What my sexual assault taught me about hiking alone: How to take your power back

Camping in Arkansas Summer 2021

I recently talked to my partner about how thoughts of being sexually assaulted again often influence how I move and react on my hikes and camping trips. She started telling me about the statistics of it all. She explained how I am more likely to experience sexual assault in spaces where I assume I am safe from assault. I had to think about that for an entire week because I knew she was correct, but I know the feeling that enters my body when I am on a trail by myself. A stranger passes me, and instead of remembering to greet them politely, I am wondering what they are thinking. Will they turn around and follow me? Have they been following me this whole time? I remind myself to breathe, find five things I can see, five things I can smell, and three things I can feel. This practice keeps me grounded and allows me to come back into my body and find joy in hiking, an activity I love.

As sexual assault victims, we should not feel scared to do the things that bring us joy. Fortunately, some great products exist to keep us feeling empowered and safe! I have always used the Sabre Safety Pepper Gel Spray https://www.sabrered.com/pepper-spray/sabre-defense-spray-quick-release-key-ring. Even when I ran around the neighborhood, I would bring my Sabre pepper gel. Another item that I love so much these days is the She’s Birdie Alarm. https://www.shesbirdie.com/ it is loud, cute, and easy to carry around. Even in my day-to-day life, like commuting to work, Birdie works for me. I work in downtown Portland, Oregon, and I feel comfortable walking from my office to the parking lot at the end of my days.

Reminder, this is my take on safety, and these are only recommendations. You have to do what is best for you. What is best for me is not waiting for someone to accompany me on my hikes and camping trips. For a long time, I had a complex relationship with independence. For five years, I limited myself, and I am never doing that again, not for anyone. So here are my top five tips for solo hiking:

  1. Do not start out alone. Take someone with you until you feel comfortable and have learned some basic skills.
  2. Stay close to home and pick short trails.
  3. Tell someone you trust where you will be and when they can expect you back.
  4. Carry your new safety gear!
She’s Birdie Alarm

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