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Group Hiking Trips:
Best Tips For A
Great Outdoor Vacation

Group hiking vacation trips take the burden of planning and logistics off your shoulders. Is this type of hiking right for you? #hiking #backpacking #hikingtrip #backcountryhiking #hikes

Group hiking trips run by outdoor adventure companies can take a lot of the planning burden off your shoulders, so you can concentrate on enjoying the feel of your backpack on those shoulders.

However, not all is fun and games in the world of pre-paid group hiking vacation trips.

The tips shared here, earned in the College Of Hard Knocks, will help you narrow down your choices to the best group trips that make sense for the type of hiker you are.


Group hiking trips
in the United States

Hiking is not a complicated sport.

Gear, food, and a map, right?

Not so fast.

Things become exponentially more complicated when you hike with a group, especially with a group of people not of your own choosing.

And that's what you're up against when you sign up for a group hiking trip with a tour operator or private guiding company.

Harness the power of the Internet to zero in upon the trip of your dreams.

Once you have a short list of maybe 3 or 4 trip possibilities, you've already taken some good steps.

But the work of choosing the best
group hiking trips has just begun

To make sure you're going to get the group hiking trip you envision, use this checklist of trip questions.

You absolutely must be able to answer all of them before you consider paying money.

  • What is the minimum and maximum size of the group?
  • What is the ratio between guides and guests?
  • When is the "green light" date, when the trip is either declared a firm trip, or canceled due to lack of interest?
  • What is the full cost of the trip?
  • What is included in the cost of the trip?
  • When is a down payment due, and what percentage of the trip will it be?
  • When is the final payment due?
  • What are the refund policies?
  • Which gear are you responsible for bringing?
  • If you don't have gear, can you rent it?
  • Can you opt to have a private tent, and what additional charge will there be?
  • Are the trip guides experienced, trained and certified?
  • Will there be first aid supplies and backcountry navigation and communication technology coming along on the group hiking trip?
  • What sort of menu will be offered?
  • Are there accommodations for dietary restrictions?
  • Will there be group latrine facilities?
  • Will alcohol be provided, or allowed, on this trip?
  • If you're in bear country, will kitchen and eating area precautions be taken? And will you have your own bear spray at your disposal 24/7?

There are many, many more questions to ask, but that should get you started thinking about why group hiking trips are both a blessing and a hassle.

  • Yes, on a group hiking trip, everything is provided and planned for you!
  • But everything is provided and planned for you, so your personal preferences might bump up against The Plan.

Example:

Group hiking trip in the backcountry, with backpacking tents spread far apart from each otherDo you want lots of room between tents on a group hiking trip, or prefer more of a village feel?


Things to watch for
when booking group hiking trips

The hiking trip company should set expectations for when you should hear from them, and which topics will be discussed.

  • Example: Expect to receive a trip confirmation email by a certain date. That means the required group number has been reached, and the trip is a go so you should book your transportation and hotel rooms.

Honor the due dates of your trip deposit and final payment, to avoid additional fees or trip cancellation.

Read through what is included in the trip, and make plans (and a budget) to cover the gaps of food, accommodations, transportation, or excluded activities on your own.

  • To assume is not a good mindset here, because you end up looking silly when you point out something missing that you didn't read about beforehand.

Personal experiences with U.S. hiking trips in groups

I've done my fair share of hiking in groups in the United States, so I can offer a few insights into how things might play out for you.

Trust is not blind

It's true that you must have total trust in the person or company booking all of the arrangements.

A good question to ask:

  • Have they done this before?

If they have, it still doesn't mean you should stop reading all emails and paper copies of the things you are agreeing to do - and pay for.

Trust, but verify, as someone once said.

Tip: Sometimes a travel agent is recommended by the company to help you with transitional times:

  • staying in a hotel the night before the trip departs but meeting with the group after dinner to go over logistics, for example.


Instant hiking buddies?

The participants, your hiking partners, make or break the trip.

If your hiking trip is rated for strong, experienced hikers and a beginner hiker is allowed to book the trip, the dynamics of the trip will have to change.

Ditto for the reverse scenario, when a gung ho hardcore hiker hijacks a relaxed pace trip.

To avoid misunderstanding:

  • Expect to see some sort of questionnaire asking about your hiking experience, health history, and expectations.
  • Be truthful about your medical conditions, weight, level of physical conditioning, and restrictions.
  • If you don't see anything asking about food expectations and preferences, don't be shy about outlining them.

Bugs bug, you don't

Don't feel that you are bugging anyone when you have questions.

