With the arrival of March comes the arrival of spring, and with the arrival of spring comes the arrival of backpacking season! When you're preparing for a backpacking trip, choosing a trip partner can be as important as choosing your gear. The right mix of people, even if there are only two of you, can make a huge difference in the enjoyability and safe completion of any outing. There are a number of things I look for when it comes to choosing a trip partner, but these five things, in particular, are pretty important!
Though these attributes are in no particular order, this is the number one thing I look for in a backpacking partner. I want a partner who’s looked over the map carefully, knows our route and bailout points, knows what gear and food we need, and knows what to do in case of an emergency.
I also have to have a partner I trust to make good choices with respect to safety and who won’t violate basic Leave No Trace principles or rules related to where we’re going. If bear canisters are required or fires are prohibited, you can bet I won’t choose a partner who violates those rules. I also need a partner who will respect my instincts and thoughts while we’re on the trip.
And you don’t need to be an experienced backpacker to have these attributes. If you’re not in charge of trip planning, ask your trip mates to peek at maps, ask them what the route looks like, and ask them about things like bailout points, turnaround times, area regulations, and any safety concerns in advance.
Being able to take care of yourself outdoors is essential if you’re going backpacking, and choosing a self-sufficient partner can make a big difference. To me, someone who’s self-sufficient doesn’t bring items they can’t carry, doesn’t need to rely on other group members to take care of basic needs, brings the right amount of food, and who’s prepared with the right gear and clothing. (Confession: I’ve made some of these mistakes myself!)
Of course, it takes time to learn about gear, the right layering system, and how to take care of yourself. If you’re headed out with a beginner who’s still learning self-sufficiency, it can be incredibly rewarding to teach them skills like how to pack, how to read a map, what gear to bring, what gear to leave at home, and how to set up camp. If you are a beginner, it’s okay if you’re not completely self-sufficient on your first trip! A willingness to learn and ask questions goes a long way.
When you’re on the trail, getting to your campsite can be a significant amount of work, but the work doesn’t stop when you arrive. Being committed to doing your part is a great way to make sure you’re a good trip mate. Whether you’re backpacking, car camping trip, or even on a group trip that involves overnighting in a big house, choosing partners willing to pitch in goes a long way toward making a trip enjoyable. Choose a partner who helps with tasks like setting up camp, gathering water, cooking, dishwashing, and properly storing food.
But being a team player goes beyond pitching in. Things rarely go exactly as planned when you’re backpacking, and it helps to have a partner who won’t complain, but who will speak up if they need help or if something’s wrong.
Ever been on a trip with a partner who leaves you in the dust, or conversely, a partner unable to keep the pace you need to keep? How about a partner who has completely different expectations for a trip than you do?
The phrase “backpacking partner” implies you’re hiking together, and that means keeping a similar pace for the duration of your trip. Someone with a pace much slower than yours can be frustrating, but hiking with someone much faster than you can exhaust you and cause other types of problems. Going for a hike with your trip mate before you leave and chatting about what pace you’ll hold can make a huge difference. And remember, a “great day on the trail” may look different for your partner. Make sure you’re on the same page with respect to pace, level of difficulty, and the route in general.
Whether you’re going out on an overnight trip or a week-long adventure, you’ll spend the entirety of your outing with the same person or people. Make sure your trip mates are people you’ll enjoy being around for extended periods of time. When you’re on the trail, if you prefer to move quietly and without constant conversation, look for a partner who doesn't need to talk the entire way, or someone who understands your preference. If you'd rather a good, spirited conversation than silence, choose someone you know you converse well with. And this goes both ways; knowing when to zip it and when to break the silence can make all the difference in the backpacking experience for both of you!
Did we leave anything out? Post your must-have backpacking trip partner attributes in the comments!