How to Hike with a Faster (or Slower) Friend
Hiking with someone who prefers a different speed than you do can be incredibly stressful. Read through these tips to alleviate that stress on your next outing!
If you’ve been hiking for some time and you like company out on the trails, chances are you’ve found yourself in the ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ scenario. Your hiking buddy for the day (or multi-day trek) isn’t keeping up with your pace—or even worse, you’re huffing and puffing trying to stay with theirs. The latter is way less fun and ten times more stressful.
Let’s say you’re the one up front. You’ve got some peaks under your belt, and you are eager to check off another one. Maybe you see some ominous clouds rolling in, and you really don’t want to get stuck in a storm. You find your friend lagging behind increasingly as the day and miles tick on. Eventually, you’ve separated, and you’re not sure whether to keep on forging ahead or wait and worry about the weather (or simply grow impatient from so much standing around).
Now let’s switch to the perspective of the slower hiker. Your so-called buddy asked you to join you on this hike, and you accepted thinking it would be a fun day spent outside, chatting along the trail, breathing in the fresh air, and exercising while enjoying nature. Several hours in, you’re questioning why you came, how much farther you have to go, if you’re going to make it, and why you’re so out of shape compared to your friend. Maybe you’re wondering if they’re really your friend at all!
It’s not an uncommon scenario, and it’s one that can be remedied with open communication. Hikers of different speeds can adventure together, but it’s best if you can discuss how a hike might play out to keep everyone safe and happy out on the trail.
Even if you like hiking alone, it’s great to find a partner, especially for longer or more difficult treks, as they can help keep you safe (and vice versa) in the event of an injury, wrong turn, bad weather, or simply bad luck along the way.
Finding a partner that naturally matches your speed can be a tough task, which is where a little give-and-take and lots of understanding come in. Maybe your buddy is less experienced, more tentative, and already feels like they’re pushing their limits. Maybe their legs are longer than yours, and it takes two of your strides to keep up with one of theirs. Maybe it’s a matter of age—your younger kid is simply smoking you on the climbs.
Below are some tips for hiking with a partner who is slower or faster than you. It really doesn’t matter; both sides need to be considerate of the other.
Discuss the Hike Ahead of Time
For starters, when you and your friend, or family member, decide to hike together, the two of you (or any members of a group involved) should all be well aware of the length, level of difficulty, and the estimated time it will take you to complete it. A “day hike” can mean a lot of things, from a few hours to all-day (dawn ’til dusk), which makes a big difference in what a person needs to do to feel prepared.
Less-experienced hikers should start with shorter, less technical walks in the woods as opposed to alpinist treks that require some tricky moves to get up and down rugged, potentially dangerous terrain.
If a newer hiker wants to join a more experienced hiker for comfort and assurance, the two should come to a clear understanding of what hiking together could look like and how they plan to stick together. The more experienced hiker should adjust their time expectation for how long it will take them to complete the hike, as it could take several hours longer than if they were to hike alone or with someone faster.
Talk About Your Goals
Rather than focus on how much slower or faster you are than someone else, which can be a bit uncomfortable or alienating, talk to your hiking partner about your goals for the day or trip.
Do you simply want to enjoy their company? If so, the pace should be leisurely and adjusted to the slowest person in the party.
Would you like to socialize while also pushing yourself? That’s fair. Just let your friend know you would like to hike ahead at times, or all the time, depending on what the two of you decide.
The key here is that you should discuss what you both feel most comfortable with. The faster hiker should ask their slower friend if they would prefer them to hike ahead and wait at trail junctions (or other points along the way), or simply hike on their own and meet them at the top.
The latter kind of kills the socializing part of it, but there is something nice about knowing your friend is also out on the trail, even if they’re not right with you, and meeting at the summit. This solo method can allow a speed demon to blow out their engine on the way up so that they’re happy to hike down with their friend at a more casual pace. Meanwhile, the slower hiker can hike up at their own speed without fear of holding anyone up and find comfort in knowing they’ll find their friend at the top.
Decide Who Leads
Sometimes, hiking groups position slower hikers first to set a comfortable pace for everyone. The problem here is that pace can feel uncomfortably slow for faster hikers. In this case, larger groups can break off into smaller subsets and rendezvous at an agreed-upon spot.
If it’s just two hikers, putting a slower hiker first will only work if the person in front doesn’t feel like their partner is breathing down their neck. The faster hiker behind should provide ample space and scale back their speed to match their partner’s.
If the faster hiker is leading, they should be conscious of their partner’s breathing. If it’s labored or rapid, they should slow down. Sometimes, slower hikers can outlast the faster ones—the old ‘Tortoise and the Hare’ story—but they can’t if they overexert themselves or don’t follow their own pacing.
If the two decide to split up to hike at their own speeds, they should discuss when and where they’ll meet up again. If it’s periodically along the trail, the faster hiker should give their partner enough time to catch their breath every time they meet. In this case, let the slower hiker initiate when it’s time to start hiking again.
Weigh Down the Fast One
Backpacking partners can split their loads by taking some weight off the slower hiker’s back and putting it in their friend’s pack. The added weight will certainly help slow the faster one down!
If you’re carrying water, give it to the faster hiker. They can take care of filtering water from sources you find along the way while the slower hiker goes ahead. Don’t worry, they’ll catch up, and it’ll be a fun game of pursuit for the faster friend.
The faster hiker can also start several minutes after their friend—from the parking lot, campsite, etc.— to help even things out along the way. Let the slower hiker leave camp first while the faster one breaks everything down, packs up, and loads their backpack with most of the gear to level the field.
Stop Saying Sorry
Apologizing about being too slow might seem like the right thing to do, but it can be counterproductive and downright annoying. You and your partner picked each other, and you should know each other well enough to understand and be patient with the other’s abilities. A slower hiker should never feel ashamed, just as a faster hiker should never feel superior. Both sentiments are detrimental to any kind of relationship, let alone a friendship, and are a surefire combination to ruining a hiking trip.
Remember why you planned this trek together, and make sure both of you will feel content with the way your hike plays out. Talk it out beforehand, don’t leave your friend in the dust wondering where you went, and don’t feel resentful of another person’s hiking abilities. We’re all created differently, with unique strengths and weaknesses in different areas, and just because you’re not an Olympic-level hiker (hiking isn’t even in the Olympics!) doesn’t mean you can’t have as much fun as your buddy or anyone else.
Find a Buddy
While you may be lucky enough to have a ready-and-willing friend to hike with, for those of us who don’t, it’s a great idea to join a local hiking or outing club. Simply Google “local hiking clubs,” search Facebook for outdoors groups in your region, or try a website like meetup.com, which allows you to search for events and groups near you.
I also encourage you to chat with a Curated Hiking and Camping Expert, who can quickly become your friend and offer tips and gear recommendations to make your next outing a success!