I strongly advocate finding a friend to accompany you on a hike.
This is especially true if you are a beginner or a senior. In addition to being safer, if you pick the right partner(s) the hike will be more fun. Experiencing the adventure with someone of like interests, feeling safer in numbers, and having time for longer or deeper conversations than a text or short phone call are all benefits of having a friend with you on a hike. With compatible hiking partners, friendships deepen on a hike.
Picking the Right Partner
But I need to emphasize the word “compatible.” If one partner wants to exercise by setting a speed record to get to a distant point and the other partner is either less fit or wants to stop and take pictures, smell the roses or appreciate the views, you may run into problems.
If your potential hiking-mate is stronger, fitter, younger and/or more competitive than you, there could be a mismatch unless that person is more than OK with a slower, more relaxing (for them) hike with more stops along the way. In other words, no time pressure, no timing goals, no summit fever, just OK with being outdoors with a friend. Really explore this, because if you sense they are just being polite and held back on the trail, you are either not going to have fun or you will strain to keep up (which is also not fun).
If you are the stronger hiker, you need to think about the same issues. Are you OK with strolling along, not getting the same level of exercise as your partner who is getting exercised even at their pace? It is a lot more polite to decline upfront than to have a frustrating afternoon on the trail.
Overcome mismatches in physical fitness by having partners with the same interests or even different interests that can be accommodated on the same hike. Examples are:
- Same interest: both are interested in nature photography
- Different interest, still compatible hiking: One likes to search for edible wild fruits and berries while the other likes to collect mushrooms or rock samples or seashells …
This gets to be exponentially more difficult as the number of hikers in your group increases to 3 or more. Unless you know you are all in it for compatible reasons, I would avoid larger groups. There are exceptions to this: for example, if you are backpacking to a campsite, two could go on to start the setup while the other two arrive a bit later.
An important general rule is to never leave another hiker completely alone unless they are skilled and self-sufficient. Even then, be sure you know how to reconnect – either at a prominent natural feature or at a point on a clear trail that doesn’t disappear.
If the trail is clear, you may have an understanding that the stronger hiker powers ahead for a distance and then stops until the other hiker catches up. In my own experiences (where I am often the slowest hiker), I prefer others to go ahead so I feel no pressure to keep up and they can hike at a speed that is comfortable for them. This works out better for everyone, even if their stops are 5 minutes or more – they can explore a bit or take photos; one good friend of mine loves gathering rocks and making cairns as trail markers Some of his cairns are works of art, of which he is quite proud.
If you are leading a beginner or older hiker, understand that some people are too stubborn or proud to admit that they’re out of energy. Keeping up with a stronger companion can make them sick. Check your partner for symptoms of heatstroke, fatigue, or dehydration. They may find something worrying or challenging which, to you, is totally second nature. Enjoy being the coach, the guide and the teacher with your own dedicated student. It is fun affording an experience to someone else who truly appreciates the opportunity you have given to them. Be observant and decide when to take a break depending on their feelings and behavior, not yours. And make them feel comfortable that you aren’t doing them a favor; rather, you are enjoying the total experience even though you are not being physically challenged.
Experiencing new trails with friends is an inspiring activity that improves your relationship. You get the chance to know each other better and learn and enjoy new things together.