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Should a woman legitimately fear to be assaulted or raped on popular backpacking trails in the US when hiking by herself? How common are attacks of that nature? How does it compare to residential areas, where we don't tell women to never be out by themselves?

I would like to keep answers focused on criminal behavior by others, and not the risk of having an accident.

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    Good question. It probably depends on the location. If you're two miles from the nearest road, you're probably safer than at a road crossing. I don't have the numbers to back that up, but that's what my gut tells me. – Don Branson Sep 7 '13 at 0:28
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    @DonBranson I think this would be very regionally dependent, actually. But I agree the overall, as you reduce the size of the population, the probability that an arbitrary member chosen at random poses a risk to you should decrease (to a non-zero minimum). But it doesn't account for how remoteness affects this, and what happens when you come across a problem group rather than just one individual? (E.g. are you safe enough hiking in a group of 3, if you encounter a problem group of 10?) – Nisan.H Sep 7 '13 at 20:42
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    No problem, just carry a Glock and you can camp anywhere you want, just make sure that your gun is bigger that the locals' ;), but if you're in Europe, you better not to hike, at least for now – Kyle Mar 16 '16 at 18:17
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    As a young woman who hikes alone, I worry a whole lot more about the risk of tripping or falling. I've known several hikers who have been injured badly enough that they couldn't self rescue, and one who died from a fall. None of my friends (avid hikers) have been threatened on a trail. That said, I don't hike urban trails after dark, always camp either very discretely or in a heavily populated campground when alone, and am slightly wary when meeting single male hikers on a trail (they are almost always decent people). – Karen Mar 22 '16 at 16:09
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Roland Muser wrote a book, Long-Distance Hiking: Lessons from the Appalachian Trail, based on surveys of 136 long-distance hikers, each of whom spent 3-6 months on the trail. Some relevant quotes (p. 133):

Two or three hikers had run-ins with local inhabitants, and some reported uncomfortable hitch-hiking incidents. More seriously, two hikers were threatened with guns, and there was one (not officially reported) attempted rape. [...] When one considers that we are dealing with the experiences of 136 people over three to six months, the unpleasant occurrences were relatively few. [...] When asked what they considered the major hazards on the trail about which they might wish to warn new hikers, responses boiled down to three categories [...]

In these responses, 23 people reported trouble due to other people (thefts, encounters with drunks, ...), 19 cited "trail/environmental hazards," and 14 issues to animals. The most common advice from ATers in terms of avoiding crime (such as getting your pack stolen) was not to camp at public car-camping campgrounds.

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    Upvoted for good answer with reference, but makes me really sad :( – Generic Error Nov 19 '14 at 6:26
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    Note that the Appalachian Trail has one of the highest population densities of any "wilderness" area. – Mark Jan 19 '16 at 3:28
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I think it depends very much on the area. In my area, it's very uncommon to encounter anyone once you get in more than a mile or two from the roads. Back there people are generally safer from other humans than they are in town.

However, there is always the possibility and it is good to be prepared. Carrying pepper spray and/or a taser (depending on the legality of carrying such things where you live), and keeping them in a quickly accessible location is not a bad idea for anyone to defend themselves.

  • A taser? Really? That seems a little silly. I agree that you're safer from violence in the wilderness than in a town -- and I assume you don't carry a taser on the subway. – Ben Crowell Apr 2 '14 at 15:24
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    Again, it depends entirely on the area you're in. In most wilderness areas the only people you're likely to encounter are good people, but I've encountered some sketchy individuals in some places and if I was out alone, the ability to defend myself would make me more comfortable. In southern U.S. border regions there is a high level of drug trafficking on foot through the mountains, and there have been incidents of hikers, cyclists and ranchers encountering smugglers, with at least one murder in the past few years. – Jonathan Patt Apr 2 '14 at 21:06
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    A taser's no good against a bear, and I wouldn't count on it against a coyote or a loose dog. If you're going to carry self-defense equipment, go with something dual-purpose like pepper spray. – Mark Nov 15 '17 at 3:27
  • Tasers are not magic. If both darts don't stick into flesh, the target will not be zapped at all. It's not uncommon for tasers to fail because one or both darts failed to penetrate the target's clothes. I would think that criminals you meet on a trail would be dressed more heavily than those you would meet in town, making this even more likely. – Ryan_L Nov 4 '18 at 22:49
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Woman here. No, I do not believe it's safe for women to hike alone. While most men in the western world would never harm a woman, women are magnets for the minority who would, and there are enough opportunistic predators out there that women find themselves being assaulted at the most random times while trying to perform the most mundane tasks.

I don't think the good guys out there really are able to understand what women actually face with regards to their safety, unless they have daughters, but I don't fault these men for their lack of insight and understanding. In most instances, as they are good guys who are down right disgusted by the thought of a man hurting a woman, they just really have a hard time fathoming that there are any non-negligible quantity of guys out there that would hurt a woman at all. And they don't have the life experiences of a woman to show them otherwise.

I spend 95% of my time surrounded by men, often in primarily male environments, and with that in mind, the number of times I've been threatened or harassed in some way by a man, for the fact that I am a woman, is small. However "small" is not "zero", and it only takes one instance of violence to harm or kill or victimize you.

