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’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
- 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.
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.