Leading a hiking group


Hiking tips: Leadership of a hiking group

General responsibilities when leading a hiking group

Make sure that you have the necessary consent for members to accompany you into the mountains, especially parental consent in the case of minors.  The leader of a hiking group should always be thinking of how he or she is going to make this mountain trip into an enjoyable and rewarding experience for all involved.

Also make sure that:

*   you know where you will be going, that the route has been planned.

*   the party has the correct equipment.

*   all individuals have the correct hiking equipment.

*   the necessary permission of access has been obtained.

*   there is an appropriately equipped First Aid kit in the party.

Specific and operational responsibilities of the hiking leader

When hiking in a large party along an easily defined route it is usual for the leader to walk either at the back or in the middle.  If the leader is in the middle a stronger, and more experienced member of the party should be placed at the back to stop stragglers and one in the front to set a reasonable pace. If careful navigation is needed, it is best that the leader moves to the front to find the way.

If visibility drops, such as in mist, then the party should be brought up close together with the leader in front doing the navigation.  On a well-defined path the leader can drop back to either the middle or rear. 

If visibility is really bad the party should be asked to memorise who is in front and behind them and to watch they do not get separated from the party.  When the leader needs to make a decision it must be made with proper consideration he/she must then make a conclusive decision, and stick to it.

Explain to the group what the objectives are for the trip and in the mornings explain what will be happening that day: the time the walk will take, where they will be camping, what the terrain will be like, what the weather may do, etc.

When decisions on route-finding or campsite selection need to be made, it is all right to take into consideration the opinion of other members of the party, but let the final decision be yours and explain why you decide on that decision.

Never show weakness in times of problems or danger. Make clear well thought-out decisions and do not be scared to delegate tasks. Try not to become angry with any member and certainly do not lose your temper.

During the trip the leader should try to explain and to foster an awareness of the environment to the party. Take time to explain the local macro and micro eco-systems and climates they are passing through. Encourage them to pass through an area and leave as little sign of their passing as possible.  Encourage questions about environmental matters.

For better hiking and mountain walking skills it is recommended that leaders enrol in a MDT accredited Basic or Advanced Mountain Walking Leader Course.

Gavin Raubenheimer

Gavin is the owner & operator of Peak High Mountaineering. He is a certified Mountaineering Instructor (M.I.A.) endorsed by the Mountain Development Trust of SA. He is a NQF National Mountaineering (level 7), Cultural and Nature Guide (level 4). Gavin is a past President of the KwaZulu-Natal Section of the Mountain Club of SA. He has been involved in mountain rescue since 1992 and since 2005 has been the Convener of Mountain Rescue in the province. Want Gavin and his team at Peak High to guide you on a hike? Put yourself in the hands of the certified and experienced experts in mountain hiking, guiding and climbing. See Gavin's Google + profile