Beginner Skills

Seven Tips for Leading a Group Hiking Trip

Yes, you may have more outdoors experience than you friends, but leading a group hiking trip requires some soft skills, too. Now that you’ve convinced a group of newbies to come camping with you, your first priority is to make sure you have a good time. Josh Cole, Washington program director for Outward Bound’s Northwest School, has made a career of taking first-timers into the backcountry. Here are his seven best tips for ensuring a successful group hiking trip.

1. Pick the right objective.
Save the epic climb for another time. If you push new people too hard, they’ll mutiny on you. Instead, plan for everyone to learn something and have fun. It sounds like Little League baseball, but it works.

2. Size it right.
Aim for five or fewer people. Otherwise, it’s hard to keep tabs on each individual’s morale.

3. Equality is key.
Some campers will be better mules, while others will be better cooks. Divide group gear and chores based on aptitude, not based on numeric equality.

4. Establish your leadership.
Don’t just bark orders; explaining why you’re doing something gets others involved in decision making. Plus, it helps them gain essential skills that will enrich their time in the outdoors.

5. Check in often. 
Ask your little ducklings: Are you having fun? What are you struggling with? Adjust loads and responsibilities accordingly. Pull individuals aside to chat if they go silent on you.

6. Let them fail… sometimes.
In low-stakes situations (like pitching tents in fair weather), let newbies make mistakes. Trial and error is a great teacher.

7. Don’t let them fail… sometimes.
Tiny skills clinics (e.g. hygiene, late-night bathroom breaks, etc.) will help others feel comfortable. Pooping in the woods is intimidating for a lot of first-timers.