Tag Archives: group

Lead and Sweep Hikers: What are Their Roles?

As I prepare the BMW for a long ride north this weekend I figured I’d get one last piece out to you all.

Let’s keep it quick and explore the roles of lead and sweep hikers for group backpacking.

lead hiker

Lead hiker’s have many tasks and you’ll want to rotate your group participants through this role. Among others their duties include:

  • Pace setting and checking for group pace
  • Checking for group hydration and ensuring water breaks
  • Initiating hiking games and group chat
  • Greeting oncoming trail traffic and alerting the group to move aside
  • Navigation
  • Getting the group ready after breaks and ensuring all are present

Any hiker in your group should be doing most of these tasks, don’t leave it solely up to your lead hiker. However, the lead hiker bears the primary responsibility for oversight.

You’ll find that as more of your group gets a chance to lead hike for a day or half a day, they’ll start to check in on the group even when they’re not in the lead. By the end of your trip you’ll have a whole group of lead hikers.

When you’re first starting out you’ll want to hike as the lead hiker and demonstrate to your group what the behaviors are of good lead hiking.

Sweep Hiker

Hiking sweep means you’re traveling very last in the group no matter what.

Normally you’ll want to make sure that you can still see your lead hiker and, if you can’t, call out for a slowing of pace. Sweep hikers are often the first to notice a pace that’s not correct.

As the sweep hiker it’s your job to mop up all the little details.

You should be:

  • Keeping an eye on pace
  • Watching the group carefully for signs of developing injury
  • Making sure no one drops gear on the trail (fuel bottles come to mind)
  • Leaving all break sites last and double checking for stragglers and trash
  • Triple checking the navigation and make sure your group hasn’t missed something
  • Keeping an eye on the weather; it’s often overlooked

When I hike sweep I try to focus on things I know my lead hiker might be too busy to notice.

As a good trip leading team, however, your job is always to predict what your co-leader needs support with and get that done before they even know it.

A great trip leading team works together always in harmony and creates a safe, meaningful environment for their group. This ensures maximum impact on students and best outcome of course goals.

Make no mistake, your students will notice when you are working as a well oiled machine with your co-leaeder and the group will strive to meet your level of excellence.

student participation and L.O.D.

Make sure you’re giving all your students a chance to rotate in to the lead and sweep hiking positions.

Usually this is done by creating a Leader of the Day structure in your adventure trips. We’ll talk about that in more detail later in another article.

Nurture your students as the learn to perform these roles and make sure you’ve already set a good example for them.

Debriefing at the end of each day with your entire group in a safe, positive learning environment, is critical to improving your LOD (leader of the day) effectiveness and smoothing out the operations of the lead and sweep hikers.

Don’t forget; it’s critical to also privately debrief the day with you LODs each day so that you and your co-leader can give them private and direct timely feedback about their performance.

Conclusion

You’ll find that your students’ ability to lead and sweep hike well is a direct result of your mentor ship and your own ability to lead and sweep hike well with your co-leader as you demonstrate and provide feedback.

If your adventure program doesn’t already have a Leader of the Day system and lead and sweep hikers in place as common practice, just contact me and we will work together to develop that content for your course.

Got great lead and sweep hiker ideas? Leave me a comment with the best games to play, common mistakes, or things you’ve learned as a lead and sweep hiker in a group!
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Pre-Trip Strategies for Wilderness Trip Risk Management

There’s always a lot of excitement and energy as your group hops out of the van at the trailhead. Chatting with your driver, usually your supervisor, you button up last minute details, and then you’re off.

Wait a minute! Before you hit that dusty trail here’s a few tips to make sure your group is prepared.

Starting a new journey is always exciting.

Starting a new journey is always exciting.

Remember, these tips should be paired with pre-trip planning and training of participants which should be much more in-depth.

Weather contingencies

Make sure your group is aware of things like the lightning position.

On the same note, hopefully you’ve already taught the “ABC’s” of backpacking, but make sure your group has appropriate clothing accessible. At least rain gear in an outside pocket (if it’s summer time).

Lost hiker protocol

How will the group respond in case of a lost hiker among your group? Make sure before you hit the trail that everyone in your group understands what to do if they become separated from the group.

I usually suggest the “hug a tree” policy whereby any lost hikers from my group immediately sit next to the nearest tree the moment they realize they are lost.

People often try to find their way back only to become more lost and make the situation worse.

Trail ETIQUETTE

It’s incredibly important to maintain good relations with other back country travelers when leading groups. Often you, or your employers, special use permits depend on keeping good standing with the land managing agency and if they get negative reports of your groups use, you’ll lose those permits.

  • For large groups always yield to smaller groups by standing to the side of the trail.
  • Always yield to horses by stepping to the downhill side. This is for the safety of the horse and rider in case the horse spooks.
  • When stopping for a water break or rest break, always move your group off the trail to allow passage of other users. Nothing is more unprofessional looking than a group of a dozen people clogging up the trail.

From a risk management persepective the most important tip to remember here is about horses. Always remember to step to the downhill side when yielding and keep a low voice as you greet the rider from a distance. If the horse spooks near you or your group it’s best for it to shy away toward the uphill slope where it’s less likely to hurt its self or the rider.

Communication

Make it clear that no one leaves the group without informing you. No matter the reason every hiker in your group must let you, the leader, know when they’re leaving.

Even for quick facili-tree breaks (bathroom); you are responsible for the group and must know where they are at all times. You don’t have to follow them to the bathroom but you must be aware that they have left.

pace setting

Consider using yourself and your co-leader (you MUST have a co-leader, never walk into the woods without a co-leader) as the lead and sweep hikers for the first half day.

This is important because you can set a good example for the group by playing trail games, setting appropriate pace, checking in with the group, monitoring rest breaks, etc.

You’ll want to let your group rotate into the roles of lead and sweep hiker as the trip progresses but it’s important to model good lead hiking so they have a tangible example to replicate.

Setting an appropriate pace is very important for group dynamics, mental health, and physical health on trail.

Often times hikers will struggle to keep up with a strong lead hiker but won’t say anything. Eventually you’ll realize it’s becoming a problem when you have an asthmatic episode from a hiker in your group who pushed themselves too hard to keep up.

Be proactive with pace setting, ask your group often “Would anyone like me to slow down?”

Eventually the group will learn to ask eachother and often they’ll ask you to slow down for someone else in the group they can tell is struggling but unwilling to speak up.

Encourage a safe environment for this, you’ll be glad you did.

 

What tips do you have for pre-hike risk management at the trailhead?
Leave me a comment!