How to Tell if Your Hiking Partner Might Get You Killed

pile of empty beer cans

The most dangerous kind of people are the ones who don’t know they’re stupid. And unfortunately, some of these people go hiking.

So what ends up happening? They wander deep into the boonies, hurt themselves (and others) and then need to be rescued.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re not one of these people. S&TT is all about discovering unique hiking experiences, so most of our readers are outdoor veterans who have worn out plenty of thick-soled boots. So I won’t lecture you, but I will offer a warning:
 

Watch out for hiking partners who might get you killed

I know that’s just common sense. But sometimes it’s tough to tell whether or not your hiking partner is a liability. I’m not just talking about lack of experience here . The real people you’ve got to watch out for are those who truly underestimate the outdoors. They’re the sort of geniuses who get wasted on the trail or wear sneakers for an epic backpacking trip. Plus, even long-time wilderness explorers do stupid things.

The worst part is, hikers with common sense have a habit of assuming most people are rational like them. Big mistake. So here are some red flags to watch for that could be signs your hiking partner may get you killed.
 

They’re unprepared for the elements

I once went backpacking with someone who had to wear a trash bag because they didn’t pack proper rain gear. The bag leaked.

So how is their unpreparedness your problem? If your hiking partner doesn’t have proper boots or warm clothing, they could be at serious risk of getting hypothermia or suffering injury. And if you’re trekking deep in the wilderness, that also puts you at risk. Remember, you’re the one who’s got to save them (c’mon, I know you’d do it). And obviously, hobbling along the trail creates major problems.

What to watch for: I didn’t know the trash-bag trekker hadn’t come prepared with a decent rain jacket until we were on the trail. When it poured, out came the Hefty Bag. So if you’re hiking with someone new, just check with them to make sure they’re prepared. If you notice they’re bringing something strange with them into the woods (like a giant glass bottle of syrup – I encountered that one too), it could be a sign they’re not ready for the wilderness.
 

They’re drunk

Notice I didn’t say they’re drinking. I think having a beer or a shot of whiskey or two on a backpacking trip is no big deal. But moderation is the key here. If they get rippin’ drunk, you can both end up in trouble.

Not only does alcohol impair your judgement and make it more difficult to react during an emergency, it also has a devastating effect on a hiker’s stamina the next day. They’ll get thirsty quickly, which could deplete your water supply faster. They’ll also get tired more easily, which leaves them open to making mistakes that get them hurt.

What to watch for: This one really comes down to personality. If you know your hiking partner at all, you’ll probably have an idea of whether or not they’ll get sloshed on the trail. If you don’t know them well, it’s a gamble. You might pick up on some clues while chatting with them on the way to the trailhead that’ll indicate whether they’ll be getting tipsy.
 

They’re OK with attracting bears

I’m always surprised by the number of backcountry hikers who don’t understand the finer points of wildlife safety (which in my neck of the woods, is really bear safety). They slip into their tents for the night after loading on deodorant, they leave spilled macaroni around the campsite or they forget to put a cheese-coated bowl in the bear locker. The little stuff like this bugs me and it can also mean big trouble.

What to watch for: If you’re driving in the car with them on the way to the trailhead and all you can smell is Polo Sport (or whatever you kids are wearing these days), you might have a problem.

Fortunately, they’ll have an enlightened trekker by their side (that’s you) who can show them the error of their ways. But sometimes, stupid people don’t listen. That means you might have to scare the hell out of them. Try telling your stubborn trekking partner about the gruesome consequences of a bear attack. If you need some material to refer to, check this article out.
 

They’re packing heat (and are idiots)

Most hunters are responsible. The stereotypical image of a beer-swilling yokel killing everything in sight is unfair. In fact, hunters led some of the first conservation efforts in North America and are responsible for many of the trail systems we enjoy today.

The issue of mixing backpacking and hunting has triggered a cultural divide between the two different groups of outdoor enthusiasts – you can find a fascinating article about this in Backpacker Magazine – and I don’t want to stoke the fire. However, there are still plenty of stupid people who use guns. And sometimes, these people take their guns hiking.

What to watch for: Like alcohol, it comes down to personality. If your hiking partner is hauling a rifle into the woods just for “the fun of it,” maybe you should be a little concerned. But if you’re hiking in polar bear territory, you’ll be glad it’s there.

Bottom line is if you don’t feel the person you’re trekking with will use their gun responsibly – or you’re just not comfortable being around them – it’s best to nix the trip.

Have you ever been on a trek where your hiking partner almost got you killed? Tell us about in the comments below…unless it’s still before the courts.

About the author

Dustin Walker

Dustin Walker is a journalist, travel copywriter and editor/owner of Slick and Twisted Trails. Follow him on Twitter @dustinjaywalker

Josh - June 30, 2013

Forgot one, if you’re hiking up a mountain, make sure your partner isn’t scared of heights. You don’t want to have to bail his out.

When I opened this I thought I was going to be reading a description of myself, but then I realized I have the luxury of understanding I really don’t know what I’m doing on a long hike.

Quite enjoyed this. The idiocy of people always amuses me.

Anyone up for a hike?

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