The Myths and Facts About Hiking as a Couple

When Kyle and I tell people we hiked for five months together and that we are planning on doing it again people tend to stare at us, mouths hanging open, before quickly recovering and exclaiming, “That’s amazing you didn’t kill each other!” and many people quickly declare that if they spent that much time with their partners they would promptly break up or go crazy.  We usually nod and go along with what they are saying, agreeing that we must be some sort of a miracle couple (aw, shucks), but the honest truth is most people are selling themselves and their relationships short and they are blowing the kinds of problems one encounters on trail out of proportion.  So here are a couple of myths about hiking (long distances) with a partner and the actual truths, as we seen them.

Myth #1:  You will be dirty, gross and smelly around your partner and that will put a strain on your relationship.

It is absolutely true that you will be dirty, gross, and smelly.  Actually you will probably smell worse than you ever have, in your entire life.  You will smell like onions that have been rotting in a boys gym locker, wrapped in smelly wet socks covered in dog hair.  It’s true.  But it isn’t true that it will put a strain on your relationship.  First of all, you will both smell bad and you will get used to it.  You will get used to everyone’s smell on trail, even if it takes a little while.  Eventually it won’t bother you and you might actually revel a little bit in how bad you smell.  You will start to think it is funny when the other person wakes you up with smelly farts, or has a dirt streak on their face for a week and doesn’t notice.  You will become more comfortable with each other than you were before and that will benefit you in the future.  You will realize that you love your partner, even when they are dirty, smelly, and gross and that they love you.  This will only reaffirm that you have made the right choice to be with this person and to go hiking with them.

Myth #2: You have to share everything on trail, even a toothbrush, and that could cause you to break up.

First of all, you don’t have to share everything on trail.  Many couples carry separate food, pots, toothbrushes, books, even tents.  You just need to bring what you need to keep you sane.  Some people don’t like to share, that is fine.  Know that about yourself and plan accordingly.  Kyle and I don’t mind sharing, so we shared everything because it made our packs lighter.  Although Kyle got angry sometimes when I chewed too loudly in his ear we laughed it off more often than we fought about it.  Sharing is caring.

Myth #3: The trail is really stressful and that will put a strain on your relationship.

The trail is not really stressful, at least not compared to real life.  You don’t have strict schedules, jobs, rent to pay, cars to break down, etc.  Really you just walk every single day, think about what you will have for dinner that night and sleep soundly.  This is why so many people like hiking, because it is so simple and so stress free.  This isn’t to say stressful things don’t happen on trail.  While Kyle and I were on the AT Kyle got Lyme’s disease and twice we had to figure out how to see a doctor and get antibiotics.  That was stressful and scary, but it didn’t tear us apart.  Instead we tackled it together.

Myth #5: There are a lot of decisions to make and what if we prefer different options?

There are an average amount of decisions to make and most of them are not life changing.  Which mountain house to eat, which town to stop in, what hotel to stay at, where to eat dinner, whether it is time to buy a new shirt or not… these are not the decisions that are going to make or break your relationship.  If they do, then maybe it is better you aren’t together (there I said it).  Real life has significantly harder decisions for couples.  Things like where to live, close to your family or mine?  What to do with your life professionally?  How to budget your money for all of life’s expenses?  To buy a car used or new?  To me these are truly stressful decisions.  Unless you want to think about these things on trail you do not have to.  You and your partner have theoretically decided to leave behind all of life’s responsibilities for five months and just walk.  While this sounds slightly irresponsible when stated like this let me assure you it is the most wonderful thing you can do.

Myth #4: You will never have any alone time and that will stress your relationship.

If you want alone time you can get it easily by not hiking together every day.  Consider letting one person leave camp before you and having a designated stopping spot for the evening.  Many couples we knew on the AT did this.  This way they got their alone time, ten hours of it a day.  Is that enough alone time for you?  Personally I prefer hiking with Kyle but just not talking all the time.  This allows me plenty of alone time, in my own head, and when I want to run an idea by him he is right there behind me.

Myth #5:  You might run out of things to talk about.

You might run out of things to talk about, for a couple of hours, until something new pops into your head, or you meet someone interesting, or you see a really beautiful sight, or you read a good chapter in your book, or life happens.  If you don’t get bored with each other in daily life you won’t get bored on trail because things are still happening all the time.  There are plans to be made, and cliff bar options to discuss and a whole world of topics to explore if you need to chat.  But it is also nice to discover that you don’t need to talk with your loved one 24/7 to be happy.  You can just be quiet and that is okay too.  Learning to love comfortable silence is an experience many couples will never have the honor of enjoying.

