3rd December 2021.
“I feel much safer out in the middle of nowhere, than I do in a crowded city centre…”Debs, The Almost Empty Nest (2021)
In light of the recent tragic death of Sarah Everard at the beginning of 2020, much debate has taken place nationally in England regarding the overall safety of women in general. Debates such as these are by no means unique however, as attacks on women have seen a gradual increase as the years have passed. However, Sarah Everard’s case was particularly distressing in that it was caused by a serving Metropolitan Police Officer, a person in authority who people are supposed to look up to… A person in a position of trust.
As a solo female backpacker still in the early stages of exploring the UK, I began to wonder about what people’s general thoughts were towards solo hiking, wild camping and if the same worries were present in regards to the great outdoors in locations which are so far removed from urban life.
I have gradually come to realise over time that the concept of solo adventuring, especially in secluded locations, were at times a sore subject. That the very idea of a female going hiking in the moorlands on her own creates uneasy feelings in many minds. For instance, I have noticed on occasion that when I have made my adventures public on social media, although many are supportive, others are wary and often comment with the obligatory “be careful” warning…. Yet nobody says “be careful” when I nip down the street or into town…
My fascination and general curiosity around this topic prompted me to create a small poll which was aired for 24 hours on my Instagram and Facebook story back in early October 2021. The poll consisted of 3 questions regarding solo adventuring and attracted a number of responses. My reasoning behind asking the questions were to gain a brief insight into what local people thought about solo exploring, female solo exploring in particular and about whether they would feel safe partaking in such activities. The findings however, although only based on local statistics, do appear to support the general feel that many are not comfortable with the thought of solo adventuring. The questions and results were as follows:
1. Should women hike alone?
2. Should women wild camp alone?
3. Of all the people who do adventure alone, do you actually feel safe whilst out?
For the question regarding whether females should hike alone, 100% on Instagram were in favour compared to only 69% on Facebook where 31% voted no. Out of the groups who answered, I noticed that the majority of voters were mostly female on Instagram but were predominantly male on Facebook.
When asking about whether females should wild camp alone, 87% on Instagram said yes whereas 13% said no compared to Facebook where 67% said yes as opposed to 33%. On Facebook mostly men were in favour of female wild camping and the opposition mostly came from women who either had never wild camped or had no interest in long distance hiking. Nearly all the 87% who voted in favour on Instagram were either already wild campers or were close to trying it.
Finally I asked about all the people who actually did solo exploring and if they felt safe whilst out. 75% on Instagram said they did whilst 25% said they didn’t, and on Facebook the results were 50/50. The final question was a good mix of male and female in both social platforms and only Facebook participants tended to be made up of people who did not hike or wild camp.
The findings are interesting based on who actually took part. It is worth noting that the Instagram account I used was my adventure account at soloexplorer23 in which the majority of followers are all hikers and wild campers themselves. Facebook is not as clear cut. Although I do have hiker friends on my friends list, a lot are not necessarily outdoors people and many have never considered nor will they ever try backpacking and wild camping. This most likely explains the major differences in the two polls but was an interesting comparison all the same.
In addition, I received messages from a number of people who did not vote but kindly gave their thoughts on the topic. One theme that I noticed being mentioned a lot was that out in the majority of most National Parks, the locations are secluded or can be difficult to reach hence less people around. This lowers risk of being attacked considerably. Many people said that they felt safer walking 10 miles solo in the hills than what they felt walking 10 minutes down their local street. I too have felt this and so agree with this concept, but why is this so? And are we really safe in such secluded locations?
The results clearly demonstrated that there are definite misconceptions regarding solo female backpacking as well as fears regarding overall safety whilst out in the hills. My aim is to try and ease some of those worries here and help people look at this hobby in a whole different light. I agree that long distance hiking can be considered dangerous and has the potential to make people vulnerable, however what people don’t always consider, is that with careful preparation and thorough planning, it is generally safer than what most people think.
One popular topic of conversation which I’ve noticed keeps on cropping up whenever I complete a hike, is how I keep myself safe whilst out in the hills. For the benefit of this post, I have focused on my most important safety aspects that I always consider when planning an adventure. I am by no means an expert and every day is a learning curve for me. There has been occasions where I have been fearful and had to rethink my strategies. Many mistakes have been made along the way but of all the times I have solo hiked or wild camped, there hasn’t yet been a time when I’ve felt unsafe or unable to continue.
