Slow Hikers; Fast Hikers慢郎中;飛毛腿

The tension between slow hikers and fast hikers easily burns the whole group down. I know, because I experienced the frustration looking at the person in front of me disappearing behind the branches. I know, because I was left behind with blisters hiking alone in the dark with tears. I achieved the solitude I was looking for, but, why wasn’t I happy?

The regulations of AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) sponsored trips state clearly that, “the group pace is the pace of the slowest hiker.” Surprisingly, my limited leading experience has told me that asking a fast hiker to slow down is usually more difficult than asking a slow hiker to speed up.

I am a believer of “hike your own hike.” If a person hikes at his pace, he hikes in the most efficient state, and therefore he still has much energy when he arrives at the camp to prepare for himself a nice shelter and a warm meal. I usually tell my participants to hike in their most comfortable pace with the constraints that they have to make sure the next hiker is IN SIGHT and stop and wait for regrouping at EVERY junction and crossing.

While most of them do stop at junctions and crossings, they always ignore that they need a 20 of the next hiker. If there are miles before the next junction, I, as a leader, have to spend extra efforts running back and forth just to make sure I account for everybody in the group. This is of course not ideal. After an overnight backpack in which the group was spread out of my comfort zone, I started to ask myself, “What is wrong here? How should I change my leadership style?”

My leadership training has taught me that it’s much better to take actions in early stages to keep group dynamics chaos from happening. This can be done by the followings: 1) describe the trip difficulty well which can be accomplished by providing details such as total mileage, elevation change, and expected hiking time etc. 2) Pre-screen the participants carefully which can be fulfilled by asking them questions about their past experience and the frequency and durance of their regular workouts.

However, even if I prepare the trip write-up and conduct the screening process as objectively as I can, whether a person is going to finish a trip is sometimes very subjective. It’s very difficult for me to argue or further convince a person that s/he is not ready for a trip yet. And to be honest, the pool of backpackers is not so huge that in order to promote backpacking participation, I usually choose to work more during a trip in exchange for a filled-up roster.

So the problem is really how to ‘suppress’ the fastness of a fast hiker. If the fast hiker is a real experienced backpacker, I don’t worry much because they know the safety of the group is on top of everything. The fast hikers I fear the most are those who treat my trip as a training hike. They narrow their focus on fulfilling their personal goal which is usually to finish the hike with the shortest amount of time. In addition to telling them the ground rules I mentioned above, during the trip, I usually have to assign them tasks such as being a sweeper or a photo journalist, and remind them again and again that it’s not allowed to separate from the group.

Still, after I had done all of the above, those fast hikers were still out of my sight within seconds in that overnight backpack. What should I do in my future trips to prevent that from happening again? Well, there is this last resort I have never tried: I need to be stern and maybe a bit of a dictator to demonstrate my seriousness. This is what I learned after dealing with many customer representatives – some people just don’t listen to you unless you are mean and expressionless, and I call those people niceness abusers.

I used to think I would never meet that kind of people in the outdoors; however, after all, outdoor population is still a subset of the earth population. Outdoor people are in general nice but not 100 percent. If smile and communication don’t work out, it’s time to be serious and demonstrate a leader’s authority.



我是「走自己的路(hike you own hike)」的信服者,如果健行者可以自始至終以最舒服的速率健行,那麼,他必定是以對他最有效率的方式走過那段山路,如此一來,到了紮營處,才好有精力尋找營地、搭好帳棚,從容地煮飯燒菜。要知道吃個飽足、睡個好覺,在多天數的健行旅程,是相當重要的。所以,我通常對參加我隊伍的團員說,「請選擇最舒服的行進方式,條件是,隨時注意是否尙能看到身後的健行者,同時,在每一個步道交叉口、越河區,必須停下來,等待所有的團員都到齊了再出發。」







11 thoughts on “<lang_en>Slow Hikers; Fast Hikers</lang_en><lang_zh>慢郎中;飛毛腿</lang_zh>”

  1. I don’t often lead groups, but it sounds like maybe telling the whole group at the beginning that this is a “group hike” and not a “personal training hike”, with your explanation of the difference, would help.

  2. I’ve been on both sides of this one as well.

    If its really a “group” hike (i.e. Sierra Club style with a formal leader and liability issues), then the best way is to have the slowest person in front. Its much easier for the slower folks to keep a pace from behind than to self regulate from in front.

    The goal of the outing tends to be important as well. Its much easier to slow down if you’re on a 5 mile nature/photography walk vs. a peak bagging outing where you’re trying to cover 20 miles and be off a peak before the afternoon thunderstorms roll in.

    Most of my outings tend to be less formal affairs where everyone is responsible for their own safety/routfinding/etc. With these its usually easier to pick a waypoint to meet up at and let everyone hike at their own pace.

