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Tips for How to Lead a Successful Hike

Categories: Hiking Tips & Tutorials, Uncategorized


by Andrea Ketchmark

Leading others on a hike is a great way to share your love of the outdoors and the North Country Trail.

North Country Trail Association Chapters Group HikeIt’s not difficult, but there are precautions every hike leader should take to ensure a safe and fun outing.

Read the tips for how to lead a successful hike below, and watch the Sierra Club’s “How to lead a hike” video for some inspiration.

Planning the hike

Planning is important to make sure you’ve thought through the details that will make your hike a success.

    • Decide on the purpose of the hike. Do you want to get new people interested in hiking or is this a longer trip for experienced backpackers? Consider doing a hike with a theme and bring an expert in photography or the local flora, fauna or geology.


    • Choose the location and length of your hike based on the desired difficulty level and make sure that information is clearly communicated with the participants.


    • Know the rules of the land manager. Are there limits for group size? If this is an overnight trip, do you have all of the necessary permits for camping? Be aware of hunting seasons.


    • Locate access points and make an emergency plan. Communicate this plan with others.


    • Promote your hike with as much detail as possible to ensure hikers show up knowing what to expect. Be clear about the difficulty level and length of the hike as well as what they should bring with them.


    • Know the terrain and the local area. The hikers will expect the leader to be knowledgeable.


    • Check the trail and the weather. The day before the hike, check in with the land manager and/or trail adopter for that section to check on the condition of the trail. Check the weather so you can prepare your hikers.


    • Have a plan if more people than you expected show up. Will you need an additional leader to break the group into smaller groups?


  • Make sure to bring the 10 Essentials with you and encourage your hikers to as well.

Leading the hike

2015-06-06 12.59.13Gather at the trail head or designated meeting spot to get acquainted with the group and go over the details of the hike as well as your emergency plan and make sure everyone is prepared.

    • Introduce yourself – Give some background about your experience hiking and any qualifications that would be a benefit in the field (National Outdoors Leadership School course, CPR/First Aid certification, Seach and Rescue, etc.), and about your role with the North Country Trail Association (NCTA). Make sure everyone feels comfortable coming to you throughout your hike to voice any concerns.


    • Introduce the North Country Trail Association (NCTA) and the North Country Trail (NCT) – Many people don’t know the trail beyond their local segment. Bring a National Park Service brochure as an easy visual aid to show the whole trail.



    • Go over the itinerary and route so everyone knows what to expect.


    • Discuss potential hazards and emergency plan. Utilize the “Tailgate Safety Series” materials to initiate conversations about current conditions (hydration, hypothermia, etc.).


    • Designate a sweep. This person keeps at the back of the group to make sure you aren’t leaving anyone behind. They can communicate with you on breaks about the pace.


    • Get to know your hikers – ask them where they are from and find out more about their experience level. Have a sign in sheet to collect contact information for the hiker and an emergency contact.


    • Prepare your hikers – make sure you don’t set out on the hike until you are sure that everyone has the appropriate attire and the needed water.


    • Take breaks regularly. Use your time to encourage hikers to drink water and check on their well being.


    • Pay close attention at intersections, confusing areas or hazards to make sure all hikers are still with the group.



  • Educate and entertain – Use this opportunity to draw their attention to any natural, scenic, historical or cultural significance of the area and remember to HAVE FUN! After all, that’s why you are out there.

After the Hike

    • Make sure everyone arrives to the end point.


    • Thank them and give them an opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences.


  • Give them an opportunity to get involved by passing along information about your next hike, event or trail work day.

Learn more about the 10 Essentials and other important resources at AmericanHiking.org http://www.americanhiking.org/gear-resources/tips-for-your-next-hike/

Read the National Park Service’s Tailgate Safety Series for talking points about potential hazards. http://www.nps.gov/noco/getinvolved/volunteer.htm

Sierra Club’s video on how to lead a hike:

Have you ever led a hike? What tips and encouragement do you have to add to this list? We’d love to hear your comments!