Unlike traditional weddings, there’s no manual for planning a hiking elopement — not to mention, the logistics are completely different. As someone who has helped numerous couples create a day that speaks to their heart, I’ve put together this complete guide to help walk you through each step of the process in creating your own!
Broken up into ten digestible sections, I’ll cover the most important aspects of a hiking elopement, from how to choose a location and what to bring with you, all the way to important safety precautions and planning your timeline. Read from start to finish, jump around as you please using the linked Table of Contents, take notes, bookmark it for future reference, or share it with a friend — whatever your style, my hope is that this information will be helpful to you in both big and small ways!
The first principle, and arguably one of the more important ones, is to plan ahead and prepare. I am definitely here to help with almost all of the planning, but you’ll need to do some leg work in the preparation department, and that’s exactly what I’ll be covering in the rest of this article! From knowing when and where you will be going, to what to bring and how to bring it, you’ll be ready for a fun, stress-free, and safe elopement experience.
For the most part, this basically means “stay on the trail”. Don’t wander off into delicate fields of wildflowers, do your best not to trample vegetation, and stick to the trail even when it’s muddy! Off-trail travel can be feasible in various locations, but only if there are durable surfaces to walk on.
This isn’t anyone’s favorite topic, but it’s an important one! If you’re planning a hiking elopement, you won’t be near any facilities (save for the trailhead) and knowing how to “do your business” outdoors is really important! Have a proper toiletry kit and educate yourself on the best practices for the area you will be eloping in for when nature calls.
I know it can be super tempting to take little mementos with you, but that’s why I am here to document your day! If you see something you’d like to remember, you can always ask me to take photos. One way I like to explain this to my couples is, what if everyone who came here took just one flower, one branch, or one rock? Time that by a thousand visitors and, pretty quickly, there’d be nothing left. We have to remember that this is an entire ecosystem that both wildlife and Native peoples rely on. We are already on stolen land, so let’s not steal more of it.
Not everyone will choose to have a campfire, and there are some fun ways to add lighting to your evening without starting one! If you choose to go the fire route, be sure you know where and how you can safely and legally enjoy it on your day. Always drown your fire with plenty of water and keep to designated fire rings to minimize the impacts. Keep in mind that your location, current conditions, wildfires, and fire bans all play a part in whether or not you can do this.
No matter where you choose to elope, if it is outdoors, you will likely encounter some wildlife. Keep a safe distance, don’t outrightly bother them, and be sure to keep your food and scented items properly stored while not enjoying them. Especially out here in the west, I recommend my couples carry bear spray in a readily accessible location on their body and educate yourself on how and when to use it.
Chances are good that you won’t be the only one around during your elopement, most especially if you’re opting for a day at a popular destination, such as a National Park or frequented trail. “Being considerate”, in this context, mostly asks that you not hog a viewpoint or specific location for too long, or to be too loud — remember that they are here to experience and enjoy this location, too!
Summer is a popular time to get married for myriad reasons — the sun is out more often than not, the weather is generally pleasant for being outside, wildflowers are in bloom, the days are longer, and a lot of higher altitude locations are much more easily accessible. All excellent reasons to have an elopement this time of year! But remember to keep in mind that it is also the busiest time for most outdoor spaces, so if privacy is at the top of your priority list, you’ll need to dig deep to find a place that fits that bill. Wildfires and smoke can also be a problematic factor for many locations out west, so remember to always have backup plans that you love just as much as your first choice!
Most couples don’t think to get married outside during the winter because it’s cold, snowy, and it gets dark earlier in the day, and I feel you on that. But it can be so incredibly magical, too. There are far fewer folks out hiking on the trails so you’re almost guaranteed to have a more secluded experience in comparison to the summer months (especially if you opt to go somewhere that requires crampons, snowshoes, or even skis!). And, even though it gets dark out earlier, that can make for some amazing star photos. Crisp, cold air on a clear night is the perfect recipe for those, and it’s a great excuse to snuggle up next to a fire under a blanket with your love, so don’t rule out winter being a bummer just yet!
Mountains are also super popular, and also for good reason. They are simply majestic. They add a certain drama to your images and enhance the overall enjoyment of your elopement by basking in their presence. Getting up early to hike by headlamp for a sunrise ceremony with the morning alpenglow is an out-of-this-world, amazing experience! Plan accordingly because they can also be moody and unpredictable, with weather fronts coming in out of nowhere — afternoon rain/thunderstorms are a common occurrence. If you’re used to lower elevations, prepare for the possibility of altitude sickness and do your best to acclimate ahead of your big day.
