For Leaders

Hike Leadership Resources

Standard ADK Forms for Trip Leaders

Group Leader Sign up Sheet (Liability Form-Updated May, 2016)
Individual Release Form
Accident Report
Trip Report


ADK Guidelines on Leading A Hike

The Adirondack Mountain Club recommends the following guidelines to trip leaders. These guidelines are not hard and fast. Actual situations and conditions require good judgment, but the following is a good starting point for leaders.

Planning the route: Select a route that accommodates the physical abilities of the group. Consult guidebooks, topographical maps, and other hikers familiar with the area. Plan to spend as much time for walking out as you spent walking in. Injuries are more likely to occur when rushing, at dusk or when going downhill.

Size of group: Group activities in the wilderness areas of the Adirondack Park and in the wilderness areas of the Catskill Park should be limited to a total party size, including trip leader(s), of 12 individuals. (For other, less demanding outings, group size is at the discretion of the leader.)

Describing the trip: Trips should be adequately described to potential participants prior to signing up. Descriptions should include:

  1. Trip length (miles or kilometers)
  2. Trip duration (hours)
  3. Elevation to be climbed (feet or meters)
  4. Mention of any special equipment or other factors
  5. Brief description of the level of difficulty to expected during average descriptions (see below for Suggested Outings Category Definitions).
  6. Brief description of the trip plan, including parking and possible hiking options

Participants should select activities well within their capabilities.

Group management: Trip leaders should count the number of trip participants at the start of the trip, periodically throughout the trip, and again at the end of the trip, to ensure that everyone is accounted for. A trail “sweep” should be designated on hiking trips. (Leaders should resist the temptation to appoint the slowest hiker as the sweep, since he or she might lag behind too much to be effective).

Equipment and supplies. Trip leaders and participants should carry equipment and supplies appropriate to the trip description and anticipated weather conditions. For significant, all-day hikes, a small pack with reasonable food, water and clothing, including a hat, rain gear and suitable footwear and extra garments suitable to the season, are recommended. Participants in significant, all-day hikes might also carry insect repellent, sunscreen, a whistle, matches, a knife, small flashlight or headlamp, compass and trail map. A basic understanding of the use of map and compass is suggested.

Safety procedures. Standard safety procedures, appropriate to the type of trip, and good common sense, should be observed by trip leaders and participants at all times. Be sure to leave an itinerary with a reliable person, including your estimated time of return. Register at the trailhead where appropriate, giving your name, address, number of people in the party and your route. Be sure to check “out” as you leave.

Staying together: Individual participants should not go off alone during an organized trip. A minimum party size of three (four during winter conditions) is recommended at all times in wild land regions. In case of an injury, one person can stay with the victim while the other (two in winter) goes for help.

Sharing responsibilities: Trip participants should share with the trip leader the responsibility of making a trip safe and enjoyable and should respect the trip leader’s advice and judgment.

On the trail: Stay in the trail. Alpine vegetation is especially fragile. Try to “rock hop” where possible. Camp at designated sites, 150 feet from trail or stream. In the Adirondacks camp below 4000 feet, in the Catskills below 3500 feet. Use a camping stove rather than an open fire. If you must build a fire, use wood that is “down and dead.” Be sure not to leave your fire smoldering. “If you carry it in, carry it out.” This includes orange peels, eggshells, and even the tiny pieces of aluminum foil. Bury all human waste 4-6 inches deep and away from any water or wet areas. Cover waste with soil.


Long Island Chapter Outings Procedures

Planning your outing: In planning an outing, a leader must consider, among other things, (1) the location of the outing, (2) the route, (3) the season of the year and the weather to he expected, (4) the transportation to and from the chosen location, (5) the maximum number of participants desired, (6) the physical abilities and outdoor skills that will be required of participants in order to complete the outing safely, and (7) the equipment required. A decision should he made as to each of these factors prior to registering the outing with the Outings Chairperson and publication in the Long Island Mountaineer and on the Chapter website.

Registration: It is the responsibility of the leader to handle registration for the trip and to answer the questions of prospective participants. The leader must be satisfied that the prospective participant meets the previously set requirements for physical abilities and outdoor skills, and should inform him/her of the equipment that will be required.

The leader must tactfully refuse to register those persons who do not have or cannot acquire the physical ability, outdoor skills or equipment necessary to complete the outing safely. While refusing to register an interested person is an unpleasant task, it is necessary to protect the unqualified from the consequences of their own over-enthusiasm and to ensure that the outing will he safe and enjoyable for those who are registered. Making such an evaluation is difficult and inevitably mistakes will be made; occasionally the qualified will be excluded and occasionally the unqualified will become registered. Once the outing has commenced, the route, the pace and the activities must be so arranged and conducted as to insure the safety of the participant with the lowest level of physical ability and outdoor skills.

