By Mandy "Veggie" Redpath
So you want to thru hike with your partner as a couple, but you’re unsure if that is too much together time.
What if you need personal time?
Or, what do you do if you need to go to the bathroom near your partner?
What happens if you argue?
All these and more are valid questions to consider when attempting a thru hike with your partner.
Karma and I started out as individual hikers and became a couple on trail meshing our hiking styles and gear. These are the 5 tips I’ve come up with to survive a thru hike as a couple during and after your hike.
Yes, headphones are my #1 tip! There is no better way to create your own space within a shared space than headphones.
If we need space from each other inside the tent, we put on our separate music/podcasts/audiobooks.
If we’re on trail, we often listen to separate things for a few hours in the afternoon. However, if listening in rattlesnake or grizzly country, make sure to only listen in one ear.
Not only do headphones give you separate space while still together, the podcasts and audiobooks will give you new conversations.
Let’s face it, most trail talk boils down to: food, water, gear, and your morning constitutional.
But, if you listen to podcasts and audiobooks, you now have something completely different to discuss! Karma and I listen to completely different music and he prefers podcasts where I prefer audiobooks.
Sometimes, we overlap on a podcast or book and end up having our own impromptu book club.
2) Walk slightly separate with an agreed upon break location.
Karma and I have different hiking paces. He hikes quite fast and I hike at a pretty average speed. To hike together, he slows down a little and I speed up.
However, it’s nice to walk our own paces.
Generally speaking, we made an understanding that the faster hiker (almost always Karma) will take a break at:
- an agreed upon location
- a confusing junction
- the top of a mountain
- a water source
We both have our own navigation tools, so we can sometimes be walking up to a half mile apart. This is key in case you do ever get separated.
Hiking just slightly apart helps give each partner a little space and a little bit of their own experience within the shared experience.
Generally speaking though, if the navigation gets harder on a section of cross-country for example, we stick together. But, longer sections of not confusing trail, we like a little space.
3) Know ahead of time that you’ll both smell and make space for new norms.
Thru hiking is smelly business. You’re covered in sweat, dirt, sunscreen, and who knows what else!
You’re not carrying deodorant and you wear the same clothes day after day. There is no escaping the smell. Especially in the tent.
You can use wet wipes to get the worse off the dirt and sunscreen off, but they only do so much.
Accepting the B.O. smell ahead of time will save you embarrassment later.
Karma and I have decided it’s funny. We like to laugh about how much we smell. It’s all about perspective. If it’s not funny, it’s gross, and funny is better than gross.
Likewise, at some point, you’ll go to the bathroom near your partner. No, not like your house where you can close a door. I mean that you won’t make it very far from the tent at some point.
The diet of a thru hiker contains a lot of dehydrated meals, peanut butter, and fiber. All of those foods get the digestive tract moving and sometimes at inconvenient times.
Not being embarrassed to dig a cat hole near your partner is a must.
Actually, having your partner be a lookout for other hikers is highly valuable in an emergency situation.
If you can adjust to new norms on trail regarding smells and bathroom etiquette, it will help in the long run.
4) If you’re about to argue, think “Am I hungry? Tired?”
Let’s be real. On a thru hike, you’re always hungry. But, there’s low level hunger and then there is hangry (hunger anger).
When you’re trying to make sure that you have enough food for the whole section, sometimes you need to skip a snack. It’s not fun. Then, you often become hangry.
If you are hangry, you’re more likely to take that out on your partner. It’s important to pause and think, “am I really angry at my partner, or am I really just hungry?” If the anger is from hunger, maybe stop and have a snack.
Likewise, ask yourself if you’re really tired and/or sore. Thru-hiking is hard work. Inevitably, something hurts and is making you tired.
So, if you feel tired, instead of arguing with your partner, try expressing that you’re tired and need a break. That break could be an extra sit-down stop or a zero in town.
5) If you do argue, walk alone for an hour, then discuss so the same argument doesn’t happen again
If you’re not hungry or tired and an argument crops up, give each other silent space for an hour. You’d be surprised at your mind’s ability to process while walking.
Take any anger you have out within the exercise silently.
After an hour or so, both of you have had time to process the argument and how you can amend it.
With a little time and exercise, it’s easier to discuss the problem with a calmer tone and resolve the issue.
Then, take a moment to talk through the argument. If you don’t, it will crop up again. And, it will most likely be worse or at a very inconvenient time.
Hiking with your significant other can be both very rewarding and difficult at the same time.
It’s important to remember that you’re both physically and mentally exhausted while thru hiking.
Give yourselves personal space within your shared space and be vocal when you need it.
If you use these five tips, it will help you navigate your thru hike as a couple and stay a couple afterward!
About the Author
Mandy “Veggie” Redpath was raised on the East Coast, but the West stole her heart. She had a pivotal moment in college at Syracuse University that started the westward trend. At a club fair, she went to sign up for club lacrosse. However, the team looked miserable and bored. A few tables over, the Syracuse University Outing Club (SUOC) was carrying someone around in a backpack and having way more fun.
SUOC taught her how to backpack and backpacking became the activity that her life revolved around. She completed two Caminos and the AT while in college. Upon leaving, she leveraged those connections to get a job in Vail, Colorado where they expect you to arrive in the fall and quit in the spring. Perfect for thru-hiking!