How to plan a hiking proposal

So, you love your partner. A lot. You also love the outdoors. It seems only natural that you’d want to make this moment of commitment in the mountains. But, let’s be honest, you want photos of yourself looking like a badass while you propose on top of that mountain. Let’s talk through all you need to make that hiking proposal perfect.

When should you do a hiking proposal?

This is an important question to ask because it very much depends on where you are going (see the next topic) and when you want to propose. At least here in the PNW, you might not want to do a mountaintop proposal in the springtime because that’s when the weather is volatile and it’s pretty common for it to be in the middle of snowmelt. Basically, it’s a balancing act of what you want out of the experience with when is the area you’re going best available.

What time of day should you do a hiking proposal?

Usually, when we go hiking, we get up early-ish, hit the trail with the goal of getting home mid-afternoon. That’s pretty normal for a hike, right? Well, if that’s when everyone else is going to be doing the hike, do you want to propose to an audience? It’s totally OK if that answer is yes, but it’s something you should ask yourself.

If not, then you should consider starting REAAAAAALLY early for a sunrise hike or planning to start late and stay for evening/sunset time. Either way, that will add a little bit of challenge of hiking in the dark (so make sure you’re prepared), but you’re going to have fewer other folks at the destination. And your photographer here is definitely more excited about the colors at sunrise and sunset than mid-day.

How do you pick a spot for a hiking proposal?

First, let’s pick the spot. There are a few guidelines that I would start with. First, do you already have a hike you like? Is there a spot that is special or a hike that you’ve been talking about doing? Picking places that are already important to you are vital to picking a great proposal location.

But, if you don’t have a spot already figured out, that’s totally fine. In that case, the most important question to ask is “what are we physically capable of?” I know that there is awesome stuff and the bigger, further, deeper, higher you go, the more epic the photos, but know yourself. What is the last hike you went on? How sweaty were you when you finished? How out of breath are you? Has the Quarantine-15 been an issue in your household? No one wants to get to a mountaintop and have to catch your breath for 20 minutes before proposing (or have a partner who will be angry that their pit-sweat is showing in the photos).

In Washington State, the best tool to help with that is the WTA map. Just open it and then you can adjust the settings to only show the particular types of hikes you’re looking for.

How to plan your hiking proposal

As I mentioned above, by now, you should have a location and a timeframe picked out. Hopefully it’s something that’s both personal and going to be the right season for the location. The next thing is to plan the day. If you’re hiring a photographer, you need to make a decision on where to actually propose. 

Usually, when I’m doing almost all other aspects of photography, I suggest that folks think about their environment first. If it’s an engagement session, let’s think about how to be there during an off-peak time. On wedding days, how can we find calm spots to get away. 

But, when it comes to a proposal, you’re going to be pretty tunnel-visioned for about 2 minutes. You will barely notice anyone else. So, with that, think about the photos first. If you’re doing a hiking one, you probably are picking the spot based on the view. You and the photographer need to make a plan of where they’re going to be, where you will be and how you’re going to orient yourself. 

First, let’s talk about where the photographer is going to be. This is something that is going to be the balance of the proposal location, the angle of the ground change and what you want as a background.

Once you know where the photographer is and what is going to be the background, it’s easy to find your spot to propose. My best suggestion with this is to slightly try to angle the person you’re proposing towards the camera. It’s easy to just be perpendicular to the camera, but just 15 degrees can really help your photographer be able to see their face and capture their emotions.

Google images of Lake Ingalls for Hiking Proposal

For all this, I usually use Google Earth and then some screenshots. Once we which hike picked out, I go to the destination on Google Earth and just start looking around. It’s also helpful to use Google Image Search just to get a few ideas of what people see there. With those two, you can move around until you have a spot picked out. Then, just switch to top down and take a screenshot.

I then open that screenshot in a photo editor and draw on it exactly where I want people to be. Again, the more details we can plan, the better.

