READ THIS BEFORE YOU GO HIKING ALONE (NAIJA HIKE SAFETY SERIES)

People hike solo for many reasons. It could be for the love of nature, or the need to leave the whole world behind for a while and not have to worry about anyone or anything else by just immersing ones self in nature. Besides spending time out in natural environments is known to have positive mental health benefits.

Another set of people who may tend to spend more time alone in nature are scouts who are on the search for new hiking trails and the solitude of such an experience is also great for intra-personal development. I fall under this category and I must tell you that hiking with just my team of 2 or 3 scouts has its own sort of uniqueness unlike hiking with 20 or 30 tourists where we are the organizers. The freedom is certainly different because when you are a guide or organizer of a tour you have to be more careful and constantly be on the lookout for tourists safety especially the first time hikers.

So i find myself in between and in my own way i understand the need of people who like to hike solo and also those who say hiking with a group of like minded persons is the best way to enjoy a hike. The most important reason why hiking solo is considered by many as a bad idea no matter the part of the world you are is the enormous safety concerns and risk involved. There is no doubt that safety should always be a top priority for everyone and although there are several tips from professionals on how to stay safe on the trails either alone or as a group, the current security situation in several parts of Nigeria makes it just not a good idea to hike solo.

You may be in excellent shape and even be a survival expert with lots of experience on the trails but before you decide to go on a solo hike, I would like you to consider the following points:

SERIOUS INJURIES

At times, things just don?t go as planned. Hikers and lovers of the outdoor will understand this better. You can trip, fall, and injure yourself. This is part of the experience and some injuries might require another person to assist you to administer first aid or even walk or carry you back home safely. You might also need help climbing or reaching for a peak depending on the terrain you are hiking.

What if you are alone and have a serious injury which makes you unable to carry on? I leave you to answer the question

THE TRAIL MAY BE MORE CHALLENGING THAN EXPECTED

Leaving the built city behind and getting into nature is a challenge already and we might be in it for the purpose of overcoming those same challenges but at times, a trail might be too difficult to overcome due to changes in terrain which can be caused by harsh weather conditions.

HAPPY TRAILS NETWORK HIKE RATING GUIDE

Every hike you are embarking on has it's specific rating which indicates how tough it will be and helps to prepare your mind for the kind of challenges you are up against. This can be known by asking hike organizers or reaching out to  known scouts or the locals based in that area.

I once had an experience scouting a new hiking trail  with the Happy Trails Scouting Team at Karsana in 2019 and we successfully mapped out the trail and had several pointers along the way but surprisingly when we got there with a group of tourists after a few weeks, almost all pointers were gone and the terrain which was a bit clearer when we went scouting had become covered with heavy shrubs due to constant rainfall. The footpaths were totally covered with heavy vegetation as less people were hiking during the raining season and we had to cut through the bushes to make our way using a small knife we had.  It was tough making it through and surely not a job for 1 person.

YOU CAN GET LOST

This is a real concern and before you go ahead to criticize me for not being a skillful Hiker or scout, I would like you to know that even the best of scouts get lost especially if you are hiking a new terrain.

You might have been lost before and not even know it. Let me help you decipher that if you don't understand. If you have ever been in a situation where you can't recognize your immediate environment or the right path that will take you to your destination even if it's for a moment then you were lost. Now if you are hiking on a familiar terrain you'll most likely be more confident and know several routes that can still connect you to your destination. This can happen when you get distracted for a while. Your gadgets (phone or GPS) might fail you, it may get broken or battery may run down and depending on how lost you are, you may need assistance getting back on the trail or recognizing your environment. This is where your hike partner or guide comes in handy. Two good heads they say are better than One.

ANIMAL OR HUMAN ATTACK

It is better to have someone that can help and call for help, or that can at least give some emotional support in the case of any animal or human attack. Walking in a group also means making much more noise than when hiking alone, and this keeps animals away. And humans like animals also would think twice before they attack you when you are not alone. Your hike partner will be seen as a sort of defence unlike when you are alone and seem helpless.

So definitely the odds of being attacked are lower when you are not alone. Hiking alone is more like making yourself a soft target for intending attackers.

IT CAN GET LONELY

One of the great things about hiking is sharing the beauty of the nature around you, and sharing your excitement and gorgeous views with someone else. Even if you wanted to be alone and have your alone time it can get boring and lonely after a while. There is also no-one to motivate you unlike when you hike with a group and you have to do everything alone from carrying your backpack to making sure your lunch or snacks are packed. Forgetting someone like food, water or your phone at home might turn your hike experience to the worst. If you have company there will be someone to share with you.

Lastly let me also point out that there will be no-one to take pictures of you. Sure, you can always take a selfie but sometimes you may want a full picture with the background perfectly captured and this can be very tough to do alone even if you manage to carry along a tripod on your hike which is even additional weight for you.

Now, every organized hike group has rules of engagement but you should know that hiking with a group doesn't mean you have to be loud and forcefully participate in all activities including those you are not interested in. Get to know what the group stands for and their values. Just make your intentions known to the organizers so they don't get offended by you if you don't partake in all activities.

That way you can still enjoy some level of solitude and calm when you hike with a group of people but be sure to hike with people that respect boundaries and will not discriminate. You can minimize your interactions and still get all the help you need on the trail but I bet you can always find someone who you will feel comfortable interacting with when hiking with a group.

Let me end this by sending a special shout-out to all the scouts and tour guides around Nigeria who tend to risk their own safety just to map out the trails and discover and maintain the trails to the cool locations we hike to. I encourage you to keep showcasing the vast tourism potential of our great nation to the world.

Next in my Naija Hike Safety Series will be on Why your smartphone should not be your guide during hikes.? Thanks for reading!

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