I was slightly surprised when a woman friend said to me today she would never go hill walking alone because it was all very well for men but she didn’t think it was safe for women.
This is someone who is happy to walk two miles to work through a park in a dodgy part of West London, and for that matter take late-night Uber rides alone, so not a terribly shrinking violet.
Personally I feel my friend’s risk assessment is a little off, but is this a common feeling, I wonder? I don’t feel as though I’ve noticed solo male hillwalkers being commoner than solo women to a greater extent than their proportion of the hillwalking population at large, but perhaps I’m wrong. What does UKC say? I suppose there is probably a self-selecting bias among the present audience, but still.
Obviously I think your friends risk assessment is wrong and the risks are virtually identical for male female solo hill walking.
My partner goes off happily on her own summer and winter. Many decades ago she met another solo female in winter whom was pleased she met my partner as she could now tell her mom she wasn’t the only girl out alone in winter, as her mum thought she was uniquely mad.
The only place my partner won’t go solo is bothies. However the other weekend I was the only bloke in the bothy out of a total of seven people ……times are a’changing.
I go out alone summer and winter.
I don't have any qualms about safety as regard to other people. My feeling is that someone committing opportunistic abuse against women is going to roam the pubs/clubs/alleys/parks in a town or city somewhere. They aren't going to follow me as I drive several hours out of Glasgow then wander off into the middle of nowhere. If anyone were to go to those lengths to target me, it is probably personal, and I would probably be just as unsafe in my own home.
I won't go to bothies on my own. If I camp, I stay away from honeypot spots and usually walk several miles off of the road. However, I would far rather go out in the hills on my own than walk through Glasgow on a Friday night on my own.
What I do worry about when I'm out on my own are far more prosaic things, like breaking my ankle.
I do find in discussions about this at work that most women also say that they wouldn't feel safe going to the hills alone, but many of the people I work with are lifelong city dwellers and don't have much experience of being in the hills at all.
A bit off topic but when I stayed in a refuge in France in September there was a lady there with two children. She had taken them on a "hiking holiday". The children were about five and seven years old. I imagine that the lady was in her early thirties - young enough to be my daughter. Anyway, they invited me to join them in a game of cards. I didn't have a clue what the game was but they obviously enjoyed my participation. We left the refuge the next morning and set off at different times but on the descent we kept catching each other up. After about three hours i arrived at an auberge where I stopped for lunch and the lady and children again caught up with me and we had lunch together. The lady told me that on the descent the children had seen me in the distance and were keen to catch up with me. After lunch it transpired that the lady had left her car at the auberge and was keen to give me a lift to the next village where I was planning on staying for the night. She dropped me at the gite and headed off to Toulouse, where she live.
A very brief but pleasant acquaintance.
I've only walked solo a few times in the hills but didn't feel remotely unsafe when doing so. I did some solo walking and camping as prep for my ML assessment and I was more worried about the what happens if I twist an ankle than being attacked.
I've felt very unsafe walking alone in various cities though.
I've also a female mate that just finished her 4th round of Munros and has done many of them solo or backpacks or whatever. Other than having folks concerned as to how a wee thing like her could possibly do all the Mamores or lots of Cairngorm hills in a day she's never had any hassle.
> Other than having folks concerned as to how a wee thing like her could possibly do all the Mamores or lots of Cairngorm hills in a day she's never had any hassle.
I feel perfectly safe in the hills on my own so far as other people are concerned, the only danger being my own clumsiness. Central London, or indeed my own home town, late at night is another matter.
> I feel perfectly safe in the hills on my own so far as other people are concerned, the only danger being my own clumsiness. Central London, or indeed my own home town, late at night is another matter.
Yeah. There was a discussion some time ago, on the defunct OutdoorsMagic forum, where a chap rewriting his 'Walkers Handbook' was wanting to put in all sorts of scary wording about the dangers for women in the outdoors. The consensus of forum members (both male & female) was that the outdoors is safer (from a human threat perspective) than any urban environment, with the same argument as above: those looking for victims are much more likely to find targets in densely populated, urban environments. I'm not sure we convinced him of our argument; it may have had something to do with him guiding parties of American women in the UK...
> Personally I feel my friend’s risk assessment is a little off, but is this a common feeling, I wonder? I don’t feel as though I’ve noticed solo male hillwalkers being commoner than solo women to a greater extent than their proportion of the hillwalking population at large, but perhaps I’m wrong. What does UKC say? I suppose there is probably a self-selecting bias among the present audience, but still.
