I was thinking recently on what attributes I value most in a trip partner. While I often travel solo, nothing can beat the camaraderie of the trail, if you’re with the right people that is. Here’s my article on the theme published for Dam Good Trips.
A few years back, while looking for a canoeing partner on the Yukon’s Wind River, I stumbled across a potential candidate via an outdoor forum. Sending off an enthusiastic email, I received a firm but polite decline for an answer.
Outlining his reasons, he wrote that he mostly traveled alone and that when he did go with someone, he needed to know them very well beforehand. Especially on remote wilderness trips, he argued, you need to have “good feeling” about the other person and be compatible when the going gets tough.
While disappointed, I understood his reasons, recognizing that he was probably more experienced than me and didn’t want to take chances with an unknown quantity.
This “rejection,” however, got me thinking about what the most important attributes are in a trip partner.
Is it superior navigation skills? Or an ability to whip up a delicious curry? Or maybe a good stock of yarns for around the campfire? Or do personality and temperament trump all of these?
We perhaps all look for different things, but these are some of the qualities I have come to appreciate most.
1) Knows When to Be Quiet
While I enjoy as much as anyone the camaraderie of the trail, it soon starts to wear thin if my partner is constantly yapping away. Sometimes you just want to stare into the fire or savour a view without a running commentary.
Tuning into each other’s moods, a lull in the conversation can be a welcome cue to reflect and declutter one’s thoughts.
Chances are too that your partner might be all talkative when the going is easy, but after the third day of rain their chatty demeanour may well have soured.
2) The Right Attitude
I usually set quite a pace on the trail, and I expect my co-adventurers to be physically up to the task. If you or your partner is constantly lagging behind, that’s a sure recipe for tensions to arise.
But, for me, a far more important attribute is having the right attitude. You need someone who can laugh when the only food left is some stale bread at the bottom of the bag, or who can see the funny side of being attacked by hordes of blackflies.
The highs of any trip invariably follow the lows. Having a partner who understands that and can put up with the minor inconveniences will make your trip that much more enjoyable.
3) Sharing the Chores
It’s the third consecutive time that you’re doing the washing up after dinner. You wonder whether you should tell your partner that it’s their turn. Or perhaps you’ve noticed that your partner is slacking off in their paddling strokes.
Once you start feeling that you’re putting in more than your fair share, it’s a recipe for recriminations.
The best trip partners are selfless and don’t count who’s doing what. They are willing to unquestioningly put in the extra mile. And so should you.
4) Similar Expectations
Thick mist has obscured the route on the narrow ridge ahead. You know it’s unwise to continue but your partner accuses you of chickening out. The only thing that matters in their head is getting to the top.
To avoid such situations, it’s important that before you embark on your trip you carefully discuss your route, experience levels, and also expectations.
The best partners are those who are not afraid to turn back or urge caution, knowing that the mountain will always be there the next year.
5) Complements your Skills
Finally, it’s always good when your partner comes value-added. Perhaps you’re the better navigator but your cooking skills leave much to be desired.
Maybe you’re the more experienced canoeist, but your trip partner knows when the fish are biting.
The best teams always complement each other’s weaker points bringing to the trip more than the sum of their parts.
It’s not easy to find that ideal trip partner. But once you do, you won’t want to let go. A good way to find out is to first plan a few long weekend trips before embarking on a multi-week expedition. But remember: as much as you may be judging your future travel mate, they’ll also be sussing you out.