How to Organize a Hiking Meetup Online
Hiking alone can be fun, if you’re ready for it. For the rest of us, there’s still safety in groups. But what do you do if you don’t have any hiking buddies?
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A good trip partner is hard to come by. This was my realization after I moved to a new state and suddenly found my hiking calendar pretty lonely. Though I’d managed to build a social circle in my new community, few of my new friends were hikers. And of those who were, almost none were interested in joining me on the challenging, multi-day excursions that I craved.
So, I did what any young person would do and turned to the web. If you can find a soulmate online, surely you can find a hiking partner. Over the course of a few months, I assembled a group, planned an outing, and hit the trail for a challenging weekend in North Carolina’s Middle Prong Wilderness with some like-minded folks. Here’s how I did it.
Choose the right platform.
Hiking clubs are active in many areas across the country but may not suit your style. While clubs and their online communities are a great way to get your feet wet in a new place, they tend to be large, making it tough to find partners for specific objectives. The internet is a useful tool for finding folks whose hiking goals align most closely with your own. Nearly everyone is on Facebook, so finding hiking partners there is a good place to start. If you can’t find a group or page matching your aspirations, create your own. This will allow you to get detailed in what and who you are looking for. Depending on where you live, Meetup.com may also be home to local hikers eager for an adventure. Backpacker Basecamp’s members-only Facebook group can be a useful platform for connecting with others in your area. Since I had very specific hiking goals in mind, I created my own group with the goal of recruiting other advanced hikers.
Pre-screen group members.
Ask ten different people what a great hiking trip looks like, and you’ll probably get ten different answers. If you’re putting a hiking group together, you want to find people who are looking for the same type of hiking experience you’re looking for. In other words, you want to pre-screen all potential group members.
Be clear in stating the purpose of your group. One way I did this was to give my Meetup group the decidedly un-flashy name “Experienced Backpackers.” I knew this name would appeal to the sort of people I want to hike with and passively filter out people who haven’t spent much time in the backcountry.
If “Saturday Dayhikes” or “10-Mile Warriors” is more your speed, give your group one of those descriptive titles and start attracting similarly inclined hikers.
Whether you’re using Facebook or Meetup, set your group so that people can only join by request or invitation to weed out lurkers from serious potential hiking partners.
Set expectations early.
Whether you’re starting your own group or just posting a trip idea in an online forum, it’s important to let everyone know what you expect right off that bat. Post a few guidelines and expectations that potential members must agree to up front, such as:
- Experience and physical abilities
- Mileage per day
- Elevation gain expectations
- Group size limits
- Leaving no Trace
- Liability for injuries
When everyone is on the same page from the get-go, you won’t have to manage unrealistic expectations.
Meet up before the trip.
So, some people found your group and have indicated they understand the expectations. Great! Now you can plan that first hike, right? Well… maybe. First, you should try to meet the members in person.
Why in person? Because you don’t want to head into the backcountry with anybody whose personality or behavior isn’t compatible with yours or the rest of the group. Dismissing someone from your group is no fun, but it’s better than being stuck in the woods with people who aren’t getting along.
Before I scheduled any trips with my Meetup group, I planned two small get-togethers to meet the handful of potential group members in person. One was at a public park; another was at a local café. For the most part, everyone was on the same page. However, there was at least one person at each event who was totally out of their element. The meet-and-greets helped them realize they were in over their heads—a few people removed themselves from the group once they understood the specifics. In one case, I gently explained to a man that his experience didn’t align with the group’s goals. Be prepared to be honest and clear about your expectations when meeting potential hiking partners in person.
Plan well in advance.
Most people have jobs, families, and pre-existing obligations. After establishing your group, be sure to plan trips at least a few weeks out. Providing ample notice increases your chances of having a good turn-out.
Keep your numbers low.
Be sure to research your destination and understand group limits and permitting before heading out. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, for example, requests group sizes no larger than 10 people. Various other trail associations set group limits between six and 15 individuals.
For your first hike, you want even fewer people, especially for an overnight. Think three to five, max. That’s not just to minimize your group’s impact on the environment—it’s to keep you from having to manage carpooling or logistics for a big group when you’re just figuring things out.
Exchange phone numbers.
Of all the people in your online group, only a few will end up joining you on a given hike. Once you’ve established who will be joining, ask attendees for their phone numbers and set up a group text message thread.
While you can certainly plan everything through Facebook groups, Meetup, or whatever platform you’re using, you can’t count on everybody having the right apps on their phones or having notifications turned on. What you can count on, however, is that everyone will have a phone that receives texts. Use this group thread to plan logistics and keep everyone in the loop about trip-specific updates.
Create a detailed hiking plan.
If your hiking plan amounts to “meet me at the trailhead and let’s do this,” you’re bound to have problems.
People might say they’re coming but never show up. Others will show up without the right gear. Some hikers will be slower than others, and you won’t know whether to wait for them or keep going until you get to your campsite. You need to create a plan that accounts for these issues. At a minimum, you should establish the following before heading out with your group:
- Start and end points for the hike
- Anticipated campsites or target daily mileage
- Expected hiking pace and what to do when someone falls behind
- Gear requirements and whether any gear (like tents, stoves, and food) will be shared
- Transportation to and from the hike
- Procedures in the event of illness or injury
Additionally, be honest with yourself about your own leadership capabilities and desires. Are you comfortable leading others in the event of an emergency? Communicate expectations of your role with the group and rely on others who may have expertise in certain areas. Once you’ve established a group, take turns leading and planning trips, or at least allow others the opportunity to help choose your hiking routes.
Ask members to contribute.
You’ve started the group. You’ve screened the members. You’ve set expectations. You’ve planned a hike. Now it’s time for others to pitch in.
Depending on the specifics of your hike, you might ask hiking partners to drive others to the trailhead, contribute gas money, or share gear. If you’re using Meetup, you might even be paying to keep your group active. Membership dues can be a great way to keep your group running and growing as time goes on.
Celebrate your success.
After the trip, be sure to celebrate by posting trip pictures to your Facebook or Meetup group. This helps maintain a sense of camaraderie and gets members excited for the next outing. If you’re looking to expand the group, your photos and posts will also show potential members how much fun you’re having.
Ultimately, you want to organize a successful hike online while keeping administration to a minimum. By assembling a group of like-minded hikers, setting realistic expectations, and establishing a thorough hiking plan, you’ll get exactly what you’ve been looking for: a reliable group of hiking partners to keep you company on trips.
And if you end up making a few new friends in the process, that’s even better.