stings), ace wrap, and a tri­an­gle ban­dage.

Ele­ments
Always wear/pack lay­ers. Puff jack­ets with omni-heat are insane­ly light and com­pact these days. Pack them in your day pack and expect not to use it. It’s far bet­ter to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Car­ry a plas­tic pon­cho and emer­gency blan­ket (as men­tioned above) in your day­pack. There’s zero chance you will stay warm if you’re wet. Wear reflec­tive cloth­ing and keep an LED head­lamp in your day­pack. This will make it much eas­i­er for res­cue work­ers to locate you from air or ground. Keep a lighter and knife in your day­pack as well. Fire can save your life as can a knife that in com­bi­na­tion with a rock can help make kin­dling, gut a fish, cre­ate your shel­ter, and defend you from poten­tial preda­tors.

* Make cer­tain you’re versed in the laws per­tain­ing to bear spray in the park or state you wish to trav­el to. Bear spray is ille­gal in Cana­da.