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Question for leaders of organized group hikes.
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Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Question for leaders of organized group hikes. on 03/26/2012 22:49:34 MDT Print View

With doing the GGG and doing more trips with groups than, well ever, I have a few questions. How is the issue of gear requirements handled/enforced? Is it much of an issue? Must be to a certain extent with what I see people with on the trail. Policy? Pre trip list issued? What works? I'm all for letting ones do what want for the most part, but...

@B.G. You did the Sierra Club thing for years. What's your insight on this?

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Question for leaders of organized group hikes. on 03/26/2012 23:12:33 MDT Print View

I'm not sure that I understand the question completely. Policy?

Backpacking trips have no single plan. Some have a central commissary where the leader brings breakfasts and dinners and all of the cook gear. That makes it a lot easier for participants since cook gear can get expensive and complicated. Therefore, each participant is more concerned about personal gear, and some people double up with tents to cut down weight even more. If that is the way that a trip is to be organized, then it is advertised that way. Then, a week or two prior to the start, a "trip letter" is sent out, and it has a quick checklist of what is required, versus what is optional, and what shared gear the leader is bringing, carpooling suggestions, etc.

Other group backpack trips are much less organized. Each person brings everything. The leader is just more of an organizer and navigator. Each club kind of has their own traditional way of doing these things. Each club has their own "hard" rules, like no firearms, no illegal drugs, or whatever else.

I think the first lightweight backpacking trip that I led was around 1984, and I just laid out guidelines of what each person should try to do, like have a total load less than twenty pounds. Plus, I offered up a few key pieces of gear, just in case anybody was jammed up. I think we covered 75 miles in three days in Yosemite.

Rules and checklists get a little more important in winter.


Greg F
(GregF) - F

Locale: Canadian Rockies
depends on the Group on 03/26/2012 23:14:30 MDT Print View

The first think I would do is define the distances and elevations you are hiking each day and possibly the general pace of the group. This way people know what they are getting into. The second thing I think that needs to be defined is is the trip a group trip with shared gear and food and cooking or is it a bunch of individuals going on a hike together. If it is just individuals then you don't have to worry about gear. You might have some basic recommendations for the inexperienced but other than that let people decide for themselves. If it is a group trip with shared gear and food then everyones responsibilities need to be spelled out clearly and probably have a quick check at the trail head to ensure that no key gear is forgotten.

I think a true communal trip with planned group meals is more fun then a bunch of solo hikers hiking together. I think the bonding over shared food and shared responsibility and risk changes the way people interact.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Question for leaders of organized group hikes. on 03/26/2012 23:20:08 MDT Print View

Thanks. This is the type of information I'm looking to the more experienced for.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Question for leaders of organized group hikes. on 03/26/2012 23:31:54 MDT Print View

The other rule is that there are no rules. I led backpack trips for twenty years, and I tried to do each trip within one year to be different. One trip would be central commissary for all breakfasts and dinners. One trip would be individual commissary. One trip would be "boiling water commissary" meaning that the leader would furnish free boiling water for everybody for all breakfasts and dinners, and each participant was on his own to do something tasty with that (which is a good place for freezer bag cooking). That keeps idiots from scalding themselves on a complicated stove.

For one trip, I had each participant furnish one group meal. So, we had six participants and six main meals. That gives everybody a little responsibility and a little shot at being creative. It also gives them a shot at making everybody mad. Have you ever had boiled waxed okra for breakfast?

For one trip, we had international meals. Each main meal was from a different country. That was very successful.

If you want to try to do something like this, you need to make each participant tell you up front (when they sign up) if they have any food allergies. I did a trip one time and nobody mentioned any food allergies. We got up on top of El Capitan and I started to break out the dinner meal ingredients. Dave asked me what it was going to be. "El Capitan Shrimp Gumbo." Then Dave told me that he was allergic to any sort of shellfish, like shrimp. So, we cooked up the gumbo without the shrimp, served a portion to him, then dumped in the freeze-dried shrimp for everybody else. His excuse was that he never expected to see shrimp show up on a backpacking trip.

Let's see, what else have we eaten? Zebra stew. Don't ask.


Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Question for leaders of organized group hikes. on 03/26/2012 23:36:29 MDT Print View

As an ultralight backpacker, I would be concerned about showing up in minimalist shoes or trail runners and a pack that looks like a day pack. A group leader might think I have no clue what I am doing and I wouldn't blame them. They might not realize that "proper" hiking footwear is mostly opinion and preference.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Question for leaders of organized group hikes. on 03/26/2012 23:45:44 MDT Print View

And then there was Colette. I had been tutoring her for about three months on some of the finer points of ultralightweight technique. This was about 1986. However, this gal didn't own anything. She would borrow or rent virtually all gear. She even went to REI one time to rent a water bottle! Amazing.

We had one group trip going in Yosemite, and we had all made it to the trailhead on a Saturday morning. Colette was so proud because her load was about 14 pounds. When everybody was halfway packed up, I set out bags of central commissary food to be carried, so everybody tried to grab the lightest one. When everybody had their gear almost ready to go, I whispered to a friend to distract Colette, so he led her out into the meadow to show her some wildflowers. While she was not looking, I grabbed a seven-pound rock from the parking lot and dropped it neatly down into her pack. Then I motioned to my friend to bring Colette back. We were all standing there, and I said, "OK, let's saddle up." She pulled the backpack up rapidly to her shoulder and just about fell over from the surprising weight of the backpack, but she didn't realize what had happened. We let her walk a hundred yards with it before we told her the truth of what we had done. If we had let her go very far, it would have been cruel.


Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Question for leaders of organized group hikes. on 03/26/2012 23:50:46 MDT Print View

Justin, I go on some organized dayhikes, and this one guy shows up and walks the trails barefooted. It is painful for me to see this, but we know that the guy will make it OK, so not much is said. I'm not sure what he accomplishes with it, but that is his business.

Now, if the trails were seriously rocky with chopped granite, I think I would try to talk him out of it. At least wear some sneakers or sandals.

If he injures his feet so badly that the group is impacted, then that is a problem.


Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Re: Question for leaders of organized group hikes. on 03/27/2012 00:37:55 MDT Print View

Exactly Bob, if you have been there, done that, and it worked for you, nobody should question you on your personal gear choices. But I wish it were that simple. I have had people try and force me to wear boots while hiking and it about wrecked my feet.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Question for leaders of organized group hikes. on 03/27/2012 03:02:41 MDT Print View

Go download the write-ups for the bus trips on Memorial Day and Independence Day to see what the Dallas Sierra Club says.

On my first Big Bend bus trip with them in 2003, I peeved the organizer of the Mesa de Anguila trip because I was going to wear trail running shoes. He did give me a choice, but I decided to go on another leaders trip to the Rancherias Loop. After that first trip, both groups were eating in a restaurant in Lajitas, TX, and a person on his Mesa trip told me in front of everyone that I would not have made it wearing my I did fine, later became friends with that peeved leader, and have done about 8 private trips with him over the years to Big Bend wearing trail running shoes ; ).

Edited by jshann on 03/27/2012 03:08:06 MDT.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
skills on 03/27/2012 10:54:12 MDT Print View

for climbing anyways ... the gear requirements are absolute, and just as importantly so are the skill requirements

the trick is to list only the "required" gear, and put recommended as such ... and make it clear that there will be no exceptions ...

to reinforce do a gear check at the start and say so in the post ... so no one ends up without a critical piece

at the end of the day its yr judgement should someone be missing something against the risk that it will impact everyone else ..

youll always end up with a cowboy once in a while who tries to beg or borrow stuff of other people ... youll likely want to flush him out ASAP

Edited by bearbreeder on 03/27/2012 10:54:48 MDT.

Evan McCarthy
(evanrussia) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: Question for leaders of organized group hikes. on 03/27/2012 11:04:26 MDT Print View

When I used to organize hikes that involved strangers, I was struck by how poorly some people (a distinct minority but it only takes one to ruin a long weekend) either understand their own gear and skills, or misrepresent them.

I found that some folks with great UL gear lists utterly failed to demonstrate good skills or judgment on the trail. And I also found that some folks with the "wrong" stuff (often heavy) performed tremendously over many miles on the trail and with the group.

This frustrated me and I didn't want to have to interrogate folks on gear and background before having them come on a trip. Luckily, I now roll with a group of guys who all move and operate the same way on trips and there's no need to take on unknown commodities.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Question for leaders of organized group hikes. on 03/27/2012 11:40:12 MDT Print View

Back in March 1980, I had been cross-country skiing for only two years, so I signed up for a weeklong ski trip across Yosemite National Park that was to be guided by two park rangers. That organization took my money and then sent out a mandatory equipment list. Most of the items were easily understandable, but a few were strange. There was some kind of a threat that if any participant was missing some item, they could be kicked off the trip at the shakedown inspection when we showed up. So, dutifully we each purchased every item, even the strange ones. The day before the trip actually started, we met in the park for the briefing and shakedown inspection. The briefing went well, and then participants started asking about strange items on the equipment list. The leaders said, "What equipment list?"