You’ve probably seen a plethora of photos from couples eloping in the desert. The scenery is severe and dramatic and there is just so much mystery, adventure, and exploration to be had in this environment, especially if you’ve never been before. And if you’re wanting to get married in the winter without all the snow and sub-zero temperatures, this is a great place to do so! However, keep in mind that the temperature in desert climates can vary wildly and sun exposure can be a major concern, especially when it’s hot. With precious few water sources, you’ll also need to pack in a lot of water and be okay with filtering from a muddy source in case of emergencies.
Just as it sounds, you would obviously want some way to navigate your way on the trail. Even if you're confident you won't get lost (you never know, it's happened to me!), just knowing where you are and how far you have to go is helpful. A map and compass is most common, though for more difficult, obscure, or “way back there” backcountry hikes, having a GPS device with emergency SOS capabilities is recommended.
Sunscreen and SPF lip balms are the most common forms of sun protection, but don’t forget that clothing acts as protection from the harmful rays, too! Hats, sun gloves, long sleeve shirts, and pants all work just as well (if not better).
Packing the appropriate clothing and layers (which I go into more detail in the next section) is super important to making sure you stay healthy and safe. They keep your body’s temperature well regulated, be it in hot or cold environments, and protect you from the elements, like rain, wind, and sun.
Most hiking elopements will require a longer than average day, so it’s best to always be prepared to hike in the dark (a guarantee if you're doing anything around sunrise or sunset). Headlamps are best since they leave your hands free for things like trekking poles or snacks, but flashlights do the trick as well!
It’s best practice to pack a first aid kit that would cover the number of people in your group and has supplies for the types of injuries or situations you’re most likely to encounter. For instance, you wouldn’t need to bring a snake bite kit if you’re snowshoeing in the winter but you would want to bring hand warmers!
No, you don’t need to bring actual, live fire as if it were an Indian Jones movie, just something to make a fire, if need be in an emergency situation. Matches and lighters will do the trick, though stormproof/windproof is best.
Unless you’re going backpacking, this doesn’t have to be anything too terribly fancy, as any form of shelter is better than none if circumstances called for it. A simple way to achieve this without packing in pounds of gear is a length of paracord that you can tie between trees and a mylar emergency blanket to act as an A-Frame “tent” over top it, or even a waterproof hammock that you can huddle under. This will protect you from the elements well enough in a pinch.
Snacks, snacks, and more snacks! Perhaps even a delicious picnic meal for your hiking destination or celebratory dish to share. Staying well-fed on your hike will keep you energized, healthy, and happy, so pack what you think you’ll need plus a little extra.
Staying well-hydrated is equally as important as being well-fed. Depending on where you are eloping, you might need to pack in all of your water, or perhaps you’ll have access to water sources along the way. Either way, you should always have a backup plan in the form of a filtration system, purifying tablets, etc.!
This sounds more heavy duty than it needs to be, but having a simple repair kit for various gear and items is important. A small multitool can go a long way, tenacious tape can seal up a hole in a rain jacket, and a mini sewing kit can repair torn clothing.
Whether you’re hiking in your wedding attire or not, you’ll still want to be able to move in it, unrestricted. Chances are, you’ll likely want to walk/hike around your destination a little bit, sit down on a blanket, crouch low to see something neat, step up onto a rock for a better view, etc. Outfits that are too form-fitting can be restrictive with these types of movement, especially if you need to add an underlayer for colder weather, so be sure you’re “testing” them appropriately in the dressing room while you’re trying them on! If you choose to wear a dress or skirt, is it lightweight enough to walk around or hike in? Is it flowy enough for air movement and maybe some epic windy photos? If you choose to wear a suit or pants of any type, can you crouch, sit, and lift your legs up without any hindrance?
Likewise, keep in mind how breathable and durable the fabric and materials are. No matter the season, hot or cold, you don’t want your body to suffocate in your lovely get-up, nor do you want it to tear super easily if you walk too close to a thorny bramble (unless you’re okay with that happening!). Striking a balance can be hard to find in an outfit for an outdoor, adventure elopement, but so long as you are comfortable, feel great, and are ready to take on the dirt and/or mud, there’s no way you’ll go wrong!