Cancellation: Immediately prior to the outing, the leader must determine if the weather forecast is suitable and make the go/no go decision. If the leader decides to cancel the outing, he or she must contact the registered participants in advance to inform them of the decision or, if contact with all cannot be made, the leader must he at the meeting place at the appointed time to cancel.

Leading the outing: The leader must know the transportation route to the starting point of the outing and he able to communicate it  effectively to all those who are providing transportation. Set a time to rendezvous at the starting point.

The safety and enjoyment of all the participants must be the paramount concerns of the leader. To achieve these ends he/she must keep the group together, preventing some from racing far ahead while others lag far behind, and should attempt to achieve the goal set for the outing (climbing a particular mountain, paddling to a certain pond, cycling a described route). As stated above, however, the needs of the least qualified participant must be met and where considerations of safety conflict with the achievement of the goal, safety must come first.

Release of Liability: The leader must have all participants sign the “Release of Liability” form (This is a requirement, NOT an option!). Following the outing, the leader must send the form to the Outings Chairperson. NOTE:  It  is a policy of the Adirondack Mountain Club and the L.I. Chapter that the “Release of Liability” form MUST be used at ALL Club and Chapter outings. (The form can be downloaded from this web site).

The Outing Report: After the hike, the outing leader or someone in the group should fill out an Outing Report, for publication in the Mountaineer. The Outing Report should include the outing leader’s name, the date or dates on which the outing was held, the names of the persons in attendance, the route taken and a description of notable events, experiences and places visited (the form can be downloaded from this web site).


Outing Guidelines for Participants

  1. Register to attend the outing within the times listed on the schedule.
  2. Question the leader about the outing objective, the route, and the physical abilities, outdoor skills and equipment needed. Accurately assess your abilities, skills and equipment and talk candidly to the leader about them. Do not register if you are not sure of your ability to complete the outing safely and at the pace described by the leader.
  3. Be at the starting place on time and bring all the required equipment.
  4. Be prepared to drive or willingly pay the driver’s charges.
  5. Obey the leader’s instructions. Keep with the group. Do not leave the outing without informing the leader and obtaining his or her permission.
  6. Sign the “Release of Liability” form.
  7. Suggested Outings Category Definitions
    • C: Easy hikes are generally less than 5 miles, on almost flat terrain, with frequent stops, 1 to 2 mph pace, and last about 5 hours or less. Such hikes may be rated “C.”
    • B: Moderate hikes are generally 6 to 9 miles, on hilly terrain, up to 2000’ total ascent, with perhaps a stop each hour, 1.5 to 2.5 mph pace, and last 5 to 7 hours. Such hikes may be rated “B.”
    • A: Strenuous hikes are generally more than 9 miles, on steep terrain, with more than 2000’ total ascent, with very few stops, 2.5 mph or faster pace, and last 7 or more hours. Such hikes may be rated “A.”
    • In winter, any outing in the mountains requiring snowshoes and/or skis should be considered strenuous. For biking, calculate the appropriate category by multiplying the hiking distance and pace by 4 each, disregard the total ascent figures and substitute “rolling hills” for moderate and “lots of hills” for strenuous. For cross-country skiing, calculate the appropriate category by multiplying the hiking distance and pace by 1.5 or 2, disregard the total ascent figures and use biking hills description. For canoeing (flat water only) use the hiking distance, pace and time as a general guide. Treat each ½ mile of carry as 1000’ of ascent.


On Being A Responsible Hiker

By John Graham

Reprinted from the Catskill Canister, the newsletter of the 3500 Club

I think that all of us who choose to hike together have obligations to one another. It needs to be understood that by hiking with others, one is sacrificing a degree of individual autonomy in exchange for the companionship and safety of a group. Whether we are on an organized or an unofficial hike, there should be recognition of these mutual obligations.

There will always be a leader, whether or not the group acknowledges the fact. The group may function by consensus and mutual consent to shared goals, but should an actual crisis emerge, that leader will need to step forward. There are certain ideal traits that we might hope for in a leader, such as good judgment, enthusiasm, decisiveness, knowledge, tact, humility and a host of others.  The fact is very few leaders will measure up to these expectations all of the time. This is a heavy burden to assume, and group members need to be supportive and understanding if the reality falls short of these expectations.

Support the leader. A hike participant who wants to be an asset to the group will follow the leaders instructions, including when to register for a hike.  They will be honest about their capabilities and preparedness when registering, recognizing that a leader who questions them about these things is only doing their job.  They will ensure that they come with enough food, water, equipment and clothing to survive in the worst of conditions, and not rely on others to carry emergency gear for them.  If they find themselves in over their head, either due to inability to keep up or the difficulty of the terrain, they will quickly advise the leader and be prepared to turn back early, if that can be done safely, allowing the group to proceed with its planned agenda.