What to wear during a hiking proposal

I do a lot of adventure engagements or elopements. But, because both parties know that’s happening, it’s easy to bring extra clothes to change into at the top. If you’re proposing, you’re probably going to do it in your hiking clothes. So, wear black. Or have jackets to put on when you reach your destination. I would suggest avoiding hats though. 

That said, pack your bag with some casual clothes (and a bottle of bubbly). Once you’ve actually proposed, you can quickly change into something a little more natural and make a few extra photos with your photographer before heading down.

You don’t have cell service

Remember, you won’t have contact with your photographer. For city proposals, it’s really helpful to get updates as people are headed towards the proposal location. That isn’t possible in the mountains. So, here are a few things to help keep stuff on track.

Before you leave, tell your photographer what you’ll be wearing, especially a distinguishing feature. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to tell them everything, but knowing that you wear a red backpack while your partner wears red shoes is usually enough to connect you. Also, ask your photographer what they’ll be wearing. That way, when you arrive, everyone knows who is who.

Lastly, have a cut off time planned. A “something happened and this day isn’t happening” time. If something terrible happens (you get a flat tire or someone rolls an ankle), you don’t want to leave your photographer up at the summit forever. Definitely have that be a few hours. But, if I’m supposed to have a proposal at 3, making an agreement that if you haven’t arrived by 5, something probably happened and the plan is off is helpful.

Honestly, this is basically the same thing as whenever I go hiking alone, my partner makes me give her a “call search and rescue” time.

Other things to consider with a hiking proposal

Should I bring my dog to my hiking proposal?

If you have a fur baby (or a real baby), this might not be the best hike for them. That just adds extra chaos to the plan for the day. It is also hard because you might be trying to get down on one knee, but the pup is pulling you towards the treats in the backpack. Also, it just adds more chaos to the day. It isn’t a normal hike, so doing what you can to help eliminate those extra stresses go a long way.

It is pretty common for folks to bring dogs on to their engagement sessions. The difference is that for those planned events, its’ easy to bring along another friend to be the dog-handler. So, with that logic, if you plan on having other friends along to celebrate your proposal, then it could work to bring the 4 legged friend too.

What should I do with the ring before I propose?

This seems like a silly question but think about it. Obviously, you don’t want to lose the ring. You’re on a hike. You need to make sure that it’s being secured in a place that is safe. So, if you’re going to put it in a pocket or the backpack, make sure that that pocket has a zipper and that there is nothing else in that pocket. You don’t want to open that at all on the hike. And pick a pocket that isn’t visible. The breast pocket on your jacket is secure, but they’ll get a little suspicious if there is a big cube sticking out of your chest.

But, if you pick a pocket, make sure it’s on something your partner won’t touch. That is easier if it’s on your person because they’re less likely to accidentally open that particular zipper. But, if it’s in a pack, just make sure it’s a pack that is a little hard to reach and that nothing is held there.

But also, it’s totally OK that you’re a little nervous. Having a good spot that isn’t easily accessible during the hike will keep you from that hesitation to check that it’s there, be awkward about it, or just keep touching that pocket. Set it and forget it.

What else should we bring for a hiking proposal?

Let’s start with the most important thing, a towel. It can be a fancy hiking towel, just a small hand towel or baby wipes. Maybe it isn’t part of your character, but having that to quickly clean up the sweat will go a long way. You’re just minutes from proposing, even if it starts to tip your hand, it’s more likely to be an exciting element of “oh, look at you planning ahead! Thank you!” instead.

Aside from the 10 essentials for hiking, also consider fun elements. Do you want champagne? Do you want an awesome cheese board? If you’re going to make a few photos with your new fiance, it might be worth bringing an extra, light shirt/dress. Those are easy changes, that can make for even more epic photos!

Don’t forget to Leave No Trace

Even though this whole day is your story in the mountains, you’re a part of the greater community enjoying this space. It’s always a good idea to read up on the LNT guidelines every year. And know that I, as a strong believer in NLT principles, will never encourage you to do anything that will endanger the flora or fauna around us.

How to plan your hiking proposal

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