If you’re wanting a hiking elopement, chances are pretty good that you already know what you like to hike in and have the appropriate attire for doing so. If not, make sure you plan far enough in advance so you can test some things out for yourself and talk to some reputable outdoor retailers to aid you in your search. Of course, for all my booking couples, I’m a fountain of knowledge on this subject and would be more than happy to help you as well! Either which way, keep in mind that you will be photographed in these outfits, so make sure it’s something you feel comfortable seeing on yourself in your wedding photos! Maybe you’d like to wear something more “themed” to your elopement, or colors that are brighter than usual so they stand out in your images, or more earthy, muted tones that would suit the landscape. Whatever your choice may be, all that matters is that you are comfortable and feel amazing in what you’re wearing!
There are SO many choices when it comes to outdoor apparel and it can be downright intimidating knowing which will be best for you, your location, and the potential weather. I won’t go into the super detailed specifics, like polyester vs. nylon, but I’ll cover the most broadly used definitions: Wool vs. Synthetic for clothing, and Down vs. Synthetic for jackets.
There are definitely pros and cons to each of these options and, in my experience, it mostly boils down to personal preference over one necessarily being “better” than the other for various situations. Wool is, naturally, very warm. Especially if you go with a merino variety, it’s a bit more lightweight, softer, and not nearly as itchy (if at all) and doesn’t hold odor like synthetic materials do, though it does get pricey pretty quick. Wool also stays warmer when wet than synthetic does, but it holds up to 30% of its weight in moisture and can take a little longer to dry. This can be a concern in cold situations where you are stopping often, as you will cool down more rapidly. Synthetic is still very warm, wicks moisture well, dries quickly, and often has a cheaper price tag, but most definitely holds odor much more noticeably.
Down is, hands down, the best warmth to weight ratio you can get on the market. It is super warm, super light, and packs down super small, but also comes with a super high price tag. Down simply isn’t feasible for everyone and, honestly, it doesn’t always make sense for every situation. If you will be eloping in a location that is known for its damp, wet, and/or rainy environment, a down jacket might not be your best option. Down requires its “loft” capability (fluffiness of the feathers, essentially) in order to capture and retain heat to keep your body warm — as soon as it gets wet, however, those feathery fibers stick together and aren’t able to do so anymore, making it much more difficult to stay warm, especially now that you are wet.
Synthetic, on the other hand, doesn’t have this problem (aside from just being wet, which is obviously never good if you’re cold, regardless). But, it doesn’t lose much, if any, of its loft so it is able to retain heat better in wet conditions than down can. Synthetic might be a bit heavier than down, nor pack down as small, but they are making great strides in closing these gaps and it also comes with a much cheaper price tag.
We’ve all seen people hiking in every type of shoe — high-top hiking boots, Chacos, trail running sneakers, flip flops, knee-high heeled boots — you name it, someone has probably hiked in it. Remember that you don’t need the most expensive, most hardcore hiking boot to go on a hike. If that’s what you usually wear, that’s great! But if you are more comfortable walking around dirt trails in a pair of Chucks, that’s okay, too. And if you’re not entirely sure where to start, then let’s go over the most popular types of footwear for hiking and the pros/cons/best uses for each!
While boots are usually the heaviest option in terms of weight, they are also usually the most durable, protective, and supportive. They tend to have a stiffer tread on the soles that lasts up to three times as long as other shoes and are made for trekking in more difficult, mountainous terrain. If you plan to hike in a lot of water, there are waterproof options available, though these dry much more slowly and are overall less breathable.
Trail runners are quickly becoming the most popular footwear for hiking and backpacking, and for good reason. They are lightweight, highly breathable, and dry quickly if they get wet (especially on the inside), though they lack the same level of ankle support as high-top boots. And while they won’t last as long as a traditional hiking boot, you can still get 500+ miles on them before needing to be replaced. Most options, since they are designed for running on trails, are made to be used on the same terrain as boots and usually have a waterproof option as well.
