The Ultimate Women’s Guide to Hiking: Solo Hikes, Safety, and Tips
Hiking as a woman can be a liberating experience that allows you to tap into your soul, connect it with nature, and get a nice workout in all at the same time.
But, as a woman hiker myself, I found that my experience often differs from the experience of the men hiking around me. I found that I had some real concerns and worries that they just didn’t have to worry about. These were things like:
- Is it safe to hike alone? Yes – but you need to prepare for unsafe situations
- How do I pee/poop in the woods? Learn the proper techniques and equipment
- How do I handle my period on the trail? Build a hiking-friendly period kit
- What gear for women is really worth it? Some women-specific gear is worth it, some isn’t
After several years hiking and backpacking around the northeastern United States I’ve picked up some real-world answers to these questions. With that knowledge I wanted to create this guide for women hikers to share what I’ve learned so all women can be more confident when hiking.
So, lets get started!
How to Stay Safe When Hiking Solo as a Woman
In my experience, the top concern women have while hiking is their safety. This really applies to women everywhere (and not just on a hiking trail), but for today let’s just talk about staying safe while hiking. Many female hikers wonder: Can I stay safe while hiking solo?
And the answer to that is a resounding YES! But, you have to know what the dangers are so you can properly handle yourself should something dangerous occur.
In my experience, the three main dangers for women while hiking solo include other people, wildlife, and yourself. Yes, your own self may actually be your worst enemy while hiking.
So, lets look into each of these individually to learn how to prevent and protect ourselves from dangerous situations while hiking solo as a woman.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and I may receive commission for purchases made through links in these post. All links are to products I highly recommend and have verified.
Protecting Yourself from Others While Hiking
Being scared of other people (mostly men) while hiking is most women’s top concern. Luckily though, people are actually safer in the woods than they would be just walking around their towns.
Although there isn’t data on solo women hikers specifically, as a whole, people are 1000x less likely to be a victim of a violent crime while in National Park. This data doesn’t separate men from women, but parks are overwhelmingly much safer places than your average city – and that’s for everyone.
Now, there are some outdoor activities with higher rates of crime, especially for women (see: climbing). And no matter how low the crime rate may be there are still scary instances that can happen at anytime while hiking. So, you will never be 100% safe from others while hiking.
But, that isn’t a reason to avoid it altogether. Instead, you just need to prepare yourself for these encounters and feel confident in what to do should you find yourself with a dangerous person on the trail.
So, what precautions should you take when hiking solo as a woman?
Trust Your Gut
Your gut is your most powerful tool to stay safe and protected from others on the trail. When meeting someone you aren’t sure about, check in with your gut first. If you’re getting a weird vibe then absolutely listen to it and attempt to leave the situation.
Women are socialized to be more docile and not create conflict. So, even if we have a terrible feeling about something or someone we’ll usually ignore it and tell ourself we’re being too worried over nothing.
This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Know what your gut feels like it and listen to it.
For safety reasons you’ll need to tell at least 1 person when and where you’ll be hiking. But there’s no reason to tell everyone that information. Women are most often attacked by people they know and would never guess would harm them. So, when choosing your safety person, choose wisely.
Don’t share your most intimate hiking plans with everyone, because you never know who will use that against you.
And, when you’re on the trail there’s no reason to overshare with other hikers. No one needs to know you’re hiking solo. If asked, tell them your friend or partner is hiking a bit faster than you and they’re waiting for you ahead? It may be a white lie but it definitely could be one that keeps you safe.
Create a story before you ever hit the trail, so if you’re asked you know exactly what you’ll say.
A solo woman hiking with headphones is way more of a target than one hiking without headphones. I know that some people enjoy listening to music or a podcast while they hike solo, but for safety reasons you’ll want to leave those packed away.
Beyond just headphones, you’ll also want to be looking around at your surroundings. Is anyone following you in a strange way? Do you have a gut feeling somethings off?
When you encounter people on the trail look them in the eye and give a quick hello or wave. At worst you’re just being polite, and at best you’re letting any potential attacker know that you’re aware of where they are and who they are so they know you won’t be an unaware target.
Even if you do everything to prevent it, you may still find yourself being attacked. And if you do, you’ll really be thankful you have something to protect yourself with.
