88

Please note, I don't want to be mean or anything and I don't want to go "fat shaming" or things like that.

Context

With my SO and a couple of friends, we planned a hike for this summer. The GR20 is one of the most difficult hikes in Europe and is usually done in two weeks. I just offered to another friend to join us and he has automatically proposed to his girlfriend to come along too. She was there when I asked my friend, so they both said they would probably join us.

Issue

His girlfriend is overweight and doesn't have any experience in hiking trips (maybe 2-3 hours hikes/walking, but nothing relevant). I don't think that her coming with us is a good idea. Usually, for this kind of trip, you need to know everyone in the group very well and be sure that they will keep up with the pace. I'm also pretty sure that she can't physically do it right now without some training, but it will be impossible to reach for this summer.

Question: How can I bring the subject up with my friend without offending him or his girlfriend?

EDIT (since conversation has been moved to chat)

I was actually being nice by saying overweight and I know this term could mislead you on what I mean because medically she is "obese". Also there is really nothing personal with her. Once we have started the hike, we can't go back (obviously we can, but it's not the point). Hiking with someone you can't trust or be sure of will cause troubles. It could be dangerous for her, or anybody in the group. I can't risk that, the hike is dangerous itself on its own. The boyfriend is not that experienced too so maybe he can't assess the risks properly for her.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Catija Mar 15 '18 at 20:25
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    Did you consider relationship aspects between your friend and his girlfriend? Maybe he felt compelled to ask her to join because she would frown upon / refuse to let him go on vacation for two weeks without her? – Dubu Mar 16 '18 at 12:24
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    @Dubu yes, that's probably what happens. And I understand that but the issue remains. – iFlo Mar 16 '18 at 12:27
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    FYI, even if you use the term obese, it doesn't necessarily indicate lack of fitness. I'm very much in the obese category according to such metrics, but I powerlift and walk everywhere (no car) and do lots of other active things. Please stop assuming the weight alone disqualifies her. – Ash Mar 19 '18 at 0:01
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    @Ash Theres a difference between muscle weight and fat. If it would be all muscle weight, OP wouldn't ask the question, why are you feeling that offended? For some types of sport - lower weight is often better. Hiking/Running is one of them. – Xatenev Mar 19 '18 at 14:30

16 Answers 16

162

Make the conversation about experience . . . and baby steps.

I'm a regular runner. I compete at a DIII school, and I've been running for . . . maybe eight years now. I've been both the overeager person and the person trying to hold back someone who's overeager. It's kind of a difficult situation for everyone, sometimes exacerbated if the other runner is coming back from an injury and has set a pretty substantial goal for themselves.

A lot of runners want to try to go really far or fast really quickly. If you start from zero miles a week and try to get to forty a week in your first week of running . . . you're going to get injured really quickly. It doesn't matter if you're fat or skinny; you're simply not in shape. Doing too much too fast is not a good thing.

They key is to be encouraging by also matter-of-fact. At the same time, point out that it's not necessarily about weight; it's about the fact that this person has little hiking experience. I'm not sure of the exact phrasing you could use, but should certainly point out that this is (I'm assuming) a widely-regarded difficult climb. If it's renowned for being hard even for experienced climbers, mention that. But don't make it about fatness; that has the potential for awkwardness.

You can also - secondarily - encourage the girlfriend to take some baby steps, as it were. A straight "You're too fat to do this" is really going to discourage them from climbing at all. So what you can do is give them some ideas for doing some beginner climbs. Maybe talk about how you first learned techniques, and even - if you have time before the start of the summer - go with them on a shortish hike. baldPrussian actually suggested also doing a hike that's a bit more difficult: a "training hike". That can better help your friend's girlfriend understand her limits, and better figure out where she's at in terms of climbing fitness - as well as giving her a bit of a satisfying challenge.