Hill walking, long distance hiking and wild camping appears to be appealing to a much wider audience in current times with people of all ages taking part. My take on this is that these types of hobbies should be enjoyable but respectful at the same time. Whether you choose to hike with others or solo, the same principles still apply in regards to safety yet quite often, certain aspects are easily forgotten about or overlooked. So here are a few basic tips on safety in the moorlands and how you can become a happy solo adventurer. Hopefully they will help put peoples minds at rest and remove some of the fear when considering solo hiking.
So, just how safe is solo adventuring as a lone female and what method do I use or consider whilst travelling?
Location and route
Whenever I decide on a location in which to travel, I always start out with a clear plan of my walk route. Checking out the location by reading blogs and watching walks on YouTube has helped massively in my selections and is especially useful if I haven’t got any prior knowledge of an area. Most walks if found on designated hiking websites will be graded according to difficulty, and will give a good insight into what is involved in the hike. Knowing about aspects such as elevation and terrain also give me a good indication of roughly how long the route will take.
Gear and kit
Starting out with all the correct kit for a particular hike makes all the difference to how successful it will be. This is also why planning a route and location beforehand is particularly important. I always check the weather forecast before I set out and pack accordingly to whatever hike I am considering, but I permanently have my waterproof over shell trousers and coat regardless. Weather can be temperamental especially in open areas and can change without warning leaving people prone to being caught out. This has happened to me numerous times in which I dread to think about the situation I could have found myself in if I didn’t have my waterproofs.
The same can also be said for lighting. As part of my kit, I always carry my head torch as an essential item. Quite often than not, the torch will never come out of the bag other than if using for wild camping at night or if venturing into dark places such as a cave. There have been times though, when a hike has taken longer than anticipated and I have been caught out on the moors as dark nights have drawn in. In Autumn and Winter months where the days are shorter, this is a common occurrence.
WARNING ⚠️ Hyperthermia can set in extremely quickly even in the summer months whilst out hiking in moorland and High Peak areas. The most common cause is from damp or wet clothing. Always carry your waterproofs! They weigh next to nothing and will save your life.
All appropriate rest stops
Whatever hike I am planning whether it be a day adventure or multi day thru hike, I always have a rough idea of the places where I hope to take a rest stop. This however varies depending on the location I am in. By doing this though, it ensures that my day is broken into sections and allows me to hit my checkpoints, recharge my energy levels and evaluate my progress. Depending on the type of hike I am doing and the location I am in, it gives me an opportunity to eat, have a drink, perhaps restock on supplies, wash and dry any kit etc or even just find a place to set up camp. Either way, planning and taking rest stops ensures that sufficient rest is obtained at the right times throughout the day therefore preventing risk of burnout and lowering the risk of injury.
Your body and mind however is the best tool you’ve got though people. You will know in your own gut when you need to take a rest. Listen to it. It is not usually wrong and always do what is best for you.
Go to contact
Going solo on any adventure is fun and quite often, the whole idea of doing so is because I want to spend that quality time in solitude at a particular location. Yet we never have the insight to know when something is going to go wrong or if we are going to be able to call for help if we suddenly need it. An example of my experience in this was whilst I was hiking the Loch Ness 360 Trail in May 2021. There were some sections within it where I could not obtain any phone signal for long periods of time. One occasion was actually as long as 35 hours! I was fortunate that I had informed my loved ones of the route and kept them up to date with the progress I was making and the places I planned to wild camp. I also had let them know beforehand that signal could be an issue. So despite not actually being able to contact anyone, my family knew the circumstances and that if I hadn’t contacted them by a pre arranged time, they would know roughly where to send help. Although this may not prevent accidents from occurring, it is always a sensible option to inform someone of your whereabouts whenever possible just incase you end up stranded or not able to let anyone know where you are.
Food and drink
This is one of the most important aspects of any adventure and what you take will depend greatly on what type of adventurer you are, the location you are planning on going and the duration of your journey. I have done many experiments with hiking foods, and I have tried and tested various different ones in order to find what works best for me. Although there is no written rule in what is best it leaves the choice very much up to you. I recommend high calorie, high energy foods especially if partaking in long, strenuous hikes in difficult terrain. Having some handy foods for snacks as well as the main meal are also particularly useful as these can be grabbed easily and eaten on the go when energy levels are running low. My favourite items for this are chocolate bars. Depending on the hike I choose, my meals have been both hot and cold. Long distance hikes do consist of hot drinks and meals and so I have to consider fuel as well as my cooking utensils. To save weight in my rucksack I tend to use freeze dried meals on long distance multi day adventures and save packed lunches for day hikes. Either way, I like to take plenty as I never know if I will need the extra. I find that for me, it is better to be able to take uneaten food home than not have enough in the case of emergencies.
