#8 Ways To Stay Safe When Solo Hiking and Wild Camping
Updated: Apr 6
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Solo hiking and wild camping can carry their own risks; however, if you take the right precautions when navigating the wilds on your own, you are dramatically reducing the risk of anything going wrong. There’s no one around to turn to in case of an emergency, so it’s important to be careful and stay safe when solo hiking and wild camping. The following eight safety tips can help ensure your next solo trip outdoors will be your best yet!
See The Beginners Guide to Wild Camping here
#1 - Plan Your Route
Choose a safe and achievable route using an Ordnance Survey Map; it's good to use a 1:25,000 for detail (use an OS Explorer) and a 1:50,000 suitable for viewing the overall area (use an OS Landranger). Make sure the route is within your level of skill and experience. Leave the route at home with a loved one, so they know exactly where you are going.
The OS app is great for plotting the route and seeing how far it is, how long it will take and what the ascent is. However, always carry the paper version with you as well in case of technology failure.
#2 - Check The Weather Before You Set-Off
I always check more than one forecast to get a good idea of what it will be like. I use the Met Office and The Mountain Weather Information Service. I will also check a local weather service like The Lake District Weather Line (they send hilltop assessors up Helvellyn or similar every day in winter to report back accurately).
Remember that the higher you get, the colder it gets (air cools one °C every 100 vertical meters, and wind chill can knock off ten °C), so make sure you have enough clothing. I would never go up a mountain if the wind speed is more than 40mph and if gusts are more than 50mph. This kind of wind speed can be dangerous and knock you off your feet, potentially causing an injury.
#3 - Use A Satellite Messenger
As I go out solo, I feel I have to be extra careful as if I have an accident, I don't have anyone with me to get help, and there is not always someone around. Furthermore, after only going out a couple of times, I soon realised that you don't always have a phone signal, and sometimes you can't even get a signal in the car park. I like to check in at home when I'm setting off on my hike/camp, check in halfway, and check in when I'm back in the car/tent.
I looked into the Garmin range (other brands are available) and opted for the Garmin inReach Mini; not only can I text home, but it also pings my location when I send a message. Home can also access my account and see where I am even if I don't text. Plus, if I have an accident, there is a button to call mountain rescue. It gives my loved ones peace of mind, and I feel safer as I'm not just relying on my phone.
The Garmin inReach Mini costs around £300, which is really expensive; however, I feel it's worth the money for what you get. Please note you also have to pay monthly for ongoing use; I pay £12.99 a month, including free and unlimited pre-written messages.
If you have an iPhone 14 or iPhone 14 Pro running on iOS 16.1 or a later version, it is possible to share your location through satellite using the Find My app even when you are not within cellular or Wi-Fi range. See more details here additionally when mobile and Wi-Fi coverage is unavailable, you have the option to send emergency messages to the authorities through satellite by utilizing Emergency SOS. Additionally, the Find My app permits location sharing via satellite with others. See here.
There is also an SMS emergency service initially designed for deaf people; however, hikers are now using it as it's easier to get a text signal than a call. Please note you have to register beforehand to be able to use it. https://www.emergencysms.net/
#4 - Use A Map And Compass
Just like with the signal, you cannot rely on your phone for navigation; I always carry an OS map and compass with me. Compasses range in price and vary in quality; I have been told by Mountain Leaders that Silva Compass are the best, and this is the brand that Ordnance Survey suggests too, so for this reason, it is this compass I use, and no other and have had no issues with them. Furthermore, I have attended several map reading skills days to use my map and compass competently. I use the OS maps app (£4.99 a month or £20.29 for the year for a premium subscription), which I love to plot my routes on and pick out my wild camp spots. I have to say that the OS App is great for showing you where you are; however, phones can die and break, so if you don't have a map and compass, you could get very stuck. Therefore, I highly recommend some day courses in navigation.
#5 - Do NOT Take Any Risks
I feel one of the biggest pieces of advice I can give is that it is ok to stop and turn around if the weather comes in or you don't feel safe, don't feel like you have to reach that summit or get that photo for Instagram; your safety is far more important. I've turned around a few times and changed my route to keep low, and that's ok. There is no point in risking your safety whatsoever. I have seen many photos on Instagram of people sitting at the edge of cliffs, sitting on the end of a train line hanging over a cliff edge, and for what a good photo? It's stupid, to be honest. If you plan on reaching the summit of Scafell Pike and it's suddenly getting really windy, it will be there another day, so turn around and stay safe.
