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Meeting peers to explore the outdoors with can take time, especially for marginalized people. (Rawpixel/iStock)

How to Find Friends to Hike With

It takes patience and some trial and error to make new trail buddies

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It took me about three years to truly find my trail family. As a fat, Black, queer woman, I’m an outlier in many outdoor spaces, and it can be hard for me to make genuine connections with others based on mutual understanding in these settings. While the number of hiking groups catering to different populations has expanded over the years to more options than ever, meeting peers to explore the outdoors with can take time, especially for marginalized people. I decided to look for a community online, and through some trial and error, we found each other.

My first group hike was a great challenge but not a good fit. I did an event search on Facebook and saw that a hike was planned in a park near my neighborhood in Los Angeles the following weekend. The description didn’t offer many details, just when, where, and what to bring. I liked that it was close by and that 20 people were interested, so I decided to try it out. I was new to hiking back then, and when I arrived it was clear that I was with a more experienced group of people who were used to going at a certain pace. I felt anxious about being honest when I needed a break over the three hours we spent on the trail, and when I did slow down or take a break, I was left behind and expected to catch up on my own. I loved the hike but felt unprepared and unwelcome.

I tried looking elsewhere and found a group on Meetup.com called “20s-30s Solo and Searching Hikers.” This group’s “about” section said it was for hikers of all levels and expressed a commitment to diversity outdoors. I RSVPed to their next event, an easy hike through Griffith Park to the Hollywood sign that I’d done many times before, and yet, when the day arrived, I was anxious. Signing up to spend hours with a group of strangers can be unnerving, but my nerves began to settle once I checked in and was greeted warmly by the group leader. After formal introductions—saying our names, experience level, favorite thing about hiking, and why we joined the group—I could tell that everyone was friendly, also a little nervous, and as eager as I was to find local buddies to hike with. My worries melted away.

I ended up making three friends that day. We were all going at the same pace and in a little cluster together. We laughed about feeling nervous and awkward, supported each other on the harder passages, and were also some of the few people of color in attendance. We traded phone numbers afterward, which was encouraged by the guide, and I continued hiking with them from there.

They eventually introduced me to other local hikers of color. Two years later, I reached the top of California’s Mount Baldy with several of those friends. It was my first summit, and I know I couldn’t have done it that day without them beside me.

If you’re looking for like-minded groups of people to hike with, it can definitely be done with a little effort. Here are some options to get your search started.

REI

REI stores across the country host outdoor classes, day hikes, and even overnight backpacking trips. Making the decision to attend my first REI event was easy because of the company’s proven commitment to creating welcoming community in the outdoors through initiatives like Outside with Pride, extended plus-size clothing, and Limitless Sides. I took a date on a “Hike and Hops” event hosted by REI in Minneapolis, and it was an incredible afternoon of viewing gorgeous fall foliage on an easy wide path, chatting with other attendees about must-see local hiking spots, and sharing delicious craft beer as a perfect ending. Head to REI’s website to search and register for events near you. Some are free, while others cost a small fee in exchange for food and gear provided by REI.

Meetup

Meetup is an online platform made specifically to help people with hobbies and interests in common find each other and do things they love together. Hikers worldwide can head to Meetup.com and search through more than 9,000 hiking groups for varying ages, experience levels, genders, and more, making this a great option if you’re looking for hiking companions in very specific demographics or outside of a major city. Utilizing Meetup’s keyword and location search options is a must. I suggest using descriptors like “30s” and “intermediate hiking” to simplify the process—and make sure the group you’re interested in has recent offerings on its event page, as some can be outdated or inactive.

Appalachian Mountain Club

Hikers across the Northeast and mid-Atlantic United States with a passion for outdoor conservation and protecting public lands may want to consider a membership with Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). Members have access to more than 8,000 yearly activities and discounts on AMC lodging and merchandise. Plus, becoming a member means supporting the work of AMC scientists and policy activists striving for climate change mitigation. AMC offers staff- and volunteer-led adventures for adults, teens, and families across a wide range of outdoor activities in every season. Many activities are free, while others require registration fees in exchange for gear and food provided by the club.

Women Who Hike 

This global online community provides both virtual and in-person connections for women who enjoy hiking. It’s organized through regional Facebook groups—there’s one for every U.S. state, in addition to several Canadian provinces, Europe, and Australia.

The Sierra Club

The Sierra Club has been in the business of grassroots environmental activism since 1892. It now boasts chapters in 50 states, 3.8 million members, and a desire to recruit more members from underrepresented communities. To that end, it hosts numerous free hikes and other group events so members and the general public can engage with conservation issues while bonding with each other and reaping the healing benefits of spending time in nature. Find your local chapter and register for one of its events on the Sierra Club website.

Outdoor Afro

Being the only person who looks like you for miles around is an all too common isolating experience for Black hikers, and Outdoor Afro is striving to change that reality. The nonprofit hosts meetups for hiking and other popular outdoor activities in more than 50 cities across the United States. Local chapters are listed on the group’s website, and each chapter organizes events through Meetup and Facebook. Outdoor Afro is committed to restoring and building relationships between Black people and nature through social connections, events, and advocacy work centering inclusion and conservation and aiming to increase Black leadership in the outdoors.

Unlikely Hikers 

Unlikely Hikers offers a place on the trails for all people and describes itself as “a diverse, anti-racist, body-liberating outdoor community.” Unlikely Hikers founder Jenny Bruso presently leads all hikes for the group, traveling around the country to do so. The organization is working on expanding to include local group hiking chapters led by ambassadors across the United States. Follow @unlikelyhikers on Instagram for the most up-to-date info on available group hikes.

Lead Photo: Rawpixel/iStock
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