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    @HDE226868 Given the gravity of the hike OP proposes to do, I'd even make a training hike or two mandatory to participate. 'If you want to do the big one with us, we have to practice at least once/twice/x times together. I can't take someone along on the hardest trail in an entire continent without being sure that they've successfully hiked something easier with me. I need to be sure that we're all properly prepared for this." – baldPrussian Mar 15 '18 at 15:05
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    Instead of calling it a "training hike", call it a "dry run to check everyone's gear". That takes away from the "you're too inexperienced" thing, and makes it about "let's just check everything". And if it does turn out she can't hack it, at least there isn't an "I told you so" cloud hanging over the group. – Graham Mar 15 '18 at 19:00
72

The website for that hike has a great page on the required fitness:

Is the GR20 for you?

The minimum capability is:

You should be able to walk 3h00 steeply uphill, followed by a 3h00 descent on rocky ground, whilst carrying a rucksack of around 10+ kilos. You need to be at ease scrambling, walking on scree and large blocks. Below are some relevant UK walks.

Then it lists several UK hikes that help you evaluate an individuals fitness:

  • Ascending Snowdon by Grib Gock [sic, Crib Goch].
  • Descending from Blencathra in the lakes by Sharp Edge.
  • Scrambling along the Aonach Eagach ridge in Glen Coe.

These are excellent day hikes and not only will you show the kind of exertion the big hike will take daily, but those of you with more experience will be able to refine your equipment and skills.

As such I recommend you plan for at least two required "shake out" hikes before the big trip, planned close together (maybe one week apart) to give you enough time to fix equipment problems between, but not so much time that the difficulty and aches and pains from the previous hike will be completely gone and forgotten. Make sure everyone's pack weighs at least 10kilos.

Make it clear to the group that if, by the second hike, it appears someone is having a hard time dealing with the effort that they should withdraw and plan on training for a to be determined big hike a few years later. There's no shame in withdrawing, but there would be a big problem if someone couldn't maintain the group's pace during the smaller day hike.

Be open and honest, and accept that someone might get their feelings hurt - that's far better than having to split up during the big hike, medical issues, or even having to end the big hike early.

If she doesn't bow out herself, make some backup plans. Create a plan that has you at certain locations by certain times, and if she can't keep up create plans for evacuation for them at points along the trail. If they need to rest for a day, continue on indicating that you intend to keep to the schedule.

Alternately, make a plan for them to join you for only a day or two at a time during portions of the hike, rather than the entire journey. Have them book nearby hotels and sightseeing for the days they aren't hiking with you.

38

Whether they get offended or not is not completely under your control. While it's not "fat shaming" to say that she's overweight, you don't need to mention it directly - be polite about it, and try your best to be diplomatic, however some people may still react poorly - such is life. This person may suffer some injuries, or generally have a bad time if she engages in this activity. Better to hurt their feelings than have them collapse from exhaustion on a mountainside.

I would start by forwarding some material to your friend about just how difficult the hike is. Forward it to the whole group, along with comments along the lines of:

Guys, this is one of the most challenging hikes in all of Europe. It will take up about two weeks in which we will be ascending to an altitude of X, which will really tax your systems. We have x more weeks until we set off, and I would encourage each of you to start working out in preparation. Try to jog a few KM every week, etc. We will be miles away from any help, and if any of us are injured it will be a big problem, so for the sake of yourselves, and all those around you, you have to be able to handle yourself, and your gear.

By painting a very stark picture of the realities of this hike you may well discourage this person from attending. However, if they don't get the hint, then you'll have to sit your friend down and be honest with him:

John, I have to be frank with you. When I invited you on this hike I did not have your girlfriend joining us in mind. I understand that you want to include her in the group activity, however, as the group leader, and the most experienced mountaineer in our group, I have to say that I have major misgivings about having her with us. She does not have the experience or stamina to make this hike in the time-frame that we are pushing for, and she will likely hurt herself if she tries to meet this challenge with no prior training.

You might also point out that if two days in they can't keep up anymore, then he and her will have to return to the starting point all on their own, which would be highly unpleasant, especially if she has a twisted ankle, etc.

