What to Look For in a Backpacking Trip Partner

A great partner will always
lend a helping hand! (D. Herscovitch)
When you're preparing for an overnight backpacking trip, choosing trip partners can be as important as choosing your gear. The right mix of people, even if there are only two of you, can make a huge difference in the enjoyability of any outing. For this post, I polled readers on facebook and twitter for characteristics they look for in an ideal trip partner. If you think we've left anything out, leave your tips in the "comments" section. We can all use help making sure we're not only looking for the best trip partners, but we're acting like the best trip partners, too!

"Someone who doesn't fill the air with banal conversation, including complaining." via Meghan Ward
For some of us, this one's a toughie. In the middle of a long, strenuous day, I love having a partner with an appetite for conversation. If the air is filled with silence or labored breathing, it can make a long day longer. It's almost like sitting at a bar with a few friends for several hours without anyone uttering a word. My ideal backpacking partner will have plenty to talk about, but I do agree with Meghan that complaining doesn't have a place in the conversation.  Bring a positive attitude with you, even if it's a challenge.

"Someone who is at least as prepared as I am." via Stephanie
Someone who's as prepared or more prepared than you are has probably read a map or two, knows the route well, brought essential items you might've forgotten, (ahem, adult beverages), and is probably excited to be on the trip in the first place. They'll be able to help you fix a broken stove, explain why they're wearing one pair of boots versus another, and give you ideas for how to be even more prepared for your next outing. This type of partner knows their stuff, and might even teach you a thing or two.

"An adventurous spirit who won't complain, but will speak up if they need help." via Jon Bausman
Whether the pace is too fast, that nagging twisted ankle is getting worse, or even if they're simply out of water, a partner who has the ability to recognize when to speak up and ask for help is a great partner. On our last Devil's Path outing, one of my partners was battling an ankle injury he'd suffered from a few weeks before. He didn't complain at all, but did mention the injury to the group. He's quite physically and mentally tough, but had the good sense to ask for my trekking poles on the second day. Though some might have seen that as a sign of weakness, it's so important to recognize when requesting assistance is necessary. The trekking poles made descending the four peaks we scaled on the route easier on him.

With trip partners Frank and Priya in the Sierras.
Positive attitudes can really make a trip! (J. Johnsen)
"They understand that the trip isn't just about the hike itself - it's about the journey..." via Tiffany Royal
This is one of my favorites because it encompasses a variety of personality attributes. A partner who recognizes the importance of the journey is the type of partner that goes with the flow, isn't fazed by unforeseen obstacles, and is probably the first to laugh about how it rained the whole trip. For this person, it's just about being outside. If you're on a trip that has a specific objective, like summitting a peak, and the objective isn't realized, this type of partner is always quick to point out other positive aspects of the trip. Every backpacking group needs this person.

"Someone who can be up and ready for the agreed-upon departure time, especially on a multi-day trip." via Meghan Ward
For the obsessive planner in me, this one's a must, especially if achieving our objective for the trip hinges on keeping to a schedule. If you know the portion of the trail you're planning to tackle will take all day and one of your partners isn't ready in time for your scheduled departure, you could find yourself falling short of your objective, or even wandering around in the dark. If you're on a more serious trip that involves a turnaround time for safety reasons, a late start can even cost you your objective.

"Someone who can go with the flow, is up for anything, and is a team player." via yours truly
This set of attributes is a set I know I need to work on, and a set I so appreciate in a partner. I tend to stress when things don't go as planned, and a great partner will be able to go with the flow. There is, however, a difference between going with the flow and passiveness; if you know the plan needs to change, speak up. It's also important to backpack with a partner with the ability to reach out when they recognize someone needs help. It's easy for us to giggle at the newbie without a clue as to how to set up their tent, and it's even easier for someone in superior physical shape to run ahead and leave others behind, but it's not productive. I love having someone in the group who is always willing to reach out, and willing to recognize the limits of the group. It's my goal to be that person more often.

Did we leave anything out? Post your favorite backpacking trip partner attributes in the comments!


Jon Bausman said…
I believe the statement "An adventurous spirit who won't complain, but will speak up if they need help" summarizes good business colleagues and relationships as well. Aside from the fact that I do want someone alongside me for the adventures a business will take you on, the last part is what I want to emphasize.

No one likes a complainer. Doesn't matter if it's on the trailer or by the water cooler.  However, there's a difference between complaining and speaking up when you need help.  In the American culture we have the mentality of "pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps" and not showing any weakness.  However, there is a great deal of difference between complaining and asking for help.  Complaining is the vocalization of an unmet expectation shared out of frustration.  Asking for help is recognizing that you need something and by sharing it someone can either help you or at least move forward knowing you are struggling with something and being sensitive to it.  

In the early part of managing projects, I too became frustrating with not understanding the processes in place and how to operate within them to get my teammates what they needed.  I had two choices, stay frustrated and get no results or ask for help.  On my first project, by asking for help from someone with more experience, we were able to recognize an iceberg ahead and avoid disaster - something I and my team would not have seen.  We would have been sunk had I not decided to avoid the complaining water cooler mentality and ask someone for help.
Katie Levy said…
 Awesome. When you mentioned how your tip applied to business, I didn't quite get it, but this makes a ton of sense. Knowing when to ask for guidance is so important in all walks of life - work, play, relationships, friendships - and you've summed it up so well here. Thanks!
Maria Vish said…
I think the most important thing is they have a similar STYLE to your backpacking ideal. It was great to see you write this and hear the contributions because it says a lot of positive things about your personal trip style! 
Katie Levy said…
Maria, you're totally right. So much of what we're discussing here all reflects a specific style, and having folks with similar styles is sure to make for a great trip. You should come back to the east coast and go on a trip with me :)