Trip Leading 101: Do's and Don'ts

Trip Leading 101: Do's and Don'ts

June 15, 2017

You are ready. You have the gear, the experience, and finally, the permit! Whether you are planning a multi-week AT hike-through, a five-day float on the Salmon, a three-day fast-and-light traverse of the Teton Rim Trail, or just an overnight at your local campground, your name is on the paper, and you are now, officially, the Trip Leader.

No doubt you've been on many of these excursions in the past: adventures organized by people who seemed to have all the answers, the best plan, and made the right decisions without hesitation. But once you step into that role, taking on the responsibility of organizing scattered people, gear and itinerary into a cohesive whole, you realize that it was never as simple as it looked.

But that's ok, because, as the saying goes, you are smart enough, you are strong enough, and goshdarnit, people like you!

So take a deep breath, get out your favorite list making media, and get to work! Because here are a few tips that will help your brilliant streak of leadership shine through no matter what the challenge.

Step 1: Who's In, and Who's Out

This is one of the hardest steps for us social creatures in a leadership role. But depending on the nature of your adventure, you may need to carefully weigh who exactly you can invite. For example, a back-packing trip does not lend itself to large crowds as well as rafting might. Cooking for 15 on a WhisperLite stove is a long and frustrating experience, and travel through Wilderness Areas often limits the number of participants as well.

Ask yourself- how technical is this trip? High water through some gnarly Class IV's should limit all participants to those capable of self-rescue, even if they are only passengers. Will you be rappelling into slot canyons and dealing with desert exposure? Perhaps you are willing to mentor someone through their first 'figure 8' knot lesson, but consider how much that would limit your ability to quickly evacuate if you heard thunder in the high country. 

As Trip Leader, suddenly the heavy blanket of decision making falls on your shoulders. And while you want to have fun with your friends, you need to set them up for success as well when it comes to safety and overall experience. Trust yourself, stick to your choices, and don't be afraid to ask for advice from someone who may have done this a few more times.

Step Two: All the Stuff

Organizing the gear and food necessary for adventuring with a group can be a whole new level of complicated; you don't want to leave anything behind, but you don't want to over-pack. One of the best ways to get this to run smoothly is establish an email group of all participants, or even a spreadsheet with necessary items, both personal and group- a gear list (which Bold Betties can help with!).  Again, it depends on your trip and the level of experience of your friends, but NEVER ASSUME that everyone is on the same page. That's how you forget the gas for the stove and end up with raw Ramen and PB&J tortillas for three days.

Be sure you have arranged for meals- is a different person/couple responsible for cooking every meal? Or will you plan a big 'group buy' based on a chosen menu and get reimbursed by everyone for their share? Is there a cooking/clean-up schedule? A lot of social stress can be alleviated ahead of time by clearly discussing expectations for camp-craft chores.

Remember too, that because you are all traveling together, there is an 'expedition mentality' necessary to some extent. If one person is under-prepared, or unaware of expectations, they can expose the group to stressful, difficult, or dangerous situations.

So even though it may feel a little bit like micro-managing, a gear list, a menu, and maybe a jobs list is an absolute must for any adventure leader.

Step Three: Saying 'No' (If you have to)

Most of the time, participants and friends are happy, helpful and glad to be included in your trip. But sometimes, through mis-communication or personality differences, conflicts can arise. With a good plan, a good group and some pre-established group norms, hopefully they are easily resolved. But every now and then...

If the conflict arises pre-trip, maybe one participant has decided to invite their cousin who has no experience camping or backpacking on your Pacific Rim week, then address it one on one right away. Remember these are good people (or you wouldn't be friends with them!), and it might just be a misunderstanding. But if that misunderstanding could put the group in jeopardy, then you have to find the kindest way to say no. Maybe invite the cousin on your local camping trip next month!

If the conflict comes up on the trip, and involves the safety of participants ("No, we don't need to scout Hell's Half Mile, I read all the beta already!"), then you, as Trip Leader need to stand firm. Again, remember that you have the experience and wisdom to do this, and you are helping the group, even while perhaps ruffling a few feathers in the moment.

There are unique challenges associated with being a female trip leader as well, to be sure, but being prepared, communicating, and acting with the confidence you have earned through experience will put you on the right path to a safe and successful adventure!

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