Recently, I took on my first ever multiple day hiking and backpacking trip along the beautiful Northumberland Coastal Path, from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Seahouses over three days. Although I had an incredible time hiking alone in the stunning landscape, my experience was definitely shaped by my being a woman walking by myself.
When I first set out to write this article, I wanted to share tips and ideas to feel and stay safer as a non-male solo hiker. But if I’m being honest, this trip left me with more questions than answers. So instead, I’m going to share some of my experiences and what I have learnt so far. I am definitely not the most expert hiker - though I have camped and hiked alone many times before, this was my first multiple day trip by myself. However, I still think I learnt some invaluable things from even just this one hike.
Your first question might just be, why? Why do it alone? I honestly love to hike with people, and have had some of my best memories from adventuring with my best pals and family. But there is something so special about being alone in nature, only having to walk from A to B. I find it so meditative and joyful, and for me it’s worth the fear and risk.
Not only did I choose this hike for how easily accessible by public transport it is from Newcastle, and the gorgeous scenery of the Northumberland coast, but it’s a really well signposted route and you’ll often bump into day walkers and locals. I really recommend that if its your first solo hike to go somewhere like this that you know you will feel comfortable. I wasn’t ready to wild-camp or be far away from people, so this was a great option with campsites and towns all along the route. To some extent, it’s really good to push your boundaries, but not to the point where you’re having a awful time because you’re absolutely terrified!
It’s also okay if you don’t want to be by yourself but want to hike with someone else if that would feel safer. You will have such a laugh going with someone else, and can be there to look out for one another.
Another thing I noticed was that I had a lot of people coming to speak to me because they were concerned about me being a woman alone. It felt really strange because I actually mostly felt safe, but I could see how vulnerable I looked to them. Sometimes it felt really kind and I was glad someone had their eye out for me, but it also felt really frustrating sometimes. I am capable of looking after myself in that situation, and know that if I was a man by myself nobody would bat an eyelid.
I think something to remember about being a non-male hiker alone is you are going to feel scared. We hear stories our whole lives about what happens when women are out in nature alone, and all of us have experience or know someone who has been victim of gendered harassment in their life. It’s really sad that we have to worry about this, and alter our behaviour to protect ourselves. For me, it is worth the risk, but I recognise that besides from me being a woman, I have a lot of privilege that means I can push away this fear and feel safe enough to go out alone. This idea of risk may be really different for me if I didn’t have this privilege.
For me, it is about managing risk and fear to make the experience as safe as possible, but knowing a bit of fear is okay and good! Hiking alone is something I love to do and will hopefully continue for the rest of my life, and if you want to give it a go and feel safe to do so, it will be such a brilliant experience! If not, there are so many beautiful ways to enjoy nature that are not solo hiking, and it is wonderful to just get out there in any way you can!