Another option, though not everyone’s favorite, are hiking sandals. Yes, these do exist! The more well-known brands include Chaco, Keen, and Teva, which are made to be durable and have grippy treads for most types of hiking. Some folks experience blisters with the straps, and they offer very little in the way of protection, so it’s always best to give them a try before committing to them for your hiking elopement. On the plus side, they are the most breathable option (obviously!) and are an excellent water shoe, be it for paddle boarding, creek crossings, or even just wandering around your destination when you don’t want to wear your boots anymore and stretch out your toes.
Full leather boots are less common these days, though they are still an option with some brands. These are the boots that generally need a break in period, so that the leather is able to bend and flex with your movements rather than remaining stiff, causing blisters. For the most part, however, modern boots (which are made with synthetic materials) are good to go right out of the box. That does not mean that your feet don’t need to break in, though! Go for a few shorter hikes and a couple longer ones to see how they fit and feel before settling on one pair over another.
For most hiking situations, you don’t need more than roughly 150 lumens on a headlamp. This is plenty of light to see a good distance in front of you on the trail and get that nice beam of light for star photos. Various models will also have a dimming function that allows you to adjust the luminance more specifically to your liking. An important thing to look at is the waterproof rating, known as IPX — the higher the number (ie: IPX7 or IPX8), the better. Both Petzl and Black Diamond are reputable brands that have inexpensive and durable options that cover all of these features.
Water filtration/purification is another key essential for hiking elopements. There are many different ways to accomplish this, some faster than others, and some more reliable than others depending on the type of water source. Pump style filters will work with any type of water, and pretty much necessary for murky/muddy sources. My personal favorite is the MSR MiniWorks EX, as it is fully field-repairable and has fewer moving parts, so it is less likely to break during use. UV filters and tabs will work best with very clean, clear, and sediment free water sources.
And lastly, a topographic map. At the very least, for navigation purposes, you should have one of these. Even if getting lost is not a concern, it’s always nice to be able to see where you are on the trail, what kind of terrain to expect, and how much further you have to go. You should be able to get most any map in a waterproof option, so you can still look at and use it when it’s wet. A compass is useful as well, especially if you know how to use one in conjunction with a map! Most folks these days prefer to use a digital form of navigation, such as a GPS device or phone app.
For pants, fold in half the long way where you normally would and then loosely roll from the waist down to the ankle, being careful that the pant legs lay as flat as you can get them.
For shirts and jackets, you can follow a similar method, folding the sleeves along the seam into the middle and then vertically in half along the button-down front, again rolling loosely from the collar down.
For dresses and skirts, there aren’t usually any natural seam lines to fold along, though the potential crease from a fold or two will often go unnoticed if the design includes enough texture or fabric. Once you’ve decided where would be best to fold once or twice, you can loosely roll the dress/skirt from the top to the bottom.
If you’ll be bringing a pair of nice shoes to change into for photos, these fit nicely in the side pockets on the exterior of your pack, one shoe in each. If you'd rather they stay in your pack, they are generally best packed along the center around the heavier items or on top. Placing them in the bottom can squish them and they are generally heavy enough that you don't want them down there, dragging the weight down on your shoulders.
While it’s important to choose blooms that are hardy enough to withstand the elements on a hiking elopement, there are a few other tips to keep your florals looking pristine. Start by taking a small, reusable towel and soak it in water. Wring it out so it is damp and wrap it around the stems of your bouquet, securing it in place with a band or tie. Next, place the base of the bouquet, towel and all, into a small dry sack and cinch it tightly around the hardy stems. This will keep your flowers well hydrated so they don’t wilt over the course of the day!
Now for the placement in/on your pack. You have a few options here and this will mostly depend on what features your pack has and where/how you will be packing all of your other items. The three best places for a bouquet are either in a side mesh pocket, the front pocket on the face of the pack, or sticking out the top of the pack with the other items inside helping keep it in place. With each location, you’ll have a variety of straps and/or zippers to help secure your bouquet so it stays put.
Food can be trickier to pack, depending on what type of foods you’ll be eating and what other accessories you want to bring with you. This can also add up to some significant weight pretty quickly (it usually does!), so you’ll want to plan your containers accordingly to cut down on that as much as possible. If you have them available to you, Beeswrap is great for solid foods like meats and cheeses, and reusable silicone stasher bags can be used for things like nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Hard-sided plastic containers are, despite their bulkiness, more useful for more fragile items, like cake or bread, and are more weight-friendly than their glass counterparts.
backcountry weddings for the WILDLY in love