Make a contribution. A hike participant should attempt to follow the route on a map, and if they have any suggestions about the route, they should make them in a tactful manner that does not undermine the leader. If they see someone in distress, they will not just tell the leader, but also offer to help, perhaps offering to sweep.  Even if a participant cannot contribute much in the way of route finding or map reading and is having troubles of their own, they can contribute by keeping a positive attitude and boosting others having similar problems, by not grumbling and spreading discord.

Remember, you’re a team. As far as the stronger hikers who want to break away from the group to climb extra peaks or because of simple impatience, they need to recognize that they are undermining the leader in doing so, even if consent has been wrung from him. If you do not intend to follow the route or the pace of the write-up, you should not sign up for the hike.  In doing so you may have denied someone else the chance to go on the hike. Even if the leader has willingly given his prior consent to your going for an extra peak, this does not justify you pushing the pace in order to give you time for your peak. Likewise, when the time comes for your agreed upon departure, you should examine the group you are leaving behind, asking yourself if your departure will leave the leader with few other experienced hikers to help with an inexperienced or weary group.

Don’t piggyback! There are those who show up on a hike and do not sign in, as if this somehow relieves them of any obligation to the leader or the rest of the group, so that they can benefit from the security of the group without feeling obligated to give anything back in return.  This is known as Piggybacking, and is quite the opposite of what I would call responsible behavior.

Follow the golden rule. In summation, I would repeat that we all have obligations to each other, no matter how foolish, ill-prepared or annoying some of our fellow hikers may be. This may include having the courage to turn them away from the hike, but once you are out in the woods together, you are stuck with one another.  I would even extend this to include strangers we may encounter in the woods who are in obvious distress.  This is how I would define a responsible adult.


By Diane Grunthal

The ADK-LI Board of Directors asked some experienced leaders to share their tips on leading hikes. We hope that what has worked for them will help both new and current hike leaders. The author of this document, Diane Grunthal, is an experienced hike leader. She is a member of the ADK 46ers and the Catskills 3500 Club

Planning the Hike

1. Keep your ADK membership current — for your own personal liability protection and for that of the club.

2. Check permits/park regulations and follow them (e.g., group-size limits in the Gunks; no bushwhacking in PIPC parks, including Harriman/Bear Mt.; swimming in permitted areas only; etc.).

3. Become familiar with the area: study the map, scout your route, ask others, and read guidebooks.  (Harriman Trails: A Guide and History by William J. Myles includes mileage estimates, descriptions and the history of popular Harriman trails.)

4. Decide on the pace, terrain and mileage.

  • Be sure your skill-and-fitness-level is more than sufficient for the difficulty you’ve selected.  Specifically, leaders should have a technical skill level that comfortably exceeds the level of the hike chosen.
  • Consider leading slower or shorter hikes, which we always need more of.
  • Estimate the time needed to complete the hike (start with a basic pace of 1.5 – 2 miles per hour and add time for elevation and breaks; estimate on the high side).
  • Try to determine the actual number of miles that you will be covering.
  • When the days are short, plan to be out well before sundown.

5. When selecting your route, consider the following:

  • Where are the good places for separations/lunch breaks?
  • Where are the good viewpoints?
  • Is a shuttle required?
  • Where are “bail outs” and alternative routes for emergencies?
  • Is there an extra side trail you might take with a strong group?
  • Consider leading outside our routine areas.

6. Write a short, clear hike description for publication in the Mountaineer and on our web site.  It is important that the description include terrain, i.e., rolling hills, steepness of terrain, number of climbs; pace; and mileage.  It should also include the necessity for hiking boots for all  hikes where rocks and uneven terrain are part of the hike.

7. When a person registers, repeat the description of the hike. Ask them about their hiking experiences.  Insure they have proper gear, food, water, clothing, maps, and compass.

8. Plan for possible emergencies.

  • Bring a first aid kit. It should include: antiseptic wipes, butterfly bandages for wounds, a triangular bandage (also works as a sling), adhesive bandages, adhesive tape, gauze, antibiotic ointment, insect bite reliever (Sting Ease is sold in many camping stores), pain relievers, and blister pads.
  • Carry what water/food/clothing you need, plus  extras for those who may run out.
  • Know the best “bail outs” along your route.
  • Know the emergency phone numbers for the park where you are hiking.
  • Consider Wilderness First Aid training and outdoor leadership training courses.
  • Bring map and compass and know how to use them.
  • Bring flashlight, headlamp and extra batteries and bulbs.

Start of Hike

1. Greet participants, introduce yourself as the leader and identify the hike (as listed in Schedule).

2. Ask everyone to read the release statement and to sign in.

3. Welcome new and prospective members (ask for a show of hands).

4. Briefly review your planned route and required gear.

5. If participants do not have the required gear, it’s a leader’s right to tell them that they will not be able to join the hike and to state the reason (e.g., your hike write-up said “crampons required” and they showed up without any).  If possible, suggest an alternative walk they might safely do on their own.

