When it comes to hiking Springer Mountain to Mount Katahdin, many people are under the impression that you have to hike with a large group in order to be safe. This is not true! Many people choose to start their journey alone but find a tramily to trek with, so is it safe to hike the Appalachian Trail alone?
Yes, though this can come with some caveats regarding taking precautions, learning to trust your gut, and understanding the animal life and other possible dangers. For many, hiking the entire trail is a perfect excuse to finally break away from the masses find their way, and build self-confidence.
Hiking solo is perfectly safe and is encouraged for many; however, some precautions must be taken. You should never go out into the woods without telling someone where you’re going and your itinerary so they know when they can expect to see or hear from you again.
Wildlife Concerns When Hiking Solo
There is a wide array of reasons that cause people to be scared, afraid, or just nervous about traveling by themselves on a trail. Some can be media scare jobs on people, some worry about animals, many fear being lost and then there is hitchhiking which causes people stress and anxiety.
Scared of People
We all know how the fear pushes happen about wild bush people or similar who kidnap and kill people “all the time” in the woods, but this is all just more a hype machine than based on overall truth.
Just like in your neighborhood or big city, there probably are less trustworthy people, that’s basically unavoidable but we hikers like and care for each other so if you’re in distress, the best is to look for someone around and call them over.
The reality is very different from what is being reported on TV or in newspapers: violent crimes against AT hikers are extremely rare. The majority of people you encounter on the trail will be friendly and willing to help.
If you do encounter someone who is giving off bad vibes or is making you feel uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to get yourself out of there by any means necessary.
Scared of Animals
This nervousness or anxiousness is pretty well-founded in our ancestry, animals and insects have a long history of causing issues for people, and since we live in cities and don’t see them frequently, it only increases these feelings.
In truth, most animals don’t want anything to do with you in the first place as you are larger and pose an equal threat in their eyes to them, this is true for smaller animals to larger animals like bears.
Then there are other on-trail scary encounters like snakes, many appear to worry about snakes, but much like other animals they want nothing to do with you and will typically try to move away though many times not as fast as you would prefer.
Outside of these, the most common real worry is bugs like ticks and the chance they could give you Lyme disease, but is it truly something to worry about? Most ticks won’t burrow let alone be carriers, but you do need to do a full check every day after hiking in known tick areas as well as treating all clothes with permethrin is recommended.
Worried About Being Lost
Another critical worry for nearly anyone, when they head deep out on trails, is the possibility of getting lost and not being able to find their way back and out, this is a fantastic stressor and causes people to decide to not even start due to fear.
While it is possible to get lost, this requires leaving the trail and losing directionality as to the path back, like when you dig a cat hole for a bathroom trip. Beneficially, with our current technology, you can easily manage this with a GPS locator to always know your location or call in rescue services.
A big fear for many will be hitchhiking as you are told that they will always try to abduct you, but as usual in this section, this is far overblown and nowhere near factual for the great majority of all hitches taken.
There may be concerns with taking a hitch into town, but overall, the hitch is a very safe way to travel and get around when you are looking to get into town and back for little cost, though many hostels offer rides to people who stay.
In reality, there are far more dangers while driving in your car on the Interstate than when you’re standing by the side of the road, thumbing for a ride.
Solo Female Hiking: Assessing the Risks
Overall more women hikers than men worry about hiking alone or their family and friends will worry more as female hikers are frequently presented as “targets” in the media but for the most part, the trail is a safe place for everyone and makes sure everyone is cared for.
Is It Safe to Hike Alone as a Woman?
Are there some concerns for women, I would say yes, there are always concerns for women, but they’re largely centered around the fear of assault or attack and less around actual attacks in general.
There is no one easy answer to this question as safety is relative and depends on many factors such as your experience, knowledge level, preparation, and where you are hiking.
That being said, some general things are a good idea to follow when hiking alone as a woman.
For one it is always preferable to hike around with other people or in group settings, if looking for that solo adventure then have places where you tell those you trust where you expect to be so people also can keep an eye out on your behalf.
This is generally a good idea for anyone, is to have some tracking and a way for you to contact someone if needed.
The general concerns are still the same though, which are physical injury and inability to get where you need to go and getting lost and being unable to find the trail as the most common issues.
