If you’re in the dating game and you love the outdoors, you may well be asking yourself, is hiking a good first date? Or does the combination of unpredictable weather, varying degrees of fitness, scary wildlife encounters and the chances of getting lost on a hike make it all a bit too risky for comfort?
Even before the pandemic, many of us were seeking alternatives to the horrors of sitting through an entire meal with a stranger, wondering if you have spinach between your teeth and dreading the impending awkwardness of whether or not to split the bill. In comparison, hiking is a fun, healthy activity that gets you out in the fresh air, gives you beautiful things to look at and talk about, and it takes some of the pressure off the non-stop conversation that dinner or coffee dates require. Plus if you already love hiking, you might be keen to meet someone who’s going to become your new adventure buddy. So do you load up your backpack, grab your hiking boots and go for it?
For many of us, hiking seems like a no-brainer for a first date, and it’s certainly a common choice of first date activities in outdoorsy places like New Mexico. But as Amy Wilder found when she was living in Santa Fe, just because you both like a jaunt in the hills, doesn’t mean you’ll be compatible.
“I went on a hike with a surgeon in Albuquerque once and not only could he not tell direction, he argued when I tried to guide him in the right direction,” recalls Wilder. “He also laughed at me for bringing a small pack with water, a first aid kit, snacks, and a rain shell. A surgeon. Someone in medicine. Who should know better!”
Needless to say, Amy and the surgeon did not make it to a second date. This story brings up one of the first potential problems with hiking as a first date – just because you both love the outdoors, doesn’t mean you actually agree on what that looks like. Some us like to race up mountains while others like a dawdle in the woods. Some of us like the opportunity to teach a new hiker about behaving responsibly in the outdoors while others use it as an excuse to show everyone how fit and adventurous they are.
So hiking might highlight your differences under adverse conditions more readily, but is that always a bad thing? When Ellen Marcus was volunteering with Americorp in the 1990s, she was doing service work in Big Bend National Park, so it only made sense that her dating life took place outdoors. On her very first day in fact, another Americorp member took her to explore a boulder canyon
“I was jumping from rock to rock talking away. Explaining how it's hard to call a desert a desert when it's all covered in scrubby plants. He apparently just wanted me to experience the quiet majesty and asked me if I ever shut up. I asked him if all city boys drove sissy purple Honda civics.”
Hiking dates, it seems, have the potential at least to lead to squabbles and gripes faster than, say, going to the movies. But does that necessarily spell the end before things have even begun? Not for Ellen and her date, apparently, who have now been happily married for 24 years. For many of us, getting to know each other’s rough sides right off the bat is a bonus, not a negative.
Of course, these scenarios are relatively innocuous, but the thing about hiking is it can be downright disastrous. Evan Reilly had just moved to Colorado when she went on a first date up one of the state’s higher peaks. She didn’t really know what she was in for but she trusted her date, who had lived in the mountains for a couple of years. That turned out to be her first mistake.
“I definitely wasn’t prepared for that level of adventure but he seemed like he knew what he was doing. I honestly don’t know if he’d ever been hiking. We ended up getting really, really lost and it started hailing on us. We didn’t have the right clothing and nearly spent the night freezing to death on the mountain because he was too proud to call mountain rescue and I didn’t even know mountain rescue existed. Fortunately we got back to the trailhead around midnight and I just got in my car and drove away and never spoke to him again.”
One silver lining is that Evan ended up taking a mountain safety course and falling in love with hiking; just not with her date.
Before you go cancelling your hiking date though, there are countless stories of couples who had enchanting first dates on hikes that went on to have many more escapades together. Take Ossian Butler, who fondly recalls a first date spent hiking in Scotland, even though the conditions were far from perfect.
“My first date with Melanie was climbing Ben More in the Trossachs. It was a lovely wet day in the rain with rum and cheese sandwiches shared at the top.”
Rain, rum and sandwiches, it seems, were the perfect cocktail for the pair, who are now married with a young son. So, is hiking a good first date, or a recipe for disaster?
5 reasons hiking makes a great first date
Let’s assume that you’ve done all the required safety checks for meeting a stranger and have arranged to go on a date on a well trafficked trail. In this scenario, there are lots of good arguments for hiking as a first date:
1. Hiking is healthy and free
Hiking is great exercise, gets you out in nature and it’s something that you do sober, which is arguably better than relying on alcohol to give you confidence. Hiking also doesn’t cost a thing besides the gas you need to get to the trailhead so you can bypass all that awkwardness about who pays for dinner, and you can still pack a picnic or a flask of hot chocolate to share which adds a special touch without breaking the bank or looking too keen.
