Hiking With a Group
Hiking with a larger group has its pros and cons. Heading out in a group is often more fun and also less expensive as the costs can be shared between a higher number of people. Having more people around also makes you feel safer. In a larger group you have to take everybody into consideration, however, and the distance you cover each day must be tailored to the weakest member of your group. A larger group size means that you are more limited in your options for accommodation, either regarding the size of campsites or the capacity of reservable huts.
This article offers tips for hiking with a group. You should also read Visitor Guidelines.
From idea to excursion: the stages of planning your hike
Stage 1: preliminary planning
You can use the following questions to support the preliminary planning of your group’s hike. You can save the preliminary plan to a shared workspace set up for your hike, where you can later also collect all other electronic documents used for planning the excursion.
Your destination often is the first question to be answered. Should your destination be in Finland or elsewhere? In Lapland or further south? Is reaching a certain nature attraction your goal?
- Tip: You can run a search among the excursion destinations on Nationalparks.fi using different criteria.
When would it suit everybody to go? Are you planning a hike in the snow-free season or a winter excursion? How many days are you planning to take?
- Tip: For a bit of luxury at the end of a longer hike or for your last night, you could book a large cabin or some other type of accommodation with an external service provider for your group where you can take it easy and relax after your hike.
3. Why are we going, what are we planning to do?
The group members can be motivated by different things, and their wishes concerning the hike may vary. Are we just going for a hike? Would we like to fish? Will we spend time taking pictures of nature attractions? Are we hoping to reach a certain point, for example a fell peak or an attraction?
- Tip: To reconcile everyone's wishes, each member of the group should talk openly about what they would like to do. By talking this through honestly before the excursion, surprises about what each member wishes to achieve can be avoided during the hike.
4. Who will be going?
This question will help you select the goals of the excursion and decide how much training or practice the group will need before setting out. A larger group must always have a leader, or you must decide who will lead each aspect of the hike. Who will be the excursion leader? Are all group members experienced hikers? Are some of you beginners or less fit than others? How will you share responsibilities between group members? How well do the group members know each other? Could the group members rescue each other if necessary?
- Tip: You should assign responsibilities based on the group members’ strengths. One of you may like to be in charge of navigation, while for others it could be more natural to be responsible for cooking or fetching water.
5. How will we travel to the destination?
What would be the most cost-effective way for the group to get there? How will you travel on the excursion (walking, cycling, paddling...)?
6. How much are we willing to pay for the excursion?
How much are the group members able to spend on the excursion? How will you raise funds if this turns out to be necessary?
Stage 2: detailed planning and preparation
Once you have your group together and the preliminary plan is in place, it is time to make more detailed plans. The group should get together once or twice before the hike. At these gatherings, the group can agree on what to do and give instructions for those who are less experienced.
Now at the latest it would be a good time to gather your written plans and other shared documents (route plan, catering plan, shopping list, safety plan, cost calculation) to a shared digital workspace.
1. Distance covered each day and accommodation
Among other things, you should write down in your route plan the distance you are going to cover each day and where you intend to spend the night. Are you sure all group members will be able to cover the planned daily distance? When planning the accommodation, have you made sure that the selected site has enough space for everyone’s tents?
- Tip: You should always bring a tent or some other type of accommodation with you. When hiking with a group, you should never rely on finding enough space in an open wilderness hut. You can also use your tent or other accommodation for temporary shelter if you cannot find the hut in which you intended to stay on time.
2. What will we eat? How will we cook our food?
Not planning the catering properly can easily spoil your hike. Who will buy the food, or how will responsibility for it be shared? Are you sure everyone will get sufficient energy from the daily rations? Do group members have special diets? Will you cook the meals collectively or, for example, in pairs? Cooking in pairs often is a good practice on hikes. And if one of you wants to cook their own meals, for example because their diet differs significantly from what the others wish to eat, it is not the end of the world.
- Tip: To add variety to your meals, let each group member suggest their party piece or favourite meal for the hike menu. This can give the others new ideas for meals on their future hikes.
3. What gear will you need? How or where will you get the gear for the group?
Planning your gear properly will help make your hike safer and better managed. If you plan the gear together, you can optimise the weight each member will carry and select equipment that will help you keep going. For example, major differences between your footwear or rain gear may slow you down significantly.
- Tip: use the packing lists. Many items can be shared by the whole group, and you can also share hygiene products. Checking the packing list just before you set off will help you relax.
- Tip: You can rent gear from hiking associations, scout groups and also private operators. Remember to test your gear before heading out. Legend has it that a hike in Greenland costing thousands of euros had to be cancelled because a camping stove had a broken seal.
4. Risk assessment
You should pay attention to safety in all stages of planning the excursion (route plan, catering plan, gear) as well as every day while you are out.
