How to Introduce Your Indoorsy Partner to Outdoor Adventures
Smart? Check. Passionate? Check! Kind? Double check. A dog person? Triple check!!!
Loves camping and hiking and climbing and trekking? (…chirping crickets…)
Okay, look. If anyone is lucky enough to find the first four qualities in a potential partner, the fifth isn’t going to be a dealbreaker. At least not if they’re otherwise active, adventurous, and curious about their natural environment. Maybe the potential love of your life was raised in a family that wasn’t into roughing it, or they had such a rich and vibrant urban life, they never gave much thought to the idea that their indoor climbing gym is inspired by… sit down, this is crazy… real life climbable rocks!
“Outdoorsy” is pretty subjective, and it’s unreasonable to expect someone to change their personality or behavior. If you really want your life partner to become your adventure buddy, and they’ve expressed interest in checking out your world, here’s some sage advice I’ve gleaned from friends who’ve been there before—on both sides of the fence.
Level the Playing Field
Your first activities aren’t about you showing off your mad skills. Nor do you want to send the message that if they don’t keep up, they’re somehow less than lovable.
In my experience, one partner shouldn’t assume the instructor role for skill-dependent activities—at least, not at the awkward, face-planting bunny-slope stage—and pretty much every technical sport has its own brand of newbie humiliation.
A half-day lesson is less expensive than two divorce attorneys,” my old friend and current ex jokes. She’d taught a ton of friends to snowboard, but I admit my ego (and my backside) got a little bruised when I kept falling and flailing, and I got defensive and sullen toward the woman I wanted to impress.
Start with activities that are close to home, new to both of you, and appropriate for both of your fitness and skill levels. Take a fly casting class, rent a couple of kayaks, or join a guided nature walk. If you learn and discover things together, you’ll make it your thing as a couple… not just your thing. Once they’re used to physical activity out in the elements, they might be more inclined to try your particular passion.
Dress for the Occasion
Jeans, sneakers, tee shirts, and sweatshirts are fine for short, easy hikes in mild weather. Throw in heat, humidity, dust, and rough terrain, and your companion’s comfort level and enthusiasm will evaporate (a lot!) faster than swampy armpits. I don’t have to tell you how cotton chafes and retains moisture (as in, sweat!), and that inexperienced hikers are more likely to turn an ankle or slip on slick rock.
Before you even think of getting them a $500 sleeping bag or super-deluxe sleeping pad, or even dusting off your spare gear, make sure your partner’s appropriately suited up.
Trail running shoes are an excellent and often overlooked compromise between sneakers and hiking boots. They’re grippy, breathable, super comfortable, and they dry faster than traditional kicks. While I’m always a big fan of ankle support, you’re probably not planning on loading your partner down like a pack mule, and hopefully, you’ll skirt the scree and boulder fields until they’re more experienced with uneven terrain.
Thru-hikers favor trail runners, and that’s a pretty solid endorsement as far as I’m concerned. Back in town, they’re suitable for any low-key outdoor activity from trotting out to the backyard hammock to running errands in the ‘burbs.
Don’t forget appropriate socks: Merino wool or wicking, air-circulating synthetic blend socks can save the day, especially when those new boots haven’t been thoroughly broken in. Which reminds me: Trail runners don’t require much of a break-in period. This is a big deal when your partner decides to join you and your buddies at the last minute.
All-around Recreational Wardrobe
Quality outdoor recreation clothing is fashionable as well as functional. Summer-season pants, shorts, and tops, and cold-weather warm layers double as long-lasting, classic casual wear. Breathable, wrinkle-free fabrics in natural tones are packable and travel-friendly, and clothing designed for comfort and range of motion are, at the very least, perfect for lounging around by the fire at home or in camp.
Thanks to modern, high-tech insulating materials, cold-weather parkas and down vests won’t make your partner look like the Michelin Man (or woman) and some coats made to meet winter expedition standards look like they were designed exclusively for posh Park City fashionistas.
Well-made, rugged outdoor clothing is a low-risk, high reward investment. If your partner dresses in properly-fitted performance clothing that keeps them confident and comfortable in any weather, you’ve removed the biggest obstacles to a pleasant introduction to outdoor activities.
Outdoor equipment rentals are ideal for new adventurers
You might have a spare (or borrowed) pack and sleeping bag for your partner, but as with camping clothes, comfort and quality’s a priority. The largest consumer market prefers to rent their sporting goods equipment, which means that national and local specialty stores are expanding their rental, used, and demo inventories.
Take your partner to try out different equipment components, and let an experienced sales tech help them find the right fit. This may not sound like anybody’s ideal afternoon date, but if you set aside a couple of hours well in advance of a planned outing, they’ll get past the initial overwhelm and learn a lot about selecting and adjusting their own gear. Bonus: You might, too!
If your partner knows ahead of time what sizes and brands fit them best, you can call up and make reservations, swoop in to pick up the rented gear, and get out of Dodge before anyone can change their mind.
Set them up for success, and break them in gently
What you might think is an easy five-mile hike could well be torture for someone who’s never carried a pack, navigated fast-moving, knee-deep streams, or contemplated death on a trail cut into a steep mountainside. No matter your chosen activity, keep it short and easy until your partner makes it clear they’re ready to level up.
Finally, don’t underestimate your partner’s abilities, especially their capacity for making their own decisions. You might have the technical experience, but they know their limits and abilities better than anyone. Empower them to call the shots, and give them the autonomy to find their own joy in the outdoors.