This one is a summary of something multiple people have asked me when I mention my solo walks on the trails in the woods.
How do you feel comfortable walking alone? I feel nervous about it from a safety perspective.
First, a caveat: everyone has to figure out their own comfort level with personal safety. I’m going to share my perspective, but I am describing it, not prescribing it for you.
Here’s how I think about this.
Walking is very, very good for me
Going out for walks by myself is a serious boon for my sanity.
Especially in those earlier months after I left my house, I could not manage to think about lifting weights or doing any sort of formal workout.
But I could throw on my shoes and walk, so that’s what I did. I’ve logged hundreds upon hundreds of walking miles since I left my house in January, and I really don’t know how my mental state would be if I hadn’t done that.
I’m somewhere near 97% sure that I’d be in way worse shape without this near-daily activity.
I don’t have someone to walk with!
Obviously, if you have someone to walk with, then that solves any solo-walking worries that you have.
But I do not currently have someone in my life who is willing and available to walk 100+ miles with me every month. So, if I refused to walk alone, I would just be refusing to walk.
I’m not making obviously risky walking choices
It’s not like I’m walking in a sketchy area of a city at nighttime. I’m walking in daylight hours, in predictably safe areas.
The odds are good that a stranger is not going to hurt me
I assume that most women are afraid of sexual assault if they walk alone, but the overwhelming majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by non-strangers.
This is also true of stalking, physical assault, and even murder (do a Google search and see for yourself).
Do strangers sometimes brutally attack women? Yes. But this is the exception, not the rule.
Americans tend to walk around in fear of something that’s not very likely (stranger assault), and we tend to not be afraid of the thing that IS more likely (that someone we know will hurt us.)
This is not particularly logical, and it reminds me of people who are too afraid to fly, but who regularly get into a car!
Just because something feels more dangerous, that doesn’t mean it actually is more dangerous.
The “safe” choice carries risks too
Let’s say you refuse to fly anywhere because you are afraid of dying in a plane crash. Then you can be sure that you will not be the one in five million that dies in a plane crash (See this Newsweek article).
It also means you are 100% guaranteed to be limited in where you can go. Your world will necessarily be smaller. And if you are chill with that, then that’s all well and good.
But considering that the risk of dying in a plane crash is so, so small, I’m willing to hop on a plane. I’ll take the tiny risk of dying over the guaranteed risk of having a smaller world.
In a similar way, if I refuse to walk alone, I can be 100% sure that I will not be assaulted by a stranger on a wooded path.
But then I also am 100% sure that I will miss out on the myriad benefits of walking in nature. To me, that doesn’t make sense, given that the odds of being assaulted by a stranger are pretty low.
To take it to an extreme, you could stay huddled in your house all the time to be sure you avoid all the risks out there in the world.
But then you wouldn’t see people, you wouldn’t see the world, you’d never have adventures, you’d probably be sedentary, you’d never get the benefits of being out in nature, and you’d probably end up in pretty bad mental and physical shape.
So. I personally am happy to take on low-risk activities that offer clear benefits.
And walking in the woods falls into that category for me.
If you are nervous, but you still want to walk…
You could always try something that feels a little safer.
You could walk on your neighborhood streets.
You could carry pepper spray.
You could turn on your location tracking and share it with a friend or family member while you walk.
You could walk on a local track (maybe at a local school or college).
And you could also arm yourself with the hard facts about the odds of getting hurt. You may still decide that you don’t want to walk alone, but at least that way you can make an informed decision based on reality rather than just perception.