  3. Might also help to flatter the egos of the go-getters by telling them in all sincerity that you are going to need their boundless energy in case of an emergency like having to carry somebody bodily for several miles.

  4. Last year I was leading an informal sea kayak day trip. Against my orders, three people (physically strong yet inexperienced kayakers) took off ahead and two weaker people were left behind. I called for the stronger people to come back, asking them to paddle in circles if they want to keep moving, but before long they were out of sight. In this case there is no way I am going to leave the slower, weaker people alone. I had no choice but to let them go, wondering the whole trip where they went. When I got back to the kayak club where we rented the boats, I found that they had gone where I specifically warned them not to, and two of them had capsized in waves (very cold water) and the other other barely able to drag them to shore. Luckily there was a passerby in a car who saw and offered to drive them and the Kayaks back to the club.

    While I don’t think they were in grave danger, since we were paddling near the city and it was not exactly a wilderness situation, and I was not “legally” responsible in any way, not knowing where they were was one of the most frightening experiences I have ever had while “in charge”.

    In my case it was different than yours because the people who went ahead were not experienced enough to do so. In retrospect I suppose I could have stressed more how important it was that we stay together, and offered them alternatives (as you suggest with the photo-journalist, etc.) to going far ahead.

    As for keeping fast people back while hiking – in my experience, the biggest problem always arises when the end-goal is not set – i.e. the faster we go the further we go. But if the destination is decided, there is no benefit to going fast. I find this with myself as well. If I know I can reach my destination in four hours, but I have six hours to get there, I walk slowly and take photos and look at leaves, bugs, and birds. If, however, I know that if I go fast I might be able to make it another XX kilometers to the next camp, I am more likely to speed up.

    And finally, I have found that sometimes (when the situation calls for it) you just gotta kick the slow people in the butt. One hike I was on we really wanted to get to the camp before dark but there were two people going much slower than anticipated. We tolerated them as long as possible, but with one hour left before dark, I let rip on them pointing out that we are *all* tired, but we just have to be *fast* and tired. Perhaps I shocked them because I never get “angry”, but somehow they kicked into gear and beat everyone else to the campsite.

  5. 我想到了以前參加救國團健行活動的小天使遊戲




  6. I need to work on how to make sure my point is clearly stated so that there’s no room for my parcipants to make their own interpretation. My weakness of being a leader is I am often too “polite.” =)

    and to bastish,
    yes I can understand the fear of “not knowing where they are” especially when I feel I’m liable for their safety. That’s another reason why I don’t dare to lead or even coordinate any kayaking trip, because to me, there’s too much liability and I think I don’t know enough water rescue skills.

    to 小帽,

  7. I have to agree with cyberhobo and tom here. I’ve led well over one hundred group hikes in recent years, and what I’ve learned about the abilities and mentalities of groups on the trail would send me to Fry’s for more gigs of hard-drive space.

    As a leader of hikes, I want to also enjoy a good time. However, I don’t enjoy it when I am compelled to manage people. Therefore, I always set the expectations up front, in the email or trip announcement, before anyone even meets.

    The objective? Keep out the riff-raff. The rest of the group who really want to be there don’t need them along.

    At the outset upon meeting for a trip, one of the items I’ve learned to state to the group prior to entering the trail is that the event is a group event, not a competition, and that if they didn’t mean to stick together as a group, and to simply BE a group, that they should not have signed up in the first place, will be asked to turn back early, and will not be welcome on my tours in the future.

    And that’s as stern as I typically ever have to be — just once, up front. It works, because ever since I’ve begun making these statements, I have not experienced any people management issues.

    Best of luck, Szu-Ting.

  8. I’ve been on both ends of the fast hiker/slow hiker problem. Changing your own comfortable hiking pace to accomodate someone’s else’s pace is really, really difficult and can seriously mar a hike.

    I think you’re on the right track to have the fast hikers stop and wait at turns and junctions, but you have to go further than that where turns and junctions are further apart.
    1. Insist that at least one other person stay with the fast hiker at all times (preferable the 2nd fastest hiker)
    2. Set a time limit. Let the fast hiker hike his/her hike if it shouldn’t be dangerous for them to go ahead. Tell them to hike for 30 minutes (or however long you want), and then wait for the rest of the group to catch up.
    3. Make them clean up camp in the morning(so they start hiking later than the rest of the group) and set up camp when they arrive (first) at the night’s site. If you normally cook at lunch, have them start the food for everyone. Sometimes the extra work load is enough to calm down the fastest hikers, at least a little.

    Carolyn H.

  9. Yaroslav Levchenko

    What if the “fast hiker” is actually the “weak hiker” who hikes fast, because he wants it to be over as soon as possible? 🙂

  10. Pingback: best hikes - the blog » Blog Archive » slow hikers vs fast hikers

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top