With Valentine’s Day upon us, let’s appreciate the stuff that keeps relationships together: chocolate and flowers! Wait… Although I enjoy chocolate at least as much as the next sane person, hiking with good friends is one of my favorite non-eating activities (and is obviously best followed by eating anyway).
So here are my tips for thoroughly rocking a backpacking trip with your significant other. All it takes to keep your relationship intact through the ups and downs (pun intended) of an outdoor backpacking trip is a little extra planning and lots of honest communication.
1. Know thyself.
Know your own needs so you can both prepare adequately. Remember, in order for you to thrive together, you each need to have what you need to survive. If you know you sweat more than your significant other (guilty), you will need to carry more water than he or she does. If you tend to wake up shivering no matter the temperature (oh hey there), bring your long johns even if your partner insists it will be too hot for them. Avoiding unnecessary discomfort can go a long way toward reducing grumpiness and prolonging your relationship.
2. Carry your own shit.
We get down to basics when we camp in the wilderness, but that means different things to different people. Some consider extra underwear a necessity, others a luxury. It’s okay if you and your partner have different views: by carrying your own shit, you can each make the choices that are best for you. Prevent grumbling and resentment over that second pair of socks by just carrying them yourself.
And while we all want to pack as light as possible, it is a mistake to assume your partner’s things are yours to borrow on the trail unless you cleared it beforehand. Sure, he has two bandanas on hand, but that does not mean one is “extra”. Just like your two pairs of socks, he may plan on using them both, not waiting for you to ask to borrow one. So again, carry your own stuff.
3. Distribute shared items as fairly as possible.
Notice that says “fairly,” not “equally.” We all have different strength and stamina levels, meaning if one of you happens to be stronger than the other, that person can carry the tent or other heavier items without needing to slow down as much. Ego need not get involved- it’s just physics. When you distribute the shared weight in a way that allows both of you to hike in equal comfort, everyone wins.
4. Plan ahead – together.
Every trip requires planning, from deciding on your start and end points to noting the number of miles between water sources. Adding a second person makes that step all the more important. Also important is having this discussion before starting your trip, not after an argument on the trail. Talk about whether you want to power through as many miles in a day as possible or take a more leisurely pace. Remember that you and your partner may have different abilities and goals, and prepare to compromise.
Another oft-neglected aspect of planning is looking for sights to check out along the way and working them into your route. Many trails pass by historic landmarks, ruins, lakes, interesting rock formations, and more, some of which are easy to miss if you’re not looking out for them. Sure, a lake probably will not sneak up on you, but you may want to plan an afternoon relaxing by it instead of rushing past on your way to a campsite in the dark. The more your trip is about the journey, the more fun you can have along the way, no matter how many miles.
Personal note: Prepare for some sights to be disappointing. Like the Cat Rocks along the Appalachian Trail in New York. SPOILER ALERT: they do not look like cats.
5. Make meals something to look forward to.
Eating freeze-dried spaghetti out of the package may not seem very romantic compared to other dates, but it can be! By the end of an exhausting day of hiking, any hot meal can be a treat. Pack meals you both like, if possible, so you can look forward to them together. This can require some extra planning, especially if you have different dietary restrictions and preferences, but it’s worth it.
6. Leave the egos at home.
The wilderness is no place for a big ego, especially when you are journeying with someone you care about. “Winning” or out-hiking your partner will almost definitely not enhance the trip and may even spoil future adventures together. Instead of worrying about who is faster or has more stamina, take turns leading and respect each other’s needs and capabilities. Remember, resting is not a sign of weakness, it is an essential part of physical activities, so take breaks and be kind to one another.
7. Start with low expectations.
Also great relationship advice in general, keeping your expectations in check will go a long way toward enjoying a hiking trip together. If your partner has never done an overnight hike before, do not expect him or her to power through a week-long trek just yet. We all need to build upon our own experiences, not those of another person. Keep each person’s known abilities and preferences at the forefront of your planning process to avoid ending up in unpleasant and dangerous situations. It is much more fun to exceed expectations than to fail to measure up and suffer the consequences.
The key takeaway from this list is that the importance of clear and honest communication cannot be overemphasized. From routes to meals, planning should be a joint effort that takes into account everyone’s abilities and maximizes fun together. Being honest about your needs and keeping expectations grounded will keep your body, mind, and relationship intact on and off the trail.
Happy Valentine’s Day, and happy hiking!