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Tips for Leading Beginners into the Great Outdoors

A Scoutmaster's List of Dos and Don'ts

02.16.18

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Tips for Leading Beginners into the Great Outdoors

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If you are an outdoor enthusiast, it may be hard to understand how anyone could live without feeling a natural pull toward outdoor adventures. Whether you were raised in the woods or started hiking trails later in life, once the passion begins, it tends to carry its own momentum. Yet those first experiences often provide a critical spark. 

Many of us outdoor enthusiasts come to a place where we find ourselves inviting less experienced individuals to join us on an adventure that may change their life. Keeping the experience positive and exciting can be a important challenge. Below you will find a Scoutmaster’s list of dos and don'ts for guides who are leading adventure newbies into experiences only the wilderness can offer.

Do's

  • Prepare well: Obviously. Make sure your adventure will be safe and enjoyable by providing a packing list, a weather forecast, packing and weight guidelines, and maps of the area. Things that are obvious to you may not be obvious to inexperienced adventurers. People may be wondering if they should bring a jacket, or how they are going to cook their ramen. Tell them that there are no stupid questions, and make yourself available to help them before the trip. Let them know what you plan to bring for gear or meals. An easy way to help a new adventurer without insulting their intelligence is to send a packing list with only the basics and essentials.
  • Collaborate on gear: Depending on the adventure type and the group size, you may find that gear can be shared. A group of 10 backpackers may only need three or four stoves and one large water filter (I love my Katadyn Gravity Camp 6-liter water filter for large groups in the backcountry). Climbing or rappelling groups an alternate using harnesses and hardware. Collaborating on gear will save weight in everyone’s pack and make things simpler.  
  • Check packs: Hold a party to check the weight of each pack based on the individual, and go through contents if necessary and when appropriate. It is not ideal to have a group member in tears over the weight of their pack only to find that they brought three flashlights, two headlamps, and a lantern (true story). A pre-trip check can help you discover critical omissions, as well, such as forgetting to pack water or not packing enough warm clothes.
  • Get people excited for the trip: Start a Facebook group with a fun title for your upcoming adventure. Share pictures and videos of the location to get everyone excited. Doing this can help keep a timid newbie from backing out because of fear. After all, you know that a good adventure has the ability to change a life forever.

Don’ts

  • Don't be the only one who knows where you are: If you are a trip guide and the person with the most knowledge and experience, you must realize that there is a responsibility for the members of your party. People will turn to you if you run into a crisis. Make sure that someone back home knows exactly what your plan is. Teach others in your group about the details of the area. Provide them with maps and an explanation of your plan. Although you may be in charge, put some responsibility back on your group. If you were unconscious or immobilized, could you rely on them to get you home?
  • Don’t be a know-it-all: Remember that, although you have experience, there are a million ways to enjoy the outdoors. When someone asks a question, give them a suggestion rather than giving them a black-and-white answer. Allow adventure newbies to make a few mistakes. If you don’t know something, tell them you don’t know. Value their opinion by asking them where they think the group should set up camp.
  • Don’t promote ignorance: Adventuring Like You Give a Damn also means passing along the expectations of being responsible to all new adventurers. Teach the principles of Leave No Trace. Being an example and a teacher will help to prepare the next generation of adventurers to do the right thing.

Ultimately the guide's goal is to help a beginning adventurer experience something that is challenging on their own terms and to learn to overcome it. It may just be the hardest thing they have done in their whole life.  Yet, the hardest experiences seem to provide the most growth in retrospect. Each person will learn to love the outdoors in their own way, and for their own reasons. The luckiest adventure guides can witness this spark in someone and see a newfound love of adventuring begin.  

 

McKay Isham is an Outdoor Project Contributor who leads trips for his family, youth organizations, and for the Boy Scouts in the Utah Black Diamond district. He has been involved with high adventure scouting for nearly a decade. 

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We believe good things come from people spending time outside. It’s about more than standing on the mountain top. It’s about nourishment and learning. It’s about protecting what sustains us. It’s about building relationships with the outdoors and each other. LEARN MORE and share the pledge to Adventure Like You Give A Damn.

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