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Prof. Hike: Prevent Civil War on the Trail

Don't let different hiking speeds tear your group apart.

4) Slow the pace

Putting the slowest hikers at the front of the group is another tactic to keep everyone together. Compared to reducing pack loads, people are less likely to resist this move. Just be careful, however, that the lead group includes a good navigator. You don’t want them leading the rest of you down a game path instead of the trail, or making a wrong turn. Also, because front-loading the slowpokes will reduce the pace of the group, you might need to recalculate your daily mileage expectations, and even the group’s turn-around time.

5) Boost morale
A hiker’s pace isn’t all muscles and energy. It’s also attitude. A discouraged hiker will naturally slow down. Dehydration can fuel pessimistic thoughts, but so can the idea of being left behind. Several years ago I lagged behind the main group during a climb of Colorado’s Longs Peak. Each time I finally arrived to the rest stops, the whole group would stand up and resume hiking to leave me alone again. After several hours of hiking solo, my confidence was flat and I ended up not finishing the climb. Of course, if my slower pace had endangered the group (afternoon lightning strikes are a constant threat on Western peaks), their behavior and my decision to turn around would have been appropriate. But racing the clock wasn’t an issue on that climb. My failure to summit was partially the result of hiking in a group, but not feeling like I belonged to the group. So besides redistributing weight and slowing the pace, try to boost a struggling hiker’s morale. A good attitude can easily increase any person’s pace.

If you want more trail leadership tips, check out the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Mountain Leadership Handbook. This is the same textbook used by the AMC’s Mountain Leadership School, a five-day backcountry training program. Other non-medical training classes are offered by NOLS, The MountaineersREI storesEMS stores, and your local hiking clubs and outdoor retail stores.

What are your tactics to herd hikers? Leave a comment, or send an email to

—Jason Stevenson


idiot's guide to backpacking and hikingJason Stevenson is the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Backpacking and Hiking

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