Do you have a walking club or are you responsible for leading a group of people on a lowland walk? A lowland walk is a generally flat land with not many big hills to climb! When we are training our walk leaders to run and organise an Adventure Geek event, here is a quick list of responsibilities to consider.
#1 – Allocate a tail walker
If we have more than ten people on a walk then we always allocate a tail walker. It is the tail walkers responsibility to stay at the back of the group and make sure that we don't lose anyone! The traits of a tail walker should ideally be someone who knows the route well, but also someone who can motivate people who may find the walk a bit challenging. The tail walker will be communicating with the walk leader via a radio system, and it is their job to radio in if there is an issue on the route, announce hazards that are approaching from the rear (horses, cars, bikes, runners) etc.
A tail walker will ideally be easily identified with an appropriate reflective jacket and a red light attached to their backpack if walking in low light.
#2 – Ensure that the route has been risk assessed
It is important that each walk has a completed risk assessment. At AG we have certain acceptance levels for risk assessments which include a video of the trail so customers can see what the risks are before walking the route. A full written risk assessment which includes a whole range of scenarios such as trip hazards, exit routes, contingency plans, stiles and terrain assessment and much more should be completed and filed appropriately for future reference. If there is an incident on a walk, then your insurers will want to see your full risk assessment.
#3 – Ensure you have a first aider on the walk
All walk leaders should be outdoor first aid qualified, or to have a qualified first aider as part of the group. During the briefing, all walkers should be made aware of who the nominated first aider is for today's walk.
#4 – A good knowledge of the route
A good walk leader will ideally have a good knowledge of the route and be aware of all main potential trip hazards. Ideally, they would have walked the route within the last two weeks, and even better if it has been in the last 24 hours.
#5 – Provide a new walker briefing & check numbers
If you have people on your walk that have never attended one of your events before then we highly recommend delivering a separate “new walker briefing”. This is a way to introduce yourself, explain how a regular walk is conducted and what to expect. New walkers like to know that it is not a race and that we always have a tail walker etc. The idea is to see if anyone has any questions or concerns before we start, and it is an ideal opportunity to ask if anyone has any medical conditions that they perhaps did not declare when booking on the event.
It is important to know how many people you have on each event – so a quick headcount is essential. We allocate this role to the tail walker but the walk leader needs to know the numbers before setting off.
#6 – Complete visual health & safety check
It is the responsibility of the walk leader to ensure that everyone who is walking in the group is wearing adequate clothing and footwear. An element of our insurance includes footwear, so we have the right to turn people away if they are wearing flip flops or other inappropriate garments. You will be amazed by what people turn up to a walk wearing. If you are walking at night, then again, making sure that people have a torch, reflective clothing and warm layers is essential. Safety should always come first.
#7 – Group briefing before the walk
Gathering everyone into a circle and explaining about the walk today is a key job for a walk leader. People need to be prepared for aspects of the walk such as mud, broken stiles, steep inclines/declines, livestock, nettles, badger holes, slippery surfaces and more. I also believe that it is a time to announce the lovely parts of the walk and to tease people about some of the beauty that they will witness along the way.
During the briefing, you will also introduce your team (first aider/tail walker and anyone else who is significant to the walk).
#8 – Control the walk
Not only is the walk leader responsible for navigation, but they also must manage the group. For example, if you have a large group who are navigating a double stile, then it is important to regroup immediately to ensure that everyone stays together. For large groups (20+), we always have a second walk leader who is located in the middle of the group for ease of management.
Controlling the group can also mean announcing trip hazards, explaining to people how to walk along a road etc. (It is a nightmare if people don't know what to do when a car approaches the group on a road walk as hikers scatter all over the place which confuses the driver). It is the responsibility of the walk leader to explain all this during the briefing and once again as you approach the change in terrain.
There is a lot more to controlling a walk, so watch out for a future blog.
#9 – Complete any accident forms
On occasion, you may experience an incident on the walk. This may come in the form of a member of the public (or landowner) being aggressive towards the group, or even an accident where first aid needed to be administered. In each of these circumstances, a walk leader will need to deal with each incident and they complete a relevant statement of events to keep on record.
#10 – Announce statistics at the end of the walk
We have found that most of our walkers like to hear the statistics at the end of each walk, therefore we now allocate this role for each walk leader. Using apps such as Alltrails, Strava or Apple Health, we can inform our walkers at the end of the trail what calories they have burned, mileage, steps and pace. It is also a nice way to thank everyone for attending.
As you can imagine, there is an awful lot more that goes into leading a walk than just the list above. The above top 10 list is also exclusive for Adventure Geek walks and is not a requirement by law, but I thought people who are thinking of setting up their own walking group may be interested in knowing what is involved. I hope you found this article useful.