HOW TO PLAN A HIKING WEDDING
BY CHAD AND VANESSA,‘THE OUTLOVERS’: YOUR ELOPEMENT AND SMALL WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY TEAM
PLANNING A HIKING WEDDING: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUTWHERE TO GO, WHAT TO WEAR, GEAR RECOMMENDATIONS…
As massive outdoor lovers ourselves we are HUGE fans of hiking weddings. We think it’s such a special way to commit yourselves to each other!
We know that for a lot of couples, getting ‘lost’ out in nature is where you find absolute peace.
It’s where you connect at your deepest level, not only with each other but with something ‘bigger’ than yourselves, whatever that means for you.
So, of course you want to set off on a hike to share your vows in the most spectacular of locations.
We’re going to show you how to do just that!
YOUR ELOPEMENT TEAM
Photography, planning assistance, ceremony officiation.
Hey! We’re Chad and Vanessa, ‘The Outlovers’.
We’re an adventurous Colorado and Utah elopement photography team, adventuring with couples across the US and worldwide.
We create epic elopement experiences for adventure-seeking couples who find their deepest connection in the great outdoors.
What is a hiking wedding?
Well, a wedding day where you get out hiking. Obviously, duhhhh.
Seriously, though, it’s important to define more precisely what we mean when we call something a ‘hiking wedding’ before we go into the details of how to plan one.
So, for the purposes of this blog post, we are NOT talking about a half-mile stroll down a nicely paved trail to get to a cool viewpoint.
We’re talking about a multi-mile adventure where just nipping back to the car if you forget something is no longer an option.
A hiking wedding like THAT takes a lot more forethought and planning.
Why choose a hiking wedding?
Oh, there are SO many reasons why we think hiking weddings are the absolute BEST.
Here are our top 3 reasons to incorporate a hike into your wedding day:
- It’s so darned ‘you’.
We are all about couples choosing to celebrate their marriage in a way that feels meaningful to them, even if – especially if – that means totally breaking away from the status quo.
So, if you and your partner thrive on outdoor adventure and hiking is one of the activities you enjoy the most together, then it only makes sense to include it on your wedding day.
- Escape the crowds
As outdoor elopements become more and more popular, a lot of the ‘hotspots’ are becoming uncomfortably crowded. Fortunately, most people don’t want to venture too far on their wedding day. Which is a total WIN for those of you who do!
As soon as you disappear even a mile or two down a trail, the crowds immediately start thinning out and it becomes much easier to find somewhere peaceful and private to share your vows. Go another few miles beyond that and there’s even a chance you’ll have the place entirely to yourselves!
- Epic scenery
We are ALL about choosing the great outdoors as your wedding venue. We’re pretty sure there’s no better backdrop.
And by getting out hiking, you can really immerse yourself in that stunning scenery.
It’s one thing to pull up to a parking lot and admire the view. It’s another thing entirely to really get out there and be a PART of it.
While we think hiking weddings are awesome, they are NOT for everyone and that’s totally OK.
Do NOT sign yourself up for a hiking wedding just because it’s ‘trendy’ or because your partner really wants to but you personally HATE hiking. Trust us, that will not make for a good start to your marriage!
There are PLENTY of other ways to enjoy yourself on your elopement day if hiking is not your thing.
Check out 80 Awesome Elopement Ideas for inspiration.
How to plan your hiking wedding
Ok, so you’ve decided a hiking wedding is a great idea for you and your partner.
How the heck do you plan such a thing?
We’ve broken it down step by step and share all our best advice to help you create the most epic hiking wedding.
Decide if you’re bringing guests to your hiking wedding
This is a really important first step as it will have an impact on everything else that follows.
If you’re opting for a ‘just us’ elopement then you only have to consider your own abilities and your own needs moving forwards.
However, if you’re planning to bring even a few guests you’ll need to consider them, too.
That’s not to say you CAN’T have a hiking wedding with guests: you totally can and we’d love to help you choose an ideal location.
It’s just to say that if you’re inviting your 90-year-old grandma, well, unless she’s majorly badass, you’re probably not going to be undertaking a ten-miler or summiting a 14-er on your wedding day!
You’ll need to find something that EVERYONE is capable of and that EVERYONE will actually enjoy.
Choose a general location and a time of year for your hiking wedding
These two things go hand in hand and one may well dictate the other.
