Why Backpacking on a First Date Isn't a Terrible Idea...

by Liz Blair

Oh the places you'll date... 

What’s your ideal first date?

Drinks? Dinner? Maybe a hike? Or dare I say, a movie? A typical first date tends to be pretty casual, an opportunity to get to know each other in a comfortable, public setting. There may be some flirting, perhaps even a kiss… or two. And then, within a matter of hours, it’s over. Both individuals go back to their homes and mull it over. Let’s face it, it’s pretty hard to gauge whether or not there’s chemistry after spending a few hours together. Is there a better way?

Luckily, we live in a day and age where dating and relationships no longer have to fit into a neat definition. What used to constitute as a weekend adventure or bucket list item, could now be a date. Let’s face it, there are some beautiful places and people in this country, both of which are worth exploring.

I moved to Durango in October of 2016 after a 6-month long road trip. Prior to that I spent the last seven years in Boston. While I liked the structure and pace of the city, I found myself craving more time outdoors, more spontaneity, and more adventure - preferably altogether.

Since moving to Durango, there has been no shortage of spontaneous adventures. It’s not difficult when the San Juan Mountains are your backyard. That said, the greatest adventure I embarked on recently was a first date: backpacking in The Grand Canyon.

No, we did not meet each other on Tinder, or any other dating website (but it’s great if you did!). I met my first date on a volunteer trip with The Grand Canyon Trust in Flagstaff, AZ during my road trip. We were helping a PhD student at Northern Arizona University with his research project by transplanting native species to different elevations in order to see how they fair in a warmer climate zone. He was the PhD student.

Long story short, the timing wasn’t great. I was exploring the U.S. and he was in a relationship. We stayed in touch through text and email. I ran into him a couple more times quite serendipitously, but once again, timing was off. Eventually, we found ourselves on the phone with one another, venting about dating and how important space and independence was for both of us. And then he said it, “Maybe you should date someone in another town?”

Shortly after our phone call, we started planning a 3-day backpacking trip in The Grand Canyon. It sounds random and sudden, but it happened rather naturally. I don’t even recall actually calling it a date, but we both knew this wasn’t just a backpacking trip with a friend.

For anyone that’s backpacked, you know that it’s slow going. You’re carrying everything you need to survive, up and over gnarly terrain, through all weather conditions. It can make even happiest of people irritated. Backpacking will show you every side of someone; elation, frustration, hunger, impatience, etc… Bottom line, backpacking will quickly reveal whether you’re going to get along or not.

Unlike other activities, backpacking doesn’t end when the sun goes down. You get to wake up and do it again. Sharing close quarters with someone means they get to truly see you (and probably smell you). There’s no mask, no makeup, nowhere to hide. This also means you have plenty of time to talk and get to know each other. While I’m all for social media, it doesn’t replace face-to-face communication. There’s no wifi in the backcountry, which means there’s no distractions or external influences. A perfect opportunity to truly get to know someone and hopefully find some interesting topics to discuss. That said, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the silence with each other.

When you’re backpacking, sometimes mother nature delivers you a private beach and a sunset to remember. Other times, she may throw freezing rain, snakes, or a rock slide at you. In those moments, it’s important to know how your partner will handle themselves. If they freak out, are you prepared to comfort them and stay level headed? If you’re in trouble, do they run away screaming?

Most importantly, you’ll learn a lot about their values and personality. Do they only talk about themselves, or are they interested in learning about you? Do they step up to the plate and help? Do they have respect for the outdoors?

Sure, you can learn all of this in the front country about someone, but it may take a few dates. Why not get it done in one go around? Worse case scenario: you don’t mesh and decide never to see each other again. At least you won’t waste anymore time with that person and you got to go backpacking!

The bottom line is there are no rules when it comes to dating. If you feel a connection with someone and you’re both excited, then go for it! It’s probably best to have established trust, and a friendship as well. And yes, my first date and I are still happily together. 

Photos | Liz's boyfriend - Michael Remke