After returning to the Pacific Northwest once we finished our bicycle trip, I wanted to take the opportunity to better explore the region where I grew up. One weekend, Dave was in Portland and I was itching to hike. I didn’t feel like asking around to find a hiking partner the night before, so I just decided that Sora and I would go for a hike alone.
I’ve been running by myself, or with a dog on trails for the better part of 20 years. I will take off for the woods or the mountains as a solo female and disappear for hours, feeling completely and utterly safe, but for some reason, going for a hike alone with my dog felt different.
Solo day hiking is no different from solo long distance running really, so why the tingly feeling? There was no chance of storm, the trail was well-populated, and I came prepared.
I think the difference is that I’m simply more comfortable running than I am hiking, even if they are, in essence, the same activity.
To me, it felt like dining alone. Or going to the movies alone. These are activities you are “supposed to” do with a friend. It felt weird to hike alone.
Of course, I’ve been warned countless times to be careful, urged to carry pepper spray, and asked whether I am afraid.
Afraid of what? I’d wonder. What is there to be afraid of in the woods?
My biggest fears are getting caught in a storm at a high elevation or spraining my ankle.
I don’t want this post to be about safety because I feel that it just breeds more fear, particularly among solo female hikers. I want this post to inspire you to face that fear of being alone to show what can happen when you do.
The Benefits of Solo Hiking with Your Dog
Strengthen the Bond between You and Your Dog
That first hike to Annette Lake with Sora unveiled my new favorite way to bond with my dog. When it’s just the two of you, you must learn to rely on one another.
I tended to trigger Sora’s reactivity to other dogs based on my own anxiety of the situation. Since we were often together with Dave, I might hand him the leash or let him distract the other dog and human as we walked past.
Alone, I had no one to hand the leash to and therefore needed to practice remaining calm during those inevitable circumstances when we would run into hikers with poor dog hiking etiquette. I learned to advocate for Sora and she understood that I would keep her safe.
You Can Go Your Own Pace
This is perhaps one of my favorite reasons to hike alone. If I want to wake up before sunrise and head out the door, I can. Or, if I decide to head out after work for a quick sunset jaunt, no one is stopping me.
While Dave is a wonderful Instagram Husband, he’s not always so keen on me stopping to take frequent photos and eliciting his help. If I’m alone, I can take as many photos as I like. I’ve also found that I play with my camera more when I’m alone. I become better at using my tripod for waterfall shots or figuring out how to join my dog in the scene.
The more you put yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable, the easier it becomes to push past the doubts and fears. Discomfort comes from self-doubt in your abilities, lack of knowledge of the activity, and the tendency to rely on others when something goes wrong.
Once you feel comfortable as a solo hiker, the more that confidence will translate to other areas of life, including work and relationships.
Think about it. You and your pup woke up at 4 a.m. to climb a mountain, that email you have to send or the conversation you’ve been avoiding won’t seem so difficult after all.
Develop Outdoor Skills
Dave almost always plays the role of navigator, whether we’re bicycle touring, hiking, or walking around in a city. Because he always did the mapping, I rarely practiced my navigation skills. Hiking alone allowed me the opportunity to do so.
If you don’t feel confident with your outdoors skills, find a friend or group to go hiking with regularly and learn from them. Facebook is a fantastic place to find local hiking groups. Often, breweries, gyms, and workplaces may also have hiking groups.
Alternatively, consider taking some skills courses. A few to look for include:
- Your local REI probably hosts the Wilderness Survival: 3-Season Skills course.
- Check with your local outdoor gear shop.
- Regional mountain clubs generally host classes and workshops
You Learn to become Comfortable being by Yourself
Being alone with our thoughts and fears can feel incredibly scary. I know that I feel like everyone is looking at me thinking, “oh, poor girl, she doesn’t have any friends to hike with.”
But you know what?
I don’t think that when I see solo hikers. I just think it’s great that they’re outside enjoying nature.
Walking alone among the trees can help you sort out challenging life decisions. Without other distractions from your phone or friends, you finally have the time and space to think freely.
Over time, heading out for a hike alone with your dog will seem like no big deal. It will feel as normal as the daily neighborhood walks you take together.
Test Your Physical and Mental Limits
Climbing a mountain or surpassing a distance goal just you and your dog will give you a higher sense of accomplishment than if you were to do it with a friend. There’s just something about having to rely on your own willpower to get you up and over that makes the achievement even sweeter.
You’ll also learn how to handle stressful situations when there’s no one to turn to but yourself.
Hiking Tips For Your First Solo Outing with Your Dog
- Tell someone where you’re going. Send them the link to the route and let them know what time you plan to leave and when you expect to return. I made the mistake of not doing this on the Annette Lake hike with Sora. Once I hit the sketchy and steep snowfields, I regretted my forgetfulness.
- Fortunately, I had taken my second advice here, which is to choose a popular hike with lots of people, so if something were to go wrong, I would have had plenty of help.
- Start with an easy trail that you’re familiar with closer to home. By choosing a trail you know, you won’t have to worry so much about getting lost. Further, if you pick a trail that you’re already comfortable with, it eliminates some of fears of going into the unknown.
- Know your and your dog’s capabilities. Don’t’ set out to climb a difficult peak or tackle 20 miles if you’ve never done anything similar before. Instead, build up your confidence and put those hikes on a bucket list to achieve when you’re both ready.
- Bring the 10 Essentials for you and your dog. You never know when nature will strike or when an injury might force you to bust out that first aid kit you usually leave behind.
- Know what wildlife might be in the area and understand how to behave in the case of an encounter. Carry bear spray if you will be in bear country and know how to use it properly.
- Make note of any trail dangers like plants and snakes that could harm your dog and know where to locate the nearest veterinarian.
- Trust your gut. If something or someone feels off, then trust that feeling. Check in with your dog as well, as they can often sense that humans cannot.