Tips for Planning Your Backpacking Elopement
Updated: Jul 14, 2022
How to Plan a Backpacking Elopement
Are some of your favorite memories created on switchbacks, dirt trails, in tents, chasing beautiful views and exploring new destinations? Spent with good company in the fresh air, surrounded by nothing but wilderness and open skies? Do you feel the most alive in nature or crave the solitude that a backpacking trip can bring? Do you imagine your wedding day as an exciting adventure rather than being surrounded by four walls? Do you imagine hundreds of wildflowers (or trees, or mountains, rivers, lakes, etc.) instead of hundreds of guests? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then a backpacking elopement may be perfect for you! Going into the backcountry for your elopement provides SO many benefits including:
Seeing sunset & sunrise
Having less crowds and more privacy (more and more true the farther/harder the trail is)
The number of locations and sheer amount of beauty opens up SO much, the longer you're willing to hike in and put in some more work to get there
I absolutely love backpacking and putting in the work on a long, steep trail (those are normally the best ones!). There's something so rejuvenating and reenergizing about setting some time aside for yourself to hit the trail. I normally start pretty early so I have no one around me so I can really sit with my thoughts and be present in the moment. I love enjoying the air on my face, the views from my camp, I get to spending some quality time with my dog Ranger! There's really nothing else like it. It sounds cheesy but I've become addicted to seeing where my feet can take me and am constantly amazed by the sheer beauty of our planet.
I think spending your elopement backpacking (either overnight or as a multi-day experience) would be an absolutely incredible way to commit yourselves to each other and a phenomenal way to kick off your marriage. I've also found that there isn't too much information out there to help couples plan their backpacking elopement or help guide them throughout the process! Which is why I created this guide full of tips to help you plan your backpacking elopement.
First off...what even is an adventure elopement?
An elopement is an intentionally intimate, deeply meaningful celebration of your relationship and love, that is completely focused on the two of you. Elopements center the focus on what matters the most- two people exchanging their vows and committing the rest of their lives to one another. There are many types of elopements, but adventure elopements are typically outside in nature and involve some element of adventure.
Eloping allows you to set aside stress, expectations, and throw out any traditions you don't feel connected to. You can elope just the two of you, or you can elope surrounded by your very closest family and friends. The beautiful thing about eloping? There are no rules. So if you want to get married while going on a backpacking trip- you most certainly can!
Tip 1: Find a Great Photographer
This is a super crucial step when planning any elopement, and it becomes an even bigger one when you're planning a backpacking elopement! It's so important that you find someone that you truly connect with because not only are you going to be spending a lot of time on your elopement day with them, you're going to be hiking a long ways and camping with them too! Make sure to choose someone that you both connect with and feel comfortable around, otherwise that will come through in your photos.
Additionally, I highly recommend hiring a photographer that specializes in elopements versus someone who doesn't. You want someone experienced who can help you along the way! Elopement photographers are way more involved in the planning process than a typical photographer and can make it a stressful situation or an absolute breeze. Find someone that is experienced, knows the area you are eloping in very well, can give you helpful advice, and help you with location scouting and navigating all the logistics that comes with planning an elopement.
It's also especially important to find a photographer that actually has experience backpacking (and enjoys it!) before trusting them to come camping with you. It's a lot more work to plan and execute a backpacking elopement and you want to make sure they're up to the task and you aren't trusting someone who's never been backpacking before. Trust me when I say all that camera gear gets heavy on top of your camping gear haha (which is why I rigged up my packs to hold my cameras on my hip belts to better distribute their weight!). Additionally, some photographers may have a limit to how long of a trail they are willing to hike, so be sure to ask when you are searching for one if you already have a specific trail in mind.
And lastly, you have to LOVE your photographer's work and it has to be the style that YOU are looking for. The images your photographer takes will most likely be the only photos you have of your elopement- especially if it will be just the two of you. Find someone who takes that responsibility seriously- who is experienced in all types of sceneries, weather, and lighting conditions. Trust me, your photography is something that you will want to invest in- these will be your living, physical memories of your elopement day for years and years to come. Luckily, I know a photographer who LOVES backpacking and elopements! I'd love to connect with you and help you get started planning your backpacking elopement.
Pro-Tip: Ask your photographer if they are an officiant and can legally sign your paperwork for you. Many elopement photographers (like myself) double as officiants and can sign the paperwork for you if you want to have a short & sweet ceremony without having to try and find an officiant that will hike and backpack with you. Alternatively, you can simply do the legal stuff beforehand! Don't let paperwork get in the way of you having the type of wedding experience you want. The day you say your vows and commit your life to your partner is your wedding day regardless of when you sign your paperwork.
