walking group

Leading Walks

Lee Margaret and Steve

Based on the experience of going on hundreds of walks, here are a few notes on being a walk leader. A walk leader is normally someone who proposes a walk, tells everyone about it and then leads the walk on the day of the walk. With no walk leader, there is no walk.

Why would you even want to lead walks?
There is no good answer to this question. Maybe if you don't do it then there would be no walks.

Who can be a leader?
Anyone can be a walk leader. To be a walk leader you must have actually done the walk (or most of the walk) yourself beforehand. It is also possible to follow other people's walks from a downloaded GPX file but be careful that the walk is made by a trusted source or is a well-known walk. Some of the walks on Wikiloc are badly made and will lead you through dense thickets or even over cliffs. If you don't know the route perfectly, you will need to follow a GPX file using a smartphone or Garmin-like device. The worst crime a leader can commit is to get lost.

How can you tell other people about your walks?
The simplest method is to form a Facebook group. It is best to start off with a few people you know in the group. People will sign up to the group as if by magic. You can publish the walks either by putting a normal post or making an event within the group or do both. Another way of telling your group about the walks is to have a mailing list. The best free way of doing this is to use mailchimp.com. For small groups, it has a very easy user interface and people can sign up and sign off independently. Facebook does quite a good job of publishing the walks so I don't use mailchimp any more. You could also use WhatsApp to organise a walking group but it is less good at attracting new people. WhatsApp is better for closed groups. I have been on WhatsApp groups with over 100 people before and it generates a very high amount of traffic (mostly uninteresting) so I prefer Facebook groups which don't continually make a pinging sound. The only problem with Facebook groups is that they can be attacked by spammers but it only usually takes a couple of seconds to eliminate spam posts and ban people. One mysterious fact is that it is common that only about 5% of people on a facebook ever come on a walk. Some people often post given reasons why they can't come on a walk but never come on any walks. Some people lament that they can't come because they don't have a car, then someone offers them a lift but they don't come anyway. Some people's new year resolution to keep fit is to join a walking group, they join the group but never go on a walk. As they say in Yorkshire "there's nowt so queer as folk".

How do you follow GPX files?
I apologise in advance because I am not a great expert on this because I have my own solution which may not be worldwide. I live in Spain and we use an app called Spain topo maps. All smartphones have GPS positioning which means that the smartphone knows where you are. If you use Googlemaps, then Google continually downloads the maps associated with where you are. This is all very well but if you lose Internet conection, you will have no map, just a dot on the screen. The maps for your route should be downloaded before you start the walk. The app I use uses tiles which can be downloaded. It is best to ask other people for the best app to use in your area. Most GPS systems have an accuracy of a few metres and you have to keep checking that you are going to right way especially at turning points.

How can your make walk descriptions?
The truth is that if you have a regular walking group most people don't even bother to read your walk description: they just trust that your walk will be a good one. However, it is important to post good walk descriptions mainly to avoid people coming who are unsuitable. Being unsuitable probably means not being fit enough. You can just post a textual description of a walk but it is much better to put a link to a site such as Wikiloc which shows the route. Wikiloc and similar sites are based on GPX files and anyone can easily see the length and the elevation gain. If you have posted a GPX route, then you don't have to feel too responsible if someone has difficulties because your walk is too hard for them. Adjectives such as easy, hard, challenging, steep, etc. can be misinterpreted but "distance" and "elevation gain" are very objective.

Meeting points
Sometimes it may be a good idea to have a meeting point which is not the start of the walk. This is usually the case where the start of the walk is difficult to get to and you want to avoid being on the phone for half an hour guiding everyone to the starting point. A good way of showing a meeting point is to use Google or websites which allow you to make an URL which shows where the meeting point is e.g. latlong.net. Another reason to use a meeting point is when there is limited parking at