8 Secrets to Safely Hiking Solo in Britain

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As we all know, Britain is home to some of the most breathtaking landscapes, offering a plethora of trails for both novice and experienced hikers. For those adventurous souls seeking solace and solitude, solo hiking can be a truly rewarding experience. However, it’s essential to take certain precautions to ensure a safe and enjoyable adventure.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore eight secrets to safely hiking solo in Britain. We’ll share a few personal anecdotes (mainly of mistakes I’ve made!), helpful tips, and interesting facts to make your solo hiking experience a memorable one (in a good way). So, lace up your boots and let’s get as far as possible from the madding crowd.

Plan and Research Your Route

Before you set foot on the trail, it’s crucial to research your chosen route thoroughly. Consult guidebooks, online forums, and local experts to gain valuable insights into the terrain, expected weather conditions, and any potential hazards. One of my favourite resources is the Ordnance Survey (OS) maps, which provide highly detailed topographic information, essential for any hiking enthusiast. I’ve got the OS Maps annual subscription and it’s very useful as you can print off maps, at various scales, for whatever routes and locations you like.

On a solo hike along the Southern Upland Way in Scotland, I quickly learned the value of carrying a detailed map and a compass, in addition to my GPS device. A sudden downpour left my phone’s touch screen unresponsive, and I had to rely on my trusty map to navigate safely. Remember, technology is a fantastic aid, but it’s always best to have a backup plan in case of sodden phones or dud batteries.

Here are some steps to help you plan, research and prepare for your chosen route:

  • Check guidebooks and online resources: Leverage resources such as guidebooks, hiking blogs, and online forums to gather information about the trail you’re interested in. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be. Plus, you might find out about other items of interest along the route that you otherwise wouldn’t have known about
  • Use Ordnance Survey maps: Where would we be without our trusty OS maps? Lost, that’s for sure. OS maps are an indispensable resource for British hikers. These detailed topographic maps provide valuable information on terrain, footpaths, and other features, helping you navigate safely and confidently
  • Evaluate trail difficulty: Assess the trail’s difficulty based on factors such as elevation gain, distance, and terrain type. Take special note of things such as contour lines (giving an idea of steep ascents and descents). Be realistic about your fitness level and experience when choosing a route – assume that hikes will take longer than you think. Then, if all goes to plan, you’ll have extra time for rest stops and post-hike café visits.
  • Check for trail updates and closures: Before setting off, ensure that your chosen route is open and accessible. Some trails may be closed temporarily due to weather, maintenance, or other factors. Local Tourist Information offices can be a useful source of knowledge for this, as well as for many other topics (I’d be in trouble if I didn’t mention this because my mum works for the Tourist Information office in her local village!)
  • Plan for daytime rest stops and overnight stays: If your hike spans multiple days, identify suitable locations for rest stops and overnight stays. This may include designated campsites, hostels, or B&Bs. For daytime stops, look for sheltered locations, ideally with beautiful views

Key points

  • Consult guidebooks and online resources
  • Use Ordnance Survey maps for detailed information
  • Evaluate trail difficulty and check for updates or closures
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Inform Someone of Your Itinerary

This simple yet vital step can make all the difference in case of an emergency. Always let a friend, family member, or park ranger know your planned route and expected return time. Provide them with your contact information and keep them updated with any changes in your plan.

I had a great solo hike through the Lake District a few years ago, where my friend kept tabs on my progress via a check-in system (which was an evening phonecall from the local pub – he knew I was safe and I got to have a pint of the local ale!) Knowing someone was aware of where I was provided me with a sense of reassurance and allowed me to really enjoy my adventure.

Key points

  • Share your planned route and expected return tim
  • Provide contact information and updates
  • Establish a check-in system with someone you trust
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Pack the Essentials

When it comes to solo hiking, packing smart is key – there won’t be anyone else to carry stuff for you, after all.

