Every adventurer needs a sidekick. Sometimes.
When a trail is more remote with few or no resupply options or is in a terrain that is totally unfamiliar territory, finding a partner for a single trip can help ease some worries.
Here are a few things to ideally consider with any potential backpacking partner.
1. Hike together or just camp together? Some people want that extra security at night, some want another person with them the whole time ‘just in case’. Find someone who is willing to hike the pace or who is willing to stop for the night at the agreed point, even if it will be mid-afternoon when they arrive. Or after dark.
2. Common ground. Differing religious viewpoints, educational standpoints, parenting views, political ideals and even cheering for opposing teams can crop up and cause friction. The good news is that after about 5 miles if both partners can still breathe enough to talk, topics will mainly cover A) chaffing B) the amount of climbing the trail seems to be doing C) the view D) food.
But there will be time to shoot the breeze, so try to be sure there’s enough in common to avoid pissing each other off the whole trip. If something is taboo, say so upfront.
3. Compatible gear/abilities. If one person has everything the guy at REI even mentioned and the other has stuff they just borrowed/bought the day before the trip, there will be issues. It’s important to know personal limits, gear limits, the local environment/weather and how to make in-field repairs as well as good basic first aid. Being able to set up and take down sleeping quarters and having the right gear for the weather are all really important issues.
As detrimental to the trip as the under-prepared is the over-packer who has 10 pounds of ‘just in case’ stuff and too much food and gear in general. Weight slows the hiker and makes the trip more miserable. It’s GREAT to pair up with a novice and help get them on the trail and gain confidence. But if the goal is to thru-hike a particular trail making time crucial, having an experienced partner who knows their stuff goes a long way to ensure a successful trip.
4. Who will plan? Some folks like to trade up, some (most) just like to show up where they are told and go walk a while. Decide on that, because it can become an issue if both partners slack on the planning.
5. Food. Does each person bring their own, how about sharing a stove and pots and fuel? Do both agree on how to treat water and store supplies overnight? This seems trivial, but even in non-bear areas, mice, skunk, and raccoon, even possums (sometimes feral cats) will get into stuff. If one person is careful and the other is not and their stuff gets eaten or their TP stock is confetti, what’s the plan?
6. Pacing. Big differences in hiking speed can be miserable for both. This can be worked out by just agreeing on a stopping point either for lunch or for the night and both zipping or plodding off. Setting miles per day or per week goal helps-the faster walker knows heading out that only 8 or 10 or 12 miles a day will be enough to get there and that may be enough to slow them down. Agree to wait for each other at intersections (the best idea) or at least be sure each person has a map or guidebook and go over the next day’s plan together.
7. Endurance. How long both people can walk. Factor in that one person has a knee that may act up on long downhills or other intermittent flare-ups that may require distance adjustments on the fly.
8. Shelter. Unless there is a need to share body heat, sharing a shelter should be avoided. Night noises, shuffling, farts, snores, sleep talkers, rolling off the mat, rolling over on each other…EEE. Agreeing to set up close enough to hear if the other calls, yet staying far enough apart to avoid too much familiarity is a good idea. Ear plugs are another good idea.
9. Miscellany: Are they going to lose their shit upon seeing a snake, spider, lizard, bear? Does being cold or wet make them extra miserable (whiny)? Do they have to update Facebook and Instagram and/or ‘just check in’ every time there’s cell service? Photos are awesome, but what if one person wants shots of every plant along the trail? Is there a minor health issue that requires frequent stops for snacks or potty breaks?
10. In most cases, all of the above will boil down to two things being compatible-dates both people are free and the trail they want to hike! Most things can be worked out on the trail. Or, if not, each person will then have an even better personal checklist for the next time a partner is needed!