Are you 100% set on getting married in August, for example? Awesome: we’re going to recommend going somewhere like the cooler Colorado mountains over the scorching Moab desert at that time of year.
Or are you totally flexible with dates but reeeeeeally want to get married in Glacier National Park? In that case, we’re going to advise the summer months as the whole place can shut down once the snow kicks in later in the season.
If you’re not really sure where you’d like your hiking wedding to be, let the pros help you!
This is our job, it’s what we know and love and we have a TON of ideas to share with you.
The first thing we’re going to do is figure out what kind of environment sings to you: do you want forests, do you want mountains, desert, lakes… Once we know that, we’ll start drawing up a customized location list of places we think you might enjoy.
Here’s just a handful of general areas we LOVE for a hiking wedding:
- The Moab desert in Utah.
Check out our Ultimate Guide to Your Moab Elopement
- The Blue Ridge mountains in North Carolina
Check out a recent session we shot there, the views are INSANE!
- Pretty much anywhere in Colorado!
Check out our Ultimate Colorado Elopement Guide
Pinpoint the exact hike you’re going to do
Once you’ve got a rough location in mind, we can start figuring out the exact hike you’d like to go on for your wedding.
A few things you might want to think about:
- How many miles do you want to tackle?
Is this going to be a short 2-3 mile round trip for a private first look, joining your family later on for your ceremony?
Is it going to be a full day hike covering many miles out to your ceremony spot?
Do you want to go all out with a MULTI day adventure, truly making the most out of your chosen location?
- What is your experience level?
We recommend we plan a wedding hike that is well within your personal experience level.
Now is not the time to try and push out 10 or 15 miles in a day if you’ve never done more than 2 before!
It is not the time to try out technical climbing if previously you’ve not done more than scramble.
Nor is it the time to go to serious elevation if you’ve spent your entire life at sea level.
There are hikes to suit ALL levels and abilities and we will help find the right one for YOU.
We’re simply not willing to gamble your SAFETY or your HAPPINESS on your wedding day.
- What level of privacy would you like?
Are you ok with a few people milling around while you share your vows or would you prefer somewhere much more isolated?
If you’re looking for seclusion, we always recommend staying away from the most popular trails or the ‘Instagram hotspots’. There are plenty of lesser known trails that have equally gorgeous views.
Or, like we said before, put in a few extra miles to increase your chances of privacy.
- What time of day would you like to hike?
Some locations are best at sunset, some are best at sunrise and, if you’re lucky, some are just plain old gorgeous at any time of day! Knowing when you’re willing to hike will help pinpoint which trails might be best suited to you.
If you’re game for an early rise, we love sunrise ceremonies as another great tactic for beating the crowds.
We use a ton of online ‘scouting tools’ to help us find the best of the best hikes for our couples. We find using something like AllTrails is a really good starting point. You can read reviews and look at photos to get a sense of how busy the trail might be or what time of day it’s best at.
If you hire us as your hiking wedding photographers we will do all the leg work for you.
We spend a LOT of time getting out and about exploring and we’re constantly finding cool new places we’d love to share with you.
We also spend hours upon hours (often days!) doing online research to draw up a personalized location list just for you.
All you have to do is pick your favorite!
Figure out permitting for your chosen location for your hiking wedding
Depending if you’re planning on getting married in a National Park, on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, or within a National Forest, there will be different permitting rules that you must abide by.
The systems can be super confusing but, don’t worry, we can help you with all this! As part of our planning assistance service, we will be sure all the necessary permits are in order.
There are three types of permit to be aware of:
- ‘Special use’ permits
This is a permit that YOU the couple needs in order to conduct a wedding ceremony at a given location. You will need to fill in the application form and submit payment well in advance of your planned hiking wedding.
REMEMBER: we will walk you through this, you just have to sign in the right place!
- Commercial photography permits
This is a permit that allows us to work as your professional photographers during your hiking wedding. WE will take care of this ourselves and all associated costs are included in our packages.
- Individual hike permits
Depending on your chosen hike, there may be a required day-use/backcountry/wilderness/camping permit.
They’re designed to manage the number of people hitting up an area at any given time: sometimes these are free, sometimes they come with a price tag.
If it’s a popular hike with limited permits available, you’ll want to be sure to apply well in advance.
