lady fears

Ask Liz / Tips for your first solo hike and how to get over the fear

Q: Any hot tips for your first solo hike...and how to get over the fear?


HOT TIPS ON GOING ON YOUR FIRST SOLO BACKPACKING TRIP

  • Tell your "team" of supporters exactly where you're going, when you're expected to come out, and contact information for the nearest ranger station. Here's an example. Make it easy for them to find you in case they don't hear from you.
  • Take a personal locator beacon (PLB) if that makes you feel safer. REI has a nice breakdown here.
  • Start small. For your first solo backpacking trip, try going to a more popular location or just for a day or two just to see how it feels. As you get more comfortable with being alone, try for a longer or more isolated destination.
  • Have a game plan for when/if you get bored. I've been alone many times and sometimes I'm like, "hMmm..what should I do?" If you're prone to getting bored, maybe think about some ideas beforehand. Here are some ideas:
    • Journal
    • Watch a flowing body of water
    • Take a nap
    • Read
    • Do some yoga
    • Daydream
    • Stretch
    • Clean your nails  :) 
  • Do you have any tips to offer? Comment below!

OK, LET'S TALK ABOUT FEAR.

I'm hearing more and more stories of women going on solo hikes and enthusiasm about women wanting to go on their first solo backpacking trip. It's awesome! And at the same time, there's been a rise in voiced concerns and fears about going out into the wilderness alone as a woman. I don't know all the answers, but I can share from my own experiences of solo backpacking.

First, take a moment: What do you fear most about going on a solo backpacking trip? 

  • Getting physically injured so badly and not being able to call for help?
  • Getting harassed or assaulted by some scary dude?
  • Running out of food or water?
  • Something creeping around in the dark?
  • Being lonely?
  • Getting lost and wandering in the wilderness until you eventually...
  • ...get eaten alive by a bear?
  • _____(Fill in the blank)_____

To sum it up, it seems the most, if not all fears have to do with one's SAFETY.

When I went on my first solo trip (which oddly, also happened to be my very first backpacking trip), I was so scared. Even though I was only 30 minutes from home and 1.5 miles from my car, I was afraid of all the stories my mind made up about the unknowns. 

I think it's natural to have fears about being alone in the woods. I feel like our lady minds are particularly good at coming up with some scary "what if" scenarios and act (or not act) on them. We humans are oriented to self-protect so going out into the unknown alone raises all those red flags. It's like you have this innocent thought, "I think I want to go on a solo backpacking trip," and all of a sudden, every internal siren is triggered and it's all ALERT!!DANGER!ALERT!!DANGER! in there. And then you tell your parents and they're all, "ALERT!!DANGER!ALERT!!DANGER!" except, this time out loud. It makes sense, females have been socialized to fear a lot of things. 

Here are some suggestions to get over your fears:

  1. Practice thought experiments to help you get to know your fears and where they originate from. Think about your worst case scenario. Got one? Now run with it. Ask yourself why you're afraid of it. Dig deeper until you get to the core of the fear. Then ask yourself what the opposite of that story might be. Thinking through the opposite version of the story is a helpful tool because it puts things into perspective that no one story is the Truth.
     
  2. Read stories about other women's solo tales. There's power in learning about other women's stories and how they've gone before you. It's emboldening! Here are some inspiring women to look into: Grandma Gatewood, Jennifer Pharr Davis, Liz "Snorkel" Thomas, Mary Moynihan
     
  3. Trust yourself. A large part of getting over fears is to trust that you're smart, capable, and have the ability to deal if something goes wrong. Part of this might mean learning a few things. For example, taking a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course might empowering. It was for me. I loved it so much, I became Wilderness-EMT (WEMT) certified. (Note: WFA is a 2-day course vs. WEMT is a 3 week intensive)

What helps you get over your fears? (Comment below!)


Ask Liz / Do you carry any sort of weapon or spray to protect yourself from people who might be dangerous?

THE SIMPLE ANSWER: I DON'T INTENTIONALLY CARRY A WEAPON TO PROTECT MYSELF FROM POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS PEOPLE. BUT...

warriorwoman.png

As a woman, the fear of something truly horrible happening (e.g. getting raped) is definitely a consideration when going backpacking, or more accurately, in life. Maybe it's not rape, maybe it's just getting harassed by some heebie-jeebie dude(s). Regardless of whatever scenarios might be playing out in your head, it's probably safe to say these thoughts probably cross the minds of most women, even if just for a brief moment. I certainly have played out harassment scenarios in my head, even when I'm in the middle of nowhere and haven't seen a soul ALL DAY! 

All that to say, I have definitely considered carrying some kind of weapon, but hadn't until just a year ago when I started carrying a pocket knife. My primary reason for carrying it isn't to use as a weapon though. (I would be terribly slow at getting it out and flipping it open; and it would be hardly intimidating!) The main reason is to have one in case of a serious emergency (or if I feel like whittling a piece of wood). For real though, I carry it for the same reason I carry a lot of extra first aid materials. After getting Wilderness-EMT certified, I now know how to use all the extra things I take and want to have it available in case it might save someone's life. This includes the knife. (Before, I didn't even feel comfortable opening my pocket knife!)

But back to the fear of dangerous people. I think that fear can be especially strong when you consider being out in the wilderness, out of reach from civilization. I mean...."what if something happens and there's no one around?!?" 

The key phrase here is being "out of reach from civilization." Did you catch that? It seems that most of the bad things happen when you're actually surrounded by people in civilization. It's highly unlikely that some dangerous person is lurking out in the wilderness waiting for you. (That'd be a lot of food to pack in!)

Most people on the trail are there for the same reasons you are: to get away from daily routines and the noise of the city and to get nourished by being in the wilderness. Haha, actually, I find that people can definitely be amazingly friendly on the trail, but they usually want to avoid people. :-) 

If it gives you a sense of security to take pepper spray, take it for the first few times you go in the wilderness. Once you get more experience, I have a feeling you'll likely start leaving it at home. But girl, do what you gotta do. There is nooooo judgement.

On a side note: In bear country, I absolutely carry bear spray with me. You sure can use that on any dangerous folk if they're coming after you, but since that's an unlikely scenario, I'd save it for the bears! 

Hope this helps!

PS. If you're curious about some statistics about rape, I found a helpful infographic here.