Drinks and having enough is perhaps more important than the food itself even if it doesn’t always feel that way. This is because dehydration will kill you quicker than being hungry will. I always aim to set out with 2 litres of water and try to refill my water bottle every time 1 litre has been used up. Everyone has their own way of keeping hydrated whilst out walking and you have to find the way that works best for you. Some prefer to carry fresh tap water, whilst others like myself use a water filter and rely on the streams and brooks that I pass. I prefer this method as it gives me freedom to hike further safe in the knowledge that I will not run out of water.
WARNING ⚠️ Hiking in the heat of Summer in high places in particular requires extra care! High peaks have seen many brooks dry up and remain that way throughout the late Spring and Summer months. This can be particularly trying especially if there is no other way of getting water. I experienced a situation in June 2021 when on a 2 day hike with overnight camp up Kinder Scout in the Peak District. Every stream had completely dried up with the only available water source being a tiny trickle of warm, brown, peat coloured water at Kinder Downfall. The same hike also saw my friend have to give away a litre of his water to a girl who had ventured up Kinder unprepared and become dehydrated. Always carry sufficient water at all times.
Wild camping for me takes adventure to another level. Not only does it give me the freedom of being close to the elements in the great outdoors, it also allows me to spread my wings, take on longer hikes and really get the most out of an adventure. There are many settings in which you can find yourself wild camping. These can be areas such as open moorland, woodland, forestry, crags and edges or even mountains themselves. The possibilities and choices are endless and if chosen wisely with a little preparation, every camp can be a treat.
Wild camping in England, although not illegal as there is currently no law in place regarding it, is however considered trespass. This means that landowners can ask people to pack up their tents and leave if they are spotted. If a person refuses to leave, and the landowner really wants a person gone, they can contact the police and have them removed. Wild camping however has been tolerated in many National Parks and moorlands provided that people respect the place they camp in, pack up and take away any litter (Leave No Trace in other words) and camp either solo or in very small numbers. It is only in recent times such as during the 2020 lockdown and the increase in moorland fires from camp stoves and barbecues, that landowners have really hit back at wild camping and people have seen an increase in many getting asked to leave a particular spot or location.
Something I consider when planning or choosing my wild camping spot is how popular the area is with tourists, hikers and the general public. Areas such as Stanage and Bamford Edge in the Peak District are perfect examples of favourite well known camping locations. No doubt these are stunningly beautiful and will offer incredible views at sunset, but unfortunately due to their popularity, it’s the quickest way to be spotted and asked to pack up and leave. Any location which can be easily reached from a road or village should act as a warning and encourage you to walk much further in search of a suitable camping place. I always hike at least 2 to 3 hours away as I figured that no one is likely to want to go to the bother of looking for me if they have to walk that far. The furthest away, although tiring is the safest option and I always consider the thought that if I can reach a location within 1 hour, then so can a landowner on a quad bike…
Keeping hidden wherever possible is also useful as it prevents unwanted visitors during the night or at times when you least need it. Having a water source nearby is the ideal setting, although it is not essential if enough water can be carried. The main thing is having enough to drink, cook and potentially wash cooking equipment to make a camp satisfying.
And my most important rule that goes without saying in wild camping is always to aim to pitch up no earlier than dusk (whatever time that might be) and be packed up and gone from my location by full sunrise. I believe that this one aspect alone is probably what has kept me safe the most. Pitching as the sun goes down is when most of the day hikers will have left the area or be ready for leaving, so there is less chance of anyone approaching you or even knowing you are there.
This has become a very important consideration during my time in hiking and one I have grown to appreciate more and more as time goes on. Social media and the ability to post live videos and photographs of the places we visit as well as providing updates and displaying our location are all useful and amazing works of technology. I love it all as much as the next person, however, not all occasions have proved wise and sensible. Telling the world your location whilst out on a solo hike or wild camp is basically opening the door to trouble and could attract unwanted visitors. A tactic I’ve learned during my adventures which still allows me to post footage and share my journey, is to post in retrospect. I do use social media to blog adventures and share photos, I just always post it 1 hour or more after I have left the location. If posting a camping location I never tag the exact location or give away where I am until I’m safely away. Although this may not be as strongly adhered to if I’m out walking with others, it is definitely in place when solo adventuring. It just gives me peace of mind and enables me to be safer whilst out enjoying the hills.
