I often go adventuring solo. Most often, I have my golden retriever Maverick with me, but there are trips that I go completely alone, like when summiting 14ers (Colorado’s mountains above 14,000ft elevation) that I can’t convince friends to join on, and that are too challenging for Maverick to do safely. There are a variety of things that I do to keep myself safe.
Always let people know where you are at, and when you expect to be back. Sometimes it is hard to predict a return time, and often cell service is non existent. My check-in people understand this, and I have a Spot Beacon that I use, that sends my check-in people my GPS coordinates, and lets them know I am ok. There is a setting that tracks me while I am on the trail, sending a coordinates ping at set intervals, another setting that lets people know where I decide to camp, and another that simply lets them know I am ok. I can also use this if I have an emergency, or need rescuing, so there is added security. I always have a designated check-in person, and often several people who are aware of my route when I travel. Depending on the type of adventure I am on, I may not know my route or destination starting out. So, having a designated person to keep track of me, helps assure that someone knows where I am, if trouble arises.
Always be aware of your surroundings. I am a petite attractive female, and am extra cautious when out alone. I travel with mace, knife, dog, and occasionally a gun, and anytime I am out I am constantly aware of what the people around me are doing. I deliberately avoid interacting with people who look like they could be dangerous. My dog is protective of me, which is helpful. When I camp in campgrounds, I position myself in sites away from people. When I am in the woods, I make sure I don’t position myself to be blocked in to a camp site. I sleep with weapons by my side. If the surroundings I am camping in don’t feel safe, like if there are questionable people nearby, or if I am deep in the woods where I have no cell service and there are grizzlies around, I often camp inside my vehicle. I have sleeping quarters set up in the back of my truck, and my car is a Subaru Outback with room for sleeping. I have ran in to situations with humans while adventuring, that were scary, and the key is to act with confidence, remove oneself from the situation as quickly as possible, don’t let people know that you are alone, and if the dog wants to sound tough and protective, let him.
Be prepared and have the skills needed. Whenever I am on the trail, whether it be for a day hike, a snowshoe, a mountain bike, or backpacking, I always carry a first aid kit, water purification methods, plenty of food, and an emergency beacon. My dog carries his own first aid kit. Injury can happen, and having what you need to in order to get yourself back to the trailhead, or survive a night in the woods, is extremely important. Most disaster happens when people are unprepared.
Bring maps, navigation devices, and be familiar with the route you are taking. Getting lost can be a scary experience, and is easy to do if you aren’t familiar with navigating or following routes. I have had many bad experiences with getting lost. I now use a program on my phone, alltrails.com, to track my route and follow the trail, using GPS. There are other navigation systems available, and I used to use a Garmin, but found that the app on my phone, on a device that I am already carrying (for camera and communication), works well for me. I always carry a battery pack for charging my cell phone batter, in case I drain it. I always take pictures of the maps at the trailheads, so I can have an image if my GPS tracking fails. If I plan to be in the woods overnight, I make sure I have a paper map with me. Also be aware of the direction you’re are heading (knowing the sun sets in the west and rises in the east) and where you are in relation to landmarks on the map (like creeks, valleys, and ridges).
Be aware of the animals in the area, and prepared for what you might find along the trail. Rattle snakes, mountain lions, bears, moose, any of these, and more, can cause a bad day if not treated with respect and caution. I keep my dog on a leash, for his safety. I pay attention to my surroundings, and don’t listen to music while on the trail, to make sure I am aware as soon as I enter an animals territory. Know about safety with bears, and how to handle yourself if you have an encounter. All of these animals are safe when left alone, but if you aren’t paying attention and surprise them or their offspring, they will protect. Also know about camping in bear country. I never have food or scented items in my tent when I camp, and use bear bags or bear containers, to keep my food safely out of reach. I carry a rattlesnake kit for when in rattlesnake country, and always keep Benadryl with me in case of a bee sting. There is strength in numbers when adventuring in country with a lot of large prey animals, so bring others along when able, and when not able, make sure you make a lot of noise so that you never sneak up on an animal. Remember that animals like mountain lions and bears are triggered to chase, when they see people run, so back away slowly and confidently for a safe retreat.
Be strategic when choosing campsites in the woods. When I look for a campsite, I look for places with water, shelter from wind or weather, flat spot for camp, and always check to make sure there aren’t any dead trees that could fall on my tent in the next wind storm. Check for signs of animals in the area, to make sure you aren’t camping near a den or a dinner. While I said I tend to avoid camping near people, there is a benefit of camping near people when backpacking solo. I will choose a site within yelling range of friendly looking humans, especially when in grizzly country. You will find, that most people who backpack are friendly likeminded people. There are not a lot of crazed people interested in hauling themselves and gear up miles of trails and thousands of feet of elevation gain, in order to gain access to a victim, who is fit enough to protect themselves, and likely carrying bear mace. I feel safer in the woods then I do in civilization, even when adventuring solo.
Having a basic (or advanced) understanding of first id and wilderness survival, is very helpful. REI, and other organizations, offer classes, and First Aid/CPR classes are offered from a variety of locations. When injury happens, it is best to remain calm, and having the knowledge of how to treat a variety of injuries, is the best way to avoid panic when disaster strikes. It is also the best way to assure that you have the tools needed to treat the injury, and get yourself safely back to the trailhead. I carry a saw with me while back packing, for a variety of uses, one being if I have to make a crutch or splint. Adventuring solo can be a very rewarding experience. Time alone to reflect and connect, is when my best thinking and decision making happens. Just make sure that you have the skills and tools needed to keep yourself safe in the process.