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How to Find Your Perfect Outdoor Partner

NCOAE Headquarters

March 27, 2018

It stands to reason that the success or failure of any non-solo outdoor adventure depends to a great degree on the person or people accompanying you. As a result, and long before you head out the door on your next adventure, you’ll want to ensure you don’t select a partner who can quickly turn either a day hike or week-long trek into a peacetime version of the Bataan death march.

In addition to the hardships that accompany many human-powered outdoor recreation adventures, there are issues that should be cleared up before hitting the trail. For instance, there’s a thin line between picking a partner who is a good conversationalist and a motor mouth who is too self-important to pay attention to what’s really going on around the two of you.

Photo © Dylan Siebel (sourced and used with permission from Unsplash)

What we present here is a rundown of what leading outdoor industry publications and journalists have to say about finding the perfect outdoor partner or buddy. In each case, we’ve provided a link to the referring source. That way, you can visit a website or article for more details yourself.

On finding the perfect climbing partner:

Below are suggestions from a trio of climbers on how to find a preferred climbing partner, with tips ranging from seeking those who insist on safety, to finding compatible climbers from online sites that resemble dating apps — without the pressures of navigating a first kiss.

  • Paul Mandell (from MojaGear.com) “If you’ve ever hung out with me, chances are good that you’ve heard me use the phrase “Have fun. Look good. Be Safe.” Every time I’m rappelling a route, I take the time to remind my partner that getting down is the most dangerous part of the climb. I tell them my mantra, repeat it to myself as I do a safety check, and cast off. It’s simple, takes almost no time, and helps keep presence of mind. I’ve been fortunate to climb with people who emphasize safety in every aspect of the sport, and I do my best to carry that torch while still keeping the attitude light and fun. I like to tell my friends that safety never takes a day off, but it always has time for ice cream.”
  • Corey Buhay (from REI.com): “Use Mountain Project to find a buddy. Also, most cities with a significant climbing presence do indeed have a community Facebook page, and so do many gyms. After spending a few weeks prowling the bouldering cave in hopes of making a friend or two, someone pointed me to the “Outdoor Climbing in Boulder” page, which offered the comfort of online interactions I had come to appreciate in a dating app without any of the romantic awkwardness.”
  • Brett Affrunti (from Climbing.com): “Every great climber has had a mentor who showed them the ropes. Unfortunately, that person, while not impossible to find, seems to be a slowly dying breed. You can lurk about your local crag with ear-to-ear psych and offer belays in exchange for time and knowledge, and eventually find a wing to get taken under, or try a forum/partner-finder feature like Mountain Project has. But, I bet your gym offers a class in which you can learn proper rope management alongside a group of your climbing peers who may also serve as potential—DING-DING-DING—climbing partners! Take a class, learn best practices, and find yourself a good partner. Pretty easy, right? If that’s not your bag, you can explore the charm route, but as you can tell, I have basically no intel on that method.”

On finding the perfect hiking partner:

You’re going to be on the trail for the good part of a day — or more — so it’s imperative that you have a partner who shares your interests, whatever those might be. If speed is your strategy, and a nonstop march to the top of a steep peak is your tactic, you probably wouldn’t appreciate a partner who likes to stop along the way to take photos. The opposite applies if you happen to be that laissez-faire hiker who enjoys such stops.

  • Courtney Gerard (from Backpacker.com): “Look in the right spots. Find like-minded hikers in clubs that revolve around your interests, like photography, birding, or long trails. Easy place to start: a meetup.com or Sierra Club hiking group in your area.”
  • Emily Olsen (from the National Forest Foundation): “Find a hiking partner who shares your expectations. A “great hike” means something different to everyone you ask. Whether you want to hike one or two miles along a bubbling stream to fish, or spend all day trekking up to an alpine pass to scope out wildflowers, hiking with someone who shares your expectations will start a hike on the right page.”
  • Diane Spicer (from Hiking-for-her.com): “Your expectations for a male hiking partner might go something like this: You want a clear-headed, experienced, enthusiastic, and reliable hiking partner with a strong skill set. The same goes for a female hiking partner, right? But be prepared for the fact that a guy’s version of enthusiasm and yours might not sync up on every hike. It just goes with the gender territory. Which brings up the delicate matter of communication. For your own safety and peace of mind, you should be hiking with a male who checks in with you, asking: how you’re doing when conditions get tough, if you’re ready for a rest break, if the steep slope you’re hanging onto by your ankles is getting a bit tedious (ha! don’t count on that one). Not every five minutes, of course.”

On finding the perfect kayaking partner:

Here are several more pieces of partnering advice — this time regarding people to kayak with. The third tip offers an opposing point of view to adventure partnership and is offered as a conditional recommendation.

  • Mountain Mama (from BlueRidgeOutdoors.com): “Some of the best ways to meet paddling partners at your level is from the courses you take. Swap contact information and make paddling plans. Also, ask your local kayak shop for the name of kayaking clubs in your area. Start attending club meetings. Often more experienced paddlers host clinics for beginners. Intermediate boaters sometimes offer to safety boat on trips intended for paddlers who are just getting started. If kayaking clubs aren’t an option in your area, kayaking forums on websites like www.boatertalk.com are a good way to connect with other boaters.”
  • Paul Tomblin (from Quora.com) “I met my group of paddlers at the local high-end kayak shop (i.e., not Dick’s Sporting Goods or Eastern Mountain Sports). This shop supports a racing team, a group of sea kayakers who like to surf waves on Lake Ontario, and some other groups as well. They have a one-way down river shuttle on a local river, and frequent wildlife watching trips on the river and bay. They also have a low-key weekly race where your entry fee goes towards beer and hot dogs and the prizes go to people who beat their own previous best time. All good ways to meet local paddlers.”
  • Wayne Horodowich (from Paddling.com): “I realize everyone has his or her own perspective on just about every issue. One of the prevailing opinions I don’t agree with is “never paddle alone.” Every time I hear an instructor tell their students, “never paddle alone” I am hoping they would add a condition onto their statement, but most of the time the warning just stands alone. I believe a blanket statement discouraging paddling alone is a disservice to paddlers.”

As with any outdoor venture, proper planning can make a trip. This holds especially true in the proper selection of a partner. Grabbing just any warm body up to the task is likely a spontaneous move that can make your adventure have “long day” written all over it.

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