How To Hike The Appalachian Trail Alone Safely

How To Hike The Appalachian Trail Alone Safely

When hiking alone, there are some things you’ll need to take into consideration before setting out on the Appalachian Trail. While hiking in groups might seem to be the safer option overall, you can ensure a higher level of safety if you keep your wits about you and use common sense. Realize that this is never going to be 100%, perfectly safe, and people do die on the trail, and this is definitely not something that’s recommended for inexperienced or first-time hikers.

Hiking The Appalachian Trail Alone

One of the great features of the Appalachian Trail is that they offer the services of caretakers and ridge-runners in the more populated areas, who report back to the Trail managers. There are, however, many locations that are remote, where assistance can take a longer time to get to you.

The visitor center can help you with a lot of information and advice, but you need to do most of the preparing before you even think of leaving your home.

The visitor center can help you with a lot of information and advice, but you need to do most of the preparing before you even think of leaving home. (jpmckenna/flickr)

First time hikers might want to do a trial run with a group or seasoned pro before setting out on their own. With a few precautions, careful planning and an understanding of safety on the trail, you’ll be better prepared to have an enjoyable hike while maintaining your security.

Hiking the AT alone is a wonderful experience if you’re the type who is comfortable with your own thoughts and if you possess great hiking skills and self-reliance, but think twice before bringing a gun with you. Even though it’s legal to carry a firearm with a permit, it’s possible that an attacker will use it against you.

6 Crucial Tips For Hiking Alone As A Woman

It’s important to note that there are concerns for anyone – male or female – when backpacking alone, but there are a few precautions and considerations that women hikers should explore before setting out on their own. The first golden rule is not to spread the news of your trek online or to tell people you don’t trust.

  1. If you’re the type who likes to blog or post about your trips, consider updating your social network once you return or post your updates a few days or a week after you’ve moved on – like a delayed release of information. You don’t want creepy stalkers with nefarious intentions meeting you on the trail.
  2. When you do come across other hikers on the trail, there’s no reason for freaking out straight away. Most hikers are genuine and will just nod, smile and say hello before moving on – unless you strike up a friendship and decide to travel part of the way for a while.
  3. It’s helpful to be a good judge of character and to trust your instincts when a stranger approaches. If you sense that something’s not right, make sure you have a clear path away and tell them that your group is behind you. Don’t show any fear, keep calm and stay in control. An attacker might think twice if you look like you can handle yourself.
  4. When it comes to your pack, try not to carry too much cash if you can help it and don’t bring any jewelry or valuables with you. Think about packing pepper spray, a personal GPS locator and messenger (unless you have your cell phone and charger with GPS capabilities), a portable air horn and a knife.
  5. Familiarize yourself with outdoor blogs written by other female hikers and make sure that once you’re on the trail that you keep your wits about you at all times. A good rule of thumb when camping alone is to camp a mile or more away from the road, seeing as potential attackers will usually arrive at the site via car.
  6. Remember that it’s more likely that you’ll hurt yourself by falling or other accidents on the trail, but that doesn’t mean that you can let your guard down. It also helps to register before you go and keep people you trust updated so you can be easily located if you go missing. It also helps to go hiking with a dog.

Here is a video about Thru-hiking Solo vs Thru-hiking With a Group on the Appalachian Trail:

Solo Backpacking Tips for Everyone

One thing about the AT is that you could go a whole day without bumping into anyone. If you decide to stop at one of the shelters on the trail, stay alert and trust your first impressions if you do meet other backpackers doing the same thing. If you get a bad vibe, you don’t have to stay and can camp somewhere else.

Be careful for American Black Bears, and make sure you learn proper bear protocol and you'll be just fine.

Be careful for American Black Bears, and make sure you learn proper bear protocol and you’ll be just fine. (quiethawkjames/flickr)

As with the advice for women hiking alone, try not to blast your news about your trek all over social media. Of course, it’s important to let people you trust know your itinerary, but you don’t want to attract unsavory characters with mischief or worse in mind. Many backpackers will be carrying hundreds of dollars worth of gear and cash on them, if not thousands, and that’s very attractive to thieves when you’re in the middle of nowhere and easy to track.

Important things to pack for a solo backpacker include either a GPS personal locator/messenger or cell phone with portable charger, a knife, a headlamp, can of pepper spray or other items you might feel will be helpful – like a portable air horn to make a lot of noise, which is also good for scaring off an inquisitive bear.

Keep in mind though, that the gear you bring is only handy if you can get to it quickly and have experience using it. At the end of the day, experience and expertise are the number one tools you’ll need when keeping safe on the trail. Learning bushcraft skills also goes a long way to ensure a great trek.

Solo Hiking Safety Tips

When hiking by yourself, there are many factors to take into consideration, as mentioned in the above sections. Learning how to hike the Appalachian Trail alone means making sure that your safety and survival skills are sound and supported by common sense, without having to develop intense paranoia about other hikers.

  • Trust your instincts: don’t let politeness get in the way of keeping yourself safe.
  • Keep your loved ones posted: register with the trail and report in from time to time.
  • Prepare well in advance: this includes your gear, itinerary, your stops in town, supplies and so on.
  • Think of safety when you pack: Medical kit, a knife, portable air horn, cell phone/charger, etc.
  • Try not to stray: stay on the trail unless your safety requires you to move away in a bad situation.
  • Don’t be a hero: leave risk-taking for when you’re travelling in a group, not when hiking alone.
  • Keep up with the weather: know when to stop hiking if the weather gets bad.
  • Learn signaling: by using a signaling mirror, fire, the color orange and sending signals in bursts of threes.

If you follow these basic tips to make sure you have all contingencies covered, you’ll have a much better chance of protecting yourself and ensuring that your trek is rewarding. Hiking alone isn’t for everyone but it is a great way to de-stress and test your limits.