Tips for Outing Leaders

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Why Lead?

Leading a Voyageur Hiking Trail group can be a very rewarding experience.
It can be an opportunity to introduce novices to the beauty and serenity of the Northern woods. It can be planned in order to get a specific job done, like measuring or describing a section of trail.
Whatever your intentions might be of leading a group of hikers into the bush, lessons can be taught and learned on each and every trip. It is hoped that this handout will help you plan your outing.

The Four Types of Leaders:

  1. Autocratic (i.e. military-style leadership) typically likes to lead from the front
  2. Democratic (i.e. Outward Bound) everything is decided democratically no matter how long it takes
  3. Abdicratic (i.e. when there is someone else better qualified to lead, possibly because they know the trail better) leader abdicates to someone else but doesn’t actually “give up” the leadership role totally
  4. Laissez-faire (i.e. very laid back, easy going) when everyone in the group is experienced and knowledgeable

The best type of leader is all four of the above, when each situation calls for it. For example, in cases of emergency, when time and expertise is essential, autocratic leadership is best.

It is not necessary to be out front to lead a group. In fact, you may not know how your group is really doing (i.e. fatigue factors, equipment problems, etc.) if you are far removed from them, either at the front or back.

Tips for your hike

Plan your outing. Have only one focus.
(i.e. if your outing is to see to it that everyone enjoys themselves, then you can’t be concentrating on making it to a certain point on the trail. If your outing’s purpose is to make it to a certain point on the trail, then that is what is important, not whether everyone is having a good time. If your outing is to measure the trail, then you shouldn’t have any other purpose.)

Make sure everyone in your group knows what the purpose is and that it is their purpose. Hidden agendas can hurt an outing.

“Good leadership includes the ability to study planned activities in advance and anticipate any problems or dangers and their possible solutions.” – Paul Petzoldt; founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School

Always plan ahead by asking “Who? Why? What? When? Where?”

Who is participating? Who is leading? Who is organizing? Who has been notified in case of emergency?

Why are the participants here (goals/purpose)? Why are the leaders here?

What is the purpose of the activity? What is the nature of the activity? What equipment/supplies are needed? What is the safety system/contingency plan? What are the transportation arrangements?

When is the activity to start? When is the activity to finish? When are people to meet/make contact?

Where is the activity to start/finish? Where are the emergency escape routes (quicker routes to get help, if any)? Where are the anticipated safety concerns located in the area (e.g. cliffs)?

It is always a good idea to have an idea of the condition of the planned route, so try to go out ahead of time and scout it out, if possible. The trail conditions may be posted on our web site, so pay it a visit, if you can. Knowing the trail ahead of time can help you in the planning process.

Decide if you are okay with dogs on your outing and what any rules are regarding their handling on your outing. (i.e. leashed at lunch, etc.)

Remember that the VTA supports their leaders who make a decision to change or cancel their plans due to unforeseen weather problems or other emergencies. In Northern Ontario, this freedom is imperative for the safety of the group.

Likewise, our leaders have the right to refuse to take someone who is unprepared for the planned outing. Any such person may become a danger to the group and a liability to the outing.

  • have one purpose and stick to it!
  • go over the “hike leader’s checklist” at the meeting place
  • upon arrival at the hike site: instruct everyone to either walk to an identifiable point about 10 minutes away, or ask them to stop and wait for the whole group to catch up in 10 minutes by their watches. This accomplishes many things:
    • it gets the anxious ones started right away
    • it warms people up for the walk
    • hikers have time to evaluate their clothing, footwear, packs, etc. for adjustment as needed
    • it gives the leader enough time to observe who runs out front, who likes to be in the middle and who will be the tail-enders. This way you can anticipate where your group will evolve into split groups. This gives you time to think who you can appoint leader and sweep in each group.
  • at the 10-minute stop site, appoint a leader and sweep for each anticipated section of your group. Give clear instructions (if you are not leading the first ‘out-front’ group) where to stop for breaks. If the trail is not known to you, you can give a time on the watch to stop for breaks.
  • give the group who you know will arrive at the break site before anyone else something to do when they get there to keep them occupied, i.e. gather firewood, start the fire for lunch, etc.
  • for those who like to walk fast, but don’t concentrate on watching for blazes, assign them the job of watching for blazes directly (this way it keeps them focussed).
  • if anyone reports to you that they have been made “uncomfortable” with remarks made by others on your hike, stop the group and try to determine exactly what happened. If anyone is making inappropriate comments, they should be told and asked to stop.
  • if someone decides to leave the comfort and safety of your group during an outing, they should be made aware that you will no longer be responsible for them. Have them sign off the Assumption of Risk Agreement, or if that is not possible, have at least two witnesses to their verbal resignation from the group and record the information as soon as you get back to your vehicle.

Allow yourself time to critique the outing. Ask yourself ‘what could I have done better?’
Call (705) 942-1891 or 1-877-393-4003 or e-mail and report the trail conditions.

If it was a good outing or something funny or unusual happened, you may want to consider writing it up for our newletter. Please send it directly to the newsletter editor.

Remember that ALL outings will have a high point, a low point and every level in between the two for all participants, so as leader, be prepared and stay focussed.

Happy hiking!
(our thanks to Naturally Superior Adventures of Wawa, Ontario for their instruction & guidance)
Hike Leader’s Checklist:

  • Are hikers dressed properly? (footwear, clothing, jacket, hat, rain or snow gear)
  • Do hikers have a lunch and water?
  • Do hikers look inexperienced? (They may not know what to expect on this outing.)
  • Are there children? (Can they handle it?)
  • At meeting time, gather everyone in a circle for introductions.
  • Tell everyone what they can expect: terrain, distance, how long until break, how long before we return.
  • Ask if there are any questions.
  • Count how many (write on hand if necessary).
  • Appoint sweep and secondary leaders (if numbers warrant) and introduce to hikers.
  • Inform hikers that it is imperative that they stay between the leader and the sweep. Let them know how to make a “nature’s call” properly by telling sweep.
  • Arrange car pooling. Spot cars if necessary.
  • While on the trail, stop and do a count periodically. Take notice if anyone is having a tough time and adjust for it.
  • Offer brochures or hike schedules to encourage membership.