If you detect attitude toward your "annoying" questions, or a reluctance to spend time with your concerns, look elsewhere for a group hiking trip.

  • In my experience, the norms of the company infuse all levels, including the trip guides.
  • Helpful and friendly is what you want here.


But please don't be that hiker

Group trips cost money, a lot more money than if you planned it yourself.

But without fail, budget ~8 - 10% of the total cost of the trip as a tip for your guide(s).

Does that idea sting a bit?

  • Then re-consider whether you should go on this type of hiking trip.

These outdoorsy folks work hard to make sure you have a good time, and even when things don't go according to plan, they are doing their best in most cases to keep you safe and happy.

In my experience, they are underpaid for the heavy responsibilities they shoulder.

So plan to tip your guide above that rate (in the proper currency) when s/he goes the extra mile, sometimes quite literally, for you.

  • I've watched a guide backtrack double digit miles with a headlamp to retrieve tent poles which were carelessly left at a landing strip - so her clients could get a good night's sleep.
  • I've witnessed a hiking trip guide assemble a packraft, cruise out to a floating ice chunk calved off a glacier, and retrieve fresh drinking water for the group - rather than make us gravity filter some mighty unappealing, murky lake water.

Tip these hard workers!!!


Big red flags
for group trips -
and not the good kind

A company which spends a lot of time and money on glossy brochures and responsive websites splashed with dramatic photos has got the marketing angle dialed in.

They should also have customer service and trip management skills on that level.

  • If details are sparse, the photos don't match the trip description, or the equipment looks worn or outdated, you need to start asking questions before plunking down a down payment.

And always do your own background research.

Example: If your mountain hiking trip begins in June, while your brochure is splashed with late summer flowers and low (or non existent) snow levels, you will be disappointed.

  • Stare at the pretty pictures but be sure to ask what early June conditions are likely to be.
  • Then pack the right clothing and gear: rain jacket, not tank tops.

Another red flag: eagerness to get you booked on the trip and deposited, but slow email responses when you have questions.

  • Especially nasty: failure to return phone calls about a refund or re-booking.

One more to be wary about

I'm sure you've already thought about checking online for other hiker's experiences with group trips: Yelp, TripAdvisor, and hiking blogs.

Always be careful to filter out the weird rants and unrealistic expectations (there were no fresh scones in the camp kitchen for days on end!!!!!).

But if the majority of reviews are negative, there's a grain of truth in there somewhere.

  • If the trip company has made no attempt to address the concerns, or did nothing to offer an explanation for disaster scenarios, move on to a different option.
  • These people aren't listening to group feedback and refining their systems over time.

A few non US based
hiking trip tips to consider

As a US citizen I can only share my handful of experiences with you.

Not all of the pitfalls and concerns I've experienced will happen to you.

And other things I never bumped into might interfere with your enjoyment of a group hiking trip in a country other than the United States.

So take all of my tips with a grain of salt, a pinch of common sense, and whatever other cautions feel right to you.

Language barriers

Find out if English (or German, or whatever your native language might be) will be spoken, and by whom.

If the trip guide(s) can't speak English, you will miss some important tips, hiking tricks and safety information.

If you're the only English speaker  in the group, feelings of isolation and sometimes even paranoia might begin to creep into meal times and unexpected but vital decision points on the trip.

Hiking versus trekking
versus walking

Be careful about hunting for the type of group hiking trip which matches your hiking style.

Don't assume that using one of those words in your phone and email conversations with the company means the same thing to everyone involved.

Example:

If you're keen to explore a part of the world that offers a group hiking trip, and you are all about multi day hiking trips with rustic accommodations, you'll be disappointed when the van pulls up to transport you to your bustling B&B at the end of the day.

And perhaps even more heartbreaking for you, the other way around:

You are expecting moderate day hikes with a hearty meal each evening, and instead you share a leaky tent on rocky ground with a grand champion snorer after a dinner of cheese and salami.

  • Both of these scenarios could have been avoided by reading the fine print, and asking for clarification when details were omitted or sketchy.

Buy hiking trip insurance

Anytime you pay someone else to arrange a hiking trip, you should purchase hiking trip insurance to protect your investment.

Be sure the policy covers trip cancellation, medical emergencies, evacuation, and trip interruption clauses.

  • Watch for more details on how to buy hiking trip insurance coming soon to this page!

Different types of hiking
vacations

If the group hiking trip experience doesn't sound right for you, you have other options.

Discover how your best hiking vacation doesn't have to be in a large group!


Home > Best Hiking Tips >

Group Hiking Trips

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