I can't comment on whether or not some women feel unsafe on the hills but from personal experience I have seen comparatively few women walking on their own. I've seen quite a few solo female hill runners and the occasional solo female walker in my local Ochils but apart from that I can only think of 4 women solo walkers I have seen / encountered. One was in the NW Highlands on the Ben More Assynt / Conival ridge. One was on Galtymore in Ireland. One was in the Far Eastern Lake District fells. The 4th was a few months ago on East Lomond in Fife. I have been hill walking for over 40 years. However, if you look at the reports on WalkHighlands there are many examples of women walking on their own.
I'm heading out on my own to recce the last 35 miles of the spine challenger route on Thursday night. All the women at work who know about this have expressed concern, and when asked why, have mostly said 'what happens if there are any strange men'? They grudgingly accept the fact that there is more likelihood of strange men on a Saturday night in town but are still far more concerned than if I were a man.
Also when out running or walking on my own in the mountains I have on occasion been told 'don't worry, I'm sure he'll wait for you' or suchlike, referring to some random strange man further up the trail, who they assume I must be with...
I definitely don't see as many solo women on the hills as men. I've always assumed it's either a confidence thing about hill skills/nav or because a lot of women prefer walking as a social activity, I'm amazed that someone who is happy to walk around a city at night would think it's unsafe on the hills.
Personally I'm happy to hill walk/fell run alone, in fact in many ways I prefer it. I'm also happy to be out in urban environments after dark and often run, on and off road, in the dark. The alternative is to stay home all winter and who wants to do that? Every time this topic comes up I find it really sad that so many women don't feel they can do this sort of thing! I'd honestly rather take the risk of being attacked than give up my freedom to be out in the world - though that's massively helped by a) living in a not awful part of the country and b) being 40 so increasingly invisible to most men nowadays!
I think risk perception and reality are probably the issue here but I’m almost certain that the actual risk from other people is several orders lower in the hills than in a city. I increasingly notice (in Scotland at least) a lot more solo women in their 20s/30s whereas men of that age seem to be in groups of their pals, usually in shorts and a north face t shirt despite the temperature and conditions.
I’ve a young daughter but if she keeps her interest in the hills I’d feel much more comfortable about her solo walking/overnights than say walking home alone through an urban park. Have to say I feel much safer as a bloke out in the hills than I do walking around in a city after dark!
An interesting topic this one. Now I’ve started to think about it I’ve seen/met quite a few solo women (winter and summer) over the years. As a percentage then maybe 25-30% of soloists.
If I transpose that onto cycling then I see far fewer solo female riders, mostly I see pairs. Solo riding seems to very male around the North Downs.
Similar in our household, we're both happy to be out alone on the fells, again on the assumption that any self-respecting murder won't be sat in the middle of nowhere in the cold and rain on the off-chance a victim might turn up.
I think a lot is due to lack of familiarity with the 'outdoors'. People will pay £20 to do an organised 'torchlight' 5k round the local forest, but look at me like I'm a lunatic for running round there at night on my own without 'support' if anything happens.
I've soloed mountains in UK and Europe for years. No big deal.
The only issue is ccasional stupid comments - it's not far now, that way down is quite difficult or are you going skiing (I use walking poles) etc.
Funnily enough I never get any comments when walking with a man in tow.
She's not alone.
In conversations with other women on this (often about wild camping), views seem pretty split, but it's noticeable that even in this thread multiple women have said they wouldn't go to bothies alone - I am likewise (I've just been reading Bothy Tales and thinking about it, actually).
I think the issue is probably that while the actual risk may be much lower than in the city - and I would bet that almost every woman I know has been harassed or assaulted in an urban setting at some point - the consequences are greater. The changes of getting help from a passing stranger are slimmer, you can't escape into a shop etc, and you may well not have signal to call for help - and it would take a while to get there. Our mitigations go.
I will - politely - say that male opinions on this aren't massively relevant, because I suspect (not meaning to assume) a lot will underappreciate how much this is either a fear ingrained in us - we're constantly told to be careful, because apparently the victims are at fault - or how many women have, as I say, at some point being harassed or assaulted.
There are also those little instances that don't hit that threshold - for instance, I recently convinced my male friend to move our tent at a campsite away from a group of rowdy young guys. He said they were just lads having fun. I know - unfortunately- that those guys are also sometimes the people who would feel free to harass me late at night when I'm walking back from the loo block on my own and my partner was asleep. (They did actually call out at me as I passed, though not harassing as such, but enough to make me glad I listened to my spider sense.) But many women are making these risk assessments all the time, in the way the average bloke at a campsite just won't be doing.
