Tag Archives: instructor

Is Anyone Not Ready? Wilderness Trip Leading Tip

Outdoor Guide Tip of the Day

As Chris Ducker would say “no one has a monopoly on good ideas,” and that holds true among outdoor trip leaders.

Very early on in my backpacking guide career, or trip leading, as it is most often called in the industry, I stumbled across a little soft skills tip that has proven useful and I have passed on many times to new leaders.

“Is anyone not ready?”

It’s such a small little phrase but it makes a huge difference and here’s why and when to use it:

When preparing the group, as a leader, to move again be it on trail or water many new trip leaders will ask “Is everybody ready?”.

The usual response to this question is a bunch of mumbling, a few “yeses”, and maybe a really quiet and faint “no”. It can be really hard to tell who is ready and who isn’t, then you’ve got to ask again, or go through each person individually to find out who is and isn’t ready to move.

Instead simply rephrase the question: “Is anyone not ready?”

If your students respond “nope, I’m ready,” then begin to kindly remind them they need not answer unless they’re saying the affirmative. It may take a few tries before some of your students learn not to respond to the question unless they’re unprepared to move.

This alleviates confusion and allows outdoor trip leaders to know for sure, with only one question and one response, whether or not the group is ready.

The ideal response, as your group learns this question and how to answer it, is that the entire group will say nothing at all and then you know you’re ready to go.

No news is good news for a trip leader and while I encourage my trip leaders only to call back to base camp if it’s an emergency, I also encourage my participants to answer this question only if they’re unprepared to move.

What simple trip leading tips do you have for other adventure educators? Leave us a comment to start the discussion!



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.


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!

Become a Backpacking Guide in 12 Months or Less


A group of backpackers skirts a high lake in the Wind River Mountains, WY.

Before we get started with this month-by-month regimen, let’s review a few helpful hints:

First and foremost, if you want to be in charge of a group in the backcountry, you better have the hard skills to back you up.

Hard skills are starting a fire, pitching a tarp, packing a backpack, etc.

Don’t forget, employers will want to see that you have good soft skills too.

Soft skills are communication, leadership, conflict resolution, facilitation, etc. These skills are much more difficult to develop outside of interpersonal interaction, so be mindful of how you’re interacting and communicating with people (co-workers especially) over the next few months.

This article will focus on hard skills development.

The best and fastest possible way to develop hard skills is to hit the trail with a friend who has more experience than you. Second best is hitting the trail with anyone at all. Third best is being out there on your own.

Always document when and where you went so you can provide your employer a documented representation of your experience.

Months 1-2:

Get at least two weekend backpacking trips done. Get one trip of 3+ nights, four nights would be best. Begin searching for a Wilderness First Responder course. Enroll yourself immediately. Now get back on the trail and hike and backpack more!

Use some of these common outdoor job search engines to get an idea of what kind of jobs are out there.

If you’re truly passionate about landing a job then you’re going to have to roll your sleeves up and become your own job search engine. It’s highly effective and you should get started early.

Months 3-4:

Hopefully you’ve found or (preferably) completed your WFR course by now. Every employer is going to expect trip leaders to be certified WFRs (pronounced woofers).

Look at NOLS WMI (Mountain West) or SOLO (East Coast)  for WFR course offerings.

Plan a few more overnights.

Purchase a Whisperlite stove. Use the stove to cook every meal you can.

Don’t forget, your new Whisperlite will need a Fuel Bottle. You’ll want to pick up a service kit while you’re shopping.

The new Whisperlite International provides the ability to burn many different fuels, it may be a better option for some of you!

Become a Whisperlite wizard, 90% of backpacking programs you lead will be using the Whisperlite. You better know how to use it and cook on it. The reason this stove is so popular is because it’s durable, highly proven, easily field maintainable, and highly versatile for institutional backpacking.

Plus, if you use the stove properly and take care of it, they last virtually forever. Cascade Designs‘ customer service is among the best in the industry. They take care of their customers.

Months 5-6:

Get out hiking overnights on the weekends as much as possible.

Plan two trips of 4+ nights.

Start refining your techniques and gear. Get rid of unnecessary junk you’ve been carrying. It’s not necessary to go ultralight but take a professional attitude toward what you’re packing and why you’re packing it.

See my backpacking gear lists if you need suggestions or send me an email and I’d be glad to help you refine your gear and techniques.

Keep in mind that your (or mine) backpacking gear for a solo trip will be different from your gear in an institutional setting. Be prepared to make compromises when your employer tells you to carry the four-pound med kit.

