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Tips for Leading a Group Hike

A walk to an unbelievably gorgeous vista always makes me feel more a part of the scenery than a quick pullover stop to the same view. I can reflect on the splendor around me more as I slowly stroll to the overlook, versus if I am suddenly in the midst of it when I open my car door.

As more and more boomers join group trips, they increasingly seek the interaction with nature that can come from a hike. But a group hike isn’t quite the same as trudging out on your own, so incorporate these tips into your next guided trek into nature.

1.) Consider route conditions beforehand
Before even stepping foot in the area, call a ranger to choose a group-friendly hike that would fit the needs of your group. Some parks have handicap-accessible hikes, while others offer hikes a little more challenging, but well worth the pay-off.

2.) Follow the weather
Reconnect with someone from the park a day or two before the hike to know what conditions will be like during the hike. Ask for recommendations about the best clothing or if there are any current potential hazards you need to know about.

3.) Prepare hikers
Make sure you relate clearly the difficulty level involved in the hike. You want to let them know the amount of uphill and downhill walking, state of the paths, length and suitable clothing needed.

4.) Hiking etiquette 101
Some of your group members might not honestly know the basic rules for hiking in a park, so relay the basics before you set out. Let them know to stay on designated trails, not to approach animals and to leave things where you found them. The last thing you want is to come back to the visitors center after a hike to discover one of your group members picked an endangered plant that comes with a hefty fine.

5.) Share your plan
Let a park official know the time and route your group will take. If sudden weather occurs or some other emergency unfolds, there will be someone to notice if your group hasn’t come back on time.

6.) Pack some essentials
Even on short hikes, emergencies can happen. Prepare ahead for your group by packing extra water, food, rain gear and first aid kits. For longer hikes, you may want to also pack a map, compass, headlamp and box of matches.

7.) Designate a sweep
A “sweep” is a term hike leaders use for the person designated to stay at the back of the group. They make sure you aren’t leaving anyone behind and can communicate to you any issues with pace during breaks.

8.) Stop for breaks
Plan some breaks during the hike where you can encourage members to drink water and to check on their stamina levels. If you notice many feel drained, announce more breaks along the route as needed.

9.) Navigation backup plan
If you lead a longer hike especially, it is crucial that you educate yourself on a few wilderness skills, such as navigating with a map and compass. If the weather turns nasty and you need to lead your group to safety quickly, navigation skills will prove essential. Your phone may not work, so don’t rely on its GPS for navigation. Either carry a paper map or a hiking app that doesn’t rely on signal to work, such as Avenza’s PDF Maps app.

10.) Consider ranger-led hikes
If you don’t want the pressure of navigating a group through the wilderness, most parks offer ranger-led hikes that can be arranged ahead of time. These hikes not only bring peace of mind, but also offer an additional educational component, since the rangers can enlighten groups on the local flora and fauna.