Consider ‘Leave No Trace’ principles for your hiking wedding
Leave No Trace is an awesome philosophy aimed at encouraging us all to act as stewards for the public lands we love so much.
We want to ensure that your hiking wedding has as little impact as possible on the natural environment.
So, take a minute to think about the particular hike you’ve chosen and how you can best protect your surroundings.
For example, if you’re planning to hike to an alpine meadow in spring, you’ll want to be super careful not to squash the wildflowers. The best thing to do is always stay on established trails!
Or if you’re planning a hiking wedding in the Moab desert, it’s super important not to step on the ‘cryptobiotic’ soil crust. Instead, you’ll want to stick to rocks or sandy washes.
Some general rules will always apply: we will ALWAYS pack out what we pack in and we will ALWAYS respect other visitors and their experience as well as our own.
Leave No Trace is really important to us as your outdoor adventure wedding photographers and it’s something we believe deeply in.
We will always do our best to help you to understand the implications of LNT principles on the hike you’ve chosen and we’ll strive to make it as easy as possible for you to interact with your natural environment responsibly.
Make sure you have the right basic hiking gear for your hiking wedding
If you’re already seasoned hikers you may well have a lot of the necessary basics already.
If not, we recommend buying things well in advance and really ‘breaking them in’ before the day of your hiking wedding. You want to be confident that everything fits well and is comfortable.
Here’s some of the items you may want to consider:
- A well-fitting backpack
- Comfortable, sturdy hiking boots or shoes
This is one of the most important items you’ll invest in. Spend some time trying out a load of different styles and fits.
You want to be sure that the footwear you choose is supportive and has good traction. Bonus points if it looks cute in photos!
And, remember, buy your boots or shoes well in advance and put a good few practice miles on them before your hiking wedding day to avoid blisters.
Our recommended brands:
- Hydration system
It’s SUPER important you stay well-hydrated during your hiking wedding adventure. This is always the case, but especially so if:
1. You’re putting in some serious physical effort
2. You’re hiking somewhere hot
3. You’re hiking at altitude.
Dehydration is a major contributing factor towards altitude sickness and poses a major safety concern. We do NOT want to be evacuating you from a mountaintop on your wedding day!
We’ve found that you’re much more likely to drink water consistently and stay properly hydrated if you have a hydration pack with a water bladder and a hose you can sip from rather than a water bottle you have to take in and out of your backpack.
Our recommended brands:
- Trekking poles
If you’re going to be hiking on rough terrain and/or have any serious elevation gain on your hike, you’re going to find trekking poles an absolute lifesaver. Not only will poles provide stability and prevent you from taking a stumble, they’ll protect your poor knees as you make your way back down at the end of the day.
Choose poles that are lightweight and fold up small: that way you can strap them to your pack when you’re not using them.
Check out this great article by Switchback Travel for great pole recommendations.
- Micro spikes
If you’re planning a winter wedding or elopement, and there’s ANY chance of snow or ice, we seriously recommend you bring a set of micro-spikes with you. These just slip over the soles of your boots and provide extra traction so you don’t slip and slide all the way to your ceremony!
We personally use these ones by Yak Trax and love them.
No matter what environment you’re hiking in, you’re going to need a variety of different layers: temperatures can always change, different weather can move in and varying levels of activity can mean you warm up or cool down.
For your comfort and safety, you want to be sure you can maintain a comfortable body temperature at all times. Being able to quickly add or remove layers makes this easy!
If you book us for your hiking elopement or intimate wedding, we’re going to send you a full, detailed packing list as part of the planning process.
For now, this short article by REI is a great starting point for understanding how to layer smartly.
Be sure to include some cute-looking layers that you wouldn’t mind staying on for photos if necessary. Fitted puffer jackets, mittens, ear muffs and cozy blankets are all great options.
BONUS TIP: If there’s the potential for it to be cold on your wedding day and you are opting for a dress, layering up with a pair of nude fleece leggings underneath is a great idea. You honestly can’t even tell in photos!
- Sun protection
Whether you’re getting married on a mountaintop in Colorado or in the desert of Utah, you’re going to want to consider adequate sun protection. Even in winter, if the sun is bouncing off the snow it can really take its toll on a multi-mile hike.
We suggest always packing sunscreen, chapstick with SPF, polarized sunglasses and a cap or hat with a brim.
