Backpacking With Your Spouse

A backpacking trip into the wilderness with your spouse can build a bond with nature, as well as with each other.

Backpacking With Your Spouse

Several years ago, after years of asking, my wife finally agreed to go backpacking with me on a mule deer scouting expedition in western Wyoming. Up until this point, every time I invited her on backpacking trips, she had always declined because of the fact we would undoubtedly be killed by rouge bear, freak avalanche or a random mountain vagrant — thus, leaving our three children orphaned for sure. It was only after she was sure that our children wouldn’t be split up in foster care after our certain, impending doom that we loaded up for our anniversary weekend and headed to the mountains.

She didn’t have any backpacking gear, we had to borrow a few items, but for the most part we had her set up for the weekend trip. On our way out, we stopped at Sportsman’s Warehouse and went to the freeze dried food section. I informed her that I would “cook” her anything she wanted for her anniversary dinner, all she had to do was pick it out. On our drive to our predetermined destination, we found the road completely washed out miles from the trailhead. Luckily I had a plan B, but by the time we reached our new spot, it was too late to start hiking. So we slept at the truck, and then headed out the next morning. After a nice 6-mile hike through the beautiful summer wildflowers of the Wyoming high country, we finally reached the top where we would set up our camp for the evening. We got all settled in and enjoyed two of the nicest days we had spent together in years. Following are a few ideas on how to get your better half hooked on backpacking like I have somehow managed to do with mine.

The Right Gear

This one can be kind of difficult because as many of you know, backpacking gear is expensive. So dropping $1K to see if your wife really enjoys the experience can be tough. However, not having the right gear is one of the most surefire ways for her to have a bad experience right off and that could be the end of that.

There are three pieces of gear that I think are pivotal for her maiden voyage. First, I would suggest you try to purchase or borrow a good pack that is either built for women or has a torso adjustment to fit her frame. For example, my wife is slender and only 5 feet 3 inches, so strapping on one of my tall frame packs wasn’t an option. Unfortunately, there aren’t many hunting companies making backpacking packs specifically for women.

Luckily for us, my brother had a pack made by Osprey that fit Brianna well, and he was willing to let us use it. After that, we looked at several packs in the hunting market as well as backpacking market. Bri finally decided on a KUIU Icon Pro 3200 in a regular frame with a small waist belt; now it’s her full-time pack. I’m not saying this is the go-to pack for every woman; it’s just what she liked. My advice is spend the time beforehand to find the right pack. Women are just built different than guys, and a proper-fitting pack can make all the difference in the world.

The second gear item necessity is a good sleeping bag. My wife is a cold sleeper, so having a warm bag is a must. On her first trip, she used my 20-degree North Face Cats Meow bag. It has always been a good bag, but it didn’t have the loft of a new down bag, so although it probably got down to only 35 degrees that evening, she still wasn’t overly warm.

On our last few trips she has really enjoyed my newer 20-degree down bag, which is much loftier. This bag seems to provide her with all the warmth she needs. Currently, I have my eye on the Holy Grail to convince my wife to do more backpacking. She is always cold and I am always warm. So, I am planning or purchasing the 15-degree King Solomon double mummy bag. It has a combined weight of 4.8 pounds, which is as light as or lighter than two regular mummy bags. Although it won’t compact quite as small, I know that her being able to share a bed with me will make her much happier. This bag also has sleeves for two pads, which leads me to our third important piece of gear.

A high-quality insulated air mattress that provides a good night’s sleep is always a smart idea. Just pick a good pad from one of the top manufacturers and it’s hard to go wrong. Personally, we have become big fans of the Sea to Summit pads, not only for their comfort but also their durability.

You never know who you may share the trail with on a wilderness backpacking adventure.
You never know who you may share the trail with on a wilderness backpacking adventure.

The Plan

As you can tell from my introduction, my wife was apprehensive to go in the first place as are many first time overnight backpackers. Due to this, I feel that having a plan is crucial. I know some women will gladly head out into the great-unknown solo for days on end and that’s great, but that’s not my wife. Have a plan mapped out that includes where you are headed, how far you’re going, how many days the trip will take and goals for the trip. Of course, my goals are generally spotting or arrowing big bucks and bulls, just be as clear as possible of your intentions.

The Hike In

Since it’s the first trip, make sure it’s a great one. Taking the right trail is a good start. A groomed trail isn’t a must, but climbing deadfalls every few feet or having to regularly scale cliffs might be better for a second or third trip after you have demonstrated to her the beauty of a backcountry camp. Try to pick dates where the weather will be pleasant and preferably without torrential downpours.

Let Her Decide

This can be a tough one and I know it varies from person to person. At home, my wife takes better care of me than I deserve. So on our first trip, I planned on her not having to do much. I didn’t mind the idea of carrying the bulk of the gear, pumping the water, cooking the food or washing the dishes. I thought she would love that, but I should have known better. With regard to the gear distribution, I knew she would want to carry her fair share and wouldn’t have it any other way. My pack was of course heavier, but she carried her share of her gear and did great. Once we got on the hill, one of the best parts for me was how intrigued she became with the process. She wanted to help pump the water, clear a spot for the tent, cook the food, etc. She loved how the whole day revolved around just the basics in life: shelter, food, water and enjoying the outdoors.

