Extensive research has been conducted on the wellness benefits of immersing oneself in nature, whether that means simply spending time outdoors during work breaks or taking prolonged weekend hikes or retreats. One study involving 20,000 participants, conducted by the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter, found that those who spent at least two hours per week in natural environments were much more likely to report positive signs of physical and mental health than those who did not meet the two-hour threshold.
Additional research on the effects of spending time in nature has uncovered benefits including decreased risk of heart disease and diabetes, enhanced cognitive function, and a better-performing immune system. Going on extended solo hikes is a particularly effective way to take advantage of these benefits, in addition to building self-confidence and independence. Below are six tips and activities to help solo hikers ensure that they have a safe and memorable journey.
Hiking alone requires consideration of a range of safety measures. First-time solo hikers should only travel on well-marked trails, in areas with which they are familiar or that they have learned about from others. It can be easy to get lost in expansive wooded areas that are not properly marked.
Moreover, conduct a thorough study of the area in order to avoid coming across unexpected and potentially dangerous wildlife. For example, areas with high bear activity should be avoided by those hiking on their own.
Pre-hike preparation, while always essential, proves particularly important for solo hikers, as they have nobody else on which to rely for supplies. Above all else, make sure to pack enough food and water. Assuming moderate temperatures and activity levels, it is generally recommended that individuals consume roughly half a liter of water per hour during a hike. However, consider bringing more water in case of an emergency; for instance, if you are planning a four-hike hike, bring at least two liters of water.
Other vital supplies include a map, a compass, a first-aid kit, sunscreen, extra clothing, and a flashlight.
Regardless of the intended difficulty of a solo hike or nature excursion, it is important that you tell others, whether it be friends or family, of your plan. Inform them of any expected stops and the duration of the journey, and then stick to the plan, unless you have a way to alert others to changes in real time.
While simply roaming through green spaces and trails is enough to receive some of the physical and mental benefits associated with spending time in nature, you can make your hike more rewarding by turning it into a photo scavenger hunt. Before you start, make a list of items typically found in the wild; then, seek these items out and photograph them as you hike. These items may be specific plants or wildlife, types of trees, or things of a specific color.
Rather than just bring small snacks to maintain energy levels during a prolonged solo hike, consider first stopping at a local farm or orchard to pick suitable ingredients for a meal. As opposed to purchasing food from a supermarket, this fosters a greater connectedness with nature as well as an appreciation for the farmers and workers who grow and pick the food.
In addition, taking time to stop and rest while you eat presents an opportunity to become immersed in the beauty of your surroundings.
Another way to make a solo hiking experience more enjoyable and memorable is to record observations in a journal. This can involve detailed written descriptions of not only natural surroundings but also the emotions you experience during this time. Making sketches of these observations is another effective way to connect with nature.
“The practice calms your mind and increases your attention to detail and appreciation of beauty,” writes Paula Peeters in her book Make a Date with Nature: An Introduction to Nature Journaling. “It improves your recognition of different animal and plant species, and your understanding of where and how they live. With time, it also improves your ability to observe, to draw and to write.”
Souvenirs serve as reminders of one’s travels. Although you may think of souvenirs as items you purchase in local markets or at airports, they can be acquired without spending a cent. You can collect souvenirs in nature as long as you make a point not to damage or disrupt the environment.
Consider making a personalized souvenir by gathering natural items such as sticks, petals, and leaves. Fashion these items into a unique keepsake that can serve as a conversation starter in the future.