I love hiking naked. I enjoy the sensation of the sun and the wind on my full body. Love the way it liberates my soul and brings me into direct contact with nature. My ancestors of a hundred thousand years ago had this as their birthright. Today’s world, in its perversity, would deny me this. (Just saw a poll in Backpacker Magazine that indicated 26% of respondents had hiked nude and another 17% would like to try.)
If it was good enough for Colin Fletcher, it is good enough for me.
Not sure how I got started in such an unusual hobby. I grew up in the Northern lower peninsula of Michigan my parents and the people of the area were pretty much fundamentalist Christians so it seems doubly odd. Long before puberty even thought of setting in, I liked being naked.
Lots of semi-wilderness in that area and no natural hazards to speak of. We had an 80-acre parcel of forest and field and the north branch of the Tobacco River ran thru it. As a kid, I was pretty much ignored by my parents and really not well socialized. Nearby were thousands of acres of national forest with streams and lakes and as long as I made it home for dinner, nobody really cared. I imagine that in that one way it was a kind of Tom Sawyer life. (Today I think it is called free range parenting.) I’d wander thru the woods and fields and up and down the river (perfectly normal) stark naked, (not so “normal”) despite the mosquitoes. (Mosquitoes have never bothered me much to this day.)
I have a little checklist I like to go thru when hiking naked. I don’t like surprise encounters with the textile impaired. You don’t know who is cool and who will dose you with pepper spray. First, I try to time it when few people are out. That means midweek – and during the long summers out here – at night. (Be careful of rattlesnakes!) Weekends are not impossible but finding an empty trail on a lovely Saturday morning isn’t easy. (The exceptions to this are well-known clothing optional backcountry locations like Deep Creek Hot Springs or Saline Hot Springs. Nobody even blinks at a naked hiker there.) Warm summer rains make for delicious hikes! Even short hikes in cold weather are great – just keep moving. Sunny spring days with snow still on the ground are to die for.
Second, I make sure I’m not in a hunting season. (!!!)
Third, I pick trails that normally get little traffic. Either they are not easily accessed from main roads or there is a difficult stretch that hardly anyone goes beyond. An example of the first is the Alder Creek Trail which requires a 14-mile drive down a bumpy dirt road to get to. An example of the second is Piru Creek Trail going downstream from the trailhead. There is much rock climbing and creek fording en route and eventually, the trail becomes just a suggestion. Almost nobody but idiots like me explore beyond the first two miles. Acquire some topographic maps of your hiking areas and look for trails that are out of the way. Learn how to use map and compass and you will never get lost.
Timing is important. Most hikers head out in the morning and are back by noon. I often head out to the trail late enough that they’ll be done before I start. Doesn’t mean I don’t do early morning hikes but it does make trail selection very important. Sometimes I go out with a textile group and when they turn back, I keep going, au naturel.
If the trail is flat and the weather is good, nighttime hiking is a pleasant way to spend an evening. You are far more likely to find an empty trail at that time. I never hike with a light and everyone else does. Makes it easy to spot people long before they get to you. Their night vision is fried and can’t see a thing beyond that cone of light. Moonlight is plenty for me but on smooth, flat trail, starlight can be a spiritual experience.
The trailhead tells you a lot. Let’s say there is a car parked there ahead of you. Yup, somebody else ahead of you on the trail. So you hike out textile until you meet the other party. Are you overtaking them or are they on their way back? Ask about trail conditions and if anybody else is ahead. From there you can determine whether to go on naked. Maybe you see five cars, a school bus, and some horse trailers. This would not be a good place for a naked hike.
Some trails, like Piru Creek, have a parking area that services several different amenities. Here is where a bit of bushcraft comes in handy. I check mud and sand bottlenecks for recent footprints. Every recent footprint going out should have a corresponding return print. A Lot of outbound tracks with no inbound tracks mean there’s a group out there.
While you are out there, walk softly. Lose the earbuds. Open up your senses to what nature has to offer. Look, listen, smell and feel. You will see more wildlife – not to mention avoiding snakes and other hazards. You will learn more of nature’s way and no textile will ever surprise you. Look for recently disturbed foliage or a spider thread across the trail. If the textile impaired come your way, a strategically relocated hat is all a guy needs to stay legally decent. (I do it just for politeness until I can gauge the other person’s reaction.) A woman needs a bit more but is very much less likely to inspire anger if she doesn’t bother.
You take with you exactly what you would on a clothed hike. Shoes/boots, daypack/ fannypack with food and water, hat, emergency gear and whatever else. Often, I’ll set up a remote base and leave the gear behind and just explore for a bit. A pack interferes with the freedom. (Sometimes even hat and shoes interfere.) An ideal destination has water you can filter to drink and for recreation. Whether or not there is water in my itinerary I always bring 2-3 liters depending on the trip and the weather. Always be prepared for the bad things that might happen but also understand you were at greater risk getting to the trail than you are on it. Solo is good, couples are good and groups are all good. (I must admit I prefer solo, though. People crowd me unless they are close friends.)
One piece I always take is my SPOT communicator. It is a satellite-based text message system. All you need is some open sky and you can get a rescue chopper out, anywhere, within a few hours. I’ll do another blog, eventually, on deep wilderness hiking. I am assuming in this blog the reader isn’t going more than a couple hours into the bush.
I don’t necessarily worry about law enforcement because of the nature of where I take my nude hikes. California does not have a law against nudity and there is no Federal law either. It is left up to state agencies and local jurisdictions to pass such regulations. In Los Angeles country there is a letter from the LA Sheriff Dept. indicating that they will not enforce the county nudity law on National Forest land. (They will be more than happy to enforce other county laws.) The Angeles National Forest doesn’t have any regulations against nudity either. This would indicate your legal risk is very low on Angeles National Forest land in LA County.
Besides, if nobody sees you, who cares? If someone deep in the backcountry sees you, they probably won’t care. That’s just how wilderness goers are. If they do care, how would they report you? No cell phone service where I go. (The nightmare scenario is being surprised by an armed paranoid Baptist leading a group of preteen girls. Not worth worrying about.)
I strongly suggest you query your own local government and the administration of any government land you may use for their policies. This isn’t as easy as it might sound. The people you contact may not know what the policy actually is and give you erroneous information. That’s why the letter from the sheriff was so important. Deputies didn’t have a clue and were busting people even though it was against their own policy.
I wish that large naturist organizations were a bit more proactive on this. Little old Fred here doesn’t have the time or the influence to get an official document regarding, say, Ventura County policy on enforcing nudity laws in Los Padres National Forest (and he isn’t willing to get busted to find out).
Sounds like a lot of work but once you are familiar with an area, it becomes second nature. True freedom in the wilderness is yours. And don’t miss World Naked Hiking Day, unofficially and defiantly celebrated on the Summer Solstice every year.