With long days on the trail and little to no other people around, choosing the right backpacking partner can make or break your trip.
Maybe you have a significant other who loves the outdoors as much as you do, and wants to try backpacking. Or perhaps you're wondering if your co-worker or childhood friend will be as good of a travel buddy as they are a friend?
Before you request time off from work or book your flight for a far-off location, stop and ask yourself these questions. Get the answers before you go to avoid a bad–or even dangerous–backpacking trip.
- Is Your Potential Travel Buddy Physically Fit?
Don't judge your friend's fitness level based on their physical size. Instead, hit the trail as soon as possible to see if you both hike at a similar pace. Choose a hike with similar terrain as the trail you plan to backpack on. Or, plan the location after your initial hike.
On the practice trip, note whether they continually forge ahead, struggle at the first minor ascent, or need to stop often. These cues will help you determine whether they're ready or not.
- What Do They Already Know?
What your friend knows or doesn't know is critical in a difficult situation—especially if one of you gets injured. Use the following questions as a baseline test of their knowledge:
What do you know about backpacking?
Can you set up a tent?
Can you read a topographical map or a GPS?
Do you understand the dangers of lightning when you're at a summit?
Do you know how to purify water?
If you believe your friend is teachable, don't discount them just yet. Keep in mind that you may need to rely on your travel buddy at some point on the backpacking trip. Be sure they know the basics.
- Are They Already Geared Up?
Everything you need for a backpacking trip can be purchased. But, if your friend doesn't currently own the gear, it could be a sign they're not ready to take on the challenge of a backpacking trip.
If you feel your friend is a good fit and just needs to purchase equipment, make sure they test everything with at least one outing before your "official" trip.
If they got a backpack from a friend, chances are it's not the right fit for their body. That translates into a sore back and shoulders, not to mention an irritable companion at the end of a long day of hiking. If your friend has to buy hiking boots, make sure they've put some miles on those boots—with elevation, not just a flat trail—to avoid blisters.
- How Is Their Attitude?
It's often said that couples see how well suited they are for one another when they go on vacation together. The same holds true for a travel buddy on a backpacking trip. Having the same friends or appreciating similar movies is not a good indicator of how the two of you will work together on the trail.
Ask yourself: How does your friend manage surprises or setbacks? If something bad happened—say a missed flight or a malfunctioning GPS—would they fall apart or rise to the occasion? Not everything goes right on a backpacking trip, and their attitude will dictate how enjoyable the trip is, in good times and bad, for both of you.
- Will Their Habits Hinder You?
It's one thing if your friend is perpetually late when you meet for coffee. It's another thing if that perpetual lateness cuts into the hours you have to hike that day.
No Matter What, Always Talk Things Over
Remember: Don't rule out a friend if they don't fit the perfect profile of a travel buddy on the surface. For example, if you're experienced, they might want to learn from you. You just need to decide whether you think they'll be ready in time for the trip.