The safety plan sets out what the most likely risks during the hike are and how you have prepared for them. What are the risks you will encounter during your hike? How will you prepare for problems? What will you do in case of an emergency – who will carry the primary responsibility for leading the group? How can you call help? In what parts of the area can you get a mobile signal? Where are the nearest health centres in case anyone has minor health issues? Remember to write down the group members’ contact details in the safety plan, including those of anyone waiting at home.
- Tip: The group members should inform each other, or at least the excursion leader, of any illnesses that may affect the hike. This means that unexpected health problems will not crop up during the hike, and any issues can be taken into account in advance, for example when planning the route. In case of emergencies, you should tell others at the start of the hike where you keep your personal medicines or first aid gear in your rucksack.
- Tip: Each group member should have the Suomi112 app (112.fi) on their phones.
5. Possible practice hike
A short practice hike is a good way of getting the group members to know each other as well as checking their skill levels and fitness for the hike. The practice hike is also a great way of checking your gear.
6. Last-minute checks
The group going on the hike should perform a safety check both before setting off from home and when reaching the starting point of the hike. Check the following:
- Is the plan suitable for the current conditions? What will the weather conditions be like in the next few days? Are the route and its length suitable considering them?
- Is the plan still suitable for all group members? Have there been major changes in group members’ fitness, expectations, skill levels, gear or mutual trust?
During the hike
This section offers a few practical tips for group excursions.
Even if you do not usually go on a hike to ‘watch the clock’, finding a common pace for the group usually helps everything go smoothly. It is a good idea to decide together the time at which you intend to get going in the morning. Morning activities, including packing up, can easily take two to three hours, and waiting for others can be boring.
This is why ‘legs’ are often used on hikes. While they are typically used in winter, they can also work on summer hikes. A ‘leg’ means deciding how long you will keep going and how long your breaks will be. If you wish to adjust your gear or have a snack, you will wait for the breaks, rather than everyone stopping separately at different times. The usual practice is that you keep going for 50 minutes and then have a 10-minute break, but for example when toilet breaks are needed, 45+15 can also work. This system can only work if one of the group keeps an eye on time and tells the others how much of the leg or break there is left. The excursion leader can also be the leg leader, or this role could be rotated daily.
Group dynamics and conflicts
The speed at which your group moves is determined by the slowest member, not the fastest. Some members may need a bit of encouragement, and you must keep an eye on everyone to see how they are doing. Help each other and share the gear to make sure that the whole group can get on well.
When you are hiking with a group, conflicts may arise. Sleeping badly in a tent, carrying a heavy rucksack, cold and wet weather or not having enough food can easily cause irritation. The chemistry between group members can also lead to conflicts. Take care of the basics – remember to eat and take breaks! Talk to each other, take everyone into consideration and anticipate, for example by changing your plans to solve conflicts.
Also note how the group dynamics affects the safety of your hike. Group pressure, or certain group members’ egos, may result in increased risk-taking. Rushing, tiredness or poor communication can also increase the possibility of bad decisions.
It is a good idea to take food breaks together in the middle of the legs. Hiking burns up a lot of energy, and the food supply has a large role in a successful hike. The mid-day meal can be managed by putting the food into food flasks to stew in the morning, which means that you do not need to dig out camp stoves and other equipment in the middle of the day. Especially in the dark or cold season, you can use food flasks to a great effect and have more daylight hours for the actual hike. When you are approaching your campsite in the evening, it is usually not worthwhile pushing on. You should have your meal at the scheduled time – even if you only have one kilometre to go before you reach the campsite. This means that the group members’ energy levels stay high and ensures that they can function efficiently at the campsite.
When your reach the campsite
When you reach the campsite, the natural thing would be to drop your rucksack and have a rest. However, there is several important jobs you should see to straight away: get food and water, maintain your gear by drying and repairing it, and set up your accommodation. You can only have free time once these jobs have been done. If the cooking pairs also share a tent, one of them can start making dinner while the other puts up the tent. The person who does jobs that are important for everyone, such as finding firewood, is decided by the excursion leader or the group members together.
You should also repair yourself in the evenings, for example by caring for your muscles or looking after blisters. When you have also taken care of the most critical issues needed for the next day, finding common activities for the group would be a good idea. Muscle care can also be a group activity. Or you could gather around a campfire, have a little walk on the fells or engage in other planned activities, such as fishing.
If your destination was a long way from home and you are driving, you need to rest enough before the return journey to ensure that you can drive safely.
At home you need to maintain both your own and the group’s shared gear and take stock of anything that is broken. The group should meet again for a debriefing after the excursion. What did we learn for future excursions? What would we do differently on the next hike? The costs of the excursion should be added up and shared straight away, as they tend to be forgotten. You should also agree on saving photos and videos to a shared image bank.
And of course, you can bounce ideas and decide where you will go next!
Tourist entrepreneurs operating in national parks or other areas managed by Metsähallitus need a cooperation agreement. A fee is charged for using the routes and service infrastructure for business activities.