2. You can avoid awkward silences by pretending to be out of breath
Don’t underestimate this one. Even the best dates can be peppered with long silences while you try to think of something interesting to say. These are only awkward because you’re usually sitting directly opposite each other. When you’re walking up a mountain, you’re just out of breath. Or thinking deep thoughts.
3. You can look at the views instead of each other
Sometimes you know in your gut that the date is a no go from the moment you meet. Instead of having to sit through drinks anyway, or scroll through your phone, you can enjoy the splendid views and ignore each other. And if you happen to like each other, you can tell your future grandchildren all about how beautiful it was.
4. It’s a good way to see how the other person responds to challenge
If you’re dating to find a long term partner, there is an argument for just diving in at the deep end. How does the other person respond to getting lost, a blister, or soaked in a rain show? And more importantly, can you live with their responses? You might find that you make a great team, balance each other well and tackle problems easily.
5. You can simply drive away at the end
If your date doesn’t go well, when you get back to the trailhead you can simply say goodbye, hop in your car and drive away – no need to ask anyone up for coffee. Plus, hikes tend to take place in the morning, so it’s easier to pretend you have plans later than it is after dinner at 8 pm.
5 reasons hiking is a terrible idea for a first date
So, there are lots of good arguments for hiking as a first date, but as we already mentioned, there are quite a few variables that can raise the stress levels more than, say, picking a BBQ restaurant when your date turns out to be a vegan, which can be rectified in the field. Needless to say, we’re big proponents of hiking, but in the interests of balance, here are some arguments against hiking as a first date:
1. You could get lost or injured
Now you could theoretically choke on a chicken wing while out to dinner or slip and fall on the boardwalk, so we’re not saying that any date is risk-free, but if you’re out in the woods, there is a greater possibility of getting lost or injured than there might be at Applebees. This can and often does have the capacity to bring you closer together, but it’s also a lot of pressure on day one.
2. There’s no escape
By definition, a hike is a long walk so you’re committing to at least a few hours together and you can’t bail out after appetizers by going to the bathroom and climbing out the window.
3. You might have different fitness levels
Chances are, you and your date won’t have the exact same levels of strength and endurance, and that’s fine so long as the fitter person is willing to slow down and the slower person isn’t too self-conscious. But without that compromise, one of you might be exhausted and embarrassed while the other might be irritated and bored. Just to be clear, if you’re the irritated and bored one, you’re the problem.
4. You have to pee in the woods
On your standard first date at a cafe or bar, the bathroom provides a perfect respite to check your teeth, frantically text a friend for a rescue or just go for a pee. If nature calls when you're out in the woods, you have to make an announcement, find a bush and deal with the horror of another adult knowing that you, too, have bodily needs. Obviously knowing how to relieve yourself in the woods is just a regular part of hiking, but if this is all new to you, prepare yourself now.
5. The outdoors can really bring out the worst in people
From arguing about directions to throwing a tantrum when your boots rub, the outdoors can really bring out the worst in people. Physical challenges or less-than-ideal weather conditions can lead some of us to have a total meltdown, which isn’t a good look. Do you want to lay all your cards on the table straight away or save that for right after your honeymoon when the papers are all signed? The answer might depend on how much of a rush you’re in to meet your soulmate, but we’ll leave it up to you to decide.
Is hiking a good first date? The verdict
If you’re both reasonably fit and willing to communicate well and prepare properly, hiking can be a fab first date. It’s healthy and can be a great way to make fun memories with clear heads in a beautiful setting. There’s no chance of one of you accidentally having too many martinis and making a fool of yourself or leaving with somebody else. And if, when you part ways, it’s clear that things are going nowhere, at least you got a great hike out of the deal and didn’t break the bank.
Clearly there’s a wider margin for error when you take your dating game outdoors, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea for a first date, you just have to prepare. Follow these guidelines to make sure your first hike ends up being the first of many:
- If your date is new to hiking, give them some pointers in advance about what to bring, how to dress and what to expect
- Bring a picnic (but hide it in your backpack in case things aren't going well and you want to speed things along)
- Go with friends – unlike dinner or coffee, hiking dates work great in groups and make conversation even easier
- Pick an easy hike
- Slow down if you need to – there’s no need to show everyone how fit you are and your date won’t be impressed if they can’t see you because you're 500ft up the trail anyway
- Pick a more popular trail so you’re not isolated
- Choose a well-maintained and well-marked trail to reduce the chances of getting lost
- Have a plan B or be willing to take a raincheck if the forecast is really bad – no need to make a tenuous situation even hairier
- If you are the one who’s new to hiking, let your date know and read our article on what to wear hiking so you don’t fall foul to faulty footwear or risk the perils of hiking in jeans
Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.
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