Now, what you bring for protection is entirely up to you. I know some people conceal carry guns (note: not all parks or trails allow this), while other feel more comfortable with bear spray. But you should know the options and compare them to determine which one (or which combination) is right for you.
The three main forms of fighting protection include bear spray, a knife, and a gun. I personally carry bear spray and a knife, and both are attached to the outside of my backpack. That way everyone can see what type of protection I have, which makes me less of a target.
In addition to protection gear, you’ll always want to have a whistle. Whistles are the standard emergency sound for hiking and if used, others around you will instantly be aware someone is in danger.
And finally, a nice to have, especially if you’ll be hiking in more remote areas, is a GPS locater. Some have SOS signals on them that will alert people that you’re in danger. This could save your life in a lot of dangerous situations while hiking.
Know Basic Self Defense
It’s always good for a woman to know some basic self-defense. Now, I’m not saying you need to have some fancy martial arts training, but a general idea of how to keep yourself safe in a fight is always good. This isn’t only for hiking, but just everyday living as a woman.
There are many YouTube videos that detail how to escape a grip, or how to fight back. Take a few minutes to really master a couple of the techniques. This small effort will really make you feel much better being alone anywhere, including while hiking on a trail.
Have a Communication Plan
Any hiking communication safety plan involves having someone who isn’t hiking with you know the plan for when and where you’ll be. Typically this also includes specific check-in points on when they expect to hear from you and what to do if they don’t.
Beyond this, you should also leave some information in your car while hiking so should you note return to the car someone can know who you are. Now, you don’t want to be super explicit (see above about not oversharing) – but a general idea of when you expect to be back (even if it’s just a date) can be helpful.
The police will often patrol common parking areas for hiking trails after-hours to ensure everyone has left the park. They’ll be able to see the note and alert someone if they know who you are and when you were supposed to be back.
Protecting Yourself from Wildlife While Hiking
Regarding hiking safety, many women’s second largest safety concern is around wildlife. And, it’s a valid concern. But not because wildlife attacks or injuries happen that often (they don’t), but because if they do occur you need to know exactly what to do or you will put yourself in a dangerous situation.
So let’s look at the most commonly feared wildlife encounters and discuss how to protect yourself so you feel more confident hiking alone.
How to Handle a Bear Encounter While Hiking
The best way to protect against bear encounters is to prevent them altogether. So, how do you do that? Well, the best way is actually hiking in a group.
Now, for us solo hikers that doesn’t mean all hope is lost at preventing bear encounters. Not at all. In fact the reason groups deter bears is because the noise they make. Bears hear a hiking group come through and leave.
Solo hikers can also make noise by singing or talking to themselves so that a bear realizes where they are and heads out. It may feel a little crazy at the time, but it is an excellent way to prevent a bear encounter altogether.
If you do happen to encounter a bear while hiking your next steps entirely depend on what type of bear it is.
Black Bears are the most docile of the bear types. You can protect from black bears by making yourself large and loud and they’ll likely run away. If you are attacked though, fight back and do NOT play dead.
Brown/Grizzly Bears are much less docile than black bears. You will follow similar techniques to get them to leave – including making yourself as large as possible. But, if you are attacked you’ll want to play dead. Spread your body out stomach down to limit the ability to be turned over and lie still until the bear leaves. If you fight, you won’t win. They’ll continue until you’re dead.
Polar Bears: Most hikers aren’t encountering polar bears unless you’re in a specific climate. These are the most dangerous of the bears, and if you’re hiking anywhere they are a possibility you need to carry a gun with you for protection. These are the most dangerous encounters/attacks and you should be prepared to kill the bear should it come after you.
The Cats: Mountain Lion and Bobcats
Wildlife encounters with cats can be very frightening, mainly because they like to remain hidden until the last minute. So, like bears, the best way to protect yourself is to prevent the encounter.
Now, most cats don’t want to get into a confrontation. If they hear you coming most of the time you’ll be avoided completely. There are some exceptions to this including trail running, and hiking with pets. Both of these make you more of a target and look more like prey. So, you’ll be more likely to be attacked.
So, if you’ll be trail running or hiking with pets be on an extra lookout for signs of cats like prints, scat, or markings.
But what do you do if you happen to spot a cat on the trail?
