Coming home after a trip in the backcountry I feel centered, accomplished and ready to get back after life. More often than not, I just wish I could have shared the experience with my wife. You see, she doesn't really love the whole backpacking thing the same way that I do. However, I'm cracking the code on being able to get her to go AND enjoy herself. Some of this means I have to change as much as she has to step outside of her comfort zone. With that said, I thought I'd share my tips to help get that special someone out in the backcountry and enjoying it.
- 1. Don't push their limits
You know your partner better than I do, so I don't know their concerns or typical fears. However, if they don't like heights, plan accordingly. One time I planned a hike that had a spectacular view, but we arrived with just about an hour to hike to our camp destination. It was my wife, son and I. My son and I had scrambled up the rock formations to our destination in the past, but my wife had not. She's not that fond of heights and had not done that type scramble before. Strike one and two. We powered through and I was a total ass about it. Strike three. At that point, it was more about safety, as we couldn't scramble rocks in the dark—hence my super direct behavior that was then and might still be considered to be “ass-like". We made it through the weekend, but I'll never live that down. She woke up the next day still salty. Lesson learned (the hard way).
- 2. Be moderate on your mileage.
Your partner is going to time with you, don't aim to do heroic levels of miles. If your normal day is a 11-13, try going between 7-9. Know their limits and don't push them to the upper end of their limits, they won't enjoy the experience. It's about the time together, not about the mileage you make.
- 3. Allow more time, for everything.
Take a few extra minutes to pick that perfect campsite that has a special scene or one that might be a bit more comfortable. If your partner is newer or hasn't developed the skill, things like purifying water takes more time. Finding an ideal campsite takes more time. Navigation takes more time. EVERYTHING takes more time and allow for it. Explore a bit more.
- 4. The bathroom, aka “the deal killer”
Sure you like taking a dump in the woods, doesn't everybody? (Insert snippy remark) If you are planning in a park or a trail with paths that might cross a toilet, take them. Plan a loop or path that has a toilet or two, you might lessen a bit of anxiety as it comes to toilet needs. Separately, if you're not going to have a toilet in your path, teach them proper technique for pooping in the woods. Just addressing this concern may change the willingness for your partner to join you on your adventure. Everybody poops.
- 5. Pack light
I typically fall to the lighter side of packing and overall style of backpacking (lightweight and almost ultra light), but when going with my wife, I plan to carry more weight on my back and less on hers. That doesn't mean that I have a 45-pound pack either, it means that my pack might be between 25-30 pounds (with water and food). And since I'm doing a bit less mileage, that is quite OK.
- 6. Plan a special moment
Whether it is watching the sunrise or sunset together, soaking your feet in the water, looking at the stars or taking an adult beverage for your evening nightcap, make a few moments special. Be intentional and it will make all of the difference in the experience. On a trip last fall, my wife and I got up to do a coffee sunrise and it couldn't have been more perfect. We overlooked the Red River Gorge in Stanton, Kentucky, watching the sunrise and enjoyed great coffee together. Even backcountry coffee tastes better when there's a sunrise in the background and that special someone next to you.
- 7. Assure comfort—especially comfortable sleeping
I typically sleep pretty well in the backcountry. I don't have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep. However, for some folks it's new. It's hard to fall or stay asleep. Help them out by planning a little extra warmth in their sleeping pad or bag. Plan their clothing, rain gear and personal shelter (clothing) a bit more carefully. Make sure their feet aren't beat up. Every discomfort is magnified when someone isn't 100% into an activity.
- 8. Eat (& drink) well
Do a little extra planning as it comes to the foods that you select to take. Make sure it's tasty, filling within the scope of their normal diet. This isn't the time to diet and poor tasting food will just undermine whatever semblance of fun you may be trying to have. My wife ended up really enjoying spicy ramen with tuna during our last hiking trip—even she was surprised. Bring a splash of your favorite vino or whiskey. It all tastes better out there.
- 9. Teach them along the way
If you want someone to enjoy something, empower them with the confidence they can do it. Sufficiency in skill will directly translate to enjoyment of the activity. Teach them why you're organizing your pack in a certain way or how to purify the water.
- 10. Plan for cleanliness
You're going to be hiking all day. You're going to stink. That's sorta the way it goes. However, make sure that you bring a little extra in your personal kit. I always have a toothbrush and some Gold Bond(TM), but that's usually it for me. When you're going with your partner that you're trying to get into hiking, take an extra moment to smell a tad bit better and feel a bit cleaner. A few wet wipes, mouthwash and unscented deodorant are pretty light (less than 8 oz) and will do wonders for feeling a bit more spruced up at the end of your day.
Both backpacking and my wife are important (to me). I want her to join me in my backcountry adventures because I feel accomplished, achieved and experienced at the end of my journeys. She's my partner and I want to share that with her. I've learned through trial and error (a lot of error) some tips to help make her experience the best it can be. Backpacking may never be her thing, but if I can change and plan just a little bit differently to have her join me along some of the trail, I'm all for it. I hope my tips help you get that special someone on the trail with you.
Please leave your tips in the comments below!