Quick - what's the very first piece of hiking advice you ever heard?
ALWAYS HIKE WITH A BUDDY.
Those five words are drilled into us from every hiking book, every outdoor store, every sagely wilderness-loving friend we know - and with good reason. Most importantly, someone else is around in case something goes wrong - but beyond that, hiking with a buddy can also be one of the most rewarding outdoor experiences. You can forge bonds and make memories that will last a life time.
But how do you actually go about finding that hiking partner?
The first places to look are probably going to be your local hiking groups - The Sierra Club has chapters all over the country and usually several different sub-groups for hiking (Young Singles! LGBT! Photographers! Hikers with Dogs!), and there are more than 3,700 different hiking groups to choose from on Meetup.com that can target potential outdoor buddies with even more precision.
Seasoned hikers know, however, that there are few things more rewarding than watching someone who hasn't really hiked before suddenly understand why you choose to keep coming back to work on Mondays with sore legs and weird tan lines. If you want to convert a greenhorn to a full fledged Hiking Buddy, it's going to take a little bit of work.
BEGIN LIKE A BEGINNER
That 6AM call time and 17 mile itinerary? To experienced hikers, that sounds amazing. To beginners who may be scouring their closets for their most rugged pair of sneakers, it sounds terrifying. Be sure to choose a reasonable, close trail that's tough enough to offer a sense of accomplishment but not so difficult that you'll send them home sore for days.
CONVERSATION OR QUIET?
I've already written about how much I enjoy the walking meditation of a solitary hike. Sometimes you need to get away from the ceaseless noise of email inbox reminders and Outlook calendar appointments and listen to nothing just to be reminded what it sounds like. And other times, you want to hang out with your friends on a trail instead of at a barstool. Make sure you know what your potential partners' expectations are — I've got hiking buddies who only chat when we're soaking in a jaw-dropping view or stopping down for food and I've got other hiking buddies who will keep a group laughing on the trail and chat around a campfire until the wee hours of the morning ... when you're picking a companion for a few hours, it's nice to know which one you're getting.
PACK A GOOD LUNCH
We all know bar-based food is our go-to when we're running out the door, but when you're hitting the trail with a potential new hiking partner do yourself a favor and pack a decent lunch (with some extra to share). If you want to keep your backcountry cooking skills from getting rusty, do some prep-work at home and bring along your camp stove. Overkill on a day hike? Maybe. But impressive - and a hot meal is always better than GORP.
PICK A "SHOW OFF TRAIL"
Every hiker has it - that one trail that never fails to wow; the one that offers something worthwhile no matter what the conditions are or time of year you're hiking - and if you want to snag a non-hiker into the wonderful world of mud-caked lug soles, you've got to wow 'em. There's a trail near the Pacific Ocean in the Santa Monica Mountains that I first did back when I was still learning the region. After I kept getting drawn back to that trail, I started describing it as "the perfect hike for the hiker who doesn't know he's a hiker yet." To this date, that is the trail I take every potential new hiker on - and over the years it's helped convert dozens of new hikers to the fold.
Once you've got yourself a decent crew of hiking buddies, you never need to worry about going solo unless you want to - plus, once you've convinced someone that waking up early is worth it, it helps to have a Hiking Buddy's motivation when your alarm is going off at 4AM on a Saturday morning!
For all things Southern California hiking, check out Casey's blog: Modern Hiker
How to Make a Hiking Buddy: Converting Friends to Hikers
By Casey Schreiner
March 17, 2014
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