How to Find the Perfect Hiking Partner

Companions can make or break a trip. Here’s how to choose one wisely.

Photo: adamkaz via Getty

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Sometimes the best part of hiking is the person you share the trail with. Cheesy? Maybe that’s because we have great hiking partners who encourage us to hike to higher summits and enjoy the best of what nature offers. But finding your ideal hiking partner takes a little trial-and-error. Whether you’re recruiting old friends to lace up their shoes for the first time or finding new friends through local hiking channels, this process can seem daunting at first. These guidelines will help you hit the trails with your perfect partner even faster.

Look in the right spots.

Find like-minded hikers in clubs that revolve around your interests, like plant identification, rock climbing, birding, wilderness medicine, or trail rehabilitation. There are many hiking groups around the country to join; the website even has a filter for outdoor activities. If available in your area, join a regional outdoor association, such as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy or your local Outdoor Afro chapter. Your personal social media network is a good resource; see if your friends or followers want to join you for a hike. (Just follow online safety rules and pick a trail with some other people around for your first IRL meeting.) You might think you don’t have many outdoorsy friends, but you could be surprised. If your friends truly don’t like to hike, make better friends through a Facebook hiking group, such as Backpacking & Hiking Enthusiasts or Ultralight Backpacking.

Compare notes.

If you have non-negotiable hiking goals, such as pace, distance, or elevation gain, communicate them early on when you are finding a hiking partner. There’s no fun in trying to keep up with someone who wants to scale Everest every hike, and it can be brutal to drag someone up a mountain when they just wanted to go on a leisurely nature walk. Find a partner to share a goal hike with and train for it together.

Establish open communication.

As with all relationships in life, open communication leads to a solid foundation, and honesty prevents a lot of catastrophe. During your hike, check in with your partner to see how they are feeling. Also, if you’re struggling, speak up. But, there’s a caveat to this. Avoid discussing problems when you are physically tired or hangry: “If you are both stressed: Stop. Rest. Pee. Eat. Then talk,” says Bethany Hughes, who formed an adventure partnership called Her Odyssey with friend Lauren Reed. They are currently 15,000 miles into a 20,000-mile trek across the Americas, from the Patagonia Mountains in the bottom of South America to Alaska, the top of North America.

Find complementary skills and work on weaknesses together.

You learn from each other. You’re a good cook and they’re a good navigator? Perfect. Pairing with someone who expands your combined knowledge means your trip is just that much safer and easier. If there are lapses in skills, as hiking partners, you can help each other improve. Afraid of heights? Spend a day in the climbing gym. Not sure how to pick a quality campsite? Study this article (and other Backpacker articles) together. And if things go south, you can always eat your hiking partner for survival. Kidding.

Recognize warning signs.

Before you start looking for a hiking partner, establish what your personal red flags are. Some examples: constantly avoiding camp chores, mooching snacks, hogging tent space, talking too much (or not enough), constantly clipping your heels, etc. Evaluate yourself, too, because you want to make sure you are a good hiking partner as well. Inconsiderate behavior gets more annoying over time, and you don’t want to turn your healthy relationship into a hostile one.

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