Bring along a well-stocked first aid kit, plenty of water, high-energy snacks, and weather-appropriate clothing. A multi-tool, head torch (with spare batteries), and emergency whistle are also indispensable items that could prove invaluable in a pinch.

During a trek in Snowdonia, I was incredibly grateful for my high-energy snacks (Kendal Mint Cake, we love you!) when I encountered an unexpected steep ascent. Having those extra calories gave me the boost I needed to tackle the challenge with gusto. That was my excuse anyway…

Packing the right gear is crucial for a safe and enjoyable solo hike. Here’s an expanded list of essentials:

  • First aid kit: Include items such as adhesive bandages, gauze pads, antiseptic wipes, tweezers, pain relievers, and any personal medications
  • Hydration and nutrition: Carry enough water to last the entire hike and pack a water filter or purification tablets in case of emergencies. Bring high-energy snacks like trail mix, energy bars, and dried fruit to keep you fuelled. Also, ‘proper food’ if you’re going to be walking longer distances between shops/pubs/cafes – Kendal Mint Cake is great, but it’s no substitute for lunch
  • Weather-appropriate clothing: Dress in moisture-wicking layers that can be easily adjusted to changing temperatures. Bring a waterproof jacket and trousers, as well as extra walking socks and a hat or buff for warmth
  • Navigation tools: Bring a detailed map, compass, and GPS device with spare batteries. Familiarize yourself with basic navigation skills before setting off
  • Emergency items: Pack a multi-tool, headlamp, emergency whistle, and a lightweight emergency bivvy or space blanket. A portable charger for your phone can also be useful
  • Miscellaneous essentials: Consider bringing sunscreen, insect repellent, a hat, sunglasses, trekking poles, and a packable towel

Key points

  • Carry a well-stocked first aid kit and personal medications
  • Stay hydrated and pack high-energy snacks
  • Bring weather-appropriate clothing and navigation tools
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Understand Local Wildlife

Britain’s countryside is teeming with fascinating flora and fauna. Thankfully, most of it (the animals at least) is likely to be more scared of you than you are of it. To ensure a safe and enjoyable hike, familiarize yourself with the local wildlife and know how to react in case of an encounter.

In the Scottish Highlands, on the West Highland Way, I once had a close encounter with an adder, Britain’s only venomous snake. While they are generally shy creatures, knowing how to react in such situations (i.e., giving the snake a wide berth and not disturbing it) can prevent unnecessary harm to both you and the animal.

The most likely animals to give you any kind of problem are cattle. They’re generally inquisitive, rather than dangerous, but give them plenty of space especially if they have calves.

Key points

  • Research the local flora and fauna
  • Learn how to react in case of an encounter
  • Respect wildlife and maintain a safe distance
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Be Prepared for Changing Weather

Ah, the good old British weather! Its unpredictable nature adds a certain charm to our adventures, doesn’t it? Always check the long-range weather forecast before heading out (the BBC Weather app is my favourite source for this), dress in lots of thin layers, and bring waterproof clothing and extra socks to stay warm and dry. Mastering the art of hiking in the rain is a key skill that any British walker needs to develop.

I’ll never forget one hike from about a dozen years ago on Catbells in the Lake District. I got sunshine, rain, and hail – all before I’d had my mid-morning cup of tea! Thankfully, my waterproofs and extra layers kept me cosy and dry, allowing me to savour the beauty of the ever-changing landscape.

Key points

  • Check the weather forecast before setting off
  • Dress in layers and pack waterproof clothing
  • Adapt your plans as needed based on weather conditions
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Know Your Limits

Solo hiking means you won’t have anyone to rely on for help. That kind of self-reliance is awesome, but you do need to be aware of and understand your physical limitations, choosing a route that’s appropriate for your fitness level. Be prepared to turn back if conditions become too difficult or if you’re feeling unwell.

On a solo hike along Grizedale valley, whilst hiking in the North West of England, I began to feel the early signs of a cold. Rather than pushing myself to continue, I made the sensible decision to shorten my route and return to my starting point. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and enjoy your adventure another day.

