Hiking with your significant other can be incredibly fun and meaningful. You’ve got someone who has your back and gets to experience the same things you do. You’ll ooh and ahh over beautiful scenery, discuss a range of topics from evolutionary biology to the Kardashians, and team up and get scrappy when you run into snags.
Some of those snags, however, might be a little more personal.
You’re likely to have slightly different hiking styles. One hiker might have certain goals and attitudes about the “proper” way to hike. One person will be faster, or stronger, than the other person. They might want to push themselves while the other person is content to turtle their way through. Plus, backpacking can be plain exhausting, which makes it a lot harder to control your emotions when the hiking gets hard. Here are some methods to help you hike your own hike — together.
Get on the same page.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been together — you still can’t read minds. A little self-awareness and a lot of communication can go a long way. If either of you get cranky when you’re tired, hungry, cold, or just overall uncomfortable, establish this upfront and prepare accordingly. Maybe it means packing extra snacks, taking more breaks, or letting the slower person go in front so they set the pace. Either way, let them know ahead of time what your vices are so you know how to handle conflict.
Getting on the same page also means having the same goals. You might be done after backpacking for 15 miles, only to discover that your partner wasn’t planning on stopping for another five. Plan ahead for the entire trip on when you want to be done, how many miles you’ll need to average, and what kinds of weather might hinder your progress.
Relax your personal standards and rules.
We all have our own standards. Some hikers like to hit personal records and push themselves beyond max mental capacity. Others are determined to go into total survivor mode and become a purist about everything involving hiking and nature. This is especially true when you’re backpacking long distances and want to make the experience as wild as possible.
However, backpacking like that can be exhausting and take a toll on both of you emotionally, especially if your partner isn’t as zealous as you are. It’ll be easy to get stubborn on what you want and forget what works best for both of you. Don’t get so caught up in hiking 150 miles a week or sleeping in a tent every night, especially if it’s been raining excessively and you just need a shower. It’s really okay if you sleep in a real bed during your backpacking trip, especially if you’re thru-hiking. Your body might need it more than you realize.
Split up the weight.
Unless you and your partner weigh the exact same and have the exact same workout routine, chances are good one of you is stronger than the other. Take advantage of this. While the weaker person may be determined to prove their strength and capability (trust me, I’ve been guilty of this), it really is just better to distribute more weight to the stronger person’s pack. It’ll slow down the stronger person and make it easier for the two of you to hike together. And if the stronger person gets tired or needs to take more frequent breaks, well, you know what to do.
Be flexible about time.
A rigid schedule can increase the pressure and decrease the enjoyment of a hike. If you’ve been trying to get to each destination before sunset, there are different advantages to being flexible with your time. One partner might be more of a morning person while the other one likes to get some extra snoozes in. In a situation like this, the morning person could get up earlier and start hiking while the other person sleeps and then strikes camp. Note: If you do decide to split time like this, make sure you have methods of communication and have an idea of where you two can meet and at what time.
As an alternative, evening or night hiking is seriously underrated. It’s typically a lot quieter, and you experience the world in a different perspective. As long as your destination doesn’t have a first-come, first-served basis regarding campers or hostels, you might consider lengthening your hikes into the evening. Some hikers will get up early and hike, take longer lunches, and then enjoy early evening hikes.
Resolve issues as they come up.
If you’re unhappy about something, bring it up. This is especially important when you’re physically uncomfortable and need to rest. Sometimes it can be hard to identify when you’re feeling hungry, so pay attention. If you’re starting to snap more at your partner, pay attention to it. Try to figure out what exactly is bothering you. It helps to discuss it out loud. Don’t be shy, but try not to be mean. You’re in more vulnerable situations when you’re backpacking, and it’s not as easy to put your feelings away. Discuss issues, listen to each other, and work on finding a solution that works for both of you.
Couples should always be affectionate, but here’s why it’s especially important to be affectionate while backpacking together: It’s really, really hard to use “I” messages when you’re exhausted and hungry. You’re probably not thinking about how to tactfully tell someone they need to slow down or that the way they eat is getting on your nerves.
In the midst of all the blood, sweat, and tears, show your partner affection. Implement all of the love languages. Tell them how excited you are to be with them on this hike or give them a hug. If you’re cold, cuddle. Volunteer to do tasks they hate, whether it’s setting up the tent or filtering water. Surprise them with a Snickers bar — trust me, they’ll be over the moon for that. Make the quality time actually have quality by being willing to do what they want, whether it’s taking goofy pictures or playing 20 questions. Be aware of your own needs and communicate to your partner what you want as well.
Remember you’re a team.
All day, every day, you two are a team. It’s amazing to hike with someone who is just as stoked as you are about what you’re doing. Not every aspect of your backpacking trek will be a joyride, but as long as you stay affectionate, communicate effectively, and relax some of your personal rules, you can make some of the best memories of your relationship and be an unstoppable duo.