After sharing that I camped and trail ran solo for nearly 2 months alone in Colorado I got many questions from fellow women about how I did it while feeling safe. Was I scared? Did I bring weapons? How did I get over fears of being stranded or attacked or worse?
To be honest, ever since I can remember I was okay doing things by myself. If I wanted to go try something I would go do it, whether I had company or not. When I began to hike frequently I didn’t have many friends who were interested in it (I had not expanded my friend circles yet) so when I delved into longer treks and tougher terrain, the pool of people who were interested were even smaller. I leaned on my drive to experience new things and my love of the outdoors being a place for clearing my mind and grounding me to get myself out the door, alone.
Now, this drive does not diminish the chance that something may happen to me or that I will feel discomfort and unease if I come across someone alone. From being followed, stared at, having sexually inappropriate comments made, unsolicited invitations, gestures or behaviors towards us, women are made to feel unsafe and at risk while out recreating far too often. This is a reality we women face and when your stomach gets a little knotted and your heart starts to beat a little faster — we have to be very in tune with our intuition and gut feelings on if something feels safe or not. What I will say is that I have always felt more safe on the trail than running alone through the city at night, I think that says something in and of itself. Nights on the trails feel sometimes eerie but calming where nights running on streets may have be checking over my shoulder or avoiding bridges and heavily shaded areas.
With the recent murders of Sarmistha Sen and Sydney Sutherland, safety is at the front of many women’s minds and we are again reminded that our abilities to go out and move without fearing what may happen to us is fragile. In 2016, Mollie Tibbets was murdered while out running, which lead to Runner’s World Magazine doing their first ever survey that focused on harassment experienced by US women who run.
According to BBC, “The 2017 survey revealed that 43% of women experienced harassment while running – with the number rising to 58% for women under 30. Just 4% of men reported the same. The poll also found 30% of women said they had been followed by a harasser on foot, by car or bike. And the vast majority of women said these fears led them to change their habits – to run only during the day, to change their routes, to carry pepper spray or – in the case of 1% of women – to carry a loaded gun.”
There is also a history of victim blaming that appears around women out running alone. There are many questions of, “should she have been out by herself?” or “maybe she shouldn’t have taken that route” or “was her outfit suggestive?” — it is alarming and upsetting that women are not able to run freely, wherever they want to and wearing whatever feels comfortable to them without these decisions being brought up as reasons they may be targeted or attacked. Women should never have to be afraid of being targeted or attacked.
Karen Somers thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail solo at the age of 26 in 1998 and shared that she felt was more in danger driving to the trailhead than at any point while walking through the woods. As Men’s Journal shared, “While one in four college women report surviving rape or attempted rape, only three percent of men say the same. However, between 62 percent and 84 percent of survivors knew their attacker, making it more likely a woman will be raped by a hiking partner than a stranger.”
Instead of us asking, “is it safe?” or “should I go out by myself?” the true question is, “what can I do to feel safe and comfortable and be prepared when I do go out alone?” I have compiled several ideas on how to stay alert and safe as well as some things I personally do to feel confident doing outdoor activities by myself.
- Stay aware of your surroundings — if you’re camping or hiking/ trail running in a new area, do research (google, ask in outdoor communities online, etc) on the trails, dispersed camping areas or campsites offered in the area. If you are new to camping or recreating outdoors alone, choose sites or trails that are a little more trafficked and less remote to build up your confidence and feelings of comfort. Look to see how close other campsites are to yours, will there be others near by? Do you have cell service? How close are you to a town or others?
- Let someone know where you are going — loop a family member, significant other or friend in on where you plan to camp or adventure. Let them know how long you think you may be gone and be sure to carry your phone or a device someone could track you with. Strava also offers safety features that allow others to see where you are via GPS.
- Carrying something that makes you feel safe — it may be pepper spray, a small knife, a sharp-edged ring or carrying your key in between your knuckles, keychains that also work as brass knuckles or even running with your dog for an extra pair of eyes.
- Switch up your routine — running the same routes every day at the same time can make it easier for someone to track or follow your movements. Switching up your routes or when you go and not sharing your routes on apps or online at all or until you’re finished is important to keeping you safe.
- Lights are your friend — whether you carry a flashlight (can also opt as a safety tool for protection if needed) or wearing a headlamp or lighted vest, staying bright if you’re trail running, hiking or running in the dark gives you an advantage.
- Reconsider wearing baggy clothes — baggy clothing can be easier to grab ahold of. It is also worth considering wearing bright clothing and reflective fabrics that are easy to see in the dark.
- Stay aware of others that are around you — stay alert to who is in your near vicinity to the best of your ability and pay attention to body language, eye contact and stances. Understanding what aggressive body language looks like can be extremely crucial.
- Self defense classes — set yourself up with the knowledge and moves to protect yourself if it is needed. Take a self defense or Muay Thai class to learn basic moves that can de-escalate and protect you in a time of need.
- Ditch the headphones — I wear only one headphone or none at all, volume is never maxed out and allows me to hear my surroundings and stay on top of what is happening around me whether that is alertness to other humans or animals or weather.
- Do NOT feel bad for feeling unsafe — as one of my favorite true crime podcasts says, “Stay Sexy Don’t Get Murdered” and “Fuck Politeness”. If you feel uncomfortable and your intuition is ringing an alarm — trust it. Don’t feel bad for running/ hiking faster away from an area, removing yourself from the situation, saying no, calling a friend, etc. If it is your safety at risk — do whatever you need to do to get yourself into an environment that doesn’t feel dangerous.
Here are some online self defense courses to consider
Here are some self defense gear options to take while out running / hiking
My biggest check in with myself is to never let the “what ifs” rule my life. I love adventuring, sleeping under the stars, trail running on amazing trails and I don’t want to let fear of what could happen stop me from experiencing beautiful places. I do stay mindful, alert and implement some of these tactics so that I feel prepared and educated on how to take care of myself to the best of my ability.