- Head lamps
Normally for our hiking weddings, we recommend you try and catch at least the sunrise or sunset, if not both! They’re such beautiful, magical times of the day and make for the most stunning photos.
It’s important to carry a good headlamp so you can make your way up or down the trail in the dark whilst still keeping your hands free.
We use this one by Black Diamond and are super happy with it.
Choose suitable wedding attire for your hiking wedding
Will you hike in your wedding clothes or get changed once you arrive at your ceremony location?
There’s no right or wrong answer here but it’s a good idea to decide in advance as it may impact the type of clothing you choose for your wedding.
If it’s a short hike, by all means get the most out of your wedding clothes and wear them all the way!
We generally advise, however, that if the hike to your ceremony site is longer than a mile or two, or if it has some serious elevation gain, it’s a better idea to pack your wedding clothes and get changed when you arrive.
That way you won’t be sweating all the way and turn up a bedraggled mess!
With any hiking wedding, be sure to factor in plenty of time to cool down and relax on arrival BEFORE changing into your wedding clothes.
If you’re wearing a dress, choose a suitable fabric and style
As a general rule, you’ll want to avoid anything too tight or too structured as it will limit your movement and impact your breathing while you’re having fun scrambling around on your wedding day.
A hiking wedding is not the time for a strapless, corset-style ball gown!
Instead, you’ll want to opt for softer, stretchier fabrics, ideally with a looser more ‘flowy’ fit. Not only are these far more comfortable and far more practical, they also look STUNNING in the outdoors as the wind whips up the lighter fabric.
Maybe you don’t want to wear a typical long wedding dress at all?
A hiking wedding is the perfect opportunity to rock a jumpsuit, a pantsuit, a short dress or even a cute romper. You’ll look awesome AND be super comfortable striding around!
For men, we suggest a layering approach: a shirt, a vest and a suit jacket for example. This will give you the most flexibility. Or if it’s hot, you can ditch some of the layers and rock a set of suspenders or a cool tie/bowtie!
For both men and women, we’re going to recommend you do the main part of the hike in proper boots or shoes.
If you want, you can then change into something more ‘dressy’ for your ceremony. (though personally, we love the juxtaposition of hiking boots matched with formal attire!).
Even then, we do NOT suggest high heels! You’re going to be on uneven terrain and don’t want to risk tackling the return hike with a sprained ankle.
Better you choose something flat and comfortable. Remember, if you’re wearing a dress no one is going to even see your shoes 99% of the time!
Draw up a detailed packing list
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s think about all the extra gear you might need. If you’re already a seasoned hiker, you’ll know there’s a lot of stuff you need to carry in order to get out hiking responsibility.
Sit together with your partner and brainstorm every last thing you could possibly need. You need to be ready for every ‘what if’, ‘just in case’ scenario.
Remember, if you’re working with us as your hiking wedding photographers we’re going to send you a detailed list you can work from.
Here’s some of the essentials you’ll want to consider:
Essential Wedding Ceremony Items
We’re going to put this right at the very top of your packing list:
- Wedding License (plus pens!)
- Vow Books
Now repeat these items in your head a thousand times over and DO. NOT. FORGET. THEM.
How much food and what type will depend on how long your hike is. You’ll also want to pack extra to allow for an increased appetite from hiking plus some spare just in case.
For a shorter hike, a few select snacks might be sufficient: try to choose compact, high energy foods such as nuts, dried fruit, chocolate and granola bars.
For longer hikes, you’ll need full meals. You could take something easy to pack like a pasta salad if it’s a day hike, or dehydrated ready-made meals if you’re doing an overnight trip.
This is your wedding day!! And we’re going to celebrate the heck out of it.
So, for sure, let’s make sure to bring some yummy goodies to feast on after your ceremony.
We love it when our couples bring picnic supplies with them. A blanket, a bottle of bubbles, cheeses, meats and a French stick make for a pair of very happy newly-weds we find!
Depending on the hike, you could even bring a cake to cut as part of your celebrations!
We’ve even had couples pack in donuts for breakfast.
Your wedding day, your choices!
If you’re doing a short hike with friends and family, you could have everyone bring a surprise dish and have a pot-luck style picnic.
