I am an avid hiker with a focus on easy to moderate trails in natural settings. I occasionally do harder trails.
Two Tips for Solo Hiking
I pretty much only hike alone. That goes against the wisdom that is repeated in safe-hiking guides but then it's not always easy to find someone that wants to do the same hike as me at the same time.
Furthermore, even when you can find someone that wants to do a hike, it can be hard to find someone who matches your footspeed. There's definitely something to be said about hiking alone as you don't have to compromise on what you want to do or worry about finding a match.
In this article, I have compiled two tips on what to do to improve your safety when hiking alone. In doing so, I make a point to avoid going deeply into the often-repeated points on the topic.
However, for starters, I will state that you should tell someone of your plans, you should bring a cell phone, and you should bring water and food. You should also aim for trails where you can count on some pedestrian traffic other than yourself. Also, wearing bright clothing like a safety shirt (as pictured above) can help keep you visible.
These are points that are made often on the topic of safe hiking. For the balance of this article, I will go into a couple of not-so-obvious points.
1. Leave a Note in Your Vehicle
I have a missing person blog called "Missing Person's Commentary" and earlier this year, I did a study where I focused on the patterns that I noticed when trail users have gone missing in the past. Certainly, hiking alone is a major risk factor. But one pattern I noted with hikers that go missing is that their vehicles are often found parked and abandoned at a trailhead.
If you are hiking alone, then it wouldn't hurt to leave a note in your vehicle as to the route that you are planning to take. Furthermore, you can date and time the note as per your departure time from the vehicle. These clues could help narrow a search area down if you go missing.
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Where to leave the note isn't an easy question. If park staff or parking enforcement are inspecting vehicles then they might read the note and ascertain that you've been on the trail for a lot longer than you probably should be. This could lead to a check on your well-being that might expedite the start of a search.
On the downside, leaving an easy-to-read note in your vehicle might invite a break-in if you advertise when you left and when you plan to be back. A would-be thief might feel more comfortable if he/she knows that you aren't in the immediate area, something your note might reveal. Minimally, I would recommend leaving a note in the elbow-rest compartment of your vehicle so that anyone investigating your disappearance has a clue to work with. Leaving it more visible has risks so you'll have to make a personal choice here.
2. Bring a Smartwatch in Addition to Your Phone
That an iPhone or cellular can be used to call for help if you are in trouble is the main reason that people will recommend bringing a handheld device on a hike. These devices also have features that can help in some situations if you are in trouble (ie. the flashlight or maps). However, a Smartwatch is going to be better than a handheld device in plenty of situations because Smartwatches are more accessible than handhelds.
Firstly, when you need your phone then it might be in your bag. If you fall and injure yourself, reaching into your bag to get your phone might not be easy. Bringing your wrist and hence, your Smartwatch, toward your eyes so that you can operate it could be a far simpler matter.
Secondly, while calling for help you might need your hands relatively free. You might need to hold on to something, like bear spray, or you may need to reach for something to help you with your balance. Phones usually take both hands to operate but Smartwatches can often be operated with one hand, leaving the other to deal with the danger you've chanced upon.
Thirdly, Smartwatches use less power. Between a fully-charged Smartwatch and a fully-powered iPhone, I would expect the former to have power much longer than the latter.
Fourthly, you are far less likely to be separated from your strapped-on Smartwatch than your handheld device. If you fall and your phone goes tumbling out of your pocket, then you might not recover it. A Smartwatch is always convenient to access. It will stay in place on your wrist for almost all scenarios.
Lastly, Smartwatches can be waterproof as some of them are meant for swimmers. If the danger you are in involves water, then the Smartwatch will likely remain operable.
Neither a Smartwatch nor an iPhone will save you in all scenarios. If you need data and are out of range, some critical features may be lost. However, in my opinion, overall a Smartwatch is better for safe hiking when you are alone and can only count on yourself.