There is nothing more daunting than leading your very first hiking expedition. It doesn’t even matter how big or long it is, you always remember your first, for better or worse. It’s only natural to feel super nervous, even though you may have been on a ton of expeditions, and no doubt the people you are going to lead, you’ve been on adventures with them before, but you just can’t help feel that ‘WHAT THE HECK’ feeling in the pit of your stomach.
So let’s jump straight in...here are some key tips on leading your first hike.
Size Does Matter
Size really does matter when on your first lead...you want to find the perfect group size for you. This normally hits around the 5 person mark. Less than five is okay but you won’t get that feel of truly leading a group, and more than five or six people might knock your confidence a little if something goes wrong and eyes are all looking at you for help.
When it comes to picking the team you want to lead, if you can make sure you pick people of all levels of experience, that way if you really do get stuck, you can go to the seasoned pro for advice. But if you have a newbie hiker in the group you will be the one to help boost their confidence on the trail, helping shape them into a future adventurer.
If you have a diverse team then you need to really cater for all. Basically what I’m saying is as a leader you should never have the mentality of ‘go big or go home’ and if you do, then you really need to switch it off. I’ve known plenty of people getting lost and injured just from having that attitude. You need to talk to your team a couple of nights before your adventure, get a feel for what they have hiked before, their level of fitness and also ask them what kind of route they would like to take.
That way you will find a happy medium; you can plan a great hike that might throw some challenges at you and your team but you know that you can deal with them and it offers up something that they might never have encountered before.
You’re Only As Fast As Your Slowest Member
This motto has stuck with me pretty much since the very first time I started hiking. I’ve been with plenty of teams where the leader is in full charge all the time and they expect you to have the same fitness, enthusiasm, and knowledge of what you are doing as them, and yes, you guessed it...this really is the wrong approach to take when it comes to leading.
Through talking to your team when planning the route, you will get a better understanding of fitness and experience that will help you figure out roughly the pace you should take when hiking. You really want your slowest members to be in the middle of the group or even better, at the top hanging with you. And if someone does fall back, for the love of all things, wait for them and send someone to give them a hand.
Check In & Often
A great hiking leader is someone who talks to the whole group whilst hiking, making sure that they are alright, that they're having fun and to be honest, just being polite. A group that hardly speaks to one another, especially if they are all strangers, most of the time ends in a weird feeling when hiking and that then defines the hike itself.
So yeah check in with everyone and do if often. Keep morale up and the conversation flowing and before you know it you’ll all be in a pub chatting about what an amazing hike that was and how you did really well leading for the first time.
Let Others Learn
For me, a leader should always be teaching and guiding people. So on your first expedition as a leader, do lay down the law and say it’s your way or the highway. If people want to lead the navigation, then let them. If they want to brush up on their map skills then let them and help them along the way...this will boost the confidence in your team and also in you.
Letting others get involved with map skills and learning new compass skills will also mean you need to keep on it all the time which will make you a much better leader. If you want to, you could always do drills on the hike as a nice ice breaker. Go hide a couple of rucksacks in the area of your trail, then give the rest of your team rough coordinates and let them find the packs! You will need to keep an eye on them and guide them which boosts your confidence as a leader, and the team you are hiking with will know that you ‘know your stuff’.
And that’s it! It’s pretty simple stuff but it’s super effective. So I hope it helps you out when you lead your first hike. What tips and tricks do you have for someone who's leading a hike for the first time? Let us know in the comments below.
Author: Shaun Johnson
Edited by: Gemma Johnson