In my life, I've had random, often much older men try to coax me into their car on more than one occasion, and men online send me unsolicited photos of their genitals on countless occasions. I've been harassed on public transportation by men who have approached me to say sexually explicit things, and have then proceeded to follow me and would not leave me alone until crowds scared them away. I've had men become hostile because I've told them politely that I wasn't interested (one told me to "f#ck off and die"), and one acquaintance, who thought I had rejected when i informed him that I was busy on the day he had asked me to go out with him on, responded by tossing a full cup of ice out the window at me from a speeding car. I've had guys say "Hello" to me on the street as if they were nice, respectable people, only to start harassing me with sexual suggestions when I was kind enough to say "Hello" back. And this was in a city where, sure, you run into more people, and thus more bad people, but a lot of them are inhibited by the crowds.

But what if I were to run into one of these guys alone in the middle of nowhere? What is to stop them from going as far as they want?

I will level with you all. I'm 5'2, 127lbs and have trouble benching the bar, which is 40lbs. At my strongest, with serious training, I could never bench more than 65lbs. Do you think I could easily subdue the average sized man? Women do not fight men off with their strength. When you hear on the news that a woman managed to fight off her attacker, what actually happened was the woman made a commotion and scared the attacker off because he was afraid other people would come see what all the commotion was about and find out what he was trying to do to her.

I'd love to live in a world where I did not have to deal with these issues and had the same freedom to explore on my own without the added liability that being a woman presents. Heck, I'd even settle for a world where taking the trash out at 2am wasn't something that forced me to ask myself "Do I take the trash out and risk getting raped? Or do I put up with the smell until morning?" but that's just not my lot in life.

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    Whilst this may be true, it mostly isn't that relevant to the question. The question is looking for stats/hard information about hiking on remote(ish0 – bon Jan 15 '16 at 13:15
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    This doesn't really address the issue of the backcountry. I think it's obvious that there's a concern overall, otherwise the question wouldn't have been asked in the first place. But this question is specifically asking in regards to backcountry hiking, not taking out the trash or people pulling up to your in cars. – Eric Jan 15 '16 at 20:53
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    @radpin This woman is concerned that even a tiny percentage of the creeps who harass her in the city will get out onto a trail and harass her there -- or worse. She says "....it only takes one instance of violence to harm or kill or victimize you." My working assumption has always been that creeps don't get far from the road, and I have hiked alone many times without incident, but never in places close to a city or in redneck territory. – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow Jan 16 '16 at 2:24
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    Three words, carry-a-gun, if you are in a free country, of course, like Switzerland or the United States – Kyle Mar 16 '16 at 18:23
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At the risk of being politically incorrect, how pretty are you?

I see a petite, pretty woman as being far more at risk than a bigger less vogue-looing woman.

Being pretty makes Black Hats consider it. Being petite makes them think you will be easy to overpower.

If you are fearful of attack:

  • Carry a sheath knife obviously.
  • Carry a second knife less obviously.

The first gives a disincentive for a stranger to attack. The second gives you hope if the first is taken.

  • Carry a staff. See if there is a local club where you can learn quarterstaff. A staff keeps them at a much safer distance. Even if you only have the stance and a few basic moves down, you are going to cause a Black Hat to pause and reconsider.

  • Take a women's self defense course. A good one will teach not only the physical aspects, but reading intent, and also techniques to defuse before it gets physical.

  • Carry a cell phone. Pull it out whenever you see someone, and snap a pic that auto feeds to your photo stream (Do non-iphones have this capability?) If something happens to you, then your friends have a pic of the person who probably got you. More to the point, telling the attacker that his pic is on your photostream at worst buys you time while he checks, and at best makes him run off.

I met a gal who was doing the Fond du Lac river solo. I was in awe of her. She was good enough that she shot Thompson Falls. I met her portaging back to shoot it a second time. Thompson is a ledge about 12 feet high. I gave it a miss with a group. Mess with her? I figured anyone who attempted any incivility at all would be lucky if they weren't stuffed with their own paddle.

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    Yes, you were politically incorrect, but you were correct. – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow Feb 20 '16 at 21:06
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    I think that those who are out there willing to rape someone would not consider prettiness as long as someone is an easy prey. I am not much of a pretty girl, but still someone tried to abuse me once - luckily some people came around and I could get away. – Akabelle Feb 23 '16 at 9:06
  • "I see a petite, pretty woman as being far more at risk than a bigger less vogue-looing woman" - Hmmm you seem suspicious now, I better grab on my Glock just in case – Kyle Mar 16 '16 at 18:28
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    agreed with Akabelle - and even if I was pretty to start with, I'm definitely not after hiking all day :) But "petite" is relevant, and the rest is very good, specific advice. Now to figure out where to learn quarterstaff... – user812786 Sep 2 '16 at 16:07
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    @jonathanbell It's a creepy situation. Almost all men that women with encounter will be good people. Overall I would guess that the incidence of creepy guys more than 3 miles from the trail head is far lower than in our big cities. But I've read of enough disturbing encounters on the Appalachian trail, that preparations are reasonable. The roman Tacitus spoke, "Would you have peace? Be ready for war" There are opportunists out there. You want to be able to make them reconsider. The best bluff is one that is no bluff. – Sherwood Botsford Sep 8 '17 at 15:07
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I don't really think that woman should be afraid when hiking alone. However, for sure, both woman and man should be careful. According to Sky Above Us Statistic deaths related to lack of knowledge and experience (while hiking and outdoors activities) by far outnumber deaths attributed to falls.

