A hiker takes in the clouded view at the top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. A solo hike can be ‘time for you to just be with yourself and take care of yourself,’ and a few precautions will make the journey that much safer. Shutterstock

Melissa Hart finds joy in running alone. “It is just magical,” she said. A few times a week, the 54-year-old takes to the trails near her home in Eugene, Oregon.


“I’m really busy, and I don’t have time to run with anybody and sacrifice that alone time and that meditation to run with somebody and just talk,” said Hart, a writer and teacher.

An estimated 168 million Americans exercise outdoors, including hiking, walking and running. The benefits to body and spirit are indisputable. Time in nature lowers stress levels and can ease both anxiety and depression.

But fear can make some people, especially women, hesitant to venture into nature alone, particularly after high-profile tragedies like the killings of nursing student Laken Riley in Athens, Georgia, in February and teacher Eliza Fletcher in Memphis in September 2022. Both women were attacked while running alone.

Fitness experts say that while dangers exist – crime, but more frequently, injuries – they can be well managed with preparation.


“The biggest danger for runners/hikers … are falls that can break bones, followed by encounters with cars for road runners, along with other uncontrollable environmental factors,” such as sudden weather changes or animal encounters, said Jean Knaack, CEO of the Road Runners Club of America.

Knaack, 52, has been running on her own since her 20s. “When my kids were really little, it was like that was my time when I could kind of step away, get a little break, being a full-time working mom,” she said.

Here are nine tips for staying safe while running or hiking outdoors.

1. Trust your instincts and stay aware

Knaack advises women to trust their instincts, vary their running routes, avoid oversharing on social media and stay aware of their surroundings.

Lizeth Aparicio, 32, grew up running with her father near their home in Chino Hills, California. Today she is in a running club, but she mostly runs alone.


“It’s your time for you to just be with yourself and take care of yourself first so you can do the rest that comes with a crazy life,” said Aparicio, an account manager for a sports app, who was hit by a car in a crosswalk when she was in college, now runs in bike lanes – facing the traffic – and scoots to the side when cyclists approach.

2. Prepare for your known health risks

For Maria Wishart, 50, of Duncannon, Pennsylvania, her service dog, Boots, is an essential part of her trail-safety preparations. As a solo hiker and backpacker with severe asthma, Wishart relies on Boots, a 3-year-old Australian shepherd/Australian cattle dog mix, who has been trained to predict Wishart’s asthma symptoms and does so with about 95 percent accuracy.

Boots warns Wishart of impending asthma attacks, which prompts her to use her albuterol inhaler and rest. Sometimes, all Wishart needs is a pause to slow her breathing; other times, she stops to rest before resuming her hike.

3. Tell others where you are going

Let a family member or friend know “where you are going, the trails you are hiking, when you will return and how, and your emergency plans,” the website HikeSafe advises.


4. Check the weather – often

“Make sure to keep checking the forecast during the hike, because weather at the top of the mountain can be unpredictable and temperature can drop 30 to 50 degrees in a short time, even in the summer,” according to the Emily M. Sotelo Safety and Persistence Charitable Foundation, which is named after a young woman who died hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in November 2022.

5. Cultivate situational awareness

“If you feel something wrong in your gut, don’t be polite. Just get out of the situation. If you don’t feel comfortable in an emergency, always call 911,” said Dakota Jackson, director of visitor engagement for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

6. Carry 10 essentials

The American Hiking Society recommends essentials including a first-aid kit, appropriate footwear, and a map and compass as a backup to GPS. Bring calorie-dense food for the hike and some extra in case you get lost or delayed. Bring plenty of water and a way to purify it. Dress in layers so you’re prepared for weather changes. Bring a knife or multi-tool, as well as a whistle, light and tools for starting an emergency fire. Sun protection and shelter are also on the list.


For hikers, it’s the elements, not crime, that are the biggest factors in outdoors mishaps, Jackson said.

“The biggest risks for any hiker or trail runner, not just for women, are tick-borne illnesses, being underprepared for your hike or weather situation, and slips and falls while you’re out hiking alone,” she said.

Jackson, 31, hiked the length of the Appalachian Trail in 2015. “My days were typically spent alone,” she said. “There is a sense of freedom to it because you have nowhere to be but where you are – on trail. It’s very empowering because you have everything that you need on your back.”

7. Use headphones on low volume

Knaack, of the Road Runners Club of America, advised: “Keep the volume low enough that you can maintain awareness of your surroundings. Don’t zone out in unpopulated areas – especially on quiet trails.”

8. Carry a satellite beacon


The device can send emergency SOS messages. The Fowler-O’Sullivan Foundation, created to honor missing Pacific Crest Trail hikers Kris Fowler and David O’Sullivan, gives free Garmin inReach devices to PCT hikers every year as part of its mission to keep hikers safe.

Wishart also carries two working cellphones, a cell charger and a satellite communicator, and she wears a custom bracelet with her name and emergency contacts on it. The goal, she said, is that in the event of an injury or illness that leaves her disoriented or worse, her husband can be contacted and medical personnel will know her medical condition and medications.

9. Focus on fitness

Wishart also encouraged hikers to do yoga daily. She said it improves her mobility and balance on trail and reduces the chance of injuries. She also always lets at least one person know her route and when she expects to return.

Until she began hiking in 2013, “I did not trust people, especially men,” she said, because of an assault she survived in her late 20s. “Going out on the trail taught me to trust people again.”

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