Last week I went solo hiking for the first time, I hiked Deerford Track which is one I have done before with Pa and his friend. For my first solo hike, I wanted to do a track I was familiar with you know, just in case I got lost. Though Deerford Track is not well-maintained so a couple of times I had to stop and take an educated guess at which way the track went.
While I am an experienced hiker, I have never hiked solo before, I have always hiked with friends or family because I feel safer. I decided to get out of my comfort zone and head out alone and honestly? I loved it. It was serene and gave me an immense sense of peace. There was a thought in my head that I would get bored because let's face it, I am a chatter. There would be no one to entertain with my hilarious jokes. But I laughed at my own jokes in my head (once or twice aloud) and it was fine. Luckily I find myself excellent company.
Top tips for Solo Hiking if you have never done it before
Always tell someone where you are going
Always, always tell someone where you are going and what time you are expected back. This is so important, anything can happen out there. The weather conditions can change quickly and we have no control over it. Injuries can happen to even the most experienced hiker. The unknown can happen. When you tell someone where you are going, be specific (the Ruahines isn't enough, it's a 900 square kilometre patch of hills and bush) and make sure to give an estimated return time.
Do some research before you head out
Check the weather conditions, terrain, any notable track information, time, difficulty and special conditions. It pays to have a stored fountain of track knowledge in your head. Be like a boy scout, be prepared. Some tracks cross private land so you will need to get permission to pass. Other tracks may have slips across them or closures. Unless you do your research you won't know.
Make sure you take a PLB
Pa popped his PLB (personal locator beacon) in the bottom of my pack, I think more for his own peace of mind than anything. He trusted me but knows that anything can happen up in the bush. A PLB is a great idea if you are heading into no mans land, a quick push of a button and safety is on its way.
Chuck a map and compass in your pack
A map and compass don't need reception to work like a cell phone. Some areas have well-defined tracks but a lot of areas don't. A map and compass should be one of the first things you pop in your pack. Get familiar with your map before you go so you know what to expect and your rough route. Make sure you actually know how to read a map and compass though or else you are just carrying a weight that is essentially useless. Maybe ask someone who knows how to read a map to give you a lesson.
Choose a hike you know well for the first time
If you have never been solo hiking before, I would suggest for the first time that you tackle a hike that you have already done before. This will ensure you know the track and you can build up to new hikes once you become comfortable being on your own. Solo hiking is different than hiking with others, you have to rely on yourself for everything from not getting lost, to making sure you are drinking enough water, getting enough rest stops and company.
Make sure the branches are stable
Ok, so I may or may not have learnt this the hard way. It may or may not have been on the side of the hill. And it may or may not have been during a loo stop. I may or may not have had a bruise on my bum for a few days following my hike.
Lads, look away, this tip is for the ladies
Period hiking. Not the most fun thought in the world huh? It can be done though. Wear tampons or a menstrual cup over pads. They are less messy and less bulky. Pack unscented wipes and hand sanitiser for well, you know. As you should always leave no trace you need to take everything back home with you to throw away. Ziplock bags keep everything together and odours out. For privacy, you can spray paint the inside of the bag or pop the whole ziplock bag in a fabric bag.
Know your limits
Be realistic about your skills and limits. You can always build up to more challenging hikes as you gain confidence and experience on your own. Don't try and tackle a hard climb if you are not experienced at hard climbs. Start small and work your way up.
Pack your bag
Remember that you will be in charge of lugging it around, you can't fob off any heavy items to someone else. Make sure that you pack all the essentials and that you can comfortably carry it all. For what to pack in your hiking bag, I have compiled a list for ya.
Stick to the path
The paths are there for a reason (if they are there). Stick to the track unless you know the area well. It is easy to get lost in the bush where everything looks the same. It isn't just a case of backtracking if you do get lost. Be safe and stick to the track.
Choose a popular track
If you are really nervous about being completely on your own, choose a track that is relatively popular so that there will be some other people on the track with you. You don't have to hike with them but it may be comforting to know that you aren't completely on your own. I didn't see a soul on my first solo hike (except for the sheep), but that was how I wanted it. I went out of my way to make sure the hike I chose would be isolated for personal reasons. This isn't everyone's cup of tea though.
