Ask An Outsider: My boyfriend and I have different trail objectives. How can we find common ground?

Welcome to Ask an Outsider. We are here to answer your most pressing questions about enjoying time outside, like how to make outdoorsy friends, tips on going No. 2 in the woods or how to reconcile a different risk tolerance with a partner. Our advice givers are experts from both inside and outside the co-op who draw from their own experience and knowledge to help inform yours.

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Dear Outsider, 

My partner and I frequently go on day hikes together because we share a love for the outdoors. But we have very different priorities on the trail, and it has led to uncomfortable moments.  

I am a “stop-and-take-a-picture-of-the-pretty-views-every-two-minutes” kind of hiker. I love to soak in the beauty at my own pace, and it’s what helps me unwind from stress. While it feels nice to get a good sweat, I love the scenic snack and nap breaks even more. I don’t care how slow I go as long as I make it back to the car safely before dusk. 

My boyfriend doesn’t hike for the same reasons. His mission is to get a good workout, often competing with himself to achieve a personal record. He goes too fast for me. I go too slow for him. So, we clash. He lets me know it with his body language and comments about my pace. He quickly becomes bored while waiting for me to catch up. I quickly become embarrassed and exhausted trying to reconnect with him.  

What should we do when we’re hiking at different speeds? We enjoy experiencing the destination together. We just want to make the journey more fun. 

Taylor, REI Co-op Member since 2014

Dear Taylor, 

This is a question I have heard participants of the 52 Hike Challenge ask many times. When we are in a relationship with someone, it’s natural to want to spend time together—including outside. But conflicts may arise due to differences in each person’s speed and priorities. For me personally, addressing this boils down to communication and compromise, all while making it fun. 

In my last relationship, my partner enjoyed running the trails and I enjoyed hiking them. We came up with a win-win solution: Ahead of time, we would agree on a time to meet back at the car and the total time for exercise that day. Typically, we would walk together for the first 10 to 15 minutes to connect. Then he would run for one hour; I would hike for 30 minutes and turn around. Normally, he ran past me as I was getting close to the car. With this compromise, we both had our needs met.  

Other times, we hiked and ran together. He adjusted his speed to more closely match mine, and I tried to keep up with his pace. On our longer day hikes, we agreed to hike together, even though I knew he could out-hike me any day. 

But it’s important to remember that there are many ways to address this situation. To understand how others would approach it, I polled the 52 Hike community. Their answers were somewhat mixed: 18% suggested hiking separately from your partner and meeting halfway, 39% opted for hiking with people who share the same goals, 25% recommended matching the speed of your partner and 14% voted for some other outcome. 

Personally, I really like the responses suggesting that you and your partner work to compromise. For example, Bianca C., 29, of Point Pleasant, New Jersey, proposes that you alternate between your hiking styles. “Some hikes are more about photography, while others are all about breaking records,” she says. This is also a great time for both of you to work on patience and understanding, which can deepen your relationship. 

Paige W., 28, of Ooltewah, Tennessee, shares: “My husband and I love hiking together, but we have different paces. We compromise by knowing what the other likes. My husband is patient while I take photos and [identify] plants on my phone. I try to take fewer pictures and take them quickly so we can keep moving.” When you work as a team you can build trust, which is huge on the trails and in life. 

You could also compromise by deciding to hike on your own and meet at a turnaround spot. Then you can hike down at your partner’s pace (assuming downhill is easier for you than uphill). Tai K., 44, of Ontario, Canada, offerss yet another option: “Hike the route alone and take all the photos. Then hike again at a faster pace …” 

I also spoke to holistic marriage and family counselor Rebecca Thompson Hitt, who shares her perspective: She advises that you find a time to discuss what each of your underlying needs are. These are your true needs. For example, maybe your true need is to connect with your partner on the trail, while your partner simply wants a good workout.

After your discussion, work out a strategy that will meet both of these needs. Hitt also suggests that you try different ways of compromising. Then come back together after trying them out to discuss how those solutions felt. Adjust accordingly.  

If you’re unable to come to a solution, you can make other arrangements and find other ways to connect that better suit each of you. For instance, you could have a picnic at a local park, watch the sunset at the beach or stargaze together, among other things. 

Another huge component in all of this is trust, or feeling that you can go out to explore and hike and that your partner will be there waiting to connect with you when you get back. It’s also important to understand that our life partner can’t fulfill all of our needs. Sometimes, we need to change our own expectations and adjust accordingly.

Above all, be curious as you explore what feels best to both of you as you navigate the journey together. The cool thing here is that, just like on the trail, there are many paths you can choose, but they all end up at the same destination. Maybe you don’t hike together, but this experience taught you to communicate, compromise and, in the end, gain a stronger relationship.  

Isn’t that the end goal of our path to love anyway?