Even further, according to a Backpacker Data your risk of being a victim of a violent crime (murder, rape, or aggravated assault) is thousands of times lower in a national park than in the country as a whole!

I am an experienced hiker, and I am sure that there are too many benefits in hiking to give up on it just because you are afraid of getting assaulted (It can happen to you anywhere!)

However, you need to get well prepared before hitting the trail for the first time. Here is a great guide from Hiking Dude and my article 37 Tips for Women Hiking Alone. Also, think about finding someone to accompany you on your first hike. Hiking together is without doubts less risky.

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    Welcome to the site! This is great for a first answer, do you have the source links for the Sky above Us Stats, and Backpacker stats? I know new users have limits on the number of Hyperlinks that can be in a post, but if you include them in a comment they can be edited into your answer by a higher rep user. – Malco Sep 1 '17 at 14:26
  • Thank you for your kind words Malco! Here you go: skyaboveus.com/climbing-hiking/Whats-Killing-Americas-Hikers backpacker.com/skills/… Many thanks for including them:) – J. Saito Sep 6 '17 at 15:28
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I have had similar problems. Avoid "drinking houses". That is, shelters in the woods, that are accessible by cars, and where locals go in order to get drunk.

Other than that, carry a weapon when in the woods - a knife or a small axe. In the wild, you are on your own and laws are far away.


On "laws are far away":

It is not like being in the backcountry frees one of consequences to their actions. On the other hand, such a situation increases the emphasis of being prepared at the moment of a crisis. If screaming "HELP, POLICE!" while rapidly retreating could be quite helpful in an urban environment, it does nothing in the forest. Anything(knife, hatchet, flashlight) is better than nothing.

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    +1 for avoiding drinking houses. -1 for suggestions that laws doesn't apply in the wild and you can kill people without consequences., and the false sense of security given by the axe. – Danubian Sailor Apr 1 '14 at 5:56
  • @Łukasz웃Lツ, why would it be false sense of security? – Vorac Apr 17 '14 at 8:02
  • @Vorac Because once you start waving it at folk you've got a good chance of being shot. youtube.com/watch?v=4DzcOCyHDqc – Roddy May 6 '14 at 22:26
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    As far as I understand, these comments are condemning assaulting someone in the wilderness. Why would a hiker want to do that?! My point is that if you are the victim, calling the police while in the woods is much less effective then in a city. The police is not there to protect you, at the moment of the attempted crime. Dyh! – Vorac May 7 '14 at 8:20
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    Yes to carry a weapon; no to making it a knife or axe. If you're going to carry a weapon, carry a pistol. They're far easier to learn to use effectively for self defense. – Rob K Nov 15 '17 at 15:45
-1

A comment by Joearizona on this solofriendly article might be relevant:

I always take a GPS since the phone using GPS will drain the battery quick when there is little to no signal. I shut the phone off and in an emergency I can use Google Maps to send a map location as a text message to several friends who are either employed as law enforcement or EMS so they know who to call. Its easier to send a text message than keep fighting the phone for signal to make a phone call, text messages usually go through when a phone call will not. I also carry a two way radio that I can use on ham frequencies or to contact local NPS, USFS, BLM etc depending where I am, and a firearm with extra ammo. Also a good sized first aid kit in my backpack. When I go for a couple hour hike I carry food & water for a day.

Bottom line, always listen to your gut!! It will save your life! If its late, your in an area you are not familiar with and you have no supplies, turn around. If you do not have a GPS mark the trail somehow so you can find your way back. The article is correct, if you have a bad feeling about an area or person, dont keep wondering why you have it.Just get the hell out of there. If you have to start a signal fire, please clear the area first so it does not catch the forest on fire. Know that not everyone hiking or camping may not be there for the scenery and bad things can happen in such a peaceful area.

Pepper spray is a good idea as well as a flahslight or two. Costco had 2 solar lights for 20.00, they last about an hour or so on a charge. Also a good idea to bring a 2nd LED low lumen so the battery will last a while. Most of these items are light. There are several great Youtube videos on survival kits, most are small and also do not weigh much. An EPIRB or a personal locater is not a bad idea, also light and work anywhere they can see the sky.

  • You have cell phone coverage on areas rural enough to hike? Wow! – Sherwood Botsford Feb 20 '16 at 20:10
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    While this is certainly a very cautious approach, many people might consider it a tad overkill to carry a phone, GPS, two-way radio and a gun when going out into the woods. For me this sounds more like a spec-ops survival course, not an enjoyable hike. – fgysin reinstate Monica Feb 22 '16 at 10:51

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