Knowing everything is in order at home, the author’s wife unwinds in the backcountry and enjoys a rejuvenating nap.
Knowing everything is in order at home, the author’s wife unwinds in the backcountry and enjoys a rejuvenating nap.

The Perfect Spot

What do I mean by the “perfect spot?” I mean pick a place that you will surely remember, either with amazing views of a beautiful mountain lake or a place with abundant wildlife. Now, I know we are all real tough and can literally sleep in a mountain goat bed carved out of pure rock, but for the first couple trips I recommend you find a comfortable camping spot. Take the time to find a flat spot and prepare it by removing rocks and other things sure to hinder a good night’s sleep. Also, I would consider picking this spot in a location close to where you want to be, such as a particular hunting spot or glassing location.

Backpacking can be tough, especially for someone who is not accustomed to carrying a heavy pack. So, once you reach your spot, take off your packs and get camp set up. Your partner will likely be much happier if you are “there” rather than having to hike another mile to your glassing point before dark.

The Real Value

I honestly can’t express how much value I believe backpacking with your spouse can bring to your relationship. Wives and mothers are often some of the busiest people I know. Sure, plenty of men live crazy lives, too, but the special ladies in our life juggle jobs, kids, a household, husbands and the list goes on and on. As men, we seem to have an uncanny ability to be able to turn off our worries and do things like enjoy a round of golf or a 3-D archery course. It often seems women can go do these things, but life is never more than a couple minutes away and the worries never really go away.

So even if my wife and I go on a date, or we take our camper out for the weekend, there are always still responsibilities at our fingertips. However, with my wife, she has found that when go on our backpacking trips — as long as she knows the kids are safe — she can totally unplug. Once we are on the mountain, she can look through her binocular, nap, sit in silence, read a book, take in the peace of the mountains or talk with my ugly mug uninterrupted by kids, the television, phone or anything else. Just having that chance in today’s fast-paced life is rare; it’s more valuable than many things you can buy.

Backpack Hunting

After we went on a couple low-key scouting trips, we decided it was time to go on a backpacking hunting trip together. Bri had been elk hunting with me plenty of times over the years, so she knew that we would be hunting hard, and that it would only be more difficult with our camp on our backs.

As we were getting out of the truck, we spotted a bull a couple miles out and we headed that way. A couple hours later we were looking into the draw where that bull had disappeared. Glassing, we spotted that bull and another feeding into the thick timber. I had an idea that they wouldn’t go far into the timber patch before bedding down, so we kicked back, had a snack and took a little nap while we waited for the thermals to stabilize. After a while, we worked our way toward the elk’s location, slowly still-hunting our way to where we had last seen them. Suddenly, I spotted one of the bulls bedded at 30 yards. I dropped my pack and was slowly side-stepping to my left to try and get an open shot when the other bull blew out at about 20 yards from behind a tree, taking his buddy with him. It was midday; we decided to hang out and wait for the evening hunt.

A couple hours later, we started hearing bugling on the hill above us and soon realized our two bulls were satellites of a larger herd of about 40 cows, a big herd bull and several other satellite bulls. We worked in on them and tried calling, but it was late in the season, and with the hunting pressure over the last month, they just weren’t coming to calls. Before we broke over the top, I had Bri hunker down in a good glassing spot while I made my final approach. I snuck over the top and managed to jockey myself into the middle of the whole herd. As bad as I wanted the herd bull, when I was presented with a shot on a nice 5-point with 2 days left in the season, I decided to take the shot.

After I arrowed the bull, the herd didn’t really know what happened, but they knew something wasn’t right and headed around the hill toward Brianna. The bulls continued their constant bugling and when I made it back around to get her, she was amazed at the rutting ruckus. It was getting dark fast, so we hurried back to recover my bull. We took some pictures, then got to work breaking him down and getting him hung up. After that chore, we headed up the hill a couple hundred yards to a nice flat spot and made camp.

Luckily this is one of the few spots I have ever elk hunted that I had cell service. I called my buddy Darrell and told him I had a bull down about 6 miles from the trailhead and asked him if he would bring in his horses the next day to help us out. He obliged and let us know that he and another friend, Austin, would be there by 10 a.m. That evening, Bri and I laid in our tent listening to bulls scream in the moonlight. We discussed what a great day it had been. The next morning, after answering nature’s call, I walked back to camp. Brianna, sitting in the sun enjoying the morning said, “Did you hear that bull bugle?” I hadn’t heard it, but right then he screamed again. The same herd — including a beautiful 330-inch 6x7 — had worked its way back up toward us and they all passed by Brianna in the wide open at 30 yards.

A backcountry bull the author harvested on a special trip with his wife.
A backcountry bull the author harvested on a special trip with his wife.

Even though Bri bowhunts, she hadn’t brought her bow on this trip, choosing just to accompany me. When we got home I would hear her talk of that trip and how it was just magical, how great it was, and that it almost seems like it was too good to be true. It was right then that I knew I had her. She had fallen in love with the allure of the backcountry camp. She might not be down for a 10-day trip, but I don’t have to do much talking to get her to sign up now. And I’m here to tell you, a wife isn’t too bad of a person to share a backpack tent with; mine definitely smells a lot better than all of my other tent mates.

Images by Zach Bowhay

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