Physical and emotional limit
Again as mentioned previously, it is important to know your limits and stick within that remit. I read a lot about people’s desire to push themselves in every direction whether that be the distance to hit a certain milestone, to increase fitness or to experience something new. Whatever the reason I would never discourage this. Hiking and adventures are at times a test of many strengths after all. I just find that for me, the most successful adventures I have completed have all been because I took my time, didn’t force myself to hit unrealistic targets and followed my heart and my feelings. Things change during any adventure. The weather may change and could become unsafe, you may change your route at the last minute, you may even feel exhausted and not have expected it. Mental strength is just as important as physical. One of the best aspects of hiking is knowing that your location or destination is always in sight. It is not going anywhere. If you cannot get there today, it will always be waiting for you another day.
Whenever I set out on any hike I always ensure that I have the route drawn out on an OS Map. I then draw my route into my Strava app which I use on my mobile phone. I have to admit that I prefer Strava and find it an easy and accurate form of navigation. There are others such as Viewranger but out of the two, Strava is my go to tracker. In order to use the route planner option it does involve paying a subscription but it gives me the extra reassurance that I am on the right track and not going to take a wrong path and risk getting lost.
WARNING ⚠️ Navigation apps such as Strava and Viewranger among others, require a lot of power to run adequately. This is due to the GPS and recording capabilities within them. To ensure that you do not become caught out with no navigation (especially if relying on this instead of a map), it is paramount that you take external battery packs to keep your device in power. There really is nothing worse than running out of battery in a secluded location with no navigation or map!
In addition to the tracker, I do have compass and map reading skills and I always carry my compass when out exploring new locations.
Backup Emergency Plan
Finally, and most likely the best advice I was ever given was to aim to have a clear backup emergency plan when embarking on any hike. Although it may be impossible to make everything foolproof, my main concerns are always to have a clear cut escape route in which to leave the adventure if I ever need to and to consider ensuring that help can be sent to me in the case of an emergency.
As mentioned above, there may be a time when there is no phone signal. You could end up lost or running out of charge on your mobile phone. A year ago, someone sent me this advice… It is without a shred of doubt the best yet…
When running out of charge on your mobile phone, change the voicemail greeting to a new message which gives the approximate location you are in or at the very least the area. Clearly state the time the message was recorded and the date. Give the circumstances of the situation such as a fall, injury, stranded etc and where you are staying or if walking to the nearest village or town. The best thing about doing this is that when your device eventually does run out of charge, the message will remain and will play to anyone who calls your number. In the event of you not returning home, it will give anyone looking for you a good idea where to send help.
Of course, there may be other safety and coping strategies which hikers use in order to keep themselves safe whilst out in such remote locations, but I have touched on my main ones which I feel are most significant. Backpacking and hiking in general is becoming recognised as a growing culture. Whereas once upon a time it was predominantly male dominated, the trend is seeing a significant rise in females of all ages taking up the hobby. Feeling confident and having the knowledge of how to enhance safety makes all the difference to a person’s overall experience. When comparing the statistics of exactly how safe people felt whilst undertaking these activities or looking at overall perception of solo adventuring and why there was a fear element to it, there were many factors to consider. The main thing is planning and ensuring that every likely obstacle has been taken into consideration. Trust your gut and if something doesn’t appear right, respect it and try an alternative solution.
I have found that most hikers in general are usually a good bunch and you can usually tell the genuine from the rarities by the kit they are wearing or carrying. Most hikers will be happy to help and advise in any situation. Although nothing in life is 100% guaranteed, when looking properly at the risks and preventions in black and white, I tend to trust the idea that hiking and solo adventuring is safer than walking around a city. Most people won’t hike miles to commit atrocities, they tend to opt for quick fixes which don’t require the hard work and dedication which so often goes into hill walking.
All images used in the production of this blog post are my own and have been captured by myself Lucy Bailey using an iPhone 7 camera device. The images have been edited using Instagram editor tool and can be accessed at my Instagram account found at soloexplorer23.