Have you ever wanted to go hiking but lacked a hiking buddy? Never fear – solo hiking is here to let you enjoy your favorite trails alone. Pros of hiking solo are not having to plan around someone else’s schedule, hiking at your own pace, and being able to experience solitude in its highest form. Cons of hiking alone are that it’s kinda scary being in the woods by yourself and if a bear crosses paths with you, the idea that you “just need to be faster than the guy next to you,” is not an option.
My first solo hike was to Tibbet Knob in 2019 and technically wasn’t solo but with my parents dog, Sammy. I’ve since mostly ditched Sammy because he’s old, but I still occasionally hike by myself. Tibbet Knob is a great hike for beginners who want a mild challenge. It’s got a beautiful view, a relatively easy but fun rock scramble, it’s well-marked, and is a little over three miles out-and-back. It’s also generally way less crowded than its sister hike, Big Schloss, nearby but it’s trafficked enough you’ll see a good amount of folks on the trail. I highly recommend doing this one in the Fall to experience all the lovely golds, reds, and oranges of autumn. However, it’s a beautiful hike no matter when you choose to do it.
So how does one go about working up the courage to hike alone? Start with short trails you’re already familiar with. This can be a great way to get comfortable being alone in the middle of the woods, and you can eventually work up to longer trails and trails you’ve never been on before. Plus, you’ll minimize the risk of getting lost or disoriented by hiking a trail you’ve done already.
Hikers are generally super friendly and helpful, so if hiking a trail you’ve done before isn’t an option, hike during times you’ll run into others. Sure, hiking on a random Tuesday in December following an ice storm will yield plenty of solitude. However, if you’re just getting started, hike on weekends, holidays, and days you know you’ll encounter others. This can be super helpful when hiking trails that intersect with other trails where it’s easy to get turned around and you end up having to back-track.
Check the weather. The sky can go from blue and sunny, to gray and moody in a couple of hours. I’ve hiked Tibbet Knob four times and twice I’ve been caught in a deluge of rain, thunder, and lightning. Once you’re ready to hit the trail, always let someone know where you’re going and what time you’ll be home. Cell service isn’t great on most trails in the Shenandoah Valley, if it exists at all so you’ll want someone to know when you plan on returning home. Stay on the trail. I love finding cool, off-route spots most people don’t know about because frankly I hike to avoid others. That said, your first hike on your own is not the best time to go bush-whacking with nothing but your phone guiding you to your destination.
Pack more than you need. Extra snacks and water, flashlight or headlamp, first-aid kit, download or print maps ahead of time, bring a battery pack to charge your phone, bring something to keep warm should you find yourself having to spend the night on a mountain. There’s nothing less fun than hiking down a trail in the dark with your cell phone at 18% battery. A cell phone that’s doubling as your only source of light.
Most importantly, relax and have fun. Hiking is a great opportunity to step away from the hustle and noise of everyday life and appreciate God’s creation.