Thru-Hiking with a Partner? Save Weight (and Money) by Sharing Gear
Don’t get me wrong—I love the solitude, empowerment, and freedom I get from hiking solo. Still, there’s something wonderful about hitting the trail with a hiking partner. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy to have someone along to share the magical moments, not to mention the crappy, garbage-like experiences we’ll eventually laugh about together. More practically, hiking with a partner also means we can pool some of our gear. That way both of us end up with lighter packs.
How much weight (and money) can you actually save by hiking and sharing gear with a partner? Potentially a lot of both—but as with most things in life, it depends.
Did the two of you meet in the midst of a thru-hike? Or did you know each other long before the trail and buy your gear together? Do you prefer to take every step of the way together, or hike separately and reconvene at camp each night? What kind of budget are you working with and what are your gear preferences?
All of these factors will affect how much gear you end up combining. Every partnership is different, after all. That’s why I reached out to several thru-hiking couples to get their perspective on sharing gear.
Woodchuck and Rooster
Triple Crowners Lauren “Woodchuck” and Henri “Rooster” de la Vega first met in New York City. They both already loved hiking and ended up thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail together in 2016. “We got engaged after the AT,” says Woodchuck, “and set out to hike the PCT in 2017 (though we still have most of Oregon to finish due to fires). After the PCT, we got married.
“Over the next few years, we became NY state-licensed guides and began guiding in the Hudson Valley, Catskills, and Adirondacks. This past summer, we thru-hiked the CDT southbound, and most recently, Rooster thru-hiked the Florida Trail. We are now working on building our guide business, called West Mountain Guide Co.”
Their Hiking Style
Independence is an important element of Woodchuck and Rooster’s relationship. Both partners love to take separate, solo backpacking trips in addition to hiking as a couple. Even when they’re hiking a trail together, they don’t feel the need to be joined at the hip every step of the way.
“We tend to hike independently on and off throughout the day. We believe that even though we are out together, we’re both having our own experiences, hiking at our own paces, and a big part of our success is attributed to how we are both able to function independently while completing this shared goal,” explains Woodchuck.
Although Woodchuck and Rooster embarked on their Triple Crown journey jointly, they maintain mostly separate gear setups and only share their Zpacks Duplex tent. That way they can each enjoy separate solo backpacking trips or hike apart during the day on joint trips. “Otherwise, we’d probably be biting each other’s heads off—which, now that I think of it, could save each other some weight,” Woodchuck jokes.
In any case, just sharing their tent has saved significant weight. The Duplex weighs 20 ounces—just 10 apiece!—which is remarkably light for a fully enclosed shelter. Any other gear they chose to share would have made comparably little difference in their base weight–so why bother?
Because they started planning their first thru-hike well in advance, they had time to research and gather gear slowly. That way they could afford quality ultralight gear for both of them—most of which they still use today. “We are aware that if we hadn’t had this gear, sharing more on a lower budget may have been worth it.”
Joal and Jenny
Thru-hikers (and Trek contributors!) Joal and Jeny first met in Hong Kong studying climate change 10 years ago. They got hooked on long-distance hiking in 2015 while backpacking in Nepal’s Annapurna mountains and went on to hike Scotland’s West Highland Way.
Joal says that “hiking and wild camping grounded us from our busy London lives, and we soon became hooked on the buzz of human-powered adventure.
After a few more trips in the UK, we decided to take a six-month sabbatical from work, which culminated in us hiking Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail. Since then we’ve done several trips in the UK (like the Wainwright’s Coast-to-Coast and sections of the South West Coast Path). We’re currently deciding what the next adventure should be—although our wedding this summer has put some of the longer trips on hiatus for now!”
Their Hiking Style
Joal and Jenny get a lot of satisfaction from sharing the experience of nature with each other. They camp together every night and hike together often during the day.
“It’s not all rainbows and cuddles, though,” warns Joal. They discovered early in their PCT journey that despite their close-knit approach to hiking, they needed to find a way to get some alone time. “At the start, we stuck to each other like glue…but it got a bit much and we started having petty arguments,” Joal shares.
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Despite sharing as much of their gear as possible, they were easily able to hike at different paces during the day and spend more time interacting with other hikers—as long as they ended up at the same campsite each night.
Beyond that, they learned to apply the same principles that make their relationship work in the “plastic world,” as Joal calls it, during their thru-hike. “We worked on seeing each other as a team and making sure we supported each other. We helped to pull each other out of lower points and rejoiced together on trail highs.”
Joal and Jenny shared as much of their gear as they possibly could. Beyond sleeping in one tent, they also shared a couple’s quilt, a double sleeping pad, and other small items. “Cost was one of the driving factors behind why our gear is so intertwined,” the couple explains. “We bought a two-man tent, which with Joal being 6’4” he’d have had to get anyway, and the quilt and sleeping pad were about 1/3rd more expensive than their single counterparts. We spent about $1000 on our big three between us when we did the PCT. We’d probably have (each) spent similar hiking alone.”
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The couple acknowledges that this setup might feel too restrictive for most couples. However, it works for them and allows them to each maintain an ultralight base weight of around 9.5 pounds.
Ibex (me) and Lotus
I met Lotus on the Appalachian Trail in 2018 about 400 miles into what had started as a solo thru-hike. The first thing he ever said to me when I sat down next to him at the shelter to pull my shoes off was, “WOW! Interesting looking feet you’ve got there,” which was objectively true because I had trenchfoot but still a pretty awful pickup line. We kept crossing paths over the next 200 miles or so, and eventually, I decided that Lotus was not such a terrible guy after all. We bonded over our various horrifying foot afflictions and kept each other’s spirits up through 10 miserable days of rain.