Tip 2: Find a Location that Speaks to You
Choosing a location for your elopement is a very important decision. I believe that where a couple decides to say their vows is a very personal and intimate decision- you should LOVE your location and it should feel completely right to you! Plus you'll be able to come back to visit and relive your elopement day memories for years to come.
Do you want to elope in the mountains where you can see peaks for miles and miles or be right up next to a massive volcano? Do you want to be among trees or be right up on the edge of an alpine lake? Do you want to do a hut to hut hike in Alaska? Or hike next to rivers and waterfalls? Do you want to be amongst wildflowers or fall colors? Or maybe you want to be in the desert or in the red rocks or the canyons? Or do you even want to travel internationally and backpack somewhere iconic like Patagonia, Machu Picchu or Mount Kilimanjaro for your elopement? Don't be afraid to dream big here!
Location Ideas for Your Backpacking Elopement:
North Cascades National Park/Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest
Mount Rainier National Park (my favorite trails for backpacking for views of Rainier are actually just outside the park!)
Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Lake Powell Area & Northern Arizona/Southern Utah border
Havasupai Falls (needs permit WELL in advance. Currently closed due to COVID)
It's also important to choose a few backup trails in the planning process as well! You never know what can happen with outdoor elopements and you don't want to be left scrambling due to a last minute change due to a road closure, fire, or weather related incident.
Tip 3: Pick a Date
This really depends on *where* you're getting married. Looking to elope in Washington? Then I'd suggest July to September! Want to say your vows in Alaska? Look at mid-June to early September. Or maybe the desert is more your style and you want to go to Utah or Arizona? Then I would definitely recommend either the spring or the fall to stay away from the heat! Or maybe you want to go somewhere more remote and wild (and not to mention unbelievably beautiful) like Patagonia? Well then their peak season is December through mid-March!
Tip 4: Know What Permits You'll Need
Certain trails require that you secure a permit to camp overnight, and on popular trails it can be competitive and you may have to apply for one many months in advance. If you have a specific trail in mind, research to see the requirements, if there is a permit lottery and when you need to apply by. Make sure to have several backup trails in mind in case you don't win the lottery. Keep in mind that in many cases they hold out a few tickets for a walk-up lottery system a day beforehand. Other trails may require a free wilderness permit that you simply fill out at the trailhead when you arrive, while others may not require one at all.
Then, you'll want to do your research to see if your chosen trail requires a permit to have a wedding ceremony or photography done (your photographer should help you with this). There are two main permits that are applicable here, a Special Use Permit to have the wedding ceremony itself, and a Photography Permit to have professional photography done, which may or may not be covered by the Special Use Permit. Each area and land agency has its own rules, so be sure to check with the correct agency in which you are eloping in.
Tip 5: Know What to Pack!
You'll probably have a heavier pack than usual when backpacking for your elopement- but it's alright! It's totally worth it to have a slightly heavier pack and to be able to have all the little extra pleasures on your wedding day to make it really special. Trust me, the extra weight is worth it in this case. I also recommend doing a run-through beforehand and practice packing everything you want to bring with you! That way you know if you have a big enough pack, if you need to cut back, or if you need to pack a little better. Here's a starting point of what to pack for your backpacking elopement:
Properly fitted backpacking pack (At least 60L)
Hiking Boots (broken in, with good tread)
Wool socks x2
Refillable Nalgene water bottle or Camelback
Water filter or tabs
Fleece or puffy
Fleece pants or long underwear (weather dependent)
Micro spikes (season/route dependent)
Snacks & meals
Camp stove + dishes (including fuel & matches)
Bear Canister (if necessary)
Bear Spray (if necessary)
First aid kit
Phone, External phone battery, downloaded Alltrails & Google Maps
GPS Navigation (like Garmin inReach)
Pillow (optional but so worth it)
Toiletries (some extras that you probably don't usually bring that are good to have here: dry shampoo, hair pins, stain remover, handheld mirror)/medicine
Trash Bags (if rain forecasted)
Large Ziploc for trash
Blue bags, toilet paper, trowel
Attire: Remember whatever you choose to wear on your elopement day, you have to pack it in! Regardless of what attire you choose, pick something that you LOVE, feels like you, and is comfortable to move around in.
Wedding Dress (If you choose to wear a gown, I suggest that you select something lightweight, and that is made from a fabric that doesn't wrinkly easily! Additionally, I recommend choosing a dress that is easy to move around in and isn't constricting around the hips. Try and imagine yourself hiking in it and stepping onto boulders and moving around in it when you're trying it on in the store!) Pro-Tip: When packing your dress up, you can loosely fold it in the top of your pack and wrap it in a waterproof bag if there's a chance of rain.
