5 Qualities of a Good Touring Partner

By Khai Johannes Mar 13, 2024
Choosing a touring partner comes with its risks. To help you with your selection, I've identified 5 qualities that I hold in high esteem in partner selection.
5 Qualities of a Good Touring Partner

A co-worker of mine had been wanting to link up for a tour, and after a handful of missed connections, we were finally making it happen. At the trailhead of a popular tree run, we began strapping into our splitboards. 

Time for a beacon check. My transceiver in my hand and search mode on, I heard silence. Confused, I looked up at my touring partner, only to see my confusion reflected back to me.

“Are you not beeping?” I asked. I watched as his mind caught up to the moment, and he began fumbling in his bag to find his transceiver. "Put it on, turn it on" is a fairly standard rule, but we all have brain farts, leaving me to think little of this moment. That was until he slipped in this tidbit of knowledge:

“I have all the gear, I just don’t know how to use it,” he said, while handling his transceiver with the unfamiliarity of a toddler and a new toy. The zone we were in was low risk: no slopes exceeding 30°, minimal terrain traps, nothing above us, cell service etc. It's an area I feel comfortable touring solo and was proving to be the ideal location to break in a new touring partner. 


Before pushing uphill, I ran through a risk analysis in my head and asked myself if I still felt comfortable with the situation—green light from my logical side, green light from my stoke side. We pushed on. Within the first 100 feet, I attempted to continue our small talk from where we left off.

“How’s your schedule looking for next month?” My question was answered only by the scooting sounds of my split board on the snow. When I took a look over my shoulder I found my coworker had donned a pair of headphones. The next two miles were covered in silence. I used that silence to craft five qualities of a good touring partner.

1. The Basics

Every touring partner going into the backcountry should have a solid understanding of their gear, the snowpack and rescue methods. Having sacrificed a weekend to make it through a standard Avy 1 course with trusted folks like the Utah Avalanche Center is a solid standardized measure of a touring partner. Now, completing an Avy 1 course doesn’t guarantee expertise any more than a bachelor's degree does. What it does guarantee is a base level of understanding that the two of you can build on and communicate about. 


2. Master of Communication

Communication is a cornerstone of all relationships. When I laid out the plan for the day through text, I asked my coworker what his thoughts were on our skin track and timing, but I failed to ask about his skill set and knowledge. That’s on me. I also failed to communicate what I wanted out of this day. I’d assumed we’d use the skin track as a chance to get to know each other, while he assumed it was a chance to explore the discography of his favorite bands (he’s a DeadHead- do what you will with that information).  

3. Vibe Check

Google once studied their employees to try and identify the ideal makeup of a team. The group that outperformed the others, including the team made up of their highest achievers, was the team that got along the best. Their ability to communicate and lean on each other proved to be more valuable than the skills that they possessed as individuals. 

What is your energy and what energies do you like being around? If you’re a pace-pusher, dawn-breaker kind of skinner, then you might want to avoid being paired with the roll out of bed, stop for the bathroom, stop again for snacks type of partner. A touring partner can have the previous two qualities, but if the vibe doesn’t mesh with yours, you could be in for a long day.

4. Snack Savant

Think back to the lunchroom of your elementary school. You’ve got a brown bag full of goodies. Those goodies are familiar to you, and you’re pretty psyched about them. But what’s in Bobby’s brown bag? 

At the summit or at some comfortable stopping point along the way, I love pulling out my snacks (currently I’m into Costco’s butterscotch cashews added to coastal trail mix) and doing a little sharing and sampling with those I’m with. Showing up with solid snacks is an absolute win for all involved. 

5. You’re not a cotton-headed ninny muggins, we all just have special talents

In the deck of cards that make you, there’s bound to be a wild card in there. That card can be thrown on the top of the uno pile at any time! Maybe you’re wildly passionate about forest flora and can educate me as we pass the dried remains of perennials. You could have been given a music playlist where your brain should be, and your mind generates songs perfect for the soundtrack of our day. Baking might come as naturally to you as breathing, and when it comes time to swap and sample snacks, you pull homemade sweets from your pack (if this is you, please contact me).

Whatever your wild card is, the uniqueness of that card contributes to the unique experience on the trail. Lean into who you are, and share with your partner(s).