Posted by: davepidgeon | July 13, 2009

I do: Introducing a spouse to backpacking

Alison and I during one of our first hikes together, at Pulpit Rock in Pennsylvania.

Alison and I during one of our first hikes together, at Pulpit Rock in Pennsylvania.

Few moments in the life of a backpacker present more peril than when you introduce a girlfriend/wife to your beloved sport. I’ve a few stories about this, which seem hilarious to me now … not so funny to Alison, my wife. I’ve dragged her to the holy mountain in Ireland to the desert surrounding Phoenix to a dormant volcano in Costa Rica, each time promising her unforgettable scenery and inspirational experiences. Most times, though, at some point during the hike a few harsh words might be exchanged or one of us is exhausted, thirsty and wanting to turn back.

A few weeks ago, I was planning a backpack with a couple we’ve grown close to during the last year. When Alison learned about it, she protested. “I want to go backpacking!” she announced. Oh boy. It’s one thing to bring your wife along for a 7-mile day hike; an entirely different matter when it comes to dragging that rucksack into the wilderness, sleeping in the ink-black dark miles from the nearest road or town, boiling your food and sweating it out for two straight days with little sanitation compared to normal life.

If only there was a guide to how to introduce your spouse to backpacking.

In my experience, there are three things you should consider before taking your loved one out into the woods:

  1. Pick the right trail. Consider well not only your fitness level but your spouse’s condition. I’m consistently guilty of taking hiking newbies out for a first-time strenuous hike because in my immaturity I want to share a kickass experience. It kicks ass, alright, usually my newfound hiking partner kicking mine. My point is this – you’re planning for two now, so if your spouse isn’t as active or experienced in the outdoors as you are, save that 25-mile, two-day backpack up the Presidential Range in New Hampshire for another time. Look to something that’s more leisurely – a ridge run, less miles, fewer climbs up and down.
  2. Divided we succeed. A newbie to backpacking may not be aware of how difficult it is to haul a 25-to-30-pound backpack can be until they actually throw one on. Make sure they try on a backpack before going out to the trailhead or discuss who will carry what weight for that first trip. Communication and planning are key to this one. Plan according to both of your fitness levels. Don’t expect your spouse to immediately grasp the spiritual boost you get from carrying your shelter and food on your back for 10 miles. At the same time, your spouse can’t expect you to carry 60 pounds of gear while they hold a Nalgene bottle for water. Appropriately divide the gear to the comfort level of both.
  3. Chores, chores, chores. My wife at home wants to make a comprehensive, structured list of what responsibilities we each have at home – I wash the dishes, she cleans the living room; things like that. I, however, prefer the “If-you-see-it-needs-doing-just-do-it” approach to chores. When it comes to backpacking, however, I would suggest going with my wife’s approach when it comes to the in-camp chores. A lot needs doing when you arrive at your campsite from setting the tent up to gathering firewood to cooking dinner to hanging your food bag so animals don’t go rummaging through it. If you’re out with a partner, one person shouldn’t be finishing all the tasks or you’re in for a couple spat in the middle of the wilderness. If a married couple argues in the woods and no one’s there to hear it … did it really happen? Hmmm. Never mind that. Talk to each other prior to going out on your trip. Lay out what both of your expectations are so when you arrive in camp, each person knows his or her duties.

Looking over these three suggestions, mapping out expectations prior to the backpacking trip is probably the most important contribution to success.

If you have any other suggestions or great anecdotes about taking your spouse backpacking for the first time, I’d love it if you would leave it in the comments section. Alison and I are taking our first backpack together shortly – we have a great trail in coastal Maine picked out – and I would love to learn from your experiences.



  1. Good info here. I need to get my wife to accept that she doesn’t need air conditioning all of the time. and bugs – she hates bugs.

    I’m thinking we’ll start her with a primitive cabin with day hikes. Then maybe move on from there.

    Good post,
    Harris’ Hawk Blog

    • It comes down to clearly outlining each others expectations. The fewer surprises when it comes to workload the better. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. You forgot to mention that you learned all of these things from the mistakes that you made with me!


    Your wife,


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