solo backpacking

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!)


Firsts / My Journey Into the Unknown

Written by: Susanne Menge
Susanne is a coach, writer, and speaker. She writes for HuffPo and loves playing in the outdoors. She loves laughing with her girls, witnessing transformation from fear to joy, and embarking on wild new adventures.

I have backpacked many times, with him. I’m strong, fit and highly capable, but in backpacking (and many other areas of my life) I had decided to defer to others.

Until the summer of 2014.  

I put dates on the calendar for me. I had 4 nights and 5 days to play, children were with my ex-husband, and I could do anything. I planned to return to the Maroon Bells but as the dates got closer I knew I didn’t need to go far from home. I knew I needed to trust myself right now, I knew I needed to stay open and move, from my center, not someone else’s knowing.  And, that was all I knew.

Summer was busy and by the fourth week in July I did not know anything more than the dates, July 30-August 3rd. I could have freaked out. I did at times, but a small voice inside reminded me I would find my way. I live in Boulder, Colorado and can walk 15 blocks to be in the foothills. All was well. 

A few days before my trip the skies let out the biggest rains we had seen in ages. I went to the Wilderness Permit office in Boulder the day before departure and she told me not to go out, the forecast was pure rain on all of her favorite forecasting sites. I listened. I adjusted. I said yes to the James Peak Wilderness where no permits are needed. I had a plan and an open mind. I bought a map of that area. I didn’t give up.

The next morning, rain poured. I was packed and ready yet decided to stay home. All dressed up and nowhere to go rang through me. I settled in to my quiet house. I listened to my heart, slowed wayyyy down. I was on vacation even though I wasn’t yet on the trail. I had permission to accomplish nothing; I rested, got a haircut, even got some work done!

By the end of the day on the 30th, there were breaks in the rain and I got clear, I was going the next morning, rain or shine. I was worth it.

Everything was already packed, so just after sunrise on July 31, I loaded the car and headed for Moffat Tunnel, 30 minutes away. I would stop at the hardware store in Nederland to buy a water bottle and rain poncho.  

I arrived at the trailhead, donned my pack, changed from flip-flops to running shoes and headed up the trail. Rain sprinkled my head. A smile crossed my face in combination with my eyes watering. I was so excited I could scream and so scared I was making a mistake. Could I really do this? Would it be ok? Could I trust myself this far to set out in the rain, to stay open to stopping if needed, to make decisions about my own safety in this weather, to be ok, even with all these unknowns?

Since I am sharing this now. You already know the answer. I ascended the South Boulder Creek Trail to the Continental Divide. Amongst low clouds and limited visibility I traversed the Divide, which has no trail but rather intermittent signposts. In sunny weather (I’ve been back since) one can often see the next signpost, but on this day, I didn’t have that luxury. I had to leave one signpost behind, not yet seeing the next.  

Along the Divide, thunder began cracking and I dropped off the ridge for a time while it passed, returning when if felt safe. Then, just when I thought I could take no more cold, wet, windy weather, the clouds broke enough for me to see Dead Man and Pump House Lakes. I was close to my destination.

I dropped down off the ridge toward the lakes and my ultimate destination, Corona Lake, as the sun started to warm my whole body (and mind).  I was in the home stretch, in awe of this day, and almost to my home for the next three nights.

I could tell a million stories about this adventure.

I have written pages about the fears I had to walk through to get myself through this. About the challenge of having a basic plan but no one to rely on but me. About the last day on my walk out when I missed the direct ‘social’ trail and walked in sobbing terrified tears over two long train trusses that felt like they were a million miles off the ground. (I thought they would collapse under me, yet in reality they held, well, trains!)

But those stories are the fuel for me to say it’s all worth it. I am worth it. You are worth it! 

Facing into the unknown and testing all of these edges gave me a strength, courage and capacity I had never known before.

Photos courtesy of Susanne Menge.

Solo Backpacking: What info to share

If you plan on going on a solo backpacking trip, I would highly recommend giving any and all relevant information to your "team" of supporters -- these are the people who will be looking out for you from home. 

I try to share everything I think will be important in case of an emergency situation. Below is an example email of the information I provided during a solo trip to Montana (when I was living in California).


THE TRIP
Where I'll be: Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana
Trailhead start/end: Benchmark

GENERAL ITINERARY (subject to some change)
Wed, July 24: arrive at Benchmark after 6pm MST, camp at trailhead
Thurs, July 25: trail 202 to trail 203 (towards Chinese wall)
Fri, July 26 - Mon, July 29: trail 203 (continue to Chinese wall, then I'm not sure what I'll do yet. Either do a loop back to Benchmark going west then southeast or east then southwest or do an out and back. I'm going to decide after I talk to a ranger.)
*Note: I am aiming to be out of the wilderness and back to my car by 5pm MST on Mon, July 29th. 

POINT PEOPLE (in case I don't check in by 5pm MST on 7/29)
1) Samuel Mandell
Relationship: Fiance
Cell: XXX-XXX-XXXX

If I don't check in via phone/text, you might begin to worry a bit. 
If I don't check in by 7pm, on 7/29, please call ranger station (see contact info below)

2) Sheri Jarvis
Relationship: Friend in Montana
Cell: XXX-XXX-XXXX

I'm planning on meeting Sheri at her friend's home in Potomac, Montana on Mon, July 29th. 

RANGER STATION (that manages the area I'll be in)
Rocky Mountain Ranger District
1102 Main Ave NW
Choteau, MT 59422
Phone: (406)-466-5341

OTHER DETAILS
(See attached pic)
Car I'm driving: Honda Civic hybrid, light green blue (See attached pic)
License: XXXXXX
Belongs to: Name, Phone #, Relationship to me

DESCRIPTION OF LIZ
(See attached pic)
Hair: brown
Eyes: brown
Weight: 136
Height: 5'3"
Allergies: Cipro

-Liz


Below are the pictures I attached to this email in case they needed to send it to anyone in case of emergency.

car.jpg
backpack.jpg
SQS-LizPic.jpg