Mountain Lions: For Mountain Lions you should immediately face them and maintain eye contact while backing away. Make yourself look as large and loud as possible. Do not turn your back to them, run away, or crouch down (even to pick up something like a rock). You can throw things like your water bottle to deter them. If you are attacked, fight back.
Bobcats: Bobcats are extremely unlikely to attack you unless they have babies or are sick (usually rabies). So, should you see one there isn’t cause for alarm. But, you should still follow the same procedures of looking them in the eye, backing away slowly, and making yourself seem large, loud, and dangerous. Should you be attacked you’ll need to fight back – but again this is incredibly rare.
Insects, Spiders, and Scorpions
Insects, spiders, and scorpions can all be creatures to watch out for while hiking. But, which ones and how dangerous they are will entirely depend on what area you’re planning to hike.
We won’t have time here to go into every potentially dangerous insect, spider, or scorpion – but we’ll highlight a few tips on how to stay safe and prevent against bites/stings. And, I suggest you do some further research on specific ones near your area and learn which ones are dangerous before heading out on the trail.
Insects/ticks: When we talk about dangerous insects while hiking we’re generally talking about ticks. Although mosquitoes and flys can carry diseases as well, depending on your location. Ticks are incredibly hard to see, so the best protection is prevention. Treat your clothes with permethrin before heading out to repel them. Then, after every hike do a tick check of your entire body (especially in areas where hair is) to find and remove them. For other insects, bug spray is your best friend. Find one that is strong, and reapply it regularly on the trail.
Spiders: Spiders are hard to see and prevent while hiking. Most of the time, if you get a spider bite you may not even realize you’ve been bitten until after the spider is long gone. Should you find you’ve been bitten by a spider my recommendation is to seek medical attention immediately. Most spider bites aren’t dangerous at all, but some can be life threatening. And if you aren’t sure which category your bite falls in, it’s better to be safe than sorry. While awaiting medical treatment, it’s typically good practice to ice the bite.
Scorpions: Scorpions like to hide in narrow, dark places – aka your hiking boots. So, if you take your boots off in scorpion territory, be sure to keep them turned upside down. Oh, and don’t walk barefoot. But, should you find yourself stung by a scorpion, don’t panic. Wash the area with soap and water and apply a cold compress or ice. If the symptoms don’t subside, or the sting happened on a young child or elderly person, seek medical attention.
Snakes and Other Reptiles
Snakes are common creatures to encounter while hiking in many areas. Since they rely on the sun for warmth, they like to hang out on the trails to sun, or if it’s hot, hide under rocks or logs to cool off.
If you encounter a snake on the trail the best thing to do is to avoid it altogether. Snakes will rarely attack if they aren’t provoked. So, giving the snake plenty of room will likely keep you both safe.
Should you get bitten, remain calm! If it is a venomous bite, a spiked heart rate will only harm you. Take some deep breaths and see if you can identify the species. Most snake species are NOT venomous, but knowing which ones are will help you determine if you need to be concerned or not.
If you aren’t sure which species bit you it’s important to stay calm and make your way to the nearest medical facility. Don’t try to suck out the venom (that’s not effective and can spread the venom faster), or make a tourniquet. Just calmly make your way to a medical facility for evaluation and treatment.
Protecting Yourself from Yourself While Hiking
If my experience dictates anything its that you are often your worst enemy when it comes to staying safe while hiking. Why is that you ask? Well, it’s often because you choose to hike without properly preparing.
Properly preparing for a hike means:
- Having a first aid kit, enough water, and all safety essentials
- Knowing the trail conditions and weather conditions for your trip
- Developing a communication safety plan with a trusted loved one
- Wearing the proper gear for the conditions of your hike
If you’re missing any of these preparations before heading out, then you’re NOT going to be safe while hiking.
If the worst can happen it likely will. The one time you don’t pack a first aid kit will be when you fall and need it. If you didn’t check the weather forecast before heading out, then you’ll be caught in a thunderstorm.
Take care of yourself out there by preparing before you ever head out!
How Do Women Pee (or Poop) in the Woods
When you gotta go, you gotta go. And using the restroom in the woods is often a big stressor for women planning a hike.