At that point it's on him how to approach his girlfriend and resolve the situation. He may well choose not to participate such that the blow to her is softened.

However, if he does not have that conversation with her, fails to convince her that it's not in her best interest to attend, or is otherwise unrealistic as to the reality of the situation, I would - as the group leader - talk to him again and tell him that you refuse to take them out on the mountain with you. The well being of the group is on your shoulders, and you should not take someone who is unwilling to admit the risks, and is likely to get hurt with you.

If it comes down to it, it's one thing to be polite, it's quite another to become completely allergic to speaking the truth, especially in situations where this woman's life could be on the line. I advise diplomacy, and I always recommend being as polite as possible when breaking this sort of news. However, ignoring reality and smiling as if nothing were wrong is ill advised.

30

You've got legitimate concerns. A two week trip is no place to learn to backpack. Even if she was extraordinarily fit, this would be a bad idea without at least a few weekend overnights beforehand, and preferably a trip of at least 4-5 nights so she could get a feel for what hiking with a heavy pack really feels like and what kind of gear she needs. That she's not as fit as the rest of you just makes her situation worse.

Tell your friend you're worried it will be too difficult for his girlfriend since she's an inexperienced hiker, has never been backpacking, and is less fit than the rest of you. I'd put the concerns in that order.

Then propose a solution. If she can prove her fitness and ability to keep up, she can join you. Go on a very strenuous all day hike with the two of them, or arrange a moderately challenging one or two night trip with them. Make it clear that to do the difficult trip, these short trips need to be easy for her, because the longer hike is doing these for 14 days in a row, no breaks. If she proves that she can do the shorter hike with no difficulty, then she's proved your concerns are unwarranted and she's capable of coming on the trip.

If she's said yes, I bet it's because she doesn't know what she's getting into. This solution has the advantage of warning her what she's getting into and reassuring you if she turns out to be more fit than you expect.

18

This seems to be an example of the XY problem. You say: "trip is hard, friend's girlfriend is overweight, how can I suggest that she stay home". Issue here is that you are not the best judge of what is "overweight" and what is "hard" and how these two are connected. Don't try to solve wrong problem.

You real concern is that trip is hard and requires experience, and you suspect that someone might not be up to the task. Since you are the organizer of the trip, it is your responsibility to match people in their ability. Also it is your right to deny people you don't know joining, after all you take on responsibility for everyone's good time.

So proper question to ask your friend would be: "that's a hard trip, I am not sure your GF has the required experience since we never hiked together. Are you sure she is up to the task?" However, if you do not trust your friend's judgement, then you can't use his recommendation, you have to decide yourself agains taking newbie.

14

If they haven't got much hiking experience, what's their gear like? Are they used to hiking with it?

When you do a training hike you don't just train your muscles but your use of your kit. So before I did a 2-week hiking loop including the northern 1/4 or 1/3 of the GR20, there were several mandatory full-pack training day-hikes, in the boots we expected to use. By the time we went everyone had also been on at least one two-day hike with a full pack, camping in between.

The approach of wearing in boots (and feet) and getting used to the load can be used to reduce the emphasis on fitness; hiking-fitness is anyway a better way to approach this than weight.

A further point in response to your edits saying she's actually obese. I'd actually worry more about the descents than the ascents, for the sake of her knees (and yours if you end up lightening her load). I picked up a minor knee injury, that nagged me for years afterwards, descending into Calenzana and on to Calvi when I was young and fit (and carrying around 25kg, because one of our group was struggling). Her body weight alone will put a huge load on her knees going down. If we assume for the moment that she trains hard and goes for it, she should probably train for descending with trekking poles. In fact, you all could, which adds an element of "all in it together" on the training hikes.

