Partner Packing: How to Thru-Hike Together and Stay in Love

Chris and Kim posing on a snowy summit of a mountain

Solo adventuring can give you an unparalleled sense of freedom, but there is something quite special about finding a partner that shares your same passion for adventure. While there are many ways that backpacking with a partner can be easier, it does add a separate set of challenges. Despite that, the shared experience of thru-hiking with the one you love is always worth it in the end.

Making A Plan

When planning a trip with a partner, especially an extended thru-hike, it’s important to be as vocal as possible about your expectations, and to discuss as many possible scenarios — good and bad — that you can think of. Conversations should evolve throughout the planning process, and while not all of them are easy to have, they are necessary. Setting proper expectations beforehand and communicating effectively will help alleviate a lot of stress and potential arguments on trail.

Some of these conversations are simple to have, such as deciding whether or not to hike together throughout the day. This may seem unnecessary, but it could drastically change your gear selection. — If you don’t spend your days together and one of you needs to stop short of a predetermined meeting place, someone could be stuck without shelter or a stove. Also, if only one person has a GPS or locator beacon and the other runs into an emergency situation, it could be disastrous. Not everything is life or death with this decision though — luxury items should be taken into account! One partner could miss out on spotting a rare bird because the other is too far ahead with the binoculars.

Food on-trail should be an important part of planning with your partner as well. One person could be just fine resupplying at a gas station while the other may have higher standards for their meals or dietary restrictions. Usually, a combination of resupplying on the fly and mail drops work best, but depending on your situation you may need to be a little more flexible.

Planning For the Worst

One of the harder talks to have is whether or not the other will continue on if your partner gets injured or wants to quit. Would making your partner quit create resentment in your relationship? Would watching your partner continue on without you instill jealousy or disappointment? There could be compromises to be made, such as becoming a ‘support team’ either from home or meeting them in a vehicle at road crossings along the trail. Setting up a contingency plan will help relieve an emotional situation (that hopefully never occurs).

Dialing In Your Shared Gear

Selecting the right gear for a thru-hike can feel like a whirlwind of decisions for one person, and finding everything that works for two can be even more difficult. Each person may have their own philosophies when it comes to backpacking: one person could be ultralight while the other wants a few extra luxury items. Usually, sharing gear allows for extra comforts regardless of your mindset. The first step in deciding on what gear to bring as a couple is figuring out what equipment will be shared.

Shelters

The easiest item to share is a shelter. Finding one that both people feel comfortable in and has livable space for two people is key. Both partners should feel confident in setting up and taking down the shelter, so tarps or non-freestanding shelters may be out of someone’s comfort zone. If you decide to split up the tent with one person carrying the poles and stakes while the other carries the body and fly, it can allow you to carry a more luxurious shelter without much of a weight penalty.

A Zpacks Duplex set up with mountain views in the background

While space, livability and weight are top concerns for you and your partner’s backpacking tent, make sure you’re both comfortable with setting up whatever type of shelter you choose.

Sleep Systems

Even sleep systems come into question while partner packing. More companies are starting to accommodate couples in the backcountry by expanding their lines of double sleeping bags and quilts. Double sleeping pads are getting lightweight and packable as well. Keep in mind it can sometimes be difficult to find double sleep systems that work for both if one person sleeps cold while the other sleeps hot.

Food & Cooking

There are many options when it comes to cooking and eating on trail as well. Each person could carry their own stove and pot, which comes in handy if food preferences are different. Some can get by on ramen every night while someone else may only want Trailtopia or other fancy dehydrated meals. If you do decide to share a stove, the next question is do you carry your own bowls and cups or just eat out of the same pot? This may take some trial and error but, as with anything, you can be flexible and get creative with it.

Quality of Life Decisions

A lot of shared gear comes down to preference and what works best for each couple. While some may share a large capacity water filter, another couple may prefer personal filters which allow for a backup if one fails. Smaller items like a first aid kit and electronic chargers are easy to split up, especially if you plan on hiking together most days. If you anticipate spending large portions of your time separated, each person should carry some form of first aid.

As with all gear purchases (solo or as a couple), the best practice is to try out as many options as possible. Go set up that tent you’ve been eying in your local gear shop to ensure you like the setup. See if a friend has a stove they’re willing to let you play around with. The more you get a feel for what works best for you as a couple, the better. Don’t be afraid to swap out setups that aren’t working for both people! Keeping everyone happy is the key to a successful couples hike.

Trail Life

After you’ve had the uncomfortable conversations and sifted through all the backpacking gear you care to look at, you can finally hit the trail! While this is the fun part, there are still compromises to be made and difficult discussions to be had. Get ready to get to know your partner more than you ever thought possible.

Partner Pacing

The first few days on trail will likely be spent assessing each other’s pace. One person will usually end up a little ways in front of the other and for some, this can add pressure to keep up and push one person past their comfort level. If your partner is pushing you too far, make sure you are vocal about it. It can help to base your pace on the slower partner and let them lead. If your pace is similar, it can be fun to alternate days leading on trail.

Agreeing on a shared pace or deciding to go it alone is a decision you’ll have to make together.

Camp Chores

Getting into camp presents a new set of chores to divide up. Working as a team makes quick work and leaves more time to relax and hang out in camp. If someone is particular about setting the shelter up in a certain way, they can set up the tent while the other collects water for the evening. Once those are done, one can start cooking and the other can get the inside of the tent set up for sleeping. By the time that is finished, you’ll be ready to eat and relax while the solo hikers are still setting up. It can be helpful to switch it up from time to time or take on extra responsibilities if one person is too tired or not feeling well. Finding a routine that works for both of you will make life at camp efficient and enjoyable.

Being Comfortable (With One Another)

Spending this much one-on-one time in the backcountry with your partner will reveal a side of them you may never experience in everyday life. You each will need to get comfortable with the smells and grime that come with days or weeks (yes weeks) without a shower. Partners will both have to get familiar with all the bodily functions of the other and should feel okay talking about them. Don’t be too proud to tell your partner when you need to take a slower day because of cramps or digestive issues.

Throughout an extended trip, you will likely see your partner having their highest highs and their lowest lows. Having an emotional moment or day is going to happen. Be aware of how you can help each other through these situations and recognize when to give the other person some space. Let your partner know about pain or injuries as well. Not speaking up and trying to press on despite being in pain could lead to trip-ending injuries — and isn’t worth it just to avoid a moment of possible disappointment.

Summing Up: Planning, Compromise, Communication.

In order for an extended adventure or thru-hike to work out, open communication is the most important thing. Keeping an open dialog during the planning process will make it easier to relay your wants and needs on trail more comfortably. Bending to meet a single person’s needs deprives one person of having the experience they want and could put a strain on the trip and the relationship itself. Working together to brainstorm through situations that arise will allow all opinions to be heard and lead to the best outcome. Being able to compromise will bring you a fulfilling adventure and strengthen the bond with your partner like nothing else. Despite the challenges, sharing experiences with the one you love is always worth it in the end.

Chris and Kim relaxing above treeline with 'I love u' speeled out by them with some rocks

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Published:March 30, 2021

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