We can’t just rip it out and use the restroom anywhere. We have to plan, prepare, and have a technique to keep ourselves clean and dry. I mean it’s not easy out there for women to relieve themselves in the woods. Squatting isn’t easy, or even accessible by all. Plus do you really want to drip-dry or carry out used toilet paper? And don’t even get me started on doing number 2.
So, let’s look into the techniques and products that make it easier for women to pee (or poop) in the woods.
How to Pee Outside Without Toilet Paper
So, this question is less about peeing and more about how to wipe without toilet paper in the woods. And, so let me introduce you to the holy grail of hiking essentials for women:the pee cloth.
Seriously, if you don’t own one of these yet you’ll want to grab it before your next hike.
A pee cloth is an antimicrobial cloth that clips onto the outside of your pack and is used for wiping out in the woods. The side you use for wiping also contains a snap, so you can fold it up before attaching it to your pack to prevent any moistness from touching you, your pack, or anything else.
It dries extremely quickly and can be used multiple times (antimicrobial) before needing to be cleaned.
I take a pee cloth on every hike I take, including short jaunts or multi-night backpacking trips. I don’t ever leave home without it and feel strongly that you shouldn’t either!
Trouble Squatting? How to Pee Outside Without Squatting
Women have always been told that the way to pee outside is to squat down. But, this isn’t really an accessible position for everyone, and it can get a bit messy and wet if you don’t manage to get your pants/underwear out of the way of your stream.
Now, some people are successful with just squatting, and if you can do that successfully then great! But there are alternate options available should you wish to use them.
Tree-hugger squat: The tree hugger squat is performed by pulling down your pants, and grabbing onto the outside of a sturdy big tree (like giving it a hug). Then you squat down and stick that booty out, so your pee can be released without getting on your pants. This prevents you from having to squat all the way down to the ground.
Female Urinal: For those who wish to avoid any type of squat altogether, then my recommendation is a female urinal. It’s a small, lightweight, typically silicone funnel that is made specifically for women so they can pee standing up. It’s incredibly useful in the woods, and the best choice if squatting isn’t in your wheelhouse.
How Do I Poop in the Woods?
How to poop in the woods isn’t gender specific. Women pooping in the woods follow the same procedures as men pooping in the woods. But, if you are planning to hike for longer distances, knowing how to properly poop in the woods is extremely important.
The steps you’ll follow to poop in the woods include:
- Find a remote spot at least 200ft away from a water source and your campsite
- Dig a cathole that is 6-8 inches deep and around 4-6 inches wide. I suggest packing in a trowel to use for this.
- Squat to poop.
- Wipe yourself. You can do this by using water, or my preferred method is to pack in wipes to use. Used wipes should be packed out, so bring a baggie or container to store them in. Do not bury used wipes/toilet paper – pack them out.
- Cover the poop with the dirt used to make the cathole.
After that, you’re all done. You’ve successfully pooped in the woods!
How to Handle Your Period While Hiking
Periods suck. There’s really no way around them if you’re a woman, but they’re never really fun to have to deal with. Unfortunately many women will avoid hiking altogether on their period, especially if they’re doing longer thru-hikes.
I do understand why women avoid it, as it can be a real pain. But I want you to know that having your period while hiking is entirely manageable. You just need to know what to bring and how to prepare.
So, let’s look into how to prepare for hiking on your period.
Period Products Best for Hiking and Backpacking
The first thing to figure out to feel comfortable hiking on your period is what products you plan to use. There are many options, and the one you choose will depend on your personal preference and how you want to approach hygiene on the trail.
Tampons: Tampons are good to use while hiking if you’re already comfortable using them. Women typically don’t have to learn a new method if they’re choosing to use tampons while hiking. The downside to tampons are that you have to pack them in AND out. Yes, used tampons need to be packed out in a waste bag. Some people find that kind of gross and want to avoid it.
Pads: Pads can be difficult to use while hiking for several reasons. First, they take up space in your pack and also in your waste bag as they have to be packed out. Second, they absorb moisture – which if you’re hiking near water, or on humid days, or you’re sweating, can be a problem. But, if pads are the only method you feel comfortable using then by all means use them! Just bring a few extra in your pack.