  • Your answer makes me wonder if the OP and their SO themselves are prepared for the hike. – SQB Mar 20 '18 at 9:00
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    @SQB you may be right, but the OP may also be a very experienced and strong hiker who's not used to leading (and being the more experienced of a couple is very different to leading) – Chris H Mar 20 '18 at 9:12
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I wouldn't even mention her weight. Just show her (or them both) the website you linked, she(they) should be able to draw her(their) own conclusions from the description of the hike. This is an incredibly difficult hike, and the website does a good job at showing that. The description of the different stages is pretty self-explaining. Ask her if she feels confident in being able to walk in extremely rough terrain, downhill on broken rocks, for extended periods of time while carrying a 10+kg backpack. She can always "give up" at one of the refuges though, but I wouldn't recommand even starting it if you don't make it there in time for the night.

On the other hand, Corsica is a beautiful island, and she could still travel there and maybe do other activities while you are all hiking.

9

Unless you don't care, talk about everything but the fat.

The issue seems to be that she lacks the experience to properly evaluate the difficulty of this trail (it is legendary) and what can happen if things go wrong. I wonder how much that helicopter rescue cost...

Also she would need equipment, preferably high quality and therefore expensive. Plus the plane tickets.

You're going to either have to nuke her misguided enthusiasm, or turn her into a fitness monster.

As the others said, show, don't tell, and take her on a hike. If she isn't used to it, and doesn't have the right shoes, she'll probably end up with a nice collection of blisters. Make sure you carry the proper bandages...

Now this is the evil part I'm adding: the next day, when every muscle in her body is hurting, call her at 7AM to wake her up and remind her it's time for another 20km hike, and it'll be like that for the next 2 weeks.

6

Invite them on a try-out.

There are many partner-oriented sports and activities where you'd "practice" with a new partner before committing to a big, difficult undertaking together.

A climbing example: When meeting a new potential climbing partner who says they want to do something high, long and hard with me, I'll say "Great! Let's go out tomorrow and do something low, short and easy together."

A sailing example: When meeting someone who's offering to crew on my passage to Hawaii, I'll say "Great! Why don't you come out for an overnight cruise and we'll practice the watch-standing routine, some tacks and safety drills."

This kind of thing can be done without a single mention at all about "You're not in shape" or "You're not experienced enough".

If you plan a one-night backpacking trip somewhere nearby down 3 or 4 miles of rugged trail, one of two things could happen: This person might really exceed expectations, perform fine, and start talking sincerely about her plan to fitten-up for the GR20, or, she could give up and un-invite herself once she realizes what your kind of hiking means.

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    If I had to guess, I imagine that the only reason this person said in the first place that she wanted to go was that the boyfriend put her on the spot, saying in front of her that he wanted to go with you and then turning to her to ask if she wanted to, as well. – Beanluc Mar 15 '18 at 23:22
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    Not just one try out, but many. – Craig Mar 20 '18 at 0:13
5

Perhaps an easy way is to get her to back out of the hike so you do not have to say anything that could come off as offensive.

What you could do is suggest that the group does a local day hike that is also fairly hard. Hopefully everyone will say yes to the day hike. During the hike your friends girlfriend with realize that she is not cut out for a two week long hiking trip and will decide not to go on the two week trip.

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    I like this answer best - it gets straight to the point and doesn't overthink the issue. The bottom line is that any extended hike, even just an overnighter, benefits from a preparatory hike. For a two-week hike, multiple prep hikes are warranted, and anyone who's not ready, including thin but unprepared people, can discover that a two-week hike isn't their "cup of tea." – Don Branson Mar 17 '18 at 11:51
3

Honestly, would you commit to that much time - weeks - with someone you considered in shape but have no idea about their preparedness and knowledge with regards to hiking? Just because I run track and field and do P90X doesn't mean I know what goes in a pack and that I have the ability to carry that pack for days...

Instead of assuming she's not fit - why not do trial walks? Day hike? Weekend trip?

Gain confidence

You learn about her... she learns about you... you all learn where each other stands. You obviously aren't confident in what she can do... maybe shorter trips will change your mind? Some of the biggest guys I knew in the military could out run men half their size.

Maybe they will change your friends mind? Hers? Teach them and help them gain that confidence...

