You love the wilderness. You love your sweetie. Combine the two and, voilà, twice the pleasure! Right? Yep, unless…your romantic excursion turns into a relationship survival scenario—think monsoonal rain, squabbles, getting lost, getting cold, getting hungry, more squabbles. Follow these key pointers to make sure your first trip together isn’t your last.
Light a Fire with Just One Match
The only thing hotter than cozying up by a campfire? Impressing your date by sparking an instant flame. (Caveat: Forest fires are not sexy. Check local regulations and restrictions before you light.)
1. Collect a couple handfuls of dry twigs and dry tinder, such as shredded bark, moss, or leaves (or pack dryer lint).
2. Build, depending on personal preference, either a lean-to (A), teepee (B), or log cabin (C) structure out of twigs. Pack the interior semi-tightly with tinder, but leave open spaces for airflow and a small space below the structure for inserting a match, which, let’s face it, is sexier than a Bic (maybe it’s the dramatic striking sound).
3. Light the match out of the wind and close to the tinder. Hold the flame to the fuel; when coals form, blow softly to add oxygen.
4. Gradually add sticks; start pencil-diameter, then increase size.
5. Make chairs out of your sleeping mat and a chair kit (like the Big Agnes Cyclone SL; $40, 6 oz., bigagnes.com) and huddle close.
Pick a Destination You’ll Both Love
If your partner doesn’t spend as much time on the trail as you do, “you can’t just take your honey backpacking and expect her or him to have fun,” says Andy Blair, program manager for the Wilderness Medicine Institute. “You have to ease your S.O. into it slowly.” Plan the first date as carefully as you would an expedition:
Start with short dayhikes and car-camps.
When you go overnight, keep mileage low (say five miles round-trip) and terrain easy.
Eliminate guesswork: “Know where you’re going to camp, and plan a few alternatives in case it’s taken,” says Blair. And choose a site that offers, ahem, privacy.
Pick a showstopper endpoint (a waterfall, hot springs, a meteor shower that night).
Be flexible with the calendar so you can go when the weather is perfect.
Go Ultracomfy, Not Ultralight
There’s a time for going ultralight. A romantic trip with a partner—especially a newbie—isn’t it. Review your partner’s gear list (or pack together) so you can add items a backpacking novice might forget: headlamp, extra socks, moleskin, camp shoes. Then weigh their pack. “It should be no more than 25 percent of his or her body weight,” says Michelle Waitzman, author of Sex in a Tent: A Wild Couple’s Guide to Getting Naughty in Nature. And since comfort is key, here are Waitzman’s eight essentials for canoodling campers.
A double sleeping pad like the Exped Duo Megamat 10 ($299)
Pillows Such as the Feathered Friends Geoduck ($45, 6 oz.)
Double sleeping bag Good bets: Big Agnes King Solomon ($430, 5 lbs. 3 oz.), or two bags that mate
A silk double-sleeping-bag liner This makes your old down bag feel like satin sheets and keeps it clean. We like Cocoon TravelSheet Double Size ($109, 12 oz.).
PJs to replace sweaty clothes Try Patagonia’s saucy Active undies ($20-$39)
A home comfort “This could be fudge, cream for your coffee, even a hairbrush,” Waitzman says.
Mood lighting We’re big fans of the MPOWERD Luci Solar Color String Lights
Fresheners Breath mints, lip balm, and wet wipes like SweetSpot On-the-Go Wipettes ($5, sweetspotlabs.com). And for a fresh aroma, place a bundle of cedar or pine needles in the tent.
Top 7 Relationship Killers
Avoid these common blunders so you don’t quarrel in camp.
1) Embarking on scary/tricky terrain Steep stuff that’s fine for you might petrify your partner.
2) Treating your S.O. like a pupil and correcting everything he or she does “I once took my wife up the Grand Teton where I’d guided for a few seasons,” Blair says. “Despite my intentions to the contrary, at times I came across as too directive, and I received some immediate feedback regarding my tone.”
3) Letting your goals drive the trip “For example, taking your honey on a five-day fishing trip when she hates fishing,” he says. Similarly, don’t succumb to summit fever if common sense cautions otherwise.
4) Acting like you know what you’re doing when it’s obvious you have no idea. That’s a sure way to cause a mutiny.
5) Boring meals E.g., cooking ramen 24/7
6) Forgetting you’re on a date The wilderness can be captivating. Too captivating, sometimes. “Remember to hold hands, sweet-talk, and stop for a kiss once in awhile,” Waitzman says.
7) Using deet bug lotion as massage oil We shouldn’t have to say this.
Cook like Casanova
Victor Casanova, that is—chef de cuisine at Culina, Modern Italian in Los Angeles and an avid backpacker.
For dessert, he suggests this classy spin on s’mores: Spread Nutella on biscotti, then top with a fire-roasted marshmallow.
Originally published in Backpacker in February, 2011.