Funnily I've always been someone who's been quite happy walking around alone at night - hell, the alternative is not going home from work - but since Sarah Everard I have not been.
I also suspect there is an element of the average woman perhaps being a bit less confident in her abilities in the hills - FAR from true from everyone, but I sense we often tend to underestimate our abilities, whereas males are maybe brought up to be confident/lead (this is about confidence, not ability, mind).
The exception is that when I've travelled alone, eg hiking in Patagonia, the place was FULL of middle aged women (for some reason, mostly from Oregon) doing their thing solo, and it was lovely.
Female approaches and views on this will totally vary, and I generally support the view of, 'I'm damned if they're going to stop me' (with some trepidation), but your friend's view is indeed far from rare, and I would (hopefully obviously) encourage you to sympathise and encourage rather than dismiss her fears. (Sadly that happens far too often.)
Thanks for raising the question. Nice to have these discussions on here.
I do a lot of walking and wildcamping solo and I guess the only safety concerns I've ever had have been about the solo bit rather than the gender bit, so I generally leave route details with a friend. I lived in London and Rome as a student, and whilst never scared walking solo in either of those cities, am way more comfortable walking solo in the hills. I've bothied solo as well, and felt comfortable staying at a bothy where the only other occupant was a solo male. We spent the evening talking about hillwalking, work and his family, and it was really pleasant.
I was coming off Pen y Fan late one afternoon after spending the day at mountain rescue training, though wasn't in a badged jacket. I encountered a family - mum, dad and a 12 year old daughter - all dressed in street clothes. Mum expressed horror that I was walking solo as a woman. I just raised an eyebrow at their attire but said nothing!
> The only place my partner won’t go solo is bothies.
Not at all surprised solo women don't like using bothies, I don't like it either. Too many encounters with drunken idiots over the years.
> In conversations with other women on this (often about wild camping), views seem pretty split, but it's noticeable that even in this thread multiple women have said they wouldn't go to bothies alone - I am likewise (I've just been reading Bothy Tales and thinking about it, actually).
I was one of the people who said I wouldn't stay in bothies alone. I have stayed in bothies alone in the past. I wouldn't say I've ever felt unsafe in a bothie, but I have certainly been made to feel uncomfortable. I wouldn't go so far as to say I would never do it again, but I feel like I have a lot more control of the situation when I'm camping, so that's my preference.
I don't do it a lot (usually go out with my husband), but do enjoy a solo hike. I usually cover more ground, but have also been known to bring a book and enjoy an extended lunch in the sun. The flexibility to plan my route on the fly and adapt it to how I feel on the day is part of the fun, which my husband just doesn't 'get' when we're out together.
Never felt any threat from people, most hillwalkers are just friendly. My issue is in less remote areas as I have a phobia of dogs, so walks have to be planned to avoid farmyards or isolated houses - and other walkers who don't control their pets.
Safety wise it's only the risk of injury that concerns me. I actually prefer my own company more when away from the crowds, so try to follow the 'tell someone where you are' rule. Also I carry a fully charged phone and more clothing than I would if part of a group incase I have to wait for rescue. Critically though to this thread, that risk applies equally to either gender.
> I definitely don't see as many solo women on the hills as men.
I agree, but this is complicated by there not being so many women as men on the hill generally. I've never seen a serious attempt to produce stats on this, but I know from research into Munro rounds that it's about 80:20 male:female with those, although that's further complicated by men being more keen on lists than are women. The Munros thing is probably gradually narrowing but I don't think it's yet close to 67:33 and at best it's still probably only 75:25.
In general hillgoing terms, at least in the bits of Scotland and the Lakes I tend to inhabit, anecdotally it does feel like there are more women about than ten years ago and certainly more than 20 years ago. For a long time now I've kept a vague tally of people encountered on hill outings - solo men, solo women, couples, groups, families - but I've never done anything with this in terms of trying to collate the stats - maybe I should! On my main local patch of the Ochils there are quite few solo women, some of them runners, some just walking, but even then it feels like the overall male:female split is no closer than two-thirds:one-third. If I were to confine it just to solo people on the Ochils then it's back in the 80:20 area or possibly even wider than that.
> I've seen quite a few solo female hill runners and the occasional solo female walker in my local Ochils but apart from that I can only think of 4 women solo walkers I have seen / encountered.
