How to Convince Your Partner to Let You Thru-Hike

In honor of Valentine’s Day, this post is dedicated to those we love (and hoping they are ok with us leaving them for months to be alone in the wilderness).

Let’s be real, the task of planning a thru-hike is daunting enough. What gear do I need? When should I start? How should I train? All those questions are highly important, but moot at the end of the day if you don’t get the ‘all clear’ from the old ball and chain. But that’s easier said than done; nothing says ‘I love you’ like I need to be alone for several months. How does one even start that conversation?

As early as possible

If you’re even considering a thru-hike, let your partner know ASAP. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, so be open and honest about your intentions early and often. This goes a long way and allows your partner the time to process the bomb you’ve just dropped on them. Personally, I told my girlfriend about a year in advance that this was something I’d been wanting to do. Was she on board immediately? Absolutely not. Is that OK? Yes, it is.

Valentines Day 2023

Anticipate, No…. Expect Resistance

Have the answers to your 5 W’s ready, because you’re going to be asked:

  1. Why are you planning on leaving me for several months?
  2. Where are you going when you abandon me for several months?
  3. Who are you going to be with while you desert me for several months?
  4. What will you do while you vamoose for several months?
  5. When are you going to skedaddle away from me for several months?

While not an all-inclusive list of questions, you get the idea. Know your reasons and stay true to yourself. Let them know your passions and desires behind the journey. Allow them to step inside your head, and see your motivations, and your viewpoints. Is this going to convince them? Probably not, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Enlist unbiased outside perspective

This, in all honesty was my saving grace. OK, story time:

Last summer, my girlfriend Kristen, had close childhood friends visiting from out of town; this was my first time meeting them. At dinner she brings up my plans to thru-hike the AT in the Spring (I’m sitting there sweating bullets mind you).  She asks the married couple their thoughts,

“What do you guys think? He wants to hike the Appalachian Trail. Would you be OK with your partner leaving you for several months…..?”

and to my complete surprise, they said,

“Absolutely! You have to let him go!! This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!!!” (Thanks Beccah and Trevor 🙂

Getting the opinion of someone with no dog-in-the-fight if you will, gives instant credibility to your cause (assuming their opinion falls on your side). To quote the Hunger Games “May the odds be ever in your favor“. Maybe you’ll get lucky and some of your partners friends will volunteer as tribute.

Involve your partner

Koko Head Crater Arch, Oahu HI 2021

Hopefully by now they’re on board or at least open to the idea of you thru-hiking. Next, include them every step of the way. Inviting your partner to be a part of the process builds their buy-in. Hell, maybe they’ll even want to join you for the whole trek. If they’re not ready for such an undertaking, take them on day hikes with you. Involve them in your training. Include them in the planning process, or by sending resupplies and care packages. For us, it started with a shopping trip together to REI, which is an unfair, yet brilliant tactical move (women love shopping if you didn’t know. The context of the shopping doesn’t even matter!).

Involving your partner allows you both time to hash out the logistics of the day-to-day necessities while you’re away. For example, making sure all the bills are covered. Who is going to watch the dogs? Making sure your vehicle doesn’t sit at the same spot in the driveway for 6 months. These ever-important considerations go over better when a thru-hike becomes a team effort. You may even find your partner becomes your biggest cheerleader in your new endeavor.

Makes plans to keep in contact

They say distance makes the heart grow fonder. While this may or may not be true, I’ve been in enough long-distance relationships to know you need to have something on the horizon to look forward to. Tolerating the distance is all about that next thing. The next conversation, the next trip you have planned together, the next letter, or the next care package. On the trail, this process is complicated by poor cell service, and hiking timelines that change with the whims of weather forecasts and weathered bodies. GPS and location sharing are some options for keeping loved ones abreast of your whereabouts. This is vital for both communication and safety purposes. Texts, phones calls and blog posts go without saying.

The horizon event of my thru-hike will be meeting up with my girlfriend in Maryland. She worked for years in Middletown, MD, a town located a short 5 miles from the trail.  I’ll be taking a few zero days and looking forward to exploring her old stomping grounds with her.

Caper Acres Park, Chico CA

If all else fails, guilt trip

OK totally kidding, you’re better off with flowers and chocolate. Gifting tickets to Taylor Swift (live reaction here) may also help. And if you’re still meeting resistance from your partner, not all relationships are meant to be… In all seriousness though, you’re not going to convince everyone. Maybe it’s a situation of right hike, wrong time. Choosing to delay your hike may better fit your particular situation. However, I would caution the procrastinators among us against kicking the thru-hike can down the road in perpetuity. Strike while the iron is hot and while the knees are young.

Most regrets in life come from the roads we opted not to travel. Nobody is going to fight harder for your dreams than you will. That fight gets a little easier with the support of loved ones. Best of luck to everyone in the pursuit of that support. In the meantime, stow away with me in my pack and support me on my journey of the AT this April.

You can follow Derek on instagram @Barkleycharles

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Comments 4

  • Russ1663 : Feb 18th

    Derek, good morning. Thanks for posting this article, spot on. In my case, it is an uphill battle. Support is limited; I am 73, started hiking after retiring at 65. Mostly my family accepts my wandering trails, both flat and mountainous. I must point out that my adventures are mostly day hikes and quite a few AT section hikes. Your point concerning speaking of your plans early and inclusion on planning are spot on as well. Take care, I will watch for your posts.

    • Derek : Feb 21st

      Wow Russ! Still doing it at 73, that’s really inspiring. I’m hoping my body holds up that well. Thanks for reading 🙂

  • Sherry Woolacott : Mar 2nd

    I am glad Kristen is on board with your adventure! She is s keeper! Thanks for sharing,
    Love Mom


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