Being a Woman and Hiking Alone

Today is International Women’s Day and it seems fitting that I write about something that has been on my mind for some time now: what it feels like to be a woman who hikes solo.  I have set out on hundreds of hikes now and over 95 percent of them have been solo.  Reflecting on all of those hikes, I can say that I have never felt unsafe or insecure due to my sex. Not once.

My first hike alone in the winter – Greeley Ponds Trail to Mt. Osceola East Peak.

So why do we as a society still struggle with the concept of our women going alone?

Even after all the growth we’ve made in empowering women, the world still struggles with the idea of “the gentler sex” setting out alone, especially into the wilderness.  I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been asked by both men and women if I’m hiking alone. When I confirm that I am, it is usually followed by a comment to “be careful,” or “you’re brave.”

I’m not brave, I’m just a regular person doing what I like to do and I happen to also be a woman.

Hiking Mt. Carrigain when I wanted to die because I was so tired but I pushed through and made it to the summit.

I’ve read several posts by fellow female hikers on this site as well as others and the message is always the same. We don’t want to be treated any differently than our male counterparts and we would appreciate it if the world would stop looking at us as weaker because we aren’t male. Just because I have a vagina doesn’t mean I’m not capable of doing the same things as a man; in fact, I can do something a man cannot.

If I can give birth to a human being, and if I can grow a person in my body, then I think I’m strong enough to hike a mountain ALONE.

Tuckerman’s Ravine when I hiked Mt. Washington on my own.

It has been encouraging to see so many women hiking on their own in my ventures. We smile at each other as we pass along the trail, an unspoken bond of sisterhood between us. Blazing the trail for future generations of young women; showing them that it’s OK to be alone and happy.

So what does it feel like to be a woman hiking solo?

The bushwhack on Owl’s Head – a 19-mile hike.

Iconic picture of Bondcliff – a 21-mile hike.

In all my years on this earth, after everything I’ve accomplished, nothing has given me more confidence than hiking on my own.  I’ve earned a master’s degree, taught special education for over seven years, battled severe anxiety, and dealt with loss. But going through all of those things hasn’t given me the sense of pride that hiking alone has.

I have never felt more confident in myself and my own abilities as I do when I’m out there in the woods, on my own.  I wouldn’t be the woman I am today if I hadn’t taken that first hike solo over two years ago. I’d never have discovered just how strong I am, not only physically but mentally. Every time I set out on a hike, push through a panic attack on trail, or get back to my car after a 20-mile trek through the wilderness, I realize just how strong I am ON MY OWN.

So regardless of what you have between your legs, remember, you are capable of amazing things.

Looking toward Mt. Madison from the Star Lake Trail on my northern Presidential traverse.

You’ll never know just how strong you are until you don’t have any other choice but to trust yourself to make it through. Rather than celebrating International Women’s Day let’s celebrate National Human’s Day. Let’s encourage each other to discover our own strength.  The next time you see a woman hiking alone, rather than telling her to be careful or that she’s brave, just smile and realize you just met someone who is playing a small part in making the world a more equal place for everybody.  

“The hardest walk is walking alone. But if you let it, it’s the walk that can make you the strongest.” – Unknown   

The Franconia Ridge in the clouds after I finished my New Hampshire 48..




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Comments 5

  • Mark Stanavage : Mar 8th

    I have been greeted with dismay and urgings to be safe too, when I say I hike solo. Some people don’t realize that nature and the common bond hikers share seems to bring out the better elements of society. The mountains don’t care about color, creed, income, marital status, gender. When we are out there, be it in the rain, snow, or sunshine, we are all humans. Way to go! May trail magic always find you when you need it most. Good luck and have fun on the Long Trail.

    • Socked In : Mar 9th

      Thank you and I appreciate your comments! I completely agree about the bond between hikers. I live in a city and have come across way more danger there than in the woods alone. Happy hiking!

  • Annie : Mar 8th

    I have never felt usafe,or brave,hiking alone. I have encountered problems and embraced the challenge of solving them myself. There is something very wrong with the widespread practice of intimidating women with made-up bullshit about what someone says they should or shouldn’t do. Endless humn potential discarded and pain maximized. Let’s all, including women, hike our own hikes.

    • Socked In : Mar 9th

      I agree completely and wish there was less fear mongering in this world. There is this quote that I love by Cheryl Strayed and it totally motivates me to not be scared: I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.


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