After that, we became pretty inseparable. We finished the AT together and went on to build out a van, road trip and backpack all over North America, complete one long section of the PCT (was going to be a thru-hike but then COVID happened), and thru-hike the Colorado Trail.
Our Hiking Style
Lotus and I camp together every night and also hike together most of the day. We’re weirdos in this regard. Most couples we’ve met hiked at different paces and met up occasionally on breaks, moving up the trail slinky-style.
Neither of us minds the constant companionship—on the contrary, we both look at it as a bonus. Our natural hiking paces seem to match up, and we’re both as happy to chitchat the hours away as to pass a few miles in comfortable silence. It’s easy to split up when we do care for some alone time, so there’s no pressure either way.
Like I said, we live in a cargo van when we’re not thru-hiking, so at this point we’re pretty good at not killing each other in close quarters.
Because we met in the midst of an ongoing thru-hike, we actually ended up spending more money to upgrade to a couple’s setup. We abandoned our respective one-person shelters in favor of a two-person Big Agnes Tiger Wall, and as I was transitioning from a hammock + underquilt setup, I had to pony up for an inflatable sleeping pad as well. The expense was worth it to reduce each of our base weights by a pound each. Also, sharing was objectively much nicer and more comfortable for us as a couple.
We had some duplicates in our new, combined setup—like cooking gear, first aid, nail clippers, Swiss army knives, bear bagging kits, and guidebook pages. So we did end up mailing some stuff home to save additional weight. Culling smaller items shaved a few ounces, but the real value here was in halving the number of annoying, tiny things bouncing around in our packs.
After the AT we took things further by upgrading to a couple’s quilt. I even made some DIY straps out of scrap cuben fiber to keep our sleeping pads together at night. We also bought a Garmin inReach for the PCT, which I was glad to have given that trail’s relative remoteness but which would have been a significant expense if we had both had to purchase one separately.
You can save money in town too.
All three couples agree on one thing: it’s not just about what you can save on your gear. Hiking with a partner gives you the opportunity to save a lot of money in town as well.
“For example, we always have at least the two of us to share a room at a hostel or motel,” Woodchuck reasons. “We can also make double the use of a purchase of zip lock bags, a container of ibuprofen, and can split bulk food items during resupplies.”
Joal and Jenny echo this sentiment. ” It’s also cheaper to hike with a partner if you are not a fussy eater as you can buy food items in bulk and share them between two. This is more cost-effective than buying smaller quantities. You can also share beds in town, etc.”
For our part, Lotus and I almost always opt for a motel or a private room in a hostel. We can often find cheap motel rooms for around $60 per night in trail towns, which breaks down to roughly the same price as a typical hostel bunk—and we get our own bathroom. Add a few pals to the room and you’ll end up paying less than you would at a hostel.
Going in together on laundry and supplies is a huge bonus. The latter sometimes saves us weight as well as money. For instance, a small fuel canister is more than I need to get between resupplies, but it’s perfect for sharing.
The benefits of sharing with a hiking partner apply to more than just couples. Tramilies can shop and room together, and solo hikers can join forces in town to save money.
There is such a thing as oversharing.
Joal and Jenny know all too well that just because a piece of gear can be shared, it doesn’t necessarily mean it should be: “At the start of the PCT we shared a poop bag which didn’t end well after Cajon Pass when Jenny had fallen behind and Joal needed to use the loo!”
The couple also carries a separate mug so they each have their own container to eat from. That way they can portion their food out equally and both eat at their own pace.
Similarly, Lotus and I pared down to just one water filter after we got together on the AT but have since added a second Sawyer and Cnoc bladder back to our setup. We both drink a lot of water and have lately been hiking more arid trails that require long water carries. Just using one filter for both of us ends up taking too long. It’s also good to have some redundancy here: we’ve had a filter seize up when we didn’t have a backup.
Go for a trial run before going all-in on shared gear.
There is some inherent risk in sharing gear heavily with a partner. Just because you’ve both dreamed of a thru-hike, things are different when you actually get out there. There’s no guarantee that you’ll both want or be able to complete the trail, or that your hiking styles will align perfectly.
Spouses and long-term couples who undertake to thru-hike together often stick together or quit together. But when friends and family (and sometimes couples too) find their trail experiences diverging, they often split up. One partner goes home or hikes at a different pace, and it becomes necessary to have all your own gear.
If you started out sharing tons of stuff, the separation can become a financial and logistical nightmare (in addition to possibly being painful or awkward).
That’s why you should do at least one shakedown together before starting a thru-hike with shared gear. Learn what the experience of backpacking as a couple feels like and how your pace and preferences differ in advance. Borrow or rent gear for these trips before making a huge financial investment. If you meet your partner on the trail, hike together for a while before sharing any gear. Don’t get too entangled until you’re damned sure you’ll actually stick together.
What have we learned?
If you’re thru-hiking with a partner, you may choose to share all, some, or none of your gear. I’ve known couples in committed relationships who didn’t even share a tent—it just depends on your preferences. But if you’ve taken shakedown hikes and are confident that you and your partner will thrive together on the trail, splitting gear is an easy way for both of you to save both money and weight. What gear have you shared with your hiking partner? Let us know in the comments below.
Featured image: Graphic design by Jillian Verner (@yourstrulyjillian).
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