Hiking Alone: What Gear Do I Bring?

I tend to be a tad independent. I don’t mind hiking alone and I take a pretty hands on approach to my life. I remember when I was about 7 my aunt gave me a shirt that had little frogs on it and it said “be a leader, not a follower” and I wore it with such pride. This means that if I can’t find someone to go hiking with, I go alone. An additional consideration is that growing up in the 90s watching Disney movies has led me to believe that I will find my Prince Charming by prancing through the woods looking helpless. So there’s that. 😉

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I always try and prepare as much as possible for the adventure I’m going on. I haven’t really done any technical scrambles or backpacking over multiple days alone, so I’ve played it safe for the most part. I believe that you should never be overconfident in your outdoor adventures, one little slip or twist of an ankle, one snow squall, one minute of losing the trail, and things can take a dramatic turn for the worst when you’re adventuring.

Beside texting my mom and sending her blood pressure through the roof by saying things like, “I’m hiking Morro Peak, my body would likely fall on the west side of the mountain if you’re looking for it,” or “No cell service after Jasper, look for my orange jacket from the rescue helicopter,” I am aware of how risky hiking alone can be. I don’t want to be that news story where people wonder why I was hiking alone, why I wasn’t prepared, why I didn’t tell anyone where I was going. There is spontaneous and fun and then there is dangerous. While my list really covers gear I have at all times, alone or in a group, I think these things are essential when you’re flying solo.

Gear I Bring to Hike Alone

First aid kit. It’s just common sense. You can’t rely on anyone else to have bandaids, burn ointment, wraps, medical tape, or other supplies when it’s just you so be prepared to take care of minor first aids for yourself. I plan on taking a wilderness first aid course in January to improve on my basic first aid and CPR training.

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Emergency Blanket. Even if I start my hikes in the morning and plan to be finished way before dark, there is always the chance I could get stuck on the mountain. It’s not scary or something I focus on, but it is in the back of my mind. I keep a little emergency blanket in my backpack just in case.

Knife. I have a swiss army knife that I keep in my pack at all times. You just never know when it’ll come in handy. I went on a walk/hike in Elk Island National Park with my guy friend in September and we brought a picnic. I decided I wanted to slice my apples for my sandwich so I whipped out the blade and he was like, “WOAH. Were you just nonchalantly carrying that the entire time?!” Apples, rope, first aids, animals, you never know what you’ll need a knife for.

Bear spray. For bears, duh. Other animals as well… hey, I trail run with bison a lot! As a young woman hiking alone I am also aware of the people around me. I know it sounds ridiculous but I approach it the same way I would walking down a dark city street… 99.99% of men won’t say anything or will smile, but the 0.01% that instinctively make me feel scared are what I prepare for. If anyone saw the movie Wild or read the book, it was kind of interesting that the most intense “predator” she encountered were the two men.

Spot beacon. I don’t actually have one of these yet but I remember my friend Ashley mentioning it and it’s an amazing piece of equipment to have. It allows you to send out a spot beacon, help signal, SOS, as well as send messages to preprogrammed contacts from the trail. The SOS and Help buttons are not easily hit so there’s no chance of accidentally hitting it for peace of mind.

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Trail directions and maps. Paper maps were in complete nonexistence from my life until my solo camping trip this summer. With no cell service it wasn’t a choice to use them to find trailheads, but it was actually really refreshing. Just this past weekend I took screen shots of the trail maps because I knew I’d be out of cell range when I was actually on the trail. I also love the Canadian GPS trail maps app I have, it has come in SO handy.

More water and food. What if you get lost? What if you get really lost? What if you’re spending the night on a mountain? With no one else to help you out, it pays off to carry some extra water and food with you. I have a LifeStraw in case I need to filter creek or stream water too!

Brain and instinct. Nope, you can’t buy these at MEC but they are the most important things you can have hiking alone. Be aware of everything in your surroundings, the animals, the people, the wind, the weather, the water supplies, the trail markers, EVERYTHING. Being aware also applies to your instinct. Listen to your gut.

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These gear recommendations are majorly for emergencies. The idea is that you have only yourself to rely on and if there was an emergency, you want to be prepared in whatever ways you can. You never want to end up thinking that you could have been more prepared. It’s completely about peace of mind too… you want to feel safe and be able to feel confident about your abilities while maintaining total awareness and respect of nature. Hiking is fun and this quote really highlights why hiking alone can be scary, but it’s oh so worth it.

If you’re always worried about the unknown, you would never experience the greatness out there. If you go out prepared and you know where you’re going, you’ve done everything that you can.” –Erin “Wired” Saver