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3 Tips for Planning a Group Hiking Trip

Outdoor Leadership Training participants share the lessons they've learned. By Andrew Pringle

Our Outdoor Leadership Training teaches leaders who work with youth how to lead effective and memorable outdoor excursions for young people. We talked to several OLT participants about what they learned from their outings over the past year. If you’re planning to take a group out hiking or camping, these ideas can help you get off to a good start.

ECOSS OLT group. Photo courtesy Alan Kafley.jpg
Allan Kafley of Environmental Coalition of South Seattle (ECOSS) took a group snowshoeing at Snoqualmie Pass. Photo courtesy Allan Kafley.

Start slow

Keep it simple and build to bigger challenges over time. It might seem silly to spend a lot of time and energy putting together an adventure that’s easy for you, but cater to the comfort levels and experience of your group and you’ll leave them wanting more.

“We did smaller trips, including an overnight that served as an entry point to our weeklong backpacking trip later in the school year. A number of students had limited experience camping, and this trip served as a way to gain confidence while camping and begin to prepare them for the big culminating trip.” —Renee Schulte, Licton Springs Elementary

“The group went on a hike that was hard for some, but they all made it to the top and couldn’t believe the view. Many of the kids came back wanting to go on more trips outdoors. A few even signed up for our next climbing trip, where everyone tried something they had never done before. Two had previously tried bouldering but everyone was new to roped climbing — and they all did awesome!” — Talia Hirsch, Youth Experiential Training Institute

Help the group prepare

Ease any pretrip anxiety by providing your group with enough info to give them a good idea of what’s to come. You might even want to translate the key points into another language if you’re leading people who aren’t native English speakers. And consider some activities or an evening gear check to prepare everyone for the trip.

“Getting the kids packed up and ready to go was a challenge. Many had too much gear for a backpacking trip and we had to pare down. Walking with heavy packs was a real challenge for many of them, but our second day was a free day with no hiking and the kids could just enjoy the beauty of our natural settings.” — Skye Chamberlain, Brightwater Waldorf School

“The biggest challenge for this group was, with the exception of the trip leader, it was everyone’s first time backpacking. Carrying a larger pack and learning how to cook, filter water and go to the bathroom outside were the biggest challenges aside from carrying a backpack. They built a basic confidence in each other and that they could survive with the equipment they had and have a good time. Some youth would have never tried to go backpacking had it not been for a group going.” — Lorelei Felchlin, American Heritage Girls

YETI group hiking at Oyster Dome. Photo courtesy Talia Hirsch.jpg
A group from Youth Experiential Training Institute during a hike to Oyster Dome. Photo courtesy Talia Hirsch.

Take breaks

Make time for frequent breaks to let everyone snack, drink and catch their breath. Check in with your group to see how they’re feeling throughout the day and offer assistance to fend off issues like blisters or dehydration.

“Our group had participants who had never hiked in the past, so to accommodate them, we rested every 15 minutes, which put us behind schedule. But one person said, ‘It was my first time ever doing this kind of hike, but because of support from everyone in the group, I was able to make it to the top.’” — Allan Kafley, Environmental Coalition of South Seattle

“The only challenges were making sure everyone stayed warm and fueled on our birding trip. We kept a good gauge of the teens’ needs and made sure we took plenty of snack breaks — and cranked the heat in the car in between destinations.” — Liz Munteen, Seattle Audubon

 This article originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Washington Trails Magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.