Story and Photos by Ngaio Hotte (IG: @creeks.and.peaks)
Having the right outdoor adventure buddy can mean the difference between a fun day in nature and an experience that leaves you feeling turned off—or worse, in danger. With a growing number of hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts connecting through social media, explorers need ways to screen potential hiking buddies to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.
Choosing the right hiking buddy
There was a recent story in British Columbia about an injured hiker who was left behind by her group on a backcountry trail. The woman was eventually found, helped by another hiker and rescued by SAR, but the story was disturbing and made me consider how I choose the right hiking buddies.
I’ve been doing backcountry trips since my early teens and have had both good and bad experiences with groups during that time. These days, I’m very careful about who I hike with, because I know that I’m responsible for everyone else in my group and they are responsible for me. This is an important code of conduct in the backcountry.
How can you know if you should venture on a trek with someone? Here are a few things to consider:
1. Do your research
Most women wouldn’t go on a date with a complete stranger without doing research online. Same goes for the backcountry! Check out people’s social media accounts to see what types of hikes they do. If you’re new to hiking, you probably shouldn’t (and wouldn’t want to!) hike with someone who posts lots of photos at summits you’ve never heard of. Also, ask any mutual friends about their experiences hiking with this person.
2. Go on a test hike
Before you commit to a big backcountry adventure, go on a short test hike on a local trail you’re familiar with and where you’ll be around other people. This way, you can see how fast or slow they hike, whether they come prepared with the right gear and safety essentials, and whether they are courteous and look out for your safety. Most important, make sure you like this person enough to stay with them if they’re having an off-day hiking or have to spend an unexpected night on the mountain with them if they get hurt. You’re in this together.
3. Be prepared for anything
You already know to bring the essentials (navigation, headlamp + extra batteries, sun protection, first aid kit, knife, lighter, emergency blanket, food, water, clothes) but if you’re hiking with someone new, you can’t assume that they will. In this case, it’s extra important to bring them—and even bring extra for your hiking buddy. I also ask my buddies about any injuries or medications, as well as for their emergency contact info, so that I can anticipate how I might handle an emergency.
4. Leave a trip plan
Again, you already know to leave a trip plan with someone reliable that describes where you’re going, when you’re leaving/coming back, which route you’re taking and the details of any vehicle and gear you’re taking. Include in your trip plan details about your hiking buddy, like their name and photo, and even their license plate number.
5. Listen to your gut
If you get a bad feeling about a new hiking buddy, pay attention to that feeling. You don’t have to follow through on hiking plans if you’re feeling unsafe. If someone behaves inappropriately, report them to admins of local online hiking groups. This is a community and we need to look out for one another.
Being careful about who I hike with has helped me find some really great hiking buddies and go on some amazing adventures. But I’m sure I’ve missed some things on this list! What are your tips for choosing the right hiking buddies?