Couples Camping: The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking with your Partner
A couple's camping trip can be a wonderful way to strengthen your relationship and create new and exciting memories together. It can also come with its own set of specific set of hurdles.
As you rely on each other in new—and perhaps challenging—ways during stressful moments, a close quarters adventure can make your bond stronger or uncover weaknesses.
Having hiked countless trips and hundreds of miles together, we’ve seen it all as a camping couple: from cuddling on a granite vista in Yosemite at sunset to “why am I always the one making the coffee each morning”, from “thanks for setting up the gravity water filter!” to “WHY DOES THE TENT STILL SMELL LIKE YOUR FARTS”.
Our very first trip together wasn’t a simple two- or three-day weekend trip after months of dating and a long discussion and careful planning. Instead, four days into our relationship, Jessie announced:
“I’m going to hike the Wonderland Trail next month.”
“That sounds dope! I’m in.”
“Uh, that wasn’t me inviting you…”
What followed was 10 days of an amazing 360° hike around Mount Rainier through challenging Pacific Northwest terrain, and a ton of discoveries about our respective backpacking and couples camping styles. It was quite the stress test for a new relationship…
We’ve learned from those mistakes and have our trips down to a science. In fact, our first “joint” purchase was a well-researched two-person sleeping pad: a shared financial commitment we made before we were even comfortable with the titles of “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” (and the required prenup discussions: “who gets the Exped if we break up?”)
From relationship tips to gear recommendations for two, we’ve got you (and your boo) covered. Learn from our couples camping mistakes (and successes!)
Share: Couples Camping Gear
One of the biggest perks of couples backpacking and camping as a duo is sharing gear (and sharing the weight and burden of carrying that gear). These are the key items that you should (and shouldn’t) share to make your trip lighter and easier.
Backpacking Tent For Two
This one is obvious. Whether or not you co-habitate in the front country, odds are you’re going to be sharing a room in the backcountry. If you want shave the ounces and go ultralight, a two-person tent will do just fine. If you’re looking for a bit more elbow room, upgrading to a three-person tent doesn’t add much weight and could make a world of difference for your comfort and personal space.
We absolutely adore our ZPacks Duplex: it’s incredibly light and easy to pitch and pack. Keep in mind that the Duplex isn’t freestanding (meaning it needs to be staked with guy lines) and requires trekking poles for support; this is no problem on trail, but has resulted in at least one awkward camp setup on a kayaking trip where we had paddles instead of poles. (We might consider the Triplex if we need a new tent: it has a bit more headroom and interior space for clothes and gear.)
For car camping, we bring our two-person Big Agnes Copper Spur; it’s also a backpacking tent, so it’s a great starting option for trailside couples camping (and it’s what we took to Mt. Rainier!) Plus, as a freestanding tent, it gives us more options for set-up when dealing with a less-than-optimal site in an assigned campground.
Couples Backpacking Sleep System
If you like cuddling at home, you’re gonna love cuddling in a tent (and if you don’t like cuddling… we don’t know what to tell you). Backpacking sleep systems consist of insulation from the cold ground below—an inflatable or foam pad—and something to insulate you from the cold air above—a sleeping bag or quilt. Both of these have great options built especially for two, so you can save some weight compared to packing two separate sets.
The Best Sleeping Pad for Couples
We recommend sharing a pad, even if you have a quilt or sleeping bag you love. The Exped Hyperlite Duo only weighs a couple ounces more than two single pads (29.3 oz vs. 24.6 oz), and if you decide later to share your sleeping insulation (i.e. bag or quilt), you won’t have a gap between pads. We think it’s much easier to fairly share the space in our tiny tent when there’s only one pad to center between the walls, and the Hyperlite helped by being a couple inches narrower than our two individual pads placed side-by-side.
Double Camping Quilt (Or Bag)
Get even closer with a two-person sleeping bag or quilt to minimize weight (and maximize cuddling) without having two sleeping bags to zip together while backpacking. It stays comfy even on chilly nights by allowing both bodies to heat up a shared space instead of each body only heating their own thermal layers and bag. We’ve been using our EE Accomplice for two years now and it’s still one of our favorite pieces of gear. Plus, EE makes quilt straps that fit our double pad, making it a cinch to, well, cinch it down.
On our Wonderland hike, we had neither a shared sleeping bag nor a shared pad. To keep warm, we paracorded our individual pads together, stuffed wool layers in the gap, and nested our sleeping bag footboxes to try and dry out our wet feet. We were cold and miserable.
What you Shouldn’t Share While Couples Camping
Depending on the day’s heat and the difficulty of the hike, keep a close eye on how much water you’re drinking and stay well hydrated. It’s difficult to track your own water consumption if you’re both drinking out of the same water bottles or bladder, so carry your own. No two people drink the same amount of water at the same rate; be responsible and each take enough water for you as an individual.
Utensils, Mugs, and other Meal Accessories
There is nothing more miserable than eagerly awaiting your morning cup of coffee only to have to fight over a shared mug. And having lost a spoon or two on trail which forced us to share the remaining long-handled spoon in our packs, we can’t say that was a particularly pleasant experience either: it’s hard to love the person who’s holding your dinner utensil.
The burden of your luxuries.
Christopher loves to bring a portable power pack and charging cable to be prepared for every low battery situation that might arise (24/7 phone GPS tracking? Fitbit?) Jessie’s luxury item is a pair of lightweight—but still unnecessary—camp shoes. We pack these last, only AFTER the shared items are split up across our bags and we’re ok with the weight.