First Aid/Emergency Equipment
We ALWAYS carry a first aid kit with us when we’re working, even if it’s just a half mile wander from the car park. You never know when you might need it!
We also carry a Garmin InReach GPS with emergency satellite SOS communication.
Lastly, we carry bear spray if we’re in an area where they might be a concern.
Personal Prep Kit
We suggest packing a toiletry bag with all the little things that could come in handy while you’re getting ready. And save-the-day items if a button pops on your dress or if you drip your coffee on your shirt. We’re talking the likes of: safety pins, Tide pens, tissues, bobby pins/hair ties, a mini mirror, makeup for touch ups and a hair brush.
Make sure you have a physical day-of checklist you can actually mark things off on. Call us old-fashioned but we’re talking a good old pen and paper list. A clear, point by point checklist of all the things that under absolutely no circumstances are you leaving the house without!
Hire your pros
We find that by their nature, hiking weddings are typically less complex, with few moving parts than a ‘normal’ wedding.
You probably won’t have a bazillion different vendors to coordinate!
In general, we’d say make sure your pros have the experience, the capability and the willingness to tackle the hike you’re interested in for your wedding day. You want to work with a cool team of individuals who are as excited and capable as you are!
As your photographers, we also guide you through the planning process and will help you find vendors up to the task of supporting you on your hiking wedding day.
Here’s some of the professionals you might want to hire:
An Adventure Wedding Photographer
Obviously we’re biased, but if you’re going to have the adventure of a lifetime you’re gonna want the ability to REMEMBER if for a lifetime, right?
Images that capture the essence of YOU and YOUR sense of adventure will allow you to reflect on this incredible day long after your once-vivid memories are starting to fade.
We specialize in super-small weddings and elopements in the great outdoors and are active hikers ourselves. We love nothing more than helping couples plan the adventurous hiking wedding of their wildest dreams.
You certainly don’t need to have flowers to have a beautiful wedding, but if you would like a bouquet/boutonniere or any other florals, be sure to choose a florist who knows how to select hardy flowers that will go the distance without wilting or breaking.
An alternative solution is to use faux or dried flowers. Check out these realistic silk bouquets on Etsy. You’d seriously never know the difference. And bonus: you can keep them afterwards as a souvenir from your day!
Choose a backpack with lots of pockets and lots of straps. That way we can strap your bouquet to your backpack for your hike and keep your hands free for scrambling!
If you intend for this to be your legal wedding day and wish to sign the papers during your ceremony, you may need an officiant to attend. This varies from state to state: in Colorado, for example, you don’t need an officiant to legally marry: you are allowed to ‘self-solemnize’ and don’t even need witnesses. We will advise you on the state legalities as part of the planning process.
If you DO need an officiant it can be challenging to find an officiant willing and able to tackle the hike you’ve got in mind.
A Professional Guide
Whether or not you need a professional guide will depend on the area you want to hike in and your experience level.
Although we are experienced hikers ourselves, we are NOT professional guides. If the hike you’re interested in sounds beyond your normal level of expertise and our own, we’re going to ask you to hire a professional to lead us.
So, yeah, if you want to tackle Everest Base Camp we are ALL IN. But you’re going to need to hire a pro.
Alright, you’ve made a plan for your hiking wedding. Now make a PLAN B!
It’s essential that, as a couple planning a hiking wedding, you stay completely flexible and willingly accept when plans need to change.
It may be that in the lead up to your hiking wedding, wildfires sweep the region and your trail is no longer accessible.
It may be that on the morning of your hiking wedding we wake up to unexpected heavy snow and the roads to your trail are closed off.
It may be that half-way to your ceremony site a lightning storm rolls in and we’re forced to retreat.
It’s the great outdoors, it’s nature.
Anything can happen at any time and we, as teeny tiny humans, are not in control of that.
As your photographers, we always have a Plan B, and quite often a C and D, too.
This is all part of the adventure and if you embrace it as such and roll with the punches you’ll have the hiking wedding adventure of a lifetime!
Alright, there you have it: all our best advice for planning an epic hiking wedding. We hope this has got you feeling inspired and motivated! Let’s do this thing!
We would love to create an epic elopement experience for you! We provide planning assistance, photography and officiation for adventure-seeking couples across the US and worldwide. Get in touch to start brainstorming with us!
Chad & Vanessa, ‘The Outlovers’