Being a trail couple is no harder than being a solo hiker, in fact I sometimes think it is easier.  The fact that you physically share the load in your backpacks aside, you also have someone there to share the emotional tolls of a long distance hike.  You have someone to push you on your down days, and you are there to push your partner when they aren’t feeling so hot.  Most importantly you have someone to reenter society with, to cheer you up when the trail blues got cha down, and to agree that the magic of long distance hiking wasn’t all in your head.  For Kyle and I hiking the Appalachian Trail together was easy.  The trail itself wasn’t always a breeze, but our relationship and choosing to be together, that was a no brainer.

P.S.  Strangely, as I was writing this post I stumbled across another post on the same subject written by “Maggie” on Appalachian Trails.  To see what she had to say on the subject click here.

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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."

21 thoughts on “The Myths and Facts About Hiking as a Couple

  1. My husband and I are like this too. For whatever reasons, we just flow together. We are grateful to have the experience of sharing this physical life together. Thank you for sharing a piece of your life!

  2. People have said similar things to me as well. When not doing long hikes, people often ask, “How do you do so much apart?” “Is your marriage ok?” Then we go hike for 3 weeks at a time and they say, “How do you not kill each other?!” When the qualities that make us good outdoorsmen, make us comfortable together and apart. We’re strong enough to handle things and enjoy life together…and separate.

    It really makes me sad for them that they think their relationships can’t stand anything except the status-quo of the “American dream” day in and day out. How unfortunate for them.

  3. COngratulations! I wish I could have the same relationship as you. I think when you really love someone you never get bored or tired of being all the time together. It´s what happened recenty to me, I wanted something like you have but my e she was too selfish and too materialistic and we broke up. All the best!

  4. Such a great point – hiking and/or traveling is not real life (neither in scale of stress or decisions to be made). If you find yourself fighting with the other person, being generally unhappy, wishing they would change, etc. this is a reflection of YOU and your needs. If you’re secure enough with yourself you can share yourself with the person you love and also not get pissy and NOT take it personally when you don’t want to share something and need some alone time. This is oversimplifying, but I really see it as such maturity thing, which is not to say that the way you and Kyle do it is THE mature way, but rather you communicate and work together to make sure both of you are happy and that you’re meeting your own needs/taking care of yourself rather than unconsciously depending on the other person to make your life what you want it to be. I think you guys are awesome. Having traveled with a couple close friends and my boyfriend under less straining situations (because let’s face it, thru hiking the AT is on a different level), I think you guys are awesome. Not just for working together but for working together to allow each other to do what they need to for themselves.

  5. That is so funny! I think my relationship with Russ grew stronger on long these long hikes. Granted I’m a clean freak, so I found a cool stream whenever I could to at least rinse off, but it really did little good. It just made me feel better. I remember when we took the Silverton train to our drop off point in the San Juan’s I think it was. Other hikers who had been out awhile came on board and boy did they reek! We knew that would be us later and it was. Even though I did my usual rinse off, it was in ice cold water. Russ, a seasoned hiker was not used to it but after awhile rolled with it and joined my in my icy dips. (btw soap will not suds in icy water). When we got to our hotel, the dirt and grime proved I’d not achieved much bathing. LOL For those that say ew! We layered and a “wardrobe” was limited the focus being on undies and socks. I about froze to death in the mountains when I got caught in a rainstorm in the mountains of Telluride and forgot to take a change of clothes. That was my first trip and I didn’t know better. The the only bone of contention in the early days was when we hiked with strong climbers and I’d get left behind. Way behind. They’d all be waiting up the trail, having a snack, resting and as soon as I got there, they’d put their packs on and say “okay, let’s go!” Trust me, I thought that was going to finish us, but it didn’t. I got stronger and we got closer. He’s my best bud, 24 years later. I agree with all the above!
    I’m with you. If your relationship doesn’t hold up, then maybe it’s not meant to be.
    I love your responses!! Go girl!

  6. A match made in heaven (or at least a mountain peak much closer to heaven than most.) So practical, so real, so true. You two were made for one another, and are fortunate. Be thankful.

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