Backpacking with a Reluctant Spouse

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Submitted by damien on

I often get asked how-in-the-world I managed to get my wife interested in joining me on backpacking trips. Apparently there are many men out there who wish that their wives would do the same. For us it wasn't always that way, the whole process has been very pre-meditated and taken a lot of hard work on my part. I don't claim to be an expert on the topic, but I would like to share with you what has worked for us, and hopefully others may be able to benefit.

Before I get into the detais, there are a couple of things that you need to be prepared for:

It is a Process

The first thing that you have to realize going into this is that teaching your spouse to be more at-home into the outdoors world is a process. Just because you are completely comfortable sleeping on spruce boughs underneath a tarp doesn't mean that she will be (now or ever for that matter). You need to be prepared for this and recognize that the hard-core stuff won't come overnight and will require a lot of baby steps to get there. Think long-term and be happy with small steps, you have lots of time, don't rush things.

It is a Lot of Work

Be prepared to roll-up your sleeves and work. Probably the biggest task will be having an enormous amount of patience, communication, understanding, and restraint. On the flip-side, these qualities also happen to be incredibly good marraige builders. You may surprise yourself with an improved relationship as a result of this process.

With that in mind, here is what worked for us:

  • Renee likes being cozy, some of her biggest fears are being cold and wet. One of the best tactics I have found is to ensure she is was as warm and dry as possible, especially at night. We have designed our shelter and sleep system such that she loves it and feels it is a welcome, comfortable refuge. Knowing that this refuge will be with us wherever we go gives her a sense of security in the outdoors.
  • When we were first starting out I did all of the work, all Renee had to do was show up. I purchased the gear, planned the trips, prepared and packed food, loaded the car - I did everything. For her, having to think about a process she didn't understand was stressful, so I removed the burden until she was comfortable with the routine.
  • We practiced in a safe enviornment and I didn't introduce too many changes at once. We started by car camping in a campground with flush toilets and a hot shower. I gradually introduced backpacking gear into the mix until we were car camping with backpacking gear only. Once we went backpacking for the first time, the only thing that was new was the fact that we walked to the campsite instead of drove there.
  • We hiked regularly, we did it for fun, and did it often. This helped her to get used to clothing systems, footwear, and weather. It also helped to build fitness. By the time we did our first backpacking trips we were very used to hiking together.
  • I had to learn where it is important to make compromises. I prefer backpacking in a light-weight fashion, but I also want to make sure that the gear and techniques I select are not too extreme for her. I have had to be creative and figure out solutions that satisfy both of our desires.
  • I have had to learn (and am still learning) to prioritize things that are important to her. Someties a backpacking trip with me has felt like a sacrifice of a weekend for her to do something I really love. As a result I am learning to pay-her-back with time spent on her priorities, shared with me.
  • I am always be ready to listen and ready to make changes in response. As she has gotten used to hiking and backpacking, issues have surfaced. She has been uncomfortable at night, shoes have hurt, packs have not fit right, weather has made things uncomfortable. If she knows that I have her best interests in mind and that I will work to help her resolve the problems she encounters, she is more willing to try new things out because she knows that there is room for flexibility.

I read very few backpacking trip reports (especially light-weight ones) that involve married couples, I would love to read more. For those of you who do go on trips with your spouse, what was the journey like for you to get to that point? For those of you who don't, why not?

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Your Best Backpacking Partner Might Be Closer Than You Think.



I have had much of the same

I have had much of the same experience.

My wife has been very open to trying new things since we have been married. I have found that the most important thing is to keep her warm. She hates being cold. It's best for us to take smaller trips so that we can still bring along some of the conveniences (like better food and extra clothing) that we would normally have while car camping. If I want to do more hardcore backpacking, I will go with friends who are used to it but honestly it's just not as much fun without my wife to share the experience.

We have not even been married for three years and she sometimes asks to go backpacking!

Backpacking fun

There are probably innumerable "tricks" to getting your partner outside, but for
My wife and I, experience worked best. We learn something new each time we venture out on the trail, and fortunately, we both enjoy the process of learning from our previous mistakes. I try not to influence her too much and let her figure out what works best for her, and then help in whatever way I can to facilitate a comfortable trip we both will enjoy. She continues to indulge my passion for outdoor recreation, and now she understands the benefits of playing outside together. Nice post Damien, I really enjoy the blog and I appreciate all the helpful info you post!

Builduing a stronger relationship

Discovering new places is a lot of fun. A bonding time together with your love one is a way to learn a lot more things. It enriches our social activities as well while building a stronger relationship. One of our best adventure is camping and going at the beach. May you continue to be a role model to all of us.


[...] we could all do together and patiently encouraging us every step of they way. Never forcing, but leading in love. Love is his research and planning to get gear to keep me comfortable, safe and warm. It's [...]

backpacking with my wife

In our case my wife introduced me to backpacking. I had always camped a lot and done the BWCA a bunch. I signed her up for a " becoming an outdoor woman" class and the rest is history. I finally started backpacking so we could do more things together. Because I am a gearhead she has gone from close to 36# to about 22# on a 7 day trip.
All I can say is "Thanks Honey!" Here is a link to some picture from our trips. Love your site.



[...] we could all do together and patiently encouraging us every step of they way. Never forcing, but leading in love. Love is his research and planning to get gear to keep me comfortable, safe and warm. It's [...]

I had a similar experience

I had a similar experience with my girlfriend and camping. She had never really been camping in a tent before. We took it easy, did a one night stay. Made sure bathrooms were close by (one of her fears about camping) and she had a great time. She is looking forward to camping more this year.

Nice article! I'm on the

Nice article! I'm on the opposite side of the fence though. I'm a backpacker and my definitely.. not. When I write on hiking fb pages/groups I'm a member of, go on hikes with others, or to hiking related meetings I inevitably get the question of "Where is your husband?" or "Your husband *doesn't* hike with you?" in an almost unbelievable panicked kind of way. I'm going to have to write a "female version" of this article on my blog I think! It's always hard explaining why we don't do it together.

I usually score about 2 hikes from the hubs a year. For which I feel grateful, but sometimes not everyone wants to share the same hobbies and no amount of "work" or "encouragement" or anything is going to change that, and it is totally okay. In our case my husband went on several section hikes in the AT and several camping trips until he injured a leg one of our AT trips after which he no longer wanted to hike long distance with me. I'm thankful for the few hikes I get a year from him, because I do love his company! But I spend a lot of time and energy encouraging other women online and at various outdoor women conferences I've been to- to get out there and hike! Alone! If need be :) because a reluctant spouse shouldn't stop you from doing what you really want to.

I do have to say it definitely feels different if you're a wife trying to convince a husband to hike, than vice versa- but that is just my opinion.
Thanks for the good read!

Great discussion. I'm another

Great discussion. I'm another woman who has a reluctant backpacking husband. I want to spend all my free time outdoors, in all seasons, and in challenging conditions. He is able to go and will do some trips with me, but he prefers moderate trips. When I leave him behind, I frequently end up as the only woman on a group trip, and he's not happy with this. So I've begun doing solo trips and plan some moderate trips with him.