Figure out how to cope with backpacking in the rain. If you’re wet and soggy and grumpy, chances are your participants will be too. You better be ready to mentally deal with the adversities you’ll encounter out there so that you can put them aside and help your clients.

Decide what gear setup works best for you (I.E. tarp vs tent, poncho vs rain jacket, etc.)

Start to learn what backpacking foods are appropriate and what’s a waste of space in your pack. Find the balance for yourself between carrying a pack full of fresh (and heavy) fruits and vegetables versus eating only snickers and ramen noodles. Everyone has a preference, the only way to find yours is to experiment.

Months 7-10:

Plan one week long trip (7 nights in the field) in this time and make sure you learn how to plan backpacking meals like a professional. No more Mountain House freeze dried meals, they make their money on people who haven’t learned to pack their own meals.

Continue taking as many 1-4 night trips as possible.

Don’t forget to document all of these, where you went, how far you went, how many nights in the field.

Become a purveyor of online forums.

Backpackinglight.com (Paid service.)
Whiteblaze.net (Read, post with caution.)
Hammockforums.net (Hammock camping focused.)

Begin searching online resources for jobs. Winter is the time to apply, so hopefully you started following this outline in the spring (it should now be prime time for job hunting).

Read my list of the four best places to search for an outdoor job because you’re getting down to the wire. It’s time to get serious if you haven’t already followed the link from Months 1-2.

Apply vigorously, apply for every job that appeals, and don’t skip any because you think you’re not prepared. Let the interviewer determine that. Don’t forget you might just land an outdoor job that’s not even posted!

Follow my guide to nailing a phone interview so you don’t miss your chance at that perfect backpacking job!

I’ve landed jobs before that I thought for sure I wouldn’t get. Stay optimistic, but most importantly, just send out a shit load of applications. Someone will want you.

Months 11-12:

Finish refining your techniques and gear.

Ask for help on Whiteblaze.net. Or leave a comment here to get help with your gear setup if you’ve got lingering questions. You could also get in touch directly for help.

Try to get experience using different shelters, if you’ve been backpacking with a solo tent, do a few overnights with a tarp. Employers want to see that you’re comfortable with multiple types of shelter.

Finish your interviews and accept that new job!

Other articles that will help in your job hunt:

Outdoor Job Search Ideas (Be Your Own Search Engine)

Four Best Places to Search for an Outdoor Job

Three Outdoor Living Skills You Must Have

5 Pieces of Backpacking Gear You Can’t Live Without

Outdoor Education Industry: Trends and Opportunities

Seeking Change: Entering the Outdoor Education Industry

How to Phone Interview for an Outdoor Job

How to Get Hired as a Ski Instructor (With No Ski Experience)

Impossible, you say?

Nay says I!

Prior to the 2012-’13 winter season I could count the number of times I had skied at a resort on one hand. On the other hand I could count the number of times I had backcountry skied. I think it’s fair to say that I had only enough ski experience to know I enjoyed it and wanted a job doing just that: skiing all day!


A strong wind picks up on Bald Mountain at Deer Valley Ski Resort.

It’s actually possible to start your first season in the ski industry as an instructor even with little to no prior experience. Don’t let people tell you that you have to start by bussing tables and earn your way to the top.

This article will give you some insight and inspiration on how to become a ski instructor with little or no time on skis.

The first key to success is to have experience teaching in the outdoors. Your resume needs to key in on your prior teaching experience, since the skiing creds are going to be little to none.

The second key to success is to find “apprentice” ski instructor jobs or entry level jobs teaching kids. Many resorts have instructor positions open to novice skiers as long as you’re willing to work hard to improve your skiing and teaching.

The third key to success is to really play to your strengths in the interview. For example you could tell your prospective employer “I have a lot of experience teaching in an outdoor setting, I am able to ski green runs, and greatly look forward to improving myself as a skier and instructor.” My guide on How to Phone Interview for an Outdoor Job should help a lot.

The final key to success is to be honest about your abilities, apply to as many positions as possible, and be ready and willing to go wherever work is available. That means you may have to move somewhere for the winter season in order to get that dream job.

Let me tell you, there is no better, or faster way to learn how to ski than to jump right in to it. If you have tried skiing and know you love it, get yourself in to the industry and you’ll improve rapidly! Plus you get to ski every day for work, and you can ski the mountain on your days off as much as you want.

Read more about the outdoor industry here.