Ah, the romantic picnic -- what better way to celebrate Valentine's Day? I may be just a little biased, but I think taking that picnic into the backcountry, or at least outside the city, is the perfect way to make it just that much more romantic.
If your valentine is new to hiking, your adventure will have a touch of the exotic without going far; and if you are new to hiking but your valentine isn't, he or she will surely appreciate your willingness to get outside.
With that in mind, here are a few tips to help the beginning hiker plan a successful Valentine's Day outing:
- Get a guidebook or find another way to research the trail you're thinking of taking -- for example, many public lands services (National Park Service, National Forests, State Parks, etc.) offer trail profiles online. Whatever you do, don't go into this blind; not being able to find the trailhead (or the trail!) doesn't exactly set a romantic tone.
- Watch the weather forecasts. If you're lucky enough to have several destination trails to choose from, you can change your target to take advantage of the best weather.
- Pre-hike the trail and choose a particular place for your picnic -- don't leave finding that perfect spot to chance.
Test-drive your trail kitchen. If you're planning on cooking, take the camp stove into your backyard (not underneath the house's eaves, natch), to a nearby campground, or out on the trail and give it a try -- make sure you're comfortable with priming it (if needed), starting it, controlling the flame, and turning it off. Same with anything you're planning on cooking -- unless you know you've got it nailed, at least do a dry run in the kitchen.
If you're going to pack hot food out to the trail instead, it's worth investing in some high-quality, insulated containers you can stow in your backpack -- trust me, nothing gets old faster than trying to schlep a handheld cooler long distances over uneven ground.
- Plan an indoor alternative. If there's any chance either one of you will be daunted by rain, snow, sleet, or dark of night -- that is, if neither of you is a mail carrier -- dream up an indoor alternative beforehand, just in case the weather doesn't cooperate.
- Know your sweetie's capabilities. Are you dating a hard(wo)man capable of scaling remote mountain peaks with nothing but a knife and a Snickers bar? Great -- then go for the heights! If your Valentine is more of the urban variety, though, you might want to start more slowly. Pick a trail that you're sure you can both enjoy, and leave yourselves plenty of time to get there and back without pushing.
- Educate yourself about wildlife safety. Make sure you know what to do if you see a moose, bear, mountain lion, or any other potentially dangerous wildlife in your area.
- Pack the ten essentials. If you're not already in the habit of packing the ten essentials, now's a good time to start -- that way if anything goes wrong on your romantic outing, you'll still come out the hero.
- Leave no trace. If you bring it in with you, pack it out. If you move it, put it back where you found it before you go. Handle bodily functions responsibly. Only build a cooking fire if there's a designated fire ring; otherwise use a camp stove.
- Document the adventure. Make sure you bring your iPhone, iPod, digital camera -- anything that'll let you snap a few shots to commemorate the adventure you took together.