First of all, I'm a guy.
That out of the way, I have this preconceived notion that everyone should be able to backpack alone safely whenever and wherever they choose, without being bothered by anyone else (as long as they are not doing anything illegal, that is).
However, that's not always the case for women. It seems to me that there are still way too many instances where lone women get harassed in the outdoors by men. Lone men usually don't get harassed by anyone, or if they are, they don't experience the same feeling of insecurity and vulnerability; men don't need to have a "boyfriend" or "protector" with them to be left alone. I'm raising my daughter to be able to enjoy the outdoors and I hope that some day she will organize her own epic expeditions. But I know that I'd be concerned if she went alone nowadays. I don't think the outdoors are completely safe yet for lone women (not even in the great US of A).
Women: what has been your experience backpacking alone? what are your tactical and strategic recommendations?
All: what can we do as society to make the great outdoors safe and enjoyable for everyone?
Realize that the outdoors is not always safe and enjoyable; due to weather and a whole host of phenomena over which we have no control. Anyone, man or woman, in the outdoors alone, is taking a significantly greater risk, compared to the same circumstances when with a companion or a group.
Of course, companionship is not a panacea. If your companion(s) is equally inexperienced or uninformed, that just means more are in trouble. Still the odds are better.
Just to be clear, although I point out the inherent dangers of solo outings, that doesn't mean I always follow my own advice. I have frequently soloed, and on one occasion, i came the closest to serious trouble I have ever experienced. And I still soloed and will probably continue.
It is worth pointing out that lone women aree harassed by men in all kinds of situations, not just the outdoors, so what you really want is a very fundamental change in society. Don't hold your breath...
I would advise, if you solo, go deep and long. I have rarely, if ever, encountered anyone on my solo trips. Stay away from the popular trails, like the right angel in Grand Canyon or the well traveld thru hikes.
Finally, there is deep satisfaction in going out with a good companion, male or female, romantic or not. Mrs. Hikermor and I have been married over thirty years and our relationship began with joint caving, climbing, and hiking trips. I have had equally good trips with male companions (minus the smooching, etc.)
Any soloist should have good knowledge of first aid and general safety practices in the outdoors (leave an itinerary, etc.) and realize that they are taking a real risk.
I know there are those who will recommend carrying a firearm. I shoot occasionally, as well, but realistically, a gun is just as likely to be the cause of an accident as prevent a situation. Unless highly trained, weapons aren't really a good option. There may be some exceptions.
One of two of my solo/a hiking "inspirations," and introducers to backpacking the outtadoors always had a [boot] knife, and layers including bright orange, and nondescript (not camo, but hide-able), clothing. I would think firearms wouldA be[en] regional specific. 'Kinda like shotgun weddings.
I feel like I should knock on wood before responding to this post. But I have been on a solo hiking/camping trip for 3 months now. I find hikers to be incredibly helpful and supportive. I find people are intrigued by my adventure. I haven’t experienced any more harassment or sexism on the trail than I do in every day life. It might actually be less.
I cannot recommend that anyone backpack- or even hike alone- especially if they will not have service/satellite phone. I agree that the vast majority of people who go outdoors come back safely AND the vast majority of people outside are friendly. I believe most people will be helpful and supportive- as long as you are not trespassing, doing illegal things, etc. Statistics are on your side.
That being said, as a man sometimes I fear that my friendliness will be interpreted and flirting or harassment outside. I smile and say hello to just about EVERYONE I meet. Hope you feel welcome outside no matter who you are!
Everyone tells women it is "too dangerous" to hike alone, but It seems to me that overstated concern about stranger-danger is actually a kind of microaggression meant to control women's behavior. The limiting factor for a solo trip is still the level of your own personal outdoor skills.
It's more typical for women to put up with the situation described in this article from Backpacker magazine.
And those weren't even the creepy type of guy with camo clothing, bad haircuts and gun-nut accessories. So, if you encounter women hiking, say hi and don't bug them. If someone is actually in trouble, they will ask for your help.
If you have daughters, find an opportunity for them to go backpacking with other women. The social dynamic can be very different in an all-female group, and other women tend to have a good sense of what is threatening and what is not. I have daughters myself and Girl Scout camp was amazing for teaching them independence and self-confidence in the out of doors. (And no, they didn't just do arts and crafts. They went backpacking).
I'm a woman who went backpacking solo many times but that was for 32 years from mid 1976 to 2008. No issues at all. Maybe that was a different time but common sense rules in my opinion.
Going with 2 or 3 other women to start increases the confidence factor of how to work the gear, learning what to wear, how to manage energy levels and safety.
Often with men, they want to take over if you struggle with your stove, or they may set a pace that is too fast. Their goals of reaching a destination or increasing fitness may not be your goals.
Even with a group of women discuss goals before the trip to decide if all styles of pace and purpose match enough.
Walk confidently like you are capable and fierce :-).
Get to know people's first name at a campsite so if you have fear of intrusion at camp you can call out.
Carry a loud whistle on your pack (I never used mine). No need to say you are by yourself.
Remember that cell phones may be useless, I have no experience with other devices so research and take extra batteries. Learn to read actual USGS maps and understand basic first aid. Especially study hypothermia prevention.
And most of all relax and really look at your surroundings instead of going out with fear in your heart. The feeling of independence and freedom is delicious and addictive.
I can tell you have a lot of experience! This is great advice.
I think that lack of skill with topo maps is a big factor that keeps women from organizing their own trips. I have an undergrad degree in Geology from back in the pre-GPS 1980's so I'm a map whiz. I'm often surprised at how many outdoorspeople there are these days who can't read a map to (literally) save their life.
The inability to read a map is all too common and knows no gender! I have encountered a number of people on the trail who have asked for directions and didn't even know the trailhead they started at, let alone have an ability to read a map. Phone apps and GPS devices are helpful, but many are so dependent on them they never develop the important skills of reading a topographic map (digital or otherwise).
You're right that there are plenty of men who can't read maps. The gender difference is that the men tend to go out anyway and get lost, while women convince themselves they don't have the skills to do the hike and never go in the first place. I'm sensitive to this because of the somewhat surprising number of times when I've been the only person in a group who has a map and knows how to read it. I think that more confidence with maps would help women have more confidence to do solo hiking or to be the leader of a hiking trip.