Gain Knowledge

Also room to test knowledge, gear and preparedness (as @ChrisH's answer points out).

It's been awhile, but in the military we spent a lot of time prepping for long "walks"... clothing, extra socks, meals, water, etc. If you can ramp up that knowledge - whats needed for a day trip is different than a weekend trip... is different than a 2 week trip...

Gain Experience

This takes it from "fat shaming" into educating others about the realities of long hikes, preparations needed and the road to achieve something like one of the hardest paths available.

My points being... step back from assuming and shaming... and move into gaining confidence, knowledge and experience with someone else

That experience and confidence in each other is needed before you can commit to a 2-3 week trip.

1

Don't make it about weight, make it about safety.

Do the safe thing. Have. A. Clear. Backup. Plan. Plan for everyone going and plan accordingly. Experienced backpackers should have no issues with this.

Have you asked if this person has ever been on skree or boulders or steep trails with dangerous dropoffs? Depending on how close you are with that couple, it may be worth asking.

It may help to talk about your own bad experiences with everything from blisters to being able to emotionally deal with other people for a few weeks in remote wilderness. Maybe hearing someone speak candidly will be a cause for introspection.

Practice hikes always make sense, do some. Don't try to weed anybody out right away, just go through a normal routine of increasing weight and distance with each hike. Require everyone do most or as many as they can but at least the last one for certain. This is a passive, reasonable way to get the point across.

Don't just email the list out and be passive with some "everybody read this, let me know if I can add anything". As a group, be completely together like you will be on your hike, and discuss the backup plan. It makes sense as a safety measure regardless of who is going or their abilities.

Then, if something happens stick with the plan. You may put forward a buddy system so if anything happens with the person in question, then there is a clear expectation the boyfriend and her are responsible for themselves. This may lead the boyfriend to approach the subject so you don't have to.

1

First, drop the weight as an issue, it isn't one. You could be huge, and still make this hike. It is far more likely that a person is overweight because they don't exercise enough to make this trip, then it is that they can make this trip and be quite large, but that doesn't matter.

Also try to avoid questioning her ability to complete the hike. Fact of the matter is you don't know. She could be totally able to handle the hike. She says she is, so assume she is.

What I do when I lead hikes with new groups is have some "test runs". First try to find a hike that is a easy grade but lasts about as long (as you would spend in a single day). That means if your going to do 3 hours of hiking then, find a nice level grade hike and walk for three hours.

Next find a short hike that is close to the same grade that you will be facing. A steep 30 min. hike.

Then finally, pick a middle road (a moderately steep grade that lasts 1/5 hours) and talk about pacing.

During the planning phase (before and tickets or reservations) make sure to go through the test runs. Someone that has never hiked before won't make it through the 3 hour walk. Someone that is in decent shape (from say a treadmill) and makes the three hours flat walk will feel near dead going up a steep incline for 30 mins. And even if they make it through all that, the combo test will give them one hell of a sour taste.

It won't be long before "I wana come, I can walk," becomes "no you guys go ahead, I'm not having that much fun."

If you make the test hikes then it's time for the other training. Start mixing your training sessions together. Show, by example, the kind of exercises that need to be done with ease. Explain why. Avoid "you much be able to do X machine for Y RPMS for Z long or else" and instead explain that keeping your cardio high for such a long time is needed because the air is thinner (or what ever).

Most importantly, make sure that your not just letting your mind think she is too fat, when in fact she is capable. Also make sure you don't set goals that are unreasonable, if she starts meeting your current goals. There is nothing wrong with making sure all members of the party are on the same page about the requirements to make the hike.

If all else fails make all party members, your self included, do something like https://www.gr20.co.uk/gr20-quizz-fitness/

0

First off, I would let your friend deal with the situation. It's only fair: you didn't invite his girlfriend to the hike, he did. Meet him alone and ask if he really thinks it's a good idea for his girlfriend to join. Point him to the website about the hike if you think he doesn't have a clear idea about what he's signed her up for. There's a high chance your friend will know how to convince his SO better than you would, without hurting her feelings.

