Who wants to miss out on views and experiences like this, all because they can't find someone to go with them? There's already enough obstacles so many face in getting out to enjoy the outdoors, why should our fear of being alone and what could happen be one of them? Last post I wrote about the fear of being out there, and that the chance of being attacked (by a person) on the trail was actually extraordinarily low. But when you're out alone, there ARE some precautions you can take to help keep yourself safe - against people, loose dogs, injuring yourself, etc. (note: always read up on the wildlife on the area and prepare accordingly). So read on for some of my own tips and tricks, as well as some from my readers as well!
- Step off the trail when possible to let folks pass, so you have full view of them.
- GPS/Life Link through All Trails - I have a Garmin InReach, which has an SOS button which summons search and rescue, and I can text my family (with coordinates) when I don't have cell service. This is GREAT if you hike alone, where the danger of twisting an ankle or falling means you could need some help.
- A lot of people said get a dog - this is an inbetween for me. Dogs can be a great protector, but they can also cause problems if in a dangerous situation (I'll do a separate post about this). I have a dog. I'd rather take my chances than leave my boo home.
- Mace/Pepper Spray/Bear Spray - I carry bear spray now at all times, because loose dogs. It's in a holster on my belt. If you carry mace or something similar, then keep it handy - around your neck, wrist, etc. NOT in a pocket, and PRACTICE pulling it out!
- Use hiking poles - not only will they save loads of strain on your back and knees, but handy to beat away dogs. They also keep you from slipping and injuring yourself.
- Trust your gut - if you feel uncomfortable, get out of there
- Take a self defense class
- Carry a weapon - if you're going to carry a weapon - from bull whip to knife to gun to stun gun - you need to be experienced in its use. A few hours at the range doesn't count. I mean, I saw a dude running on rocks with an ax at Dolly Sods. Don't do that, my guy. In fact, because it gives you a false sense of security, you may ignore other safety measures that have significantly more impact.
- Snap a pic - sometimes I'll be in a parking lot and there will be someone waiting in a car, which is normal but always weirds me out, so I casually snap a pic of them/license plate and send to husband.
- Tell someone where you are going and when you should be back. EVERY TIME.
- Find a way to quiet your mind - Look, a lot of the fear you feel out there about being alone and what can happen is just that...fear. It's gonna hamper you, and the anxiety can be intense. Find a way to distract yourself - I listen to books on tape (no earpods or just one!!). There's music, talking to yourself, reciting a poem over and over (mine is "he thrusts his fists against the post and still insists he sees the ghost).
- Don't wear earbuds - or only one earbud - you need to be aware of your surroundings.
- Don't be afraid to move on from a conversation - you don't owe anyone anything on the trail. If you aren't comfortable showing a solo-guy on a map where you are, then don't.
- Don't randomly meet up with someone from the internet, because you think hiking with a stranger is safer than hiking alone. Even if a woman, be careful, do your research and meet up ahead of time to check them out. JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE FEMALE DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY MEAN THEY ARE A SAFE STRANGER.
- Don't park next to cars in the parking lot if you can avoid it. And ALWAYS be aware of your surroundings in the parking lot. Don't be distracted here.
The chance of being injured by someone on the trail is extraordinarily low. SO LOW. When I say low, I mean LOW. I had trouble finding any cases at all - really only a handful. Folks are more likely to run in to someone in the parking lot (STILL very very low). Folks are definitely more likely to encounter a loose dog or trip and fall. Be prepared for those situations.
In the end, the more you do it, the more comfortable you'll be. It's natural to feel scared and unsure in the woods - we're taught that being alone is a bad thing and from the time we're kids that the woods hold monsters. Coupled together and WHAM! But while you should be careful and respect your surroundings, you shouldn't let it stop you from getting out there. If I - who has an imagination that goes WILD - can hike in the dark and even do solo trips - can do it, then YOU. CAN. TOO.
Any other tips and tricks of the trade? I know there's more!
The other day, a woman in the hiking fb page I'm part of made a post about being frightened on the trail when she's by herself and asked how others stay safe. Probably a doze or more other women said they also really want to get out and hike, but they are scared to do it alone.
Lots of folks chimed in, with lots of helpful tips. Nearly all the men (and a few ladies) said get a gun. Let me say this - I have no issues with gun ownership. However, very few folks out there are going to be well enough trained to pull a gun under duress/surprise attack and be able to shoot it accurately. I don't carry a gun because, frankly, I'm clumsy and I'm much more likely to get a twig stuck near the trigger and shoot myself. I read somewhere once that under a 100 hours on the range and don't even bother.
After doing some reading, carrying a gun without significant training and practice can also lead to a false sense of security. You have the gun, right? So folks often become lax in keeping up their other safeguards.
And while a number of guys chimed in that they, too, were scared when they first started hiking alone (kudos!), I was surprised to see woman after woman posting. So why so many women? Well, let's be real - society teaches women that it's dangerous for us to go out alone. Rape culture, right? Carry your keys, be aware of your surroundings, etc. It's a real thing. There's safety in numbers. Add the visceral fear humans have of the unknown AND being alone in the woods, and it's easy to see a stranger waiting to hurt us behind every tree.
What's also real, though, is (taken from the Bureau of Justice Statistics):
- Females are generally murdered by people they know.
- In 64% of female homicide cases in 2007, females were killed by a family member or intimate partner.
- In 2007, 24% of female homicide victims were killed by a spouse or ex-spouse; 21% were killed by a boyfriend or girlfriend; and 19% by another family member.
- In an additional 25% of cases in 2007, females were killed by others they knew. An estimated 10% of female murder victims were killed by a stranger.
I tried to google information about crime/attacks on women in National Parks, and frankly couldn't find any (I kept getting information about bison and bear attacks). I tried local state parks in Ohio, and came up with a grand total of 3 instances over forty years - a man with a mask approached a jogger on a trail, but she ran past him; a woman was murdered in a parking lot by someone she knew; and two children were taken to a park from elsewhere and killed. Horrifying.
There were other instances of violence in some urban metropark parking lots, but they involved those that went there for things other than hiking (drug deals, etc.).
Random attacks by strangers in rural areas is lower than those in urban areas. Can something happen on the trails? Sure, of course. Yet, throughout the day, we still walk to the store, go to the movies, take our kids to the park...go about our every day lives. And as we do, most of us don't actually take any precautions at all. We don't even think about it, if it's daylight.
I'm not downplaying these instances or fears by ANY means. But I do believe that you can be a woman (or man) and enjoy the trails on your own, without fear, by taking good safety precautions. We should make sure that our fear of being alone on the trail is proportionate and appropriate, not paralyzing or preventative. We're going to talk about these precautions later on this week. They're also good against animals, too, because to be honest you're more likely to have a run in with wildlife than a person.
Have a tip for safety on the trails when out there alone? Leave it below!