Leader of the Pack: How to Plan a Hike

February 17, 2014
IstockBy the time you gather at the trailhead, much of the trip-planning work is done.

Cindy Martell, AMC Worcester Chapter trip leader, and the group she was leading reached the peak of Mount Pierce under a bright blue sky one spring afternoon and looked out across the Presidential Range. She glanced over at one member of the group, a woman who had never climbed a mountain before. The trail had been difficult and muddy, but with Martell’s encouragement the woman had persevered. “The look of satisfaction and awe on her face made me feel good,” says Martell. “It was a confirmation that I was doing the right thing.”

Leading a hike with a group of family or friends, or a formal AMC hike for your chapter, can add new dimensions to your hiking experience. “I really enjoy sharing my love of the out-of-doors,” Martell says. Yet hike planning and leading also brings new responsibilities. Here are some tips on managing the logistics of a group hike with family and friends (AMC chapters and staff have rigorous leadership training guidelines for club-sponsored trips).

Months Before the Hike

Think about whom you’d like to invite, bearing in mind the hiking experience and fitness levels of your potential group members, and decide where you’d like to go. “Keep it simple—especially when you’re starting out as a new leader,” says Martell. It is best to pick a destination and trail you know well. After you’ve become a more experienced leader, you can branch out to places you haven’t been. Recruit a co-leader. If it’s an overnight trip, make reservations if needed. Based on distance and terrain, estimate how long the trip will take, being sure to include time for breaks and meals. This will determine what time the group should meet at the trailhead.

Two Weeks Before the Hike

Get in touch with group members to confirm they are coming, and answer any questions they may have. Send out a gear list that includes the hikeSafe 10 essentials.

One Week Before the Hike

Pack your personal gear and your leader gear. A leader should bring emergency equipment appropriate to the hiking conditions, such as a sleeping pad to keep an injured group member off cold ground, or extra hats and mittens for high altitudes. You will need a waterproof map. If your map is not waterproof, put it in a resealable plastic bag.

One Day Before the Hike

Prepare your food and water and pack the car. You should bring extra snacks and water for other members of the group. “There’s nothing worse than getting to the trailhead and finding out someone only has one bottle of water,” Martell says. Check the weather report. If poor weather is expected, you can revise your route to remain at lower altitudes. Leave a trip itinerary with family or friends so that if you’re late people will know where to search for you.

Small details can make a trip. “When I’m on a heavy-duty hike I always bring a bag of candy to pass around when we stop for lunch,” says Martell. “It always amazes me how appreciative people are for this little thing.”

Day of the Hike

Check the weather report again. If the report predicts dangerous conditions, cancel the trip; there will be other days to hike. Otherwise, arrive 30 minutes before departure time to gather the participants and make introductions. Make sure everyone has the appropriate gear. Wait a few minutes for late arrivals, and then, Martell says, “Have a fantastic time!”


Read more about trip planning and how to become a trip leader:

Read about AMC’s Mountain Leadership School in the story “Learning to Lead.”

Sign up for one of AMC’s leadership training programs.

Discover the best trip-planning resources.

Learn the hikeSafe 10 essentials, gear lists, and hiker responsibility code.

Read about outdoor leadership.

Learn how to become a trip leader for your AMC chapter, and obtain a list of other leadership resources.

AMC’s 10 Essentials for a Safe and Pleasant Hike

How to create a thorough trip itinerary

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Susan Kieffer

AMC Outdoors, the magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, inspires readers to get outside and get engaged. Learn more.

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