If your friend refuses to talk to his girlfriend of fails to convince her, you should take the initiative. There are several options you could consider here:

  1. telling her you don't think she's fit for the hike
  2. invite her (or rather them) on a try-out to prove your point
  3. agree with them upfront that you may split up during the hike
  4. pick a different hike adapted to their skills

(1) will be at least somewhat offensive, regardless of how you put it. As other answers already stated, telling her she's inexperienced is much better (and more to the point) than telling her she's overweight.

(2) is less harsh but requires to invest a full day into convincing someone they're bad hikers. Personally, I would rather spend 5 minutes in a really unpleasant conversation than spend a whole day in a moderately unpleasant atmosphere.

(3) would only work if your friend has enough hiking experience to lead a hike when you split up, or someone experienced will agree to stay with them. Making inexperienced people agree to something they obviously cannot do is a bad thing, and it will be on your conscience.

An alternative to this is that you hike together until you reach a tourist location which your friend and his SO can enjoy while you continue the hike.

(4) should only be considered if you're good enough friends and you're ready to sacrifice your plans in order to have good time together.

-1

You don't need to say anything about "overweight." Because the other. more pertinent issue is "experience."

A two week hike, say seven hours a day (and maybe this is low) over 14 days is something like 100 hours worth of hiking. A person whose experience with hikes is 2-3 hours isn't going to do well.

The difference (in proportional terms) is roughly the difference between a one mile run and a marathon of 26 miles. At say, two miles an hour (up and down hills) for 100 hours, you're talking about eight "marathons," with one about every two days. If you put things in those (or equivalent) terms, your friend and the girlfriend might get the idea.

-5

You really shouldn't discourage anyone from doing such healthy things as exercising and socializing or sharing adventures with friends.

Believe me, if she makes the effort, those extra pounds will melt right off of her, at least enough to make a difference in her health and stamina.

Why treat her like an outcast? This is her (and her boyfriend's) opportunity to become physically fit and enjoy a longer, healthier, happier life. Be welcoming and encouraging and you might be surprised: she may decide on her own, that she would rather not go. Problem solved. And whether or not that affects your friend's decision to go, is entirely their business.

It looks as though they value their time together, so I wouldn't be surprised if he opts out for her sake. Or they might have a private heart-to-heart, and decide that it would be best for him to go on and leave her behind. But that's something the two of them have to work out for themselves.

But let's look at the worst-case scenario: if she is truly unmotivated or too unhealthy to stand the rigors of hiking, you'll all know early enough in the trip so that the boyfriend can escort her back home and take it from there. Either he'll decide to stay home with her, or he might try to reconnect with the group (in which case, it would be nice if you could wait for his return -- it shouldn't be more than a minor inconvenience).

And the best-case scenario: she enjoys the trip, and makes herself welcome by being a good sport about it.

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    You probably didn't look at the hike website and the fact that she is obese and totally unexperienced in hiking. Obviously your answer is nice but way out of the reality.. – iFlo Mar 17 '18 at 20:46
  • As a hiker myself, I know how hard it can be, especially for someone who is out of shape. But I have a hard time understanding why you don't trust them to figure it out for themselves. You don't have to lie about it, no, be completely honest and forthright about the risks. But let them decide for themselves. I'm sure they can do that, and even if they make a mistake, they'll quickly correct it, because that's the sort of thing you either will or will not do. Even if she tries it, she'll either stick with it or quit within the first hour or two. It might motivate her to exercise more for future – Bread Mar 17 '18 at 20:52
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    In no sport is it appropriate to go straight for one of the most difficult challenges that sport provides from no experience. A willingness to encourage them and be supportive in them getting into the sport are different from being blatantly negligent in not setting realistic expectations. Your attitude would only get people hurt. In some sports that might be tennis elbow or a broken bone. In scrambling/hiking/climbing, it could be death. – AHamilton Mar 19 '18 at 10:34

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