illustration of a couple hiking a mountain
The important thing is that you hike by your own standards, rather than anyone else’s—and also that you try not to annoyingly project your standards onto other people, who are, after all, just doing their own thing (Illustration: Yurii Karvatskyi, iStock)

Hike Your Own Hike, Even When You’re with Someone Else

You’re dead set on walking every inch of a trail, but your partner doesn’t mind skipping a section or two. How do you compromise?

illustration of a couple hiking a mountain

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What advice would you give would-be thru hikers who disagree about the purity of their hikes? My girlfriend and I are planning our first longish trip. It’s not a thru-hike, but we see this trip as practice for an eventual PCT thru-hike. We started discussing how to handle a short but hard trail section on the side of a mountain. I was shocked when she casually said that if we get there and the trail is bad, we can hitchhike around it. To me, the point of a long hike is to walk the entire distance, and I am not interested in cheating. When we’re done, I would like to be able to say that we walked the entire way, and I can’t honestly say that if we hitchhiked. My girlfriend claims that I am being too much of a purist and that there’s no point hiking a portion that’s dangerous or makes us miserable. I suggested that she could hitchhike ahead and wait for me, but she’s not comfortable hitchhiking alone, which I understand. But I am not sure either of us can change each other’s mind.

It’s worth having a conversation with your girlfriend about what you’re each hoping to get from this trip. Is it about the experience, the achievement, the quality time together, or troubleshooting your skills and equipment? All of the above, to various degrees? More? Then, once you’ve narrowed down your goals, you’ll want to make sure that you’re both doing what you can to protect the other person’s, even if they don’t totally align with your own. For instance, if your girlfriend wants to practice ultra-light backpacking, or is interested in making and testing her own gear, you can support her in those efforts even if you’re buying your own equipment off the shelf at REI. If you feel strongly about walking every step of the way, and she wants to avoid unnecessarily treacherous slopes, you can work together to find a solution that prioritizes both of your concerns.

Keep in mind that there is no objective, universally agreed-upon standard for a backpacking trip’s “purity,” especially because the longer your trip, the more complications you’ll encounter along the way—and there’s also no way to really cheat at hiking through the wilderness, unless, I suppose, you’re engaged in a competition, and/or lying about what you did. There are people who say that a trip’s integrity is diminished if you stop at hostels along the way, or take an alternate route, or leave and return later to the part of the trail where you stopped; others argue the opposite. Whatever your position, there’s someone who thinks you’re being unserious and someone else who thinks you’re snobby. You’re never going to get every single person’s stamp of approval.

The important thing is that you hike by your own standards, rather than anyone else’s—and also that you try not to annoyingly project your standards onto other people, who are, after all, just doing their own thing. Your experience is personal, and the history that you bring to it is personal, and the only person who has to be happy with it is you.

Don’t be surprised, either, if your opinions about hiking shift once you’re out there. You may walk for a few days and discover that what matters most to you is having a fun time, and you’re happy to skip ahead on the trail if it means walking through more alpine meadows and along fewer highway shoulders. Your girlfriend might learn after a few days or weeks that she finds meaning in crossing a landscape on foot, and wants to commit to walking every mile of the distance herself. That’s part of why it’s great that you’re doing this trip before attempting a full thru-hike; you’ll learn a ton about yourself, and one another, each step of the way.

If your opinions stay the same, I see two obvious solutions to your disagreement about this particular section of mountain, and I’m sure there are many other options as well. One: hike an alternate route around the mountain, together, even if it’s longer. And two: if your girlfriend is comfortable camping alone, you could catch a ride with her past the tricky section, hitchhike back on your own, and then walk to meet her. Or call her an Uber so she can spend the night at a nearby hotel, or pay a friend to come out and give her a ride (and/or to take her out for a hearty meal while she waits for you to catch up). This is, in fact, a fairly simple conflict, and you two can have a distinctly shared journey even if you spend some of it apart.

Lead Illustration: Yurii Karvatskyi, iStock