Yes, There Are Still Bad People
I can’t skip the part where predators are in the city or on the trail. There is always the possibility that you will run into someone with bad intentions, and it is something you should always be aware of.
Predators look for the weak, they look for those who are solo or seem not to have a clue what they’re doing, and as a woman, you may present as an easier target.
These people will tend to target outsider who works not to be part of groups as they won’t be missed, and women and men are much more targeted when they appear weaker in stature as they appear to be simpler targets, much like a wildlife animal predator.
Should This Stop an Attempted Thru-Hike
No, this is one of those things is that is blown way out of proportion and is a fear-mongering tactic.
The Appalachian Trail is well-trafficked very well-traveled, and thousands upon thousands of people do this trip every year with little or no issues at all.
There is the remote possibility that you will experience something bad, but statistically, it is far more likely that you will not encounter anything but awesome memories and experiences.
Why Some Hikers Choose to Hike Alone
So why would someone hike alone with all the issues and problems listed above? Well for many it is their first time with a chance to really be fully free from others, a chance to start finding themselves and taking in nature.
For others, it will be a way to build self-confidence and reliance on themselves as they have no one to lean on versus a large support system they may have at home, or maybe just building self-worth and value.
Solitude & Freedom
On a trail, you become isolated from the noises of life, with no one to bother you and no noise in your head. For a hiker, this allows solitude and mental clarity to creep in and thoughts and memories to get pulled back from the reaches of your mind.
Many later recall some memories long-buried very vividly due to the quiet and the brain’s chance to finally process information long stored, having no family, phone, or other things to cause mental disturbances is empowering.
For most hikers, this will be their first taste of pure freedom from all these life-consuming tasks like school and day jobs, and that freedom can do amazing things.
To get out into nature is a deep calling in many. The choice to get out and explore is a tremendous thing, and to be able to find yourself in nature is a great gift.
Hiking alone is just one of those ways that many choose as it allows them the freedom from others and their schedules, thoughts, and issues. They can truly embrace all nature has to offer without having another person influence how they experience things.
There have been many studies that show an increase in subjects’ overall mood with time spent in nature and away from the busy world that typically surrounds us. So take that time, gain some mood enhancement and find out why people love getting off the grid and away from it all.
Build Self-Confidence & Reliance
When you are alone, you have to rely entirely on yourself for everything in life. This is empowering and a great boost to self-confidence because there is no one else who is going to get you out of trouble when something happens.
Building self-reliance is lacking in this day and age, as people are afraid to go out on their own and take accountability for their actions, always looking for someone to shift the blame to.
Exploring makes you learn those vital skills and become more confident in yourself and your decisions, both the good and the bad, as you will have to live with them.
Build Self Worth Through Accomplishment
Society has an issue with people finding self-worth and value in their outstanding accomplishments, and many people find it hard to do anything without some form of external validation.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail is a great accomplishment that can open up opportunities for hikers to find a strong sense of self-worth and value outside of what is typically given by society.
This isn’t an accomplishment only for the fittest people on earth, the smartest brains, nor some specialized skill only a few possess. This trail is completed by willpower and determination. When others quit you get to choose to stay, building the most valuable muscle of all, your mind.
Tips For Hiking Solo Safely
Some stubborn myths hold people up, but they are slowly being seen as myths with YouTubers and people broadcasting their hikes and showing that the trail is a friendly and perfect place to reboot you.
Someone Has to Teach You How To Backpack
Mostly from people who don’t want to hike, your family, for example, will try to use the lack of training as a reason to have you stop. While it is a great idea to get some training, you don’t need it at all, and there is no prerequisite on the Appalachian Trail.
You learn while you go is how this trail is done by most people, they gain skills as they hike, learning skills that are highly practical for wilderness survival like orienteering, backcountry cooking, and first aid.
It is Difficult To Find Water & Food
This is a common one that is easily debunked by looking at where the trail goes and also talking with people who have completed the hike themselves. There is an abundance of water sources on the Appalachian Trail as well as trail towns that dot the way with resupply points.