6. If you are meeting public transportation, wait a reasonable amount of time for a late bus/train to arrive.  If you are using a shuttle, explain how that works and where you’re headed. If hikers are late, wait approximately 15 minutes after the start time  – more than that is unfair to those arriving on time. If possible use cell phones for communications.

7. Briefly review rules for hike participants: staying behind the leader (or appointed lead hiker), staying in front of the sweep, stopping at all trail junctions, letting the leader know if they want to leave early.

8. If there are many new hikers, consider briefly describing ways to protect themselves from deer ticks.

9. Count the participants and check that your count matches with sign-in sheet.  Split the group if appropriate.

10. Appoint a hiker to be the sweep and explain to him or her what you expect of sweeps: they should have a map and know how to use it, stay behind the last hiker, let you know that things are okay when you stop at trail junctions to wait for them, let you know privately if any hikers appear to be having difficulties.  Introduce the sweep to the hikers and briefly describe his or her role. THE SWEEP SHOULD NOT BE THE SLOWEST HIKER.

During the Hike

1. Enjoy yourself.  Set a positive tone for the group.


3. Don’t go too fast.  Modify your plans based on the group and weather conditions.  Stop after about 15 minutes for a water break and separation (explain what that is if necessary — toilet break).  Always keep safety in mind and remain flexible: Change plans or turn back if needed (let others know if your plans change).

4. Keep the group together.

  • Stop at junctions to wait for the sweep.
  • Don’t let hikers go ahead of the leader/appointed lead hiker.
  • Each hiker should remain in sight of the person behind him or her.
  • Explain what blazes are; consider letting newer hikers lead awhile so they can learn to follow the blazes.
  • Count occasionally to make sure no one is missing.

5. Check FREQUENTLY that people are okay.

  • If people appear to be having trouble, try to assist them before problems develop: are they drinking water, have they eaten, do they need to take off a jacket, do they have a medical condition, can you help lighten their load, do they have “hot spots” that should be tended to before they become blisters?
  • Check in regularly with your sweep.
  • If someone clearly can’t keep up (or if his or her behavior is unsafe or inappropriate), it’s a leader’s right to tell the person that he or she will not be able to continue with the hike. If possible, suggest an easy, shorter, more level, very-easy-to-follow alternative route which he or she could safely take (ask for volunteers to go out with the person).  Or the hiker could retrace his or her steps to return to the trailhead — if it is still nearby.  It’s better to deal with problems early before they become serious from a safety perspective or before they affect the entire group. Don’t encourage someone who is clearly struggling to continue with the hike; it may result in serious problems later.  But don’t send people off on their own if they will not be able to find their way to the trailhead/parking area.

6. At lunch, let people know how long you’ll stop.

7. Remember to take care of yourself — take time to drink and eat, and don’t let a strong group push you into a more strenuous hike than you want.

8. Be on the lookout for hikers who might be developing heat exhaustion or hypothermia.

9. Follow basic Leave-No-Trace principles.

  • When you can, pick up litter you find on the trail; explain to new hikers that they shouldn’t leave litter behind, including orange peels, apple cores, etc.
  • Walk right through that mud rather than widening the trail by walking around it (or plan your hike to avoid areas you think will be muddy).
  • Stop for separations at least 200 feet from water; explain to new hikers not to leave toilet tissue behind and to dig a “cat hole” when needed.

10.  In case of an accident, you as leader decide what needs to be done.  If the injured person needs professional help, designate a group to go for help (include someone who knows where the accident occurred and how to return).  Those best qualified to help should stay with the injured person.  If the injury is less serious, assist the person in walking out.  Do not immediately call park rangers or 911 for a minor problem that you and the group can handle on your own.

End of the Hike

1. Count to be sure no one is missing.

2. If some hikers left early, check to see that their cars are gone.  If not, you decide what to do: wait for them, send a group to look for them, call the park rangers, etc.

3. If a minor accident occurred during the hike, record that information on back of sign-in sheet.  If the accident required any medical attention; carrying the person out; outside help from park rangers, the police, EMTs, etc.; or if medical care was given (or offered and refused), a complete accident report should be written as soon as possible and sent to the Outings Committee Chair of the Long Island Chapter.

4. Thank people for coming and say goodbye.

5. If you want, suggest that people stop by a meeting place to socialize
after the hike.

6. Return hike sign-in sheet promptly to the Outings Committee Chair.


Web Resources on Hike Leadership

Leave No Trace. Guidelines for “Leave No Trace” outdoor ethics, which teaches how to enjoy the wilderness while doing as little damage as possible to it. It is also the foundation for safety in the wilderness.