I’ve seen a few cautionary online references and articles lately about female solo hikers and it really prompted me to wonder: Are women less safe alone on the trail than men? I mean, I’m all for a discussion about the risks of solo hiking for anyone, but why were women being treated as a higher risk group for this activity?
Confession: I’m a solo hiker. So I take it somewhat personally when I read things like “women should never hike alone”. Is the presumption that we’re not as strong? Not as skilled? Not as well equipped?
I asked the question online. In what way are women supposedly more vulnerable than men alone on the trail? It was my male friends who responded, all saying that the women hikers they knew were probably more cautious and at least as skilled as any male hikers. And so the only possible conclusion was the suggestion that women were vulnerable to being attacked by men on the trail.
Now, anyone who hikes or treks knows that we are a special breed. And when you are on the trail, you are a friend and possible savior to every single person you meet. I walk down sidewalks in the city and no one speaks to anyone. But you never pass anyone on a trail without greeting them and probably even stopping to chat.
So this suggestion that there are rapists and murders hiding behind trees was fairly troubling to me. Of course it’s a terrifying prospect. But is it true?
I Googled “hiker rape” and “backpacker rape” and added a variety of different locations (like, “Canada” or “United States”). The only results were two tragic stories of young women who had been assaulted (one murdered) while travelling overseas. The attacks were not on trails and were by strangers they’d met or socialized with in towns and villages.
I belong to a women’s hiking group on social media and I asked them: Has anyone here been harmed or felt threatened that way on a trail or trek? I had many replies from very experienced hikers (many or all of them solo hikers) and the answer was a resounding “No”. Some added that they’ve only ever been helped or supported by any male hikers they met.
But despite a complete lack of bad experience, a couple (possibly the less experienced) expressed FEAR. It seemed a generalized fear, that the possibility that sexual assault was always lurking behind any and every shadow.
It is the case that local parks and inner city trails can be dangerous. Every city and town probably has at least one case of a woman being attacked while out walking or jogging. And the risk goes up as well if you’re on a longer trail or trek that brings you close to populations. Certainly if you ever encounter anyone on a trail who doesn’t seem to belong there, you have reason to be concerned.
Any time we venture out alone (male OR female) there’s additional risk. Not because you are alone per se, but because you are alone if something bad happens. After Googling and asking the questions though, I remain convinced that the bad is injury, getting lost or encountering harmful wildlife. The fact is you’re safer with a partner or group if any of these things happen.
So. Carry your GPS, map & compass, and know how to use them. Carry a knife. Carry bear spray or bangers to deter animals. Have a properly stocked pack of the other essentials like fire starter, First Aid and water purification. Always let someone know where you’re going and check in and off the trail with them. Learn basic survival skills if you get stranded.
Beyond that, enjoy nature in the way that suits your needs, skill levels and comfort. Whether it’s a large group, a close friend, or on your own. All solo hikers will tell you that there is a particular quality in the solitude that is exceptional. You set your own pace, you don’t have to make conversation, you can stop whenever and wherever you want. And there’s a tremendous sense of accomplishment as well. It’s empowering.
For more reading:
Backpacker: 18 Tips From Female Solo Hikers
Backpacker: Why Women Shouldn’t Worry About Hiking Alone
Bernardine Wood aka Hiker Bee is an avid hiker, cyclist and kayaker. She is also a member of the #HBFCrew. She resides in Nova Scotia , Canada. She is committed to sharing her love and knowledge of the outdoors with others, especially those who may not have ventured out, without her excitement and support. Those who might also find healing and strength in nature.