It seems that the organization had sent out the equipment list without checking with some of the leaders. So, we pulled out the equipment list and all of our items, and the leaders watched in surprise. "Well, you don't need this one. You don't need that one. This one is a joke. You don't need this one." Within a few minutes, we had eliminated half of the items on the list, and that allowed us to reduce our base weight significantly.

My point is that if you are involved with making mandatory equipment lists for some organized group, you want to make sure that the items are reasonable and necessary.

By the way, skiing across Yosemite in March is great.


Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Question for leaders of organized group hikes. on 03/27/2012 11:50:58 MDT Print View


with all the comments, it just reinforces my belief that solo hiking is superior in all regards :)

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Question for leaders of organized group hikes. on 03/27/2012 17:48:48 MDT Print View

"with all the comments, it just reinforces my belief that solo hiking is superior in all regards :)"

Yep, or maybe one person you know and trust, at most.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Question for leaders of organized group hikes. on 03/27/2012 19:00:17 MDT Print View

I had the same hiking partner for over 10 years. The group thing is still new for me. I am developing a little core group as of late. A few gems.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: Question for leaders of organized group hikes. on 03/27/2012 19:14:22 MDT Print View

I think small groups can be fun. To me, the trick is to keep them small (6 or less, generally), to have like-minded hikers (breaks, no breaks, lunch stop, no lunch stop, that kind of thing), relatively same speed hikers, relatively same experience level hikers, hikers who are flexible and won't complain about changes in the plan on the go, and hikers who don't stress and get irritated over little things.

Christian Diepholz
(cdiephol) - F - M

Locale: Western North Carolina
Organized Hikes on 05/07/2012 19:09:45 MDT Print View

At the University I work for we have 2 mandatory meeting that participants must attend. At the first meeting we show them examples of clothing and gear that they should bring on the hike. We give them examples of bad experiences that we have had when we did not bring these items in order to persuade them that these materials are necessary for the trip. The second pre-trip meeting is held the day before departure. We require that everyone brings there bag packed. After giving them some examples of how you should pack your pack we have everyone take out all of there items and repack them. In this process you and the other facilitators can walk around and see what the participants are lacking or what items they need to leave at home. This also makes the participates feel at ease and more confident in there guides because it shows that you and your facilitators are prepared for your trip. I can go on and on about how pre-trip meetings build relationships, trust, and confidence in you and your participants.

P.S. another good technique is to have the participants take out there stoves, and shelters outside. Once they are outside they can practice using the stove and setting up the shelter up before the trip. The makes your job a whole lot easier because they will not rely on you after a long days hike to set up there shelter and cook there food. It also lets you see if any gear is missing any parts or has damage before you are out in the field. I hope this helps and happy hiking.

Bob Shaver
(rshaver) - F

Locale: West
group trips on 05/11/2012 14:22:14 MDT Print View

my group trips have been backpacking trips with the Boy Scouts, for the past several years. The trips often include about as many adults as boys, and sometimes family members like Mom's, sisters and little brothers.

I send out a list of gear, and note that the scouts pack should be not much over 25% of their body weight, which limits what can be taken. I also have web pages that show gear for parents new to backpacking, and also for what the parents should get for the scout.

If its a big trip, we have a pre trip meeting, and look at pack weights, pack contents, and boots. I weigh packs and investigate those packs that are too heavy or too light. For weekend trips, we load up and I weight packs at the trailhead. I take extra pile pullovers and rain coats and verify that everyone has rain protection.

I print black and white maps for everyone. I get all adults cell phone numbers. I hand out driving maps, having lost drivers en route to the trailhead before.

One thing I don't do, is plan other people's food. I bring my own food and food for my long time hiking partner. Scouts and other parents must bring their own food, because I don't want to have them complain to me about their food. Its also a good learning experience to figure out food selection for trips, for both adults and scouts. However, I email out my menu for the trip in case someone wants ideas.

Edited by rshaver on 05/11/2012 14:32:00 MDT.