An uncharted run, a fresh hiking path and a kayak cruise are all outdoor adventures that are better with a buddy. And finding a sweaty soulmate can also boost your motivation to be active, found a study from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. When solo exercisers recruited a new workout pal to plug into whatever their chosen routines were, they started exercising an extra 90 minutes per week—likely thanks to the social support, say the researchers.
Now that tech is making it easier than ever to link up with like-minded sporty types for outings—try free apps such as Bvddy and FitMatch—the trick is zeroing in on the perfect pal for your exploits, both in skills and mind-set. Here’s what the pros say to put on your what-to-look-for list so you can meet your adventure match.
It goes without saying that you’ll have a better time if you’re with someone who can stay excited about the experience, even if things get tough, says Megan Kennedy, a senior guide with Discover Outdoors in New York City, a company that runs group hiking, climbing, paddling and multisport trips. “You can’t control the elements, so if it starts to rain, if something unexpected happens, or even if what you’re doing gets too hard, you’ll want to be with someone who is going to keep up the enthusiasm,” Kennedy says. That kind of energy rubs off on you too. “In general, we tend to take on the behavior of those around us, so their good vibes can perk you up,” says Thomas G. Plante, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Santa Clara University. But do yourself a favor and avoid going overboard with the cheerleading—too much verbal encouragement of the “You can do it!” variety can actually curb your enthusiasm if it feels condescending, a Kansas State University study found.
You may share an interest in the outdoors, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to connect over everything. “Some of the people I do outdoor activities with are much older or younger than those I would typically be friends with,” says Kennedy. But there’s a bonding that happens during outings which creates a certain type of friendship, she says, and it’s totally fine if you have no interest in going to happy hour with that same pal. Plus, when you pair up with someone who has a different skill set, you’ll be stronger together. The key here is to cast a wide net rather than just fish for people who fit the profile of your former college buddies.
The person you pick can also affect the level of your performance. “When people work out with someone they perceive as being fitter, they work out harder than they would if they were working out with someone they perceive as being less fit,” says Plante. The optimal partner? According to a study from Michigan State University, he or she should be “better” than you but not someone you think could easily leave you in the dust. “If your partner is too much better than you, working out with them feels unrealistic,” explains study author Brandon Irwin, Ph.D. But find a friend who can, say, go at your goal pace, and, his research suggests, it’s game on. When stationary-bike riders in the study were told their virtual partner had lasted 40 percent longer in a cycling sprint, they rode nearly twice as long in their next sprint as they had initially. Not only that, but they continued to improve over the next six sessions.
Your best bet for hunting down a potential playmate? Do a no-stress trial run. “We always have people who show up on their own for our trips,” Kennedy says. “Most of them are just looking to break into a new hobby and don’t know anyone else who does it.” So no, it’s not weird if you turn up for a group hike solo. She’s seen many clients join on their own and quickly discover their tribe of outdoor friends, who then wind up spending many weekends adventuring together. Kennedy recommends looking for local activity centers like Discover Outdoors or browsing Meetup (meetup.com) for guided outdoor activities or run clubs in your area. Also check with outdoor-gear retailers such as REI (rei.com) that host trips. Soon you’ll find your buddy, and you two will be confident enough to cruise on your own.