Group management for long distance walks

Group management for long distance walks

On a long distance hike, the party are likely to carry more weight, be in more remote places and be more reliant both on their equipment and on each other.

Planning

Leadership must begin in the planning stages. It is important that all of the team buy into the adventure. Sound decisions at this point on the team, their aim, agreed equipment and so on should reduce your leadership intervention during the trip.

Weather

The weather may influence the route choice. Avoid walking with a heavy sack into the wind up hill. Many walking guide books suggest a direction of travel, however the weather - and specifically the wind speed at altitude and its direction - has to be taken into account. 

Equipment

The team's equipment must be appropriate and the team must be knowledgeable in its use. I often hear that a down sleeping bag is not generally appropriate for the UK climate. But this needs to be viewed in the context of experience and the rest of your equipment. I use one all the time: I keep it waterproof in my rucksack, my tent is waterproof, I avoid shedding my wet clothing onto it, and I avoid it coming into contact with condensation on the tent walls. It is then packed carefully in the morning. If the weather is fine I may air it at a lunch stop.

Tents


Take down the tents simultaneously so no-one sits waiting in the rain getting cold and annoyed

Campsites have to be carefully selected based on environmental and climatic considerations. If the weather is poor and there are several tents, recommend a time to take the tents down rather than a time to leave. Everyone should aim to be packed up less their tent for say 8.00 am. You should have all your kit on, rucsack packed but be in the shelter of your tent. If someone is behind by 20 minutes for some reason you can all shelter until you are at the same stage and then take down the tents simultaneously so no-one sits waiting in the rain getting cold and annoyed. 

Accidents and emergenices

I have witnessed at least one injury and have heard of many others involving young people and camping, where incidents have happened at remote campsites. Many revolve around rivers, swimming or paddling, splashing people with stones, slipping in barefeet and so on.

The other main hazard is cookers and cooking, it does not matter what make or fuel system (I have had some close shaves with them all!) due to poor stability, or doing things that are not recommended when there seems to be a lack of pressure or when changing canisters or refuelling. Care and respect for flammable liquid is essential and a large flat stone to put the cooker on go a long way towards a safer experience. Cooking just in the shelter of an open fly sheet door in poor weather is a useful skill - having food that is simple to prepare becomes an important issue. The more stirring and preparation needed, the greater the likelihood of an accident. 
Simple things can greatly help to reduce the stresses of leadership and decision-making
Although it adds to the load, it's worth recommending that party members carry a pair of trainers to rest their feet in some different footwear at the end of the day and which may allow them to continue the journey should they they get blisters from their boots.

Sanitation

Hygiene is an issue, however in the higher UK mountains contaminated water is rare. What is not rare is that people do not effectively wash after using the toilet, or do not wash well down stream, then after handling their cutlery and cooking utensils they end up ingesting the bugs they produced earlier.

Sanity

Lastly, carry a small, lightweight short-wave radio to pick up the weather and news wherever you are in the world. Simple things like this can greatly help to reduce the stresses of leadership and decision-making.

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