In addition to gear there are several other things we consider when we take groups in the woods. The first is to know your limits. I don’t take kids fresh from the city up the highest mountain in the state. I give them time to get in shape and work up to it. The same goes for individuals out for a hike on their own. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Remember that you not only have to get in to your destination, but also back out. Don’t hike until you are exhausted before you turn around. A tired and overstressed hiker easily stumbles and gets injured, or makes a poor decision and gets lost.
The group hikes at the speed of the slowest person. We make it a policy to put this person in front so they can set a pace they are comfortable with. This eliminates the slinky motion of stopping and starting that can be so frustrating. It also seems to help with motivation when they are in the front and included with everyone else.
Slow hikers in the back tend to fall further and further behind and get discouraged. Muscles cramp up when overly stressed or under hydrated. It also helps to know that most injuries happen on the way down the mountain when you are more tired and moving fast, than they do going up. I never let my students go barreling down the hill.
When traveling with a group, trail junctions are important. Always stop and make sure everyone goes the same way. When by yourself, take note of which trail you took or which direction you headed. Don’t let a group get too spread out. Assuming the back of the group is on track and safe when you can’t see them is not a good idea.
Pace is also important. It is better to set a steady pace that you can maintain than to push really hard and wear out quickly. Breaks are shorter this way; long breaks allow lactose to build up in muscles making them stiff and making it hard to get going again. Your stride is lost; it’s like starting all over. Avoid gasping for breath when hiking steep uphills. I always tell my students to blow out hard to clear the lungs.
Gasping doesn’t really clear the lungs out and after a while you’ve got waste build up and no room for fresh oxygen. Proper breathing is a good idea in all aspects of life, but particularly when exerting yourself. If you are on a well-used trail, be considerate of others.
Do not be loud to the point that it disturbs others who have come out for the quiet and tranquillity. When hiking steep trails the general rule of thumb is similar to cross-country skiing: those coming downhill have the right of way over those going up. Step aside and let them pass.
So now you’re hiking along happily with your group when suddenly you come to a stream. Stream crossings can be tricky business. What you remember as a tiny trickle last fall can be a roaring torrent in the spring. Rock jumping is fine, but use caution in colder weather as thin, invisible layers of ice can form on the rocks making them very treacherous. Be wary of logs. Wet wood is slippery and wood near water is frequently rotted and not trustworthy. If the water is high and there are no safe rocks wading across is your next option.
Do not wade through water that is much more than waist deep. A strong current can not only knock you over but also hold you pinned down underwater if you are carrying a well-loaded pack on your back. Use a sturdy stick to prod the bottom for holes or rocks your foot could get stuck under. Forming a chain with the other members of your group can help with stability.
To keep your feet dried you might want to take off your socks and go across in just your boots. To can dump them out and put on dry socks when you get to the other side. Alternately, you can wear just socks so your boots stay dry. Bare feet however are a potential injury. Be sure to scout up and down the stream for the best crossing spot. Do not cross at the narrowest point, the current there will be the strongest. Cross at the widest part where water will be slower and not as deep.