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How I Gained Confidence Exploring the Outdoors Solo

map and compass

By Ashley Rezachek, Communications Outreach Specialist Individual Placement / AmeriCorps Member placed at MN DNR Scientific and Natural Areas Program.

 

It would be inaccurate to say I grew up spending a lot of time outdoors, camping, hiking, or just living the outdoorsy lifestyle. I’ll be honest, as a kid I hated putting on bug spray and sunscreen, didn’t care too much for getting dirty, and didn’t have a strong urge to climb trees, hurdle over boulders, or wade through streams.

It wasn’t until I was older that I began to appreciate the natural world and the beauty it provided. Over the last few years, I’ve made it a priority to spend more time outdoors and find meaningful ways to protect nature. From acting as a leader in my school’s environmental sustainability club to removing invasive species through an AmeriCorps program, to serving in my current role with the Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa, my obligation to protect the environment has grown stronger. My desire to be outside has also flourished.

With very little experience in the outdoor world, I had to learn how to navigate nature in a respectful and safe way. I’ll be sharing some of the things I’ve done to build confidence in my outdoor skills, more specifically what I’ve done to feel more confident exploring and hiking solo. It has definitely been a learning (and unlearning) process, and I’m gaining confidence each time I go out.

Growing up as a girl, I remember hearing the warnings about how I should not recreate outside solo, that it’s unsafe. However, as I’ve grown older I’ve realized this attitude is limiting, and there are ways to venture safely outside. It is possible! While I can’t dismiss how important it is for me to be aware of my surrounding and myself, I do find this overthinking can lead to unnecessary anxiety.

 

I Prepare and Know Where I Am Going

map and compass
Map and compass used during an REI Back Country Navigation class.

This is pretty straightforward. I make sure to wear proper shoes for the terrain, dress for the weather, pack snacks, and bring water. When I head to more wild places, such as one of Minnesota’s Scientific and Natural Areas, I download the map on my phone ahead of time. I also try to consider whether or not I’ll have cell phone access and avoid places where I won’t get reception.

Thanks to the Conservation Corps Individual Placement member training budget I was able to attend an REI class on Backcountry Navigation where I learned how to read a map and use a compass. When hiking I remain aware of my surroundings, and I don’t use headphones which can easily be distracting.

dry waterfall in winter
A dry waterfall at St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park during a hiking trip with a local meetup group.

Practice, Practice, Practice

To feel more confident hiking solo, I first practice hiking with other people. I joined a local hiking meetup group and have gone to several outings with these folks. I’ve also invited family members to go out and explore nature with me. This provided me with the opportunity to familiarize myself with a park or natural area and return on my own. I tried to start simple by taking a walk on maintained trails with good signage before I worked my way up to SNAs and areas with less signage.

 

Trust Your Gut

I’ve learned to trust my intuition when it comes to my safety. If I’m feeling off or feeling slightly uneasy about a location, I don’t go or I turn around. I also let someone know where I’m going and when to expect me to return. I find it helpful to reflect on my limits and my energy for the day. I don’t get too ambitious, and view what I’m able to do as an accomplishment.

Hiking solo can be empowering and completing a hike can be a massive confidence boost in the end! With every step I am crushing my insecurities and learning to rely on myself.

There are plenty of other ways to gain confidence hiking solo. If you’re interested in hiking solo, there are plenty of guides online that can help you get started.

pink flower
One of the great things about hiking solo is you can take however long you want to stop and observe nature. I like taking pictures of flowers, so hiking solo allows me to slow down and take as long as I need.