Backpacking 101: Four Tips for Hitting the Trails with a Friend

This time next week, I’ll be hiking around the base of Mt. Fuji on the Tokai Nature Trail with a friend from London. Starting from Mt. Takao in Hachioji, Tokyo, we’ll be bouncing from temple to temple, mountain to mountain over 200 kilometers, finally finishing in Shizuoka. It will be the longest hike either of us has ever managed.

We’re going to want to kill each other once or twice along the way.

I’ve been on two and three day retreats in a number of beautifully secluded locales in Western New York before, Letchworth and Stony Brook the most memorable among them. By the end of day three, I’m glad for the experience, but I’m slightly irritable with my traveling companion(s) for one reason or another. Here are just a few suggestions for those among you looking to enjoy nature with friends, but who aren’t looking to “accidentally” push anybody into a ravine along the way.

Bring Your Own Damn Gear

Gear is expensive, whether you’re talking about your pack, your rain shell, or the energy gels stuffed into your belt. People forget things, and that’s fine. The longer you plan to be out, though, the more you need to make sure you have your own equipment, deodorant, foodstuffs, etc., to say nothing of your own money. Don’t be a drain on your partner. It could save your ill-prepared flame from being doused.

Accept When People Don’t Want to Talk

Look, we all have our reasons for strapping on a 50-pound pack. Depending on the day and the company, I take to the trails to build and reinforce relationships; sometimes I seek audience with our older, wiser tree-folk friends because they’re quiet. If I don’t want to talk and need to embrace solitude, they don’t try to force the issue.

Be like the trees. Especially after clawing your way up mountains for 20 miles a day, there might be a need for quiet time. Don’t take it personally.

Stoicism Gets You Hurt

If your legs hurts and you need to rest up and assess the damage, say something. If you’re dizzy, say something. If you’re hurt, say something. Seeing a pattern? You and your partner rely on each other for a safe, fun trip, whether you’re having a boring day through the flats of Shizuoka prefecture or you’ve decided to make a detour up Mt.Fuji. Don’t wait until you’ve made things worse by playing mum; that’s when you’re most likely to be left to the wild boars.

Think of Your Map and Itinerary as Guides

Have you ever gone on vacation with someone who plans everything, right down to the smallest minutiae? Have you ever not wanted to grant him his death sleep? Itineraries and maps have their place; I’m definitely not suggesting you go into the wild without a map and a compass. I am saying not to be a slave to your map.

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Good ol' Letchworth #hiking

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My friend, the Beardless Farmer, can attest just how important it is to get off the trail and make your own way, sometimes. It’s how we found our way to a secluded waterfall — and, admittedly, some bear tracks — in Letchworth State Park back home. Why only see what others who stuck to the trail have seen?

Of course, don’t go too crazy. Be smart and responsible about where you go off-trail, being cognizant of what you’re trampling. If you aren’t confident you can find the path again, better to play it safe than to play it Alexander Supertramp.

Do you agree with this guide to backpacking? What suggestions would you add or substract? Let me know in the comments below.


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