While most experts agree that hiking is best with a partner or a group, sometimes the trail just calls to us, and we want to go out on a solo trek - which is exactly what local Shawanna Kendrick did one day. She picked a popular trail where she felt relatively safe. At the trailhead, she passed a man who was heading the opposite way, and the two exchanged pleasantries. But later, when Kendrick paused at a body of water, she encountered the man, again. And this time, she says, he was acting as if he was trying to hide from her.
That gave her enough pause to head back to her car and not complete the hike.
Kendrick has since learned a lot about safety on the trail, both as a hiker and as founder of H2O, a guide service that leads women of color on hikes throughout the Chattanooga area.
Recently, we spoke with Kendrick and Brandon Powers, captain of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Rescue Service, to hear more about staying safe while solo hiking. From where you hike to what you bring, there's plenty to consider if you want to have a safe, fun experience.
Here is a compiled list of their dos and don'ts.
>DO go somewhere well-traveled.
If it's a popular trail, you'll be more likely to have someone there who can help you should you need assistance.
>DO carry a map, and consider having a compass on hand.
Smartphone GPS systems are the norm these days, but having a physical map is a great backup. Powers also recommends carrying a compass, especially helpful if you get off course. Being able to find and keep a heading is crucial if you get lost.
>DON'T ignore something or someone that gives you pause.
If your gut says something's off - whether a rustle in the bushes or the behavior of another person on the trail - listen to it.
>DO research terrain ahead of time, and know where you're going.
It's best to know the terrain ahead of time, so that you can be prepared for any challenging spots along the trail. Topography or terrain maps are widely available online (and likely your smartphone), and will give you an idea about elevation changes along your route.
>DON'T go too far off the beaten path.
This is probably common sense, but even so - stick to the trail. The further you stray away, the more likely you are to get lost.
>DO pause when necessary.
Nobody likes overextending themselves to the point of injury. Take breaks when needed.
>DO come prepared with the right gear, snacks, clothes and water.
Powers recommends bringing extra insulation (a synthetic pullover, for example) and shelter (a trash bag can serve as rain protection in a pinch).
>DO have an itinerary, and share it with someone else.
If someone else knows where you're going to be, it's easier to find you should you need help or medical assistance. At very least, leave a trip plan in the front seat of your vehicle, including the trail you plan to hike, how far you plan to go and when you expect to return.