Double check your camera
I thought that I was being really onto it when I charged the batteries for my camera. When I went to take a photo when I got to the track though it turns out I had left my SD in the computer. Rookie mistake. I had to rely on my phone camera for the day.
For more tips check out these posts
I have a post for general hiking tips + tricks. You can check it out here. For summer hiking tips, I have a post for summer hikes and some safety tips for the extreme weather.
The Benefits of Solo Hiking
There are loads of benefits for getting out there on your own. A few come to mind
You can take your time
This one was especially true for me. I forgot how steep the hills were, hills and I don't always see eye to eye. It was lucky I was on my own because I kept on stopping and 'admiring the view' (note: trying to breathe). If the hill was getting a little long or steep I could stop without having to worry about holding anyone up.
I also genuinely stopped for a lot of photos (not just to catch my breath back). Deerford Track boasts some beautiful views and I was awe-struck several times. One of the things I get self-conscious about when I hike with others is the sheer amount of photos I can take on one hike so I normally stay quiet then regret not taking the opportunity after it passed.
It is good for the soul
Being alone with nothing but company but the birds, the insects and the trees was so good for me. I could sit on the side of the hill, look out at the view and just be in the moment. Being present in the moment is an important skill we have lost due to being so connected to social media and our phones. It is easy to scroll mindlessly and not actually be present in the surrounding we are in. We don't have to be on social media or our phones all the time. Take some time out, turn off the phone and connect with yourself and your surroundings again. Nature is a great place to do this.
Solo hiking is a great way to reconnect with yourself
I have had a bit of a hard time lately in a few areas of my life. I didn't realise how much I needed to reconnect with myself until I was up in the bush just sitting and listening to the birds. Up in the bush, sweaty from the climb, with my hair sticking to my face I gained clarity. I took the opportunity to reevaluate what I want from life and what direction to steer it from here. The serenity of the bush is my happy place. The place where I feel at peace and whole again.
You don't have to share your sweets with anyone
This one is self-explanatory really. You can have a sweet stop whenever you wee heart desires and keep them all for yourself. I got into the habit of taking a packet Haribo on hikes while I was overseas and have found one shop that sells them here in New Zealand so always make sure I stock up for a hike. It's tradition. And it's even better when I don't have to share them.
You can hike at your own pace
When you hike in a group, you can only go as fast as your slowest hiker. This means many in your group are going faster or slower than they would like. If you go on your own you can set the pace that is comfortable and right for you. You can bumble along at your leisure or pick up the pace when you choose.
It is an opportunity to challenge yourself
You can push yourself, take the long way or go further than you have been before. Each solo hike you can build up your skills, fitness and experience.
There is more flexibility
Again, when hiking in a group it is a majority rules kinda situation. One person may want to press on while others may want to circle back. If you are on your own you can take all the side tracks you want as well as go further if you feel up to it without having to worry about anyone else. There are many opportunities to take sidetracks or explore in the bush. Not everyone wants to do them. You can if you are on your own. If you are tired you can head back. It's up to you!
Conquer those fears
It could be that you are scared of going solo hiking. Scared of heights. You could be scared of whatever, but solo hiking is an opportunity to conquer the fear and do it anyway.
I loved my first solo hike and am itching to get out and do it again. As I have gotten older (we won't say how old here), I have come to be comfortable doing things on my own and being on my own. It used to scare me and I would never do anything on my own. Now I seek out opportunities to be alone. I've become rather anti-social really.
Solo hiking enabled me to reevaluate what I want out of life and what direction I want to head in from here on out. It gave me clarity in a surrounding where I feel at peace. I came back feeling rejuvenated and re-energised in my direction. While my life isn't where I thought it would be, that's ok. Nothing ever works out how we want it to (we can't change that, no matter how hard we want to) but we have to make the most of it while we can. Stay tuned for a special announcement coming soon about the direction, it's a little scary but also exciting and challenging.
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