#6 - Make Sure You Have The Right Kit
Layered clothing systems are the best, as you can add and remove them when necessary. Start with a good base layer that can wick away moisture (once your sweat gets cold, it's tough to warm up again), followed by a good mid-layer such as a fleece or similar. You can then add good quality waterproof/windproof layers over the top. I also carry my down jacket for the cold days/nights, which also fits under my waterproof. I wear walking trousers depending on the season, lightweight ones for summer and a heavier fleece-lined pair in winter (bear in mind it can even get too hot in these in winter, so save them for really cold days). As well as the layers, I carry a hat, gloves, spare socks and gaiters. The key here is to maintain your body temperature (37C).
In addition to the above, I also carry on a day hike:
A good quality rucksack; On a day hike, I use a 30L Osprey Tempest 30, which I LOVE, and for a wild camp, I use the Lowe Alpine NO65, which I am looking to upgrade as it is too heavy
First Aid Kit, to include: blister plasters and plasters, sun cream, paracetamol/ibuprofen, midge spray, tick remover
Head torch and spare batteries
I will also carry spare clothes, waterproof gloves/socks, and an extra layer in winter.
See all the gear I use for Hikes and Wild Camps here!
#7 Food And Water
You can burn around 400-600 calories an hour when hiking in the hills, so it's essential to replace these, as being hungry can lead to an accident, just like being dehydrated and cold. Take plenty of snacks. There are a lot of energy bars/protein bars etc., on the market, and ideally, do not rely on sweets and chocolate as they are fast-acting energy, and you lose it quickly. Also do not forget to take lunch if you are out for the day, in winter I will also take a flask of something warm like soup. For wild camping, you will need a meal you can heat up once at camp and a breakfast of some kind. The dehydrated meals are the best, and I love the Real Turmat ones; they are typically the most expensive, but they taste the best.
I will always head out with 2L of water. Even though I carry a Katadyn water filter, you may not be able to find decent water and especially on a wild camp, you mustn't run out. On a day hike, I carry a bladder as it's easier to access. The rule is that you should drink around 500ml of water every hour, as that is how much you can sweat. Make sure you head out hydrated and top up when you get back. I love electrolyte tablets after a hike, SIS ones are my favourite as they replace all the minerals you will have lost, and without those minerals, you will feel tired.
#8 - Do NOT Post Your Location
A lot of people ask me if I get scared of other people going solo, and to be honest, no, I don't, you are so often alone up in the hills, and therefore no one sees you. So, as long as you do not post on social media your route and when you are going, and for wild camping, do not post pictures that could give away where you are; save them for when you get back. If you see anyone up in the hills, they are probably there for the same reason as you camping, running or hiking; I feel far safer up in the hills than in the city centre.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this post and that it has given you an idea of how to stay safe and what gear you need when you go out on your own. If you are still unsure about wild camping on your own, then why not try at a campsite on your own first and see how you like that? I've recently visited a campsite that I recommend for this purpose as you still get a 'nearly' wild camp feel, and it's in the heart of The Lake District (read about it here).
If you do need to call Mountain Rescue - When reporting an emergency or injury, it is important to provide as much relevant information as possible. This includes the location, with a grid reference if available, as well as the name, gender, and age of the person in need of assistance. The nature of the injuries or emergency should also be specified, along with the number of people in the affected party. Additionally, it is important to provide your mobile phone number for contact purposes. In the event of an emergency, dial 999 or 112 and ask for the police and mountain rescue. It is important to stay in the same location until contacted by the rescue team, and if a further call is necessary, the same procedure should be followed.
Individuals with hearing or speech impairments can reach out to the 999 emergency services via text message. However, before utilizing this service, it is necessary to register with emergencySMS. It is highly recommended to register beforehand and not wait until an emergency occurs. To register, simply text ‘register’ to 999 and follow the instructions provided. In the event of an emergency, send a text message to 999 through the emergencySMS service, including information on the incident and the location, along with the word 'Police'.
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See The Beginners Guide to Wild Camping here
If you have any questions or comments on anything you have read, please contact me here
If you don't already use the Ordnance Survey App, you can download it here, enabling you to download GPX routes. I use this App to plan all my hikes, and as its OS, it mirrors the paper map you should always use in conjunction.
Disclaimer: These suggestions are what I do to stay safe, and I'm not suggesting these are foolproof or will keep you safe. It is just what I do! My biggest suggestion is to go on a mountain training day so you can learn the skills you need to stay safe, mainly navigation. Please contact me if you feel anything is wrong with this article.