How to Successfully Thru-Hike as a Couple

For eight years I dreamt about my solo thru-hike of the PCT. I lost myself in thoughts of trail life, trail families, river crossings and town misadventures – all done solo.

I never considered hiking with anyone because most of my friends were not hikers or backpackers. But then, in 2012, I met a gal on top of Mt. Whitney and everything changed.

In a few short years we were planning a thru-hike together. And this scared me. I asked myself questions and pondered many what-ifs.

“Would we make it to Canada as a couple?

“If she got injured, would I have to get off the trail too?

“Is this the right thing for us to do as a couple?

Instead of dwelling in the land of fears and doubts, I chose to focus on planning our hike. As it turned out, thru hiking as a couple was one of the best things we could have done personally and for our relationship.

Trial-run backpacking trips

We share a love for the mountains so naturally we went backpacking numerous times prior to stepping foot on the PCT. Some of those trips were overnighters, others ranged from 5 to 10 days.

Similar to shakedown hikes that test gear and overall setup, backpacking together is one of the best ways to identify differing backpacking styles and potential sticky points.

You will learn many things about yourself and each other on these trips.

How well you share space in city life doesn’t always translate to a successful thru hike as a couple. And unless you both work at home together, spend most of your time with the same friends together, share every meal together and share a twin bed together, you might be in for a shock.

During our shakedown hikes we learned about our habits, comfort zones and preferences. All this information helped us set expectations and plan for a successful hike.

Communication is Key

Just like in city life, clear communication on the trail is crucial to successfully thru hiking with someone.

Telling your partner what you need in any given moment or for the day is huge. If you want some alone time or a few hours to hike by yourself, tell your partner instead of just picking up your pace.

If you want your partner’s help with something, tell them instead of hoping he or she will read your mind and offer to help.

If you are frustrated about something your partner said or did, voice your frustrations and talk it out. On the trail there is no TV, no Internet and no YouTube to distract you from your feelings. Eventually you have to face them and express them. And you might as well do it sooner than later to avoid a blow up.

Your Bond Should be Your Priority

If you want to successfully thru hike together, your partnership should trump all else.

Every decision should be made with the unit as the priority. And every decision should be made together.

Thru hiking is hard work.

On the trail I had bad days and my partner Laurie helped me through them. When she was hurting I carried some of her food.

If I needed to slow down because my heel hurt she reassured me that hiking slower would benefit me in the long run. If she had a blister to tend to, I offered to help however I could.

Plan On NOT Sharing Food

A few long days on the trail makes for one hungry hiker! The last thing on a hiker’s mind is sharing their dinner with anyone. For this reason, keep your food separate.

Have your own breakfasts, snacks, bars, lunches, candy, dinners, desserts – everything!

But this doesn’t mean you don’t share any food with your partner.

On the PCT we found it much easier to want to share our food with one another because we both had enough separately. We knew that if we shared our food we wouldn’t go hungry.

Be self sufficient and choose what you want to share when you want to do so.

Find a Routine

Look for patterns on shakedown hikes. Figure out a routine. We have a natural tendency to do certain things when we are with our partner.

Looking for patterns and deciding how to split tasks will provide clarity and make things easier on those long, hard days.

Does one person enjoy setting up the tent or getting water while the other cooks dinner?

Should one person wake up and start packing earlier because they are slower than their partner?

Does one person hike faster than their partner?  Is the faster hiker comfortable hiking slower to allow you to hike together (assuming you both want that)?

Do you wait for your partner while they dig a hole or hike on and meet up at a later point?

These are all important things to figure out together. Pay attention on those shakedown hikes and see what is happening. If you notice a pattern or behavior, talk about it and make sure you are both on the same page.

Keep in mind that you won’t figure it all out before your hike. Or the opposite may be true – you might seamlessly fall into a routine. But this can also change during your thru hike. Notice these changes taking place and talk about them. Continue to check in with one another about what is working and what isn’t.

Be Compassionate

Hold space for your partner and have sympathy for them without losing your sense of self.

This can be very hard to do but you must try.

If your partner has a breakdown, let them experience the wave of emotions that arise. Comfort them if they want that, but don’t take it personally if they don’t.

Some experiences are meant to be solo – let them be.

Similarly, give yourself permission to experience whatever emotions come up for you. Ride your own wave knowing it is ok to do so.

Hold on to the notion that everything is temporary – including emotional breakdowns on the trail. Once you or your partner are ready to hike again, trust that after a few miles (and an endorphin rush) things will change. Hold on to that and hike on.

Thru hiking as a couple can be incredibly rewarding. It can solidify a bond unlike any other experience. And if you set yourself up well, you can benefit from having shared one of the purest, most pleasurable lifetime achievements with another person.

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Comments 4

  • Donna : Jan 17th

    Some great tips here Andy. I loved reading your blog during your PCT hike and it’s great to read some of the wisdom that came from it.

    Reply
  • Bev Staley : Jan 17th

    Lovely piece of writing Andy. I’m solo in Oz, but there is much to learn from your words. Thanks.

    Reply
  • Cinderella, SOBO '16 : Jan 17th

    Great post! We just thru-hiked the AT as a couple, and your points ring true and hit close to home 🙂

    Reply
    • William Butters : Sep 3rd

      Thank you Andy, my girlfriend and I are in the beginning stages of planning for PCT. We backpack on a regular basis but it’s usually 1-3 days in and out. Really appreciate your insight, gives us a good place to start our prep.

      Reply

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