A practical action list for outdoor leaders

  • Before the trip begins
  • On the track
  • In camp
  • Emergencies
  • After the trip

Wise bushwalkers and skitourers refer to an equipment list when packing for a trip. They also work from a list when assembling food. This practice minimises the risk of forgetting some important item. In the same way, wise leaders can profitably use a list to remind themselves of the basic essentials of their task. The following checklist covers those things you as a leader must do in the running of most bushwalking trips.

Circumstances however, do alter cases and the range of circumstances covering bushwalking trips is enormous. They can range from: a day walk to a three-week epic, from desert country to the Australian Alps, from a small party of experienced walkers to a large group of school children, from February to August, and from a well-equipped group to one with makeshift, inadequate equipment. Other variables include: the physical and psychological wellbeing of the party at any given time, the ratio of strong walkers to weak walkers, the strength of the leader, the difficulty of the terrain, and most importantly, the weather. A leader must always be aware of the risks inherent in the circumstances that exist at any stage of the trip.

The checklist is graded into groups of things which must, should or might be done in normal circumstances. In adverse circumstances most of the ‘should’ items could become ‘must’ items. The ‘might’ items are mostly things which make the difference between a really enjoyable trip and a mediocre trip.

Before the trip begins

Must be done

  • learn all you can about the area—from maps, photos, publications, other walkers or locals
  • plan the route to be followed and consider alternatives in the event of trouble
  • specifically research campsites, water, tracks, shelter, times and likely hazards
  • learn all you can about your party and be sure that all are capable of doing the planned trip
  • obtain permission from the appropriate authority if entering a restricted area
  • ensure that you have sufficient numbers in the party—normally a minimum of four
  • have no more than five or six beginners to every experienced group member on the trip
  • see that transport is arranged for every member
  • plan for the possibility of an emergency—arrange contacts and see that all interested persons know of your arrangements
  • leave your planned itinerary and composition of the party with some responsible person or persons appointed as emergency contacts so that authorities will be notified if your party does not return as planned
  • ensure that all party members are fully informed on all details of transport
  • arrange meeting places and times, itinerary, and any special requirements in equipment or food.

Should be done

  • organise pre-trip meetings for major trips; show slides, discuss maps with all members
  • arrange food groups and supervise distribution of group food (if appropriate)
  • see that any party equipment is shared fairly among the group—the stronger can carry more of it
  • notify interested authorities (e.g. land management authority or police) if appropriate and tell them where and when you plan to enter areas under their jurisdiction
  • make last minute checks on likely weather conditions
  • check that every member has all the necessary equipment and food—all in good order.

Might be done

  • put out a trip news sheet for pre-publicity and for information of prospective starters, possibly followed by a final bulletin with all arrangements detailed— including research references, car numbers, party membership or any other details
  • make any special appointments such as deputy leader, first aider or caterer
  • arrange lectures or practical training sessions for beginners and help with equipment selection or the making of some equipment
  • advise on food planning and purchase.

On the track

Must be done

  • see that all party members are present, or accounted for, before moving off
  • make frequent checks (counts) to see that no member is left behind at any stage especially after stops or in difficult conditions—this is absolutely vital!
  • be constantly alert for any physical or psychological problems within the party
  • ask reliable party members to assist in this task
  • keep a watch on the weather—if bad weather seems imminent, take action to minimise its effects
  • constantly monitor your position and the route being followed—whether you or a deputy is actually leading
  • check the progress of all group members and coach where appropriate
  • respect the rights and the property of others.

Should be done

  • brief all starters on your plans, alternatives, safety procedures, emergency signalling, etc.
  • make introductions if necessary
  • demonstrate your interest in the welfare of every member of your party
  • encourage weak or inexperienced members
  • appoint a whip and, if desired, a person to actually lead (normally for a stated time or distance)
  • set limits on any racehorses—tell them clearly how far ahead they may go (if conditions permit this)
  • control the pace of the group—keep it slow at first, then settle on the speed of the slowest member
  • have regular rest periods—usually about 10 minutes in every hour
  • budget the group’s time and energy so that planned targets can be achieved
  • know how to handle problem people and people problems—the racer, the laggard, the aggressor, the bumbler, the sickie or the moaner
  • keep the party together as far as practicable—keep slow members well up in the line, not always dragging at the rear
  • if faced with difficulties, discuss the situation with other experienced members.

Might be done

  • point out features of interest along the way and stimulate discussion about the area or its features
  • demonstrate your map position, progress and planned route whenever appropriate
  • advise on water availability and suggest regular consumption during the day.

In camp

Must be done

  • announce toilet areas and requirements for hygiene
  • see that all rubbish is either burned or carried out
  • see that any fires are totally extinguished before leaving camp
  • in huts, replace firewood and clean up before leaving.

Should be done

  • announce your plans (include starting time) for the next day
  • encourage ‘early-to-bed’ and ‘early-to-rise’
  • be good neighbours, if others are camped nearby
  • avoid destruction of live vegetation or severe disturbance to ground surface
  • leave the area cleaner than you found it
  • fill any large holes in the snow which could endanger others
  • make sure that everyone gets sufficient food and fluid to sustain energy— especially in adverse conditions.

Might be done

  • organise a sing-song or stimulate discussion.

Emergencies

If you have done all your preparation and observed a safety routine on the track, then emergencies will either not arise or will be fairly easily handled. At the very least you will be equipped to handle them with a confidence which will inspire your party and minimise the sort of deterioration which commonly follows an unforeseen emergency.

The following checklist simply draws attention to the sort of emergencies that could arise, so that you might consider which of these would present a major problem on the trip under consideration. You should then think through your options on every possibility. The detail of how some common emergencies should be handled is covered in Part 6 and is not developed here. The range of possible emergencies can be grouped under five headings:

Health

  • sickness resulting from climatic conditions—exhaustion, exposure, heat, frostbite, snow blindness
  • chance illness—virus infections, collapse
  • bites or poisonings
  • accidents—falls, cuts, muscle damage
  • psychological depression, other emotional problems.

Weather

  • fog, rain, snow, heat, fire
  • lack of water.

Terrain

  • cliffs, rivers, swamps, scrub, tides, waterfalls, mine shafts, ‘slipperies’ (frost, ice, rock, logs).

Lost

  • the whole party
  • some of the party
  • someone else.

Equipment

  • broken skis, poles, boots, tents etc
  • non functioning stoves, torches, GPSs, radios etc.

After the trip

Must be done

  • make certain that all members of the party arrive at the end
  • notify your emergency contacts.

Should be done

  • see that every member has transport to get home
  • arrange transfers of borrowed gear and return of hired equipment
  • collect party equipment
  • see that equipment is stored away in correct condition—advise beginners
  • complete financial arrangements for the trip
  • contact parents or others, if appropriate, if there have been delays or health problems.

Might be done

  • organise a film night or trip reunion
  • produce a post-trip report or newsletter (especially if required by the club or organisation).

This check list is not absolutely comprehensive. From experience you will develop other points to watch in a given situation. Add these to the list and use it in your preparation for any outdoor trip.