What you Should Maybe Share While Couples Camping
This comes down to personal preference. If you are both on a similar diet (ketogenic, vegan, gluten-free, or pastatarian), creating one menu and shopping list makes it easy to hit the trail. But for some couples, separating food makes more sense and can alleviate the stress of agreeing on all of the same items. Even if you share the menu, make sure you account for each person’s hiking hunger: one person being extra hungry and running low on food shouldn’t turn into a shared problem if you can avoid it with a little forethought.
If you’re looking for food you’ll both definitely agree on, check out our Sampler Pack. There’s no better way to try all our meals and find your favorites than packing these to share with your hiking partner. And since keto food is so calorie-dense, it will weigh less in your pack than carb-loaded meals. Bonus.
Emergency Gear/First Aid Kit
Carrying a first aid kit seems like shared weight, but it depends: if you split up from your partner during the day and have an injury, you can’t apply first aid that you don’t have with you. Discuss your hiking plans and pack accordingly, and make sure you both have a loud whistle attached to your bag. We got separated for several hours on the Pacific Crest Trail on a simple switchback, and it was nerve-wracking to lose your only hiking partner when you’re miles into the wilderness.
One bathroom kit is fine if you’re on different bathroom schedules. But having to hunt down your partner for the shared toilet paper, trowel, and hand sanitizer when your morning coffee hits you just as they hike off to dig their own cathole is a “how close is too close” line some couples may not be willing to cross.
Split gear by ability (not by gender)
Many guides to backpacking have detailed equations to figure how much weight a person can carry based on their height and weight, and these are often used to divide shared weight by gender. We don’t do this: our bags weigh the same (before we add our respective luxuries) because we don’t vary drastically in height and weight, and because we don’t want to resent the person we’re with on a trek.
We both scowl at the numerous memes and jokes made about the man (or larger partner) needing to carry most or all of the woman’s (or smaller partner’s) gear. It damages our efforts to improve the accessibility of backpacking and camping not just to women, but to a broad diversity of hikers (small, short, disabled, those dealing with a chronic illness, etc…)
If you’re the larger/stronger of the pair and can carry more? Great. If you want to help your partner? Great. But don’t poke fun at the other person or perpetuate the stale stereotypes that are all too commonly applied to anyone that doesn’t seem like the “typical” hiker.
Open and clear communication is important in your daily lives, and doubly so when you’re both tired, sore, and questioning how everything you packed could possibly weigh so much on your back. Communicate your wants and needs as clearly as you can, before AND during your hike. Does your pace differ drastically from your partner? Decide how you’ll handle that before you leave. Is the faster person ok with slowing down, or would you rather plan on going at your own speed and stopping every couple of hours to let your partner catch up? Are they ok with that experience?
Make a Camping Trip Romantic… by Hiking Alone!
Sharing space also means giving each other space. Find a moment or two each day for a little solo time. Spending this much time together can be A LOT; it’s healthy to take breaks.
Permission to be human
One of the greatest gifts you can give your partner is freedom to be fully themselves without any shame or judgment. The wilderness brings out our most human aspects – we sweat, we tire, we bleed, we poop! Don’t bring unrealistic expectations on the hike with you: your pack is heavy enough already. Enjoy being alive and human with your partner – make fart jokes, hold space for aches and pains, and even embrace your loved one’s trail stench! Nothing says, “I love you” quite like, “babe, you stink GOOD”.
Share: The Experience
Other camping ideas for couples
Take baby steps. If this is your first time backpacking as a couple, start with shorter hikes and work your way up to longer trips. You’ll learn more about the unique dynamics of your particular partnership as you go, and can practice communicating your needs and wants to make sure everyone has a good time.
Write things down. Bring a small notepad and take a few minutes at the end of every day to jot down the highlights of what you just did. You’ll be surprised how many sweet little moments there were in the day, and when you look back on them later you’ll be grateful you wrote them down when they were fresh.
Take videos! Photos are great, but videos can capture the unique facets of your partnership. Take turns interviewing one another – when you reach an interesting spot, pull out the camera and ask, “Ok babe, where are we and what are we doing?” or “Go on, tell everyone about that spectacular faceplant you just did!” (ok, hopefully not that one). We promise these will be your most precious souvenirs from the experience.
HOWEVER – designate your camera time and don’t be tied to your phone. Have tech-free moments and take only your mental pictures.
Date nights: Just because you’re together most of the time doesn’t mean you can’t still plan hot dates. Select significant destination points such as a hot springs or waterfall, and relish in the space carved out just for you two. After all, that’s what you’re here for.
Most importantly, ask yourself and each other: What do you want to get out of the experience? Align your goals and hold that priority above all else.
Couples Camping: From Us to You
For some extra insight into the challenges (and joys) of hiking with a significant other, we polled a few other camping couples. Here’s a few serious—and not so serious—bits of advice for couples backpacking together:
“Don’t be afraid to hike alone. Space is important. Schedule a meetup during the day, for lunch, to check in and such. But don’t be afraid to hike separately for a bit.”
“… bring earplugs.”
“Don't be afraid to get dirty. Don't be afraid to get uncomfortable. Be okay with getting lost. Embrace the unpredictable.”
“What happens in the tent, stays in the tent.”
“Don't ever go hiking after a public argument. If someone falls, the other one is going to jail for sure.”
Have a tip we haven’t mentioned? Let us know!