Menstral Cups: A cup is a favorite of thru-hikers and backpackers because you don’t need to pack anything in or out. Cups also need to be changed less frequently (usually about every 12 hours) than tampons. When it’s time to change your cup you’ll sanitize your hands, remove it, and bury the blood in a cathole. Then you can rinse the cup and reinsert it for the next hiking stretch.
Period Underwear: Period underwear is great for women who typically prefer pads but don’t want the waste or hassle of pads. When it’s time to change your underwear you have two options. You can store them in a special waste/dirty underwear bag, or you can clean them and reuse them. To clean on the trail you’ll need to rinse and wring out over a cat hole, then hang them to dry in a sunny spot. This probably isn’t necessary for a day hike, but may be something worth attempting for longer thru-hikes and backpacking trips.
Hygiene Care for Periods While Hiking and Backpacking
One of the biggest concerns women have around having their period while hiking is around period hygiene. How do you stay clean and sanitary while managing your period in the woods.
It’s an understandable concern, as the outdoors is pretty dirty. I’m never more smelly then after a thru-hike or a particularly hot day sweating on a day hike. Add a period into that and it’s so much worse.
But, managing period hygiene is entirely possible with only a few things: water, a cloth, hand sanitizer, and a waste bag.
Whenever there is blood, you should always rinse it off with clean water. Whether that’s your hands or down there, a good rinse can help rinse away excess blood and make you feel cleaner. After the rinse, dab with a clean cloth you have designated for this purpose to dry.
Once you feel dry, put away whatever is used or dirty into a special waste bag to handle later. I personally prefer this to be a bag that isn’t see through. Then your last step is to hand sanitize your hands.
See? Not so bad and entirely safe, clean, and hygienic!
How to Build a Period Go-Kit for Hiking and Backpacking
If you’re going to be hiking or backpacking on your period it’s best to create a period go-kit for your trip. So, what does a period go-kit contain:
- A non-see through bag to store everything
- Your menstrual product of choice
- A waterproof sanitary waste bag
- Clean towel
- Hand Sanitizer
You can create your own by buying each of your preferred options individually, or you can go with a pre-made kit to help get you started.
Grow Your Confidence While Hiking Solo
Even if you feel knowledgable about how to hike solo as a female, that doesn’t guarantee you’ll feel confident doing it. Knowledge doesn’t always equal confidence.
So, if you feel like you fall into the category where you know what to do and how to stay safe but you still don’t feel confident or safe hiking alone then you may want to deep dive into why that is and address it head on. But give yourself some grace as well. We all start somewhere and it’s okay to listen to that feeling of fear sometimes, as long as you know where it coming from and how to address it to grow your confidence.
Let’s look into the three things that I needed to do to grow my own confidence when hiking alone, and maybe they will help you find your own confidence hitting the trails solo.
Grow Your Outdoorsy Knowledge
If I’m worried about hiking solo, there’s typically a reason. And if that reason is based upon knowledge, then I can easily get that knowledge.
There are so many free resources available online and YouTube to learn everything from orienteering to ice climbing. Seriously, if you want to know it – there’s a free resource out there for you.
The resources and classes offered by REI and other outdoorsy stores or guides are excellent as well. They aren’t free, but I’ve taken a couple of these and have really come away with a lot more knowledge and confidence hitting the trails solo.
If you’re feeling anxious about hiking solo, try learning something new about safety, survival, or navigation and it may help you to feel more confident getting on the trail.
Build Up Your Solo Hiking Confidence Slowly
If you’re feeling nervous about hiking solo then take it one baby step at a time. Seriously. No one says you have to do a multi-day thru-hike solo your first time out.
Instead try a local trail, and one that you’ve done before and feel comfortable with. If there aren’t any trails like that do your research to find a nearby popular trail. That way you know there will be other people there, even if you are solo.
Once you feel confident with that, then start going longer, harder, or more remote. Build the intensity slower until you feel comfortable with where you are and what you’re doing.
The first time you go out it will be intimidating, but each time after that just gets easier. Start slow and you’ll eventually reach any solo hiking goal you’ve set for yourself.
Be Prepared With a Safety Plan
Every hiker needs a good safety plan. And if you’ll be hiking solo, especially as a woman, then it’s even more important to create one. I know for me personally, if I’m a little nervous on the trail, the thought of my safety plan really helps me through the situation.
A good safety plan involves:
- Having someone not with you know where you are, and when they expect to hear from you.
