10 Ways to Stay Safe While Walking

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One morning, years ago, my husband told me that he’d woken up in the middle of the night and he couldn’t get back to sleep, so he decided to go out for a run.  It was a totally casual mention that made me realize just how different life is for women.  I know that there are women who go out running before dawn every day, but that’s not me.  I would never even consider going for a run (or a walk) by myself in the middle of the night, no matter how safe I feel our neighborhood may be.  That would be, as my mom would say, “just asking for trouble.”

As women, we’ve been raised to be vigilant when we’re out by ourselves.  We’ve been trained not to put ourselves in situations that could be dangerous—or, if we have no other options, to take a whole lot of extra precautions.  As a woman—and as the mother of a tween girl—I hate that this is the case, and it’s not something that’s fun to talk about, but, for many of us, it’s sadly the reality.

When I started hitting the trail for daily walks, my anxiety-stricken mother expressed her concerns.  Frequently.  She tried to tell me that I was not allowed to walk by myself.  Ever.  And, like the good daughter that I am, I rolled my eyes.  Yes, I’ve heard all of the terrible stories about women being attacked while out running or walking alone.  And yes, I know that I can never really be fully protected when I’m out by myself (or even with a friend).  But I always take a number of precautions when I go for my walks to lower the risks.

Here are some ways to plan ahead and stay safe while you’re enjoying your daily walks.

There’s Safety in Numbers

Obviously, I feel a lot more comfortable when I’m walking with a friend or two.  That’s when I let my hair down (literally!) and skip some of the extra precautions.  If walking with friends is an option, go for it.  It gives you an extra level of protection, and it’s just fun.  But not all of us have the luxury of having a regular walking buddy (or two…or three).  And, even if you do, it’s not always easy to synchronize schedules.  So there’s a pretty good chance that, at least sometimes, you’re going to be walking on your own.  So, for those cases, the list of precautions continues…

Stay in the Light

Busy moms know how hard it can be to find the time to walk.  And when daylight hours are short—during the winter months—it’s not always easy to fit in a walk when it’s light out.  If that’s not possible, be sure to stick to well-lit areas—and preferably in places where there are plenty of other people.  If I’m walking outside around (or after) dusk, I make sure that I won’t be walking alone—and, even then, I make sure to bring plenty of gear to make sure that I can see and be seen. 

Choose the Road More Traveled

Robert Frost may have praised the road less traveled, but he wasn’t a woman walking by herself.  When you’re on your own, you want to be surrounded by people.  Sure, you may want to get away from it all, but if you’re on a quiet, secluded path, you leave yourself more vulnerable.

Before you take on a new trail by yourself, go with a friend.  Pay attention to how many people are on the trail with you, how often you run into other walkers, runners, and bikers, and whether there are plenty of, for lack of a less scary term, escape routes.

There’s one trail near my house that I really like: a beautiful 3+-mile loop through a wooded park.  But I’ve also noticed that it isn’t very busy during my morning walking time—and though it’s part of one of our popular metro parks, it goes deep into the woods, in areas far from more populated public areas.  Though, in theory, it could be a peaceful place to walk, I know I’d be constantly on edge if I went there solo.  Instead, I stick with trails and roads that are filled with other pedestrians—and close to public parks or homes.

Change Things Up

Some people like to walk in the same place at the same time, every single day.  Then they share their stats on Strava and post all over social media about how much they love their no-fail morning routine.  But that just means that anyone with a decent internet connection can figure out where you’ll be at what time, every single day.

To stay safe, it’s best to change up your routinees.  Even if you go for your walk at roughly the same time every day (or every week), take different paths, or go to different trails.  Sometimes bring a friend.  Or head to the mall.  Staying unpredictable is safer.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Ever since my daughter was tiny, I’ve reminded her over and over again: “Be aware of your surroundings.”  She had a tendency to get so caught up in whatever was going on in her adorable little head that she’d run into people (or things), and I needed to remind her to pay attention—but, even then, I knew that I’d have to teach my daughter ways to keep herself safe.  And being aware is a simple but important one.  This isn’t to say that you need to be on edge at all times; it just means that you should pay attention.  Keep your head up, enjoy the scenery, and be aware of what’s around you. 

Keep the Distractions to a Minimum

This point closely ties in with the last one.  A big part of awareness is keeping distractions to a minimum.  Maybe you walk while you’re chatting on the phone with a friend.  That’s a great way to pass the time—but make sure you’re still keeping an eye on what’s around you.  If you listen to music, your favorite podcast, or an audiobook, make sure that the volume isn’t so loud that you can’t hear the action around you.  You might want to use just one of your ear buds—or pick up some open-ear bone conduction headphones like Shokz.

Keep Your Phone Handy

I know, I know…you can’t even imagine being able to function if your phone weren’t within reach.  Mine is always handy, too.  But it’s not just great for playing music or tracking your steps; it’s a good way to stay safe.  If you run into any kind of emergency, you’ll be able to call for help.  And if you’re feeling unsafe, you can always phone a friend, to ensure that someone knows where you are and that you’re safe.

Fix Your Hair

When I go for a walk, I always pull my long hair up in a ponytail.  When I’m alone, I go one step farther and wrap it up in a bun—because of a comment that I read a while back in a running group.  I hadn’t really considered before that a ponytail makes a great handle for anyone who’s trying to grab you from behind.  I know that my hair sometimes looks ridiculous, but it’s just an extra layer of protection.

Carry Protection

Everyone has different opinions of the best kind of protection to carry when you’re out on your own—and I’ve seen all kinds of different options.  Personally, I keep two different kinds of protection in whatever hydration pack I’m carrying: a canister of pepper spray and a Birdie personal safety alarm, which emits a super-loud noise that will get the attention of anyone in the area (not to mention scare the living daylights out of anyone who may come at you).  They’re always within reach, so if I ever start to feel unsafe, I simply unzip my pouch and have them handy.

Take a Class

Just like you may never use that canister of pepper spray or whistle or the other devices that you carry, you may never need to use any self-defense moves, but knowing a few of the basics can help to make you feel stronger and more confident on your daily walks.  Many martial arts studios offer classes in self-defense—but you can also find them at colleges and community centers.  Sign up with a friend, and make it a fun girls’ night out while you’re learning to keep yourself safe.

Do you have any other tips for staying safe while walking?  We’d love to hear them!


Kristin has been hitting the trail (or the treadmill) for a walk almost every day for the past several years, and she recently completed her first half marathon. She loves sunny fall days, cushy walking shoes, and coconut caramel iced coffee from Dunkin.

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