Originally Posted August 2020
Ah, solo hiking! So alluring and terrifying all at the same time!
First of all, congratulations on making it this far! Solo hiking can be such an incredible journey (no pun intended) towards freedom and empowerment; however, there are real obstacles and considerations to plan for. Careful and thorough preparation will increase your safety and preparedness in addition to the likelihood of having a positive (hopefully INCREDIBLE) experience!
Be prepared for any unwanted visitors (2 or 4-legged!). If I'm hiking in a less popular (more remote) area, I'll carry bear spray and usually trekking poles. In Colorado, I'm not particularly worried about the black bears (they're easily scared away and rarely aggressive); however, I'm definitely concerned about moose, mountain lions, and potentially threatening people. The trekking poles are a good way to make more noise while you're hiking; this is good to alert nearby animals to your presence so that they keep away. Also, it just feels better to have something handy in the event of an attack.
Have a map and GPS handy. I like to use the AllTrails app to track my location on a given route. This has helped me a number of times when the trail wasn't entirely clear and/or I wandered off trail. I always record my hikes on AllTrails so maintain the GPS, even when I'm out of service/network range.
Tell someone where you're going, and your start/projected end time.
Consider a Garmin inReach or other satellite communicator in case you need to coordinate a rescue (for yourself or someone else).
Carry essential first-aid supplies and a little extra food and water. It's always better to be OVER-prepared rather than under-prepared.
Keep an emergency blanket, emergency bivvy, and/or a versatile poncho in your pack. The weather in Colorado can turn quickly, and we're known for our summertime, afternoon thunderstorms. So, definitely plan to be off the summit and back under treeline by noon; if possible, finish your entire hike before the midday storms. If you do get caught in an unexpected storm, these items will both keep you dry, insulated, and/or they can provide a makeshift shelter.
Start with a popular, shorter hike. This is a nice way to ease into things. You're by yourself, but still around enough people to stay/feel safe. Also, it's easier to be uncomfortable for shorter times (hence the shorter distance), so start small and work up to longer distances as your confidence grows.
Consider listening to something - audiobooks, podcasts, music, etc. This helps you to focus on something other than your worst-case-scenario thoughts. It's also nice and meditative. I don't usually have time to sit and read (pre-COVID times), so it's a lot easier for me to multitask and listen to audiobooks while I'm hiking/running. Also, I'd recommend keeping one ear free to maintain awareness of what's going on around you. You can also adjust the volume low enough to where you can still hear things around you. This is important because you might need to listen for other hikers, mountain bikers, other warnings and information, and/or animals.
Talk to people on the trail! Just because you're hiking solo doesn't mean you need to be completely anti-social! I LOVE the hiking community. They just feel like my people. It's amazing the people you'll meet and the conversations you'll have if you're willing to open up to someone new! They also might have some local secrets or tips to share with you!
Hike to destinations or on trails you're actually EXCITED for! Don't just hike to hike. Find places that excite you! For some people, it's summiting 14ers and peaks, for me, it's hiking to alpine lakes, for others, it's visiting landmarks and popular locations. Find what YOU like and go after that! This is your journey, no one else's!
Learn your hiking pace sooner than later. It doesn't have to be fast, but you need to know what it is to plan out your days as accurately as possible. Find out how your min/mile hiking pace. Also, keep in mind that this changes with elevation gain (both starting elevation and TOTAL elevation gain). A good general estimate is to figure most people hike an average of 30 min/mile. Once again, elevation gain WILL change your pace! It's very different to hike 1 mile with 350 feet of elevation gain versus 1 mile with 850 feet of elevation gain! So, know your pace and plan accordingly!
To piggy-back off of #5, know your route and PLAN!!! Not just the distance... look up the trail profile and elevation. Read trail reviews/reports so you know if it's dry/wet/icy/snowy and what sort of gear people are recommending. You can also find reports of wildlife in trail reviews. Maybe there's a local bear that's been hanging around. Research what parking at the trailhead is like. Is the trailhead (TH) located off of a paved road? Dirt road? Do you need a high-clearance vehicle to access it? What time does the parking lot fill up? Is the parking lot even open when you're hoping to visit? In short, do your research!
Hiking solo can be a little intimidating, but it can also open up a whole new world to you! Plan well, tell people where you're going, be prepared, and start small! Get out there and give it a try!