- Having a way to navigate myself on and off the trail
- Having a way to communicate with others off the trail
- Having a back-up option for both communication and navigation.
- Bringing a full first aid kit
- Having a way to filter water
- Carrying a change of clothes and rain gear
- Having the proper amount of food
- Bringing safety equipment like bear spray or a knife
Creating this full safety plan will help you feel more confident knowing that you’re prepared for anything that comes your way.
Consider Women Specific Hiking Gear: Clothes, Boots, Bags and More
Women have all sorts of products marketed towards them, often at a higher price than the male alternative. The “pink tax” exists, and we are all pretty-well aware of it. So, when people start telling me about women specific gear, I am a little skeptical.
But, some of the gear made for women and hiking is really worth it. It’s not just a “pink tax” product that is equal in all ways to the men’s version, just more expensive. No, it’s a specially crafted item for women’s needs.
Let’s go through a few main hiking gear categories to determine which has women’s hiking gear that’s actually worth investing in.
Hiking Clothes for Women
Now, clothes are typically gender specific, and hiking clothes are not excluded from this. But, women’s clothes tend to be more form-fitting than men’s clothes, which some women don’t prefer. So, when is women’s clothes really important to wear while hiking?
It really depends on the layer of clothes you’re talking about. The three layers of clothes for hiking include:
- Base Layer: This is like a merino wool or synthetic layer to wick sweat and keep you dry
- Insulating Layer: This is often a fleece or other insulating clothing type that works to keep you warm.
- Shell Layer: This is a waterproof and typically windproof layer that keep you dry and warm from the elements.
Now, if you’re not hiking in winter you’ll be unlikely to wear all three of these. Winter hiking requires all three of these layers and other types of gear to do it safely. For summer hiking you’ll probably just end up with the base layer.
So, which of these is really worth it to get the women’s version? Only the shell layer.
Although I love my women’s baselayer and insulating layers – I could easily get away with wearing men’s versions if I wanted. There isn’t much difference except for the fit.
For the shell layer though, the women’s versions are created to the shape of a woman’s body. This is important when you’re trying to keep yourself warm and dry. So, when buying a shell layer, it is really worth it to go with a women’s version like the Arc’teryx jackets here.
Hiking Boots for Women
Deciding on a hiking boot is really about what feels comfortable to you personally. Women do NOT need to wear a specifically woman’s hiking boot. But, there are some structural differences between men’s and women’s hiking boots that would likely cause you to lean towards one or the other.
Men’s hiking boots have stronger ankle supports, which while good for hiking can sometimes be uncomfortable. Women’s hiking boots tend to be narrower, so if you have wider feet you may find that a men’s boot works better.
If you’re trying on women’s boots and none seem to fit right – try a man’s boot. You may find that it works much better for you than a women’s boot.
Hiking Backpacks for Women
Whether you choose a men’s backpacking or a women’s backpack typically depends on what type of pack you’re choosing. If you’re looking for a daypack for short trips, then it really doesn’t matter which type of pack you buy – women’s or mens.
But if you’re looking for a backpacking pack, then yes you’ll want to go for the women’s version. A women’s backpacking pack is designed to contour to a woman’s hips, curves, and breasts, while a man pack isn’t at all. Most women will be a lot more comfortable in a women’s pack than they ever would be in a mans.
The one exception to this is tall women (6 ft. and over). Women’s pack’s aren’t really made for that height, so you may be best using a men’s pack but switching out the hip belt for a women’s version. That way you can get the best of both versions working for you.
Hiking Extras for Women
There are so many other types of gear that have female/male versions or that may be beneficial for women hikers specifically. We won’t discuss all of them, but a few I think are important to highlight for women are:
- Pill containers: for birth control, or other medications
- Period Kits
- Odor-proof bag: for toiletries or period products
- Women’s sleeping bags/pads: definitely worth getting the women’s version
- Baby/Toddler carriers for hiking
If you’re looking for other gear add-ons or products for women hikers check out our article on the best gifts for women hikers. You’ll be sure to find something that she loves there!
And there we have it! A comprehensive and ultimate guide for women hikers!
Hopefully you’ve found all the women-specific hiking tips that you need to help you remain safe, hike solo, handle your period, and more.
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