Since the trail has a run of town to town you never need to carry more than around 7 days of food with you at the longest, otherwise, you will quickly have access to purchase more food in town, and with water filtration, you will be able to get water multiple times per day.
There Are Few People On the Trail With You
A lot of individuals feel that the trail is super wilderness and they will not encounter people for most of the trek, while you can choose to avoid shelters and areas that have lots of active people you will not frequently go long periods of time without running into others.
Short of starting well before the main bubble or way afterward your thru-hike will involve many people and you will be leap-frogging other hikers on the trail for nearly 2200 miles, you may start alone but few end the trail alone unless traveling SOBO slowly finding a trail family with fellow hikers.
Safety Considerations for Solo Hikers
There are some ways you can ensure yourself the best experience as a solo hiker on the Appalachian Trail, and by following these guidelines, you can help mitigate any risks that are associated with hiking alone.
Be Aware Of Your Skillset
Any long-distance hiker should know their skillset and their personal limitations, this is key for any hike but especially for a solo hike when you are the only one responsible for your safety.
Know The Weather And Prepare Accordingly
One of the biggest dangers while hiking is being caught in bad weather, as a solo hiker it is even more important to be aware of incoming storms and take measures to protect yourself from the elements.
This means bringing the right gear for the anticipated weather and enough gear to survive any weather thrown at you planned or not, this means getting high-quality gear items that can produce warmth and keep you dry at a minimum.
Being on the trail and getting sweaty and hot, then having temperatures drop down by 20-30 degrees can easily lead to hypothermic-like issues, knowing how to live with rain and getting wet will be vital to an Appalachian Trail thru-hike being successful or not.
Know Your Gear
No hiker should leave out on the trail without taking the time to thoroughly practice with their gear and to learn all of their good and bad points, this is especially important if you are a solo hiker.
By doing this, you will know how to use all of your gear in emergency situations and will be confident in using it when the time comes, additionally, proper packing is key for any hike but even more so when hiking solo as everything is on your back.
I can tell you when it is raining heavily and you are 10 hours in knowing how to fast and effectively set up camp and get yourself out of the rain is a valuable skill.
Plan Your Route and Tell Someone Where You’re Going
One of the best ways you can ensure your safety while hiking solo is by planning out your route and telling someone where you will be going, this way if something does happen they will know where to start looking for you.
It is best to tell your family and friends about your planned route as well, but also a good idea is to leave notes in trail journals as this can provide vital information should you disappear, these clues can be vital to isolating a search area.
This is particularly important if starting solo as there is no one else who is going to be looking out for you on the trail, by doing these things you are increasing the chances that if something does happen someone will know where to find you.
With the personal locators nowadays you can actually broadcast your path of travel to people you provide the link to or have texts sent at camp or other points to keep them in the loop to your location, something we could never do a decade ago!
Bring A Map and Compass
One of the best ways to ensure your safety while hiking solo is by bringing a map and compass with you, this way if something happens you will be able to navigate back to safety or at least be aware of where you are and how far it is back.
This is important because hikers can easily get lost on the trail, especially in bad conditions that make following the trail more difficult than normal, while the Appalachian Trail is well marked there is always a chance that markings may have been covered up or are no longer there.
Trust Your Gut
Humans have a long history and our bodies and minds are still designed to give us warnings when something is not right, as a solo hiker it is important to always be aware of these feelings and act accordingly.
If you are feeling unsafe for any reason, trust that feeling and do what is necessary to get yourself out of the situation, this may mean turning back or finding an alternate route. By doing this you are keeping yourself safe and also avoiding putting yourself in a potentially dangerous situation.
Final Thoughts on Solo Hiking
Hiking is a fantastic way to get back in touch with nature, but it is important that you take the proper precautions while solo hiking. One of the best ways to keep yourself safe is by planning your route and telling someone where you are going before setting out on your hike.
It is also advisable not to go alone if possible as there will be no one else who can help should anything happen. If you do decide to go solo, make sure you have all the necessary gear for any situation that may arise, including plenty of food!
You never know when bad weather or dangerous wildlife could pose a threat; always trust your gut instinct and turn around at any sign of trouble so as not to put yourself into an even more precarious position.
Did I miss anything you find valuable? If so please comment below and I would love to talk about it!