When picking your route, consider the following factors:

  • Fitness level: Assess your current fitness level and choose a trail that aligns with your abilities. Training beforehand can help improve your endurance and strength, making your hike more enjoyable and reducing the risk of injury
  • Experience: Consider your experience with different terrains and altitudes. If you’re new to hiking or haven’t tackled a specific type of terrain before, choose a less challenging route to gain experience and build confidence, or give yourself more time to complete that section
  • Time constraints: Be realistic about how much distance you can cover in the time you have available. It’s better to complete a shorter hike and return safely than to overexert yourself trying to finish a longer route
  • Altitude acclimatization: If your hike involves significant elevation gain, allow time for acclimatization to prevent altitude sickness. Ascend gradually and plan rest days or shorter hikes at high elevations before tackling more challenging ascents
  • Self-assessment: Continually assess your physical and mental state during your hike. If you feel fatigued, unwell, or unsure about your ability to complete the route, turn back or find an alternative, safer path. There’s no shame in prioritizing your safety and well-being
  • Flexibility: Be prepared to adapt your plans as needed. Weather, trail conditions, and your own physical condition can change unexpectedly. Being flexible and willing to adjust your itinerary can make a big difference in ensuring a safe and enjoyable solo hike (a friend of mind calls this ‘making dynamic assessments’, which I’ve always liked).
  • Emergency preparedness: Familiarize yourself with basic first aid and emergency procedures, such as how to treat blisters, sprains, or hypothermia. Knowing what to do in case of an emergency can help you stay calm and make informed decisions if something goes wrong

By taking these factors into account and knowing your limits, you can embark on a solo hiking adventure that is both safe and enjoyable. Remember, it’s always better to choose a route that matches your abilities and to turn back if necessary, rather than risking injury or becoming stranded. Hiking is meant to be a fun and fulfilling activity, and being mindful of your limits ensures you can continue exploring the beautiful British countryside for years to come.

Key points

  • Assess your fitness level and choose an appropriate route
  • Be realistic about your experience and time constraints
  • Continually self-assess and be prepared to adjust your plans
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Stay on Marked Trails

There’s something quite alluring about venturing off the beaten path, but when hiking solo, it’s essential to follow designated trails. Not only will this reduce your risk of getting lost, but it also minimizes damage to the environment and protects our beautiful countryside.

As an avid hiker, I’ve witnessed the consequences of straying from marked trails firsthand. On a trek up Ben Nevis, I stumbled upon a section of eroded ground, a result of hikers going off-course. Sticking to designated trails ensures the preservation of these natural wonders for future generations to enjoy.

Key points

  • Follow designated trails to avoid getting lost
  • Minimize environmental impact by staying on marked paths
  • Respect trail rules and guidelines to preserve the landscape
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Trust Your Instincts

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your gut and take action. Turn back if you’re unsure about a section of the trail or if you feel unsafe.

During a solo hike in Dartmoor, I came across a river crossing that seemed particularly treacherous. Instead of forging ahead, I decided to retrace my steps and find an alternative route. This decision not only ensured my safety but also led me to discover a charming hidden waterfall – a delightful bonus!

Key points

  • Listen to your gut if something doesn’t feel right
  • Turn back if you’re unsure about a section of the trail
  • Prioritize your safety and well-being above all else
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Solo hiking in Britain can be a truly exhilarating experience, but it’s crucial to take the necessary precautions to ensure a safe and enjoyable adventure. By planning and researching your route, informing someone of your itinerary, packing the essentials, understanding local wildlife, being prepared for changing weather, knowing your limits, staying on marked trails, and trusting your instincts, you’ll set yourself up for a fantastic solo hike.

With these eight secrets in mind, you’re ready to embark on your solo hiking adventure. So, tighten those laces, grab your trusty map, and set off to explore the magnificent British countryside, all while staying safe and relishing the experience of a lifetime.

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