Suit (If you choose to wear a suit, I suggest that you select something that has some stretch and "give" in it, so it is also comfortable when hiking and moving around. Don't be afraid to choose fun colors and show your personality with it!)
Nude fleece leggings (if it's going to be chilly at your elopement destination, these are lifesavers to go under your wedding attire! It blends in with your skin and keeps you nice and warm)
Permit (if needed)
Rings & ring box
Accessories for both partners
Makeup & hair supplies
Blanket to sit on (optional)
Tip 6: Know How to Leave No Trace
This is super important! We have such a gigantic privilege in being able to access such amazing public lands in general and to be able to use them during your elopement day. Instead of paying thousands of dollars for a wedding venue, public lands are able to be used for nearly free. With that luxury, comes a massive responsibility- not only to care for the land, but to ensure it is protected in the long run.
Leave No Trace is a set of outdoor ethics and best practices that we all should follow to not only enjoy our public lands, but to protect them as well. Simply put, just leave it better than you originally found it.
Why should you care?
If you're getting married outside (and if you love backpacking you probably are already familiar with LNT!), it's probably because you're drawn to nature's beauty and love being outdoors. To ensure the places we all love so much stay beautiful so we can continue enjoying them over and over again is to make sure that we enjoy them sustainably & responsibly!
The seven principles of Leave No Trace are:
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Dispose of Waste Properly
Leave What You Find
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
I encourage you to learn more about how to keep our outdoors safe and best practices for recreating outdoors at https://lnt.org/.
Note: If you haven't done LNT perfectly in the past- that's okay! It isn't about being perfect or shaming people for past mistakes. It's about committing to learning how to better protect and preserve the lands and then trying to make more environmentally conscious choices in the future while education others about them.
Tip 7: Think About Any Other Details
Think about what other details you may want to include to make your day feel a little extra special and elevate it from feeling like another hike or backpacking trip! I highly recommend including things that are highly significant and unique to your own relationship- those are the things that will be the most memorable and hold the most intention. Some ideas of what you can include are:
Flowers! I love when couples bring bouquets, I think they're so fun and can add a nice splash of color to your photos. When choosing your florals, make sure to consider sturdier blooms that won't wilt, or drop petals as easily as some other varieties. Additionally, some locations have the stipulation that you must have native flowers or non-seeded varieties. Another good option is fake or dried flowers if you don't want to worry about these things! Pro-tip: when hiking with your bouquet, wrap your stems in a damp paper towel or terry cloth, put in a dry sack or Ziploc and then stuff the stems in an outer opening in your pack, making sure they go as far down as possible and that they are securely fastened on either side. You can also wrap around any straps and buckle them in if your pack has an extra strap. That way you can hike hands free!
Handwrite your vows in customized vow booklets. Having your vows written down makes such a beautiful, romantic memento that you can look back and reread for years to come as opposed to them being on your phone. It makes it that much more special (plus you won't have to worry about your phone battery dying on a long backpacking trip!).
Read letters from your friends and family not present. Ask your closest loved ones to write you a letter and bring it along with you to read sometime throughout your elopement trip.
Attach a "We Eloped" or "Just Married" etc. sign to your packs to hike around in or decorate your packs in some fun, unique way!
Bring your favorite food to make a really great dinner at camp or your favorite beer to drink under the stars.
Bring your favorite game to play together, or a small speaker to listen to your favorite songs when you're relaxing after saying your vows, or a book of poems to read together.
A hammock to relax in together after a long day of hiking!
Tip 8: If You're Doing Your Own Hair & Makeup- Practice Beforehand!
If you decide you want to do your own hair and makeup, I highly suggest practicing beforehand in order to feel more confident about it! There are a ton of YouTube videos for both makeup and hair that you can use to practice (and you can download them to your phone!), or you can go to a beauty counter and ask them to show you how to do it by yourself.
If you're saying your vows on the day you hike in, I know plenty of incredible hair and makeup artists who can work their magic and have your hair and makeup stay in place even after a long & hard hike! There's even some artists who will hike with you!
Want More Resources?
Ever wonder How Much Does an Elopement Cost?
Learn How to Elope in Alaska step by step and get tons of inspiration for eloping in Alaska!
Get ideas for your ceremony and how to make your elopement ceremony extra special!
Hire a Photographer for Your Backpacking Elopement
Hi! My name is Kathleen and I'm an adventure wedding and elopement photographer (and your new friend!). I'm here to help guide you to having the ultimate wedding day experience, and to document every single moment of it. I would love to help you plan your elopement and answer any questions you may have! Learn more about me or my Washington Elopement Packages.
Get in touch with me and let's start planning your dream adventure.