I see loads of solo female hillwalkers. Maybe not as many as men, but enough that it doesn't seem in the slightest way unusual.
I’m happy out in the hills on my own. I’m happy to camp in very remote areas or on family type campsites of my own. I regularly run in the dark either with a head torch in the country or in my nearest town alone (I do live in a very safe place).
Im not happy camping by the car at a roadside, on a rowdy campsite or in a bothy on my own.
> I see loads of solo female hillwalkers. Maybe not as many as men, but enough that it doesn't seem in the slightest way unusual.
Fair enough! Your experiences are obviously different from mine. I've been racking my brain [not a very difficult task] and I've come up with 3 other female solo walkers / runners I've encountered outside the Ochils. I once met a solo female fell runner on top of the Loch Lomond Ben Vane. She happened to be a well known Ochils runner. Dave Hewitt will know who I mean. And a couple of years ago a pal and I had nice chats with a solo female runner and a solo female walker on Bishop's Hill. I suppose the hills around Loch Leven are similar to the Ochils in the people they attract.
I'm seeing quite a lot of pairs of women around - eg the other day while going up the Law in the Ochils I met three pairs of people and each time it was two women (two of the pairs had a dog). Three in a row felt a bit unusual but not in general terms. I think I agree with Russell that there are more solo women to be seen on "easier" hills such as the Ochils and the Lomonds than on Munros etc, but I'm pretty sure I'm seeing more solo hill women than he is overall.
The Ochils have one notable solo female runner - the person Russell mentioned - who is often to be seen, usually zooming past. But although it's very much a runners' range of hills the considerable majority of runners there are solo men or very occasionally couples.
Without doubt I'm seeing more young people generally - I've had several weekend hill days in the past couple of years on popular Munros (Vorlich/Stuc, Chonzie, BMore/StoB and the main Lawers group) where it's been busy and I've met upwards of 50 people, maybe closer to 100, and insofar as I can tell at least 90% of these have been younger than me (I'm 61). This is good in lots of ways but also quite alarming!
Generally agree with you - I have hiked, travelled, hosteled and camped alone, but around very rowdy groups or in somewhere enclosed with no control of my environment (I haven't stayed in a bothy but I imagine that) I would be nervous. I've not often hiked in mountains alone - I tend to doubt my skills, fitness and health (reasonably), and it also feels like too much time alone with my own head when I spend a lot of my week working from home in insolation!
In terms of day hikes I know just as many women as men who hike I think, possibly more, though it may of course be that more men are doing it quietly without looking for companions so I don't know about them. Maybe more men going into the hills alone and more women doubt their skills solo (tbf, it sounds like male friends learnt more in the Scouts than I did in the Guides as a kid!).
These are people already doing it though - i imagine far more who aren't would be nervous alone.
What katherync said.
I've never stayed in a bothy on my own; I think I would be a little anxious about doing so while simultaneously telling myself not to be so ridiculous!
Perhaps your friend's idea of solo hill walking is coloured by her experience of dodgy early/late urban walking.
In the last few years I've walked a number of Britain's long distance paths with an ex colleague and I would say that the majority (eight out of ten) solo walkers we met along the way were women of varying ages.
Not really apropos of anything - I stayed in Tremadog barn when I was 17/18, and there was only a young woman there. I was frigging terrified! I was incredibly relieved when more people finally turned up...
> Not really apropos of anything - I stayed in Tremadog barn when I was 17/18, and there was only a young woman there. I was frigging terrified! I was incredibly relieved when more people finally turned up...
Was that due to you feeling intimidated by the young woman, or being worried she might fell uncomfortable being on her own with a young man?
> Was that due to you feeling intimidated by the young woman, or being worried she might fell uncomfortable being on her own with a young man?
Couldn't it be just be plain old shyness as opposed to trying to shoe horn in some sort of psycho babble to explain what happened?
I've had female friends who recoiled in horror at the thought of hiking alone (genuinely "what about mad axe murderers?" was one question) but that definitely comes down to perception and familiarity with a 'wild' environment. To some it seems full of danger, even if objectively it isn't.
Never had any problems walking, running or camping alone, but for some reason cycling alone as a woman seems more likely to result in harassment, in my experience. No idea why! Usually it's from van/car drivers, but I had a man trailing me over the Cap de Formentor this week, talking about how good my legs are. Then finally he pulled away, only to stop at the next summit and take photos of me (!) and offer additional unsolicited leg commentary. I could be wrong, but I suspect not too many men have to deal with that when out for a spin.