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Nervous new solo backpacker

I'm an avid day-hiker, who recently decided to make the jump to backpacking and I'm planning on doing a couple solo overnighters this summer. I am looking for any tips or advice other women with solo backpacking experience can share about safety, specifically around other hikers. I realize that the risk of being injured from a twisted ankle or unsafe drinking water is probably much higher than running into another hiker who tries to attack me, but it's still the latter that gives me more anxiety. I have experience traveling solo before, but something about being alone in the wilderness can trigger some panic. I have had a few panic episodes even just on day hikes when there are few other hikers around and I come upon another male hiker, and my flight or flight kicks in. It's absolutely not their fault, usually they just say hi and pass by, and I feel bad for reacting like they are going to hurt me but I can't help it. I guess I am just looking to see if any one else deals with this, and what advice you can share to move past it? I really don't want something like this to keep me from activities I really enjoy doing.

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24 Replies

Hi @SurvivalGal  Thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed response. I'm a bit dismayed that you have determined based on a few sentences I wrote that I should potentially never enjoy the backcountry as you and others have, determined what my depth and diversity of knowledge is apparently lacking, and presupposed that I am also dangerously unaware of what my own limitations may be. But nevertheless, I appreciate you sharing your experiences, especially related to encounters with other hikers in the backcountry, and sharing your wealth of knowledge. I will look out for your future post so I can continue learning and improving. Happy trails.



Not a bad reaction to my response, "dismayed" is better than discouraged, it may mean I've at least made you pause long enough to give it a second thought (hopefully). And yeah, after nearly 35 years, I can spot survival/wilderness fakes, frauds and pretenders easily (NOT calling you a fake or fraud, just in need of a reality check).

Not that I didn't mean what I said, I ABSOLUTELY meant every syllable! Better to be a dilettante than dead!   The sad fact is, maybe you WON'T ever be ready to solo, there IS that possibility (if you don't spend the time and effort it takes).

For example, your "fear" is actually your instinct trying to tell you that you're not ready NOW, at THIS point in time. If you WERE actually ready, not only would you not have that fear, you wouldn't even have the need to ask for help/advice, think about that!  

On the other hand, if all you want is encouragement and don't care about facts or reality (or living), then I say wild bears make WONDERFUL pets and you should go out and kiss one after eating a lot of bacon!!!

However, on the off chance you actually DO want to live, you may want to put a little more thought and effort into what it takes to be a solo wilderness hiker. Not a great one or even a good one, just not a dead one.  


Be smart, be safe.


Do you have any specific advice or resources you would be willing to share on what I can do to be more prepared?


There is SO much I hardly know where to start, but the first thing you need to do is change your attitude from "gimme, gimme" to "got it, got it".

Wanting others to give you answers and do your work for you is NOT how a soloist thinks. Soloists are 'do-it-yourselfers' and problem solvers, they thrive on meeting and overcoming obstacles. To them, it's just another puzzle to solve. That kind of thinking is, just a part of their personality, it's who they are, even in their normal life! Remember, SOLO means ALONE.  

Another common mark among soloists is safety and backups. People make mistakes, forget things, etc., and soloists know they are not immune to that, so they create rules and routines for themselves to address those problems on top of remaining ever aware of their surroundings and where they put their hands and feet.In  the wilderness, everything means something; lizards may mean snakes, deer may mean bears, etc.

You can get everything right (or just be lucky) a million times, but it only takes ONE bad mistake, assumption, or inattentive glance to make it your last day on earth. So, soloists are often survivalists.  

I could go on, but I'm guessing this is simply going over your head (and most everyone else's), so start by READING! Read anything and everything on the subject of backpacking and wilderness survival, and I'm talking about BOOKS!! Not the Internet, BOOKS!!

Then develop the skills you need. Then put your knowledge and skills to the test by going for longer and more challenging outings. And finally, you MUST have common sense!!!

Common sense is intelligence, but it's practical, not intellectual. It's dependent on the situation, it's conditional, it tells you when to break the rules and how to solve problems. Again, this is The Four Cornerstones of Survival (knowledge, skill, experience and common sense).  

Or, you can do NONE of that and take your chances. 


Thank you everyone who took the time to write out a response and share your experiences! Lots of great tips and resources in here, and I really appreciate the support and encouragement from fellow nature lovers 🙂 Looking forward to putting this info to use and updating the forum on my future exploits! 

@jinxypop we would LOVE to hear back on the next adventure you decide to take!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Hi @jinxypop !  I'm a bit late to the party.  I have to say that what @nathanu wrote resonated with me in that I am a man, reasonably experienced, and I sometimes feel awkward when, like he, I get "the look".  I also usually smile, nod, and say some pleasantry.  Most often though, whomever I encounter on a trail is almost universally open and friendly.  I have in my travels, come across an empty encampment that appears to be less than "professional?" and that does give me pause, but nothing negative has ever come of it.

So, on to a possible solution for you to help you "get your feet wet".  How would you feel about heading to your destination of choice with one or more like-minded friends, but then setting up your individual campsites a short distance from one-another?  That way you could become accustomed to the solitude, the requirements of self-sufficiency, and deal with your anxiety, while knowing that you have a "lifeline" not far away.

Just a thought.  Good luck!  And I hope you are able to overcome your fears and truly enjoy your time outdoors.

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@jinxypop As a guy, I am sorry that women have to think this way, but it is what it is until society changes. There is some good advice here. I agree that you will be safer from human danger the farther you are from roads and access points. A couple miles into the wild, you should see no one else other than other hikers and backpackers with good intentions, not creeps looking for easy prey. I suggest you gain some backpacking experience with others, at least three or four trips in various areas under different weather conditions, to address any fears about "backpacking" before  having to confront aby fears about backpacking solo.

aka "Boonerelli"

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@jinxypop You have lots of advice in these posts, most of it pretty decent.  I would also recommend going with at least one  companion, preferably experienced, for your first forays.

Forget firearms.  essentially, they are useless weight; bear spray is more effective if big bruins are an issue where you will be hiking.  Same with the large, "Rambo" knives - just carry a 3-4 inch fixed blade or a Swiss Army knife.

More important is first aid training - at least advanced FA, or more, if you have time/money.  I guarantee that at some point, you will be glad you gained the knowledge (not necessarily in an outdoor setting).  Some sort of personal injury - twisted ankle or similar - is easily the most likely hazard one faces in an outdoor setting.  A lot of injury scenarios involve dehydration as an accompanying factor, so stay well watered.

Whether solo or with companions, start out easy, with short, easy to reverse trips, and progress from there.  Lots of good country and fine experiences to be had!

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Just want to clarify as some have made comments about carrying a gun, I have a small, compact, hand gun that was made to carry concealed. I never wish to shoot anyone or an animal and statistically I won’t ever have too. But in my opinion it’s better to have it and not need it than the need it and not have it. I also made the comment about the .44 mag for Alaska because I had a family friend go on a hunting trip with his friend and they later found one of the had been mulled by a bear and unfortunately did not make it.  That is why I say bring it. I DO encourage getting training if you are carrying. You should practice with your hand gun before you ever plan on using it. You should know everything there is to know about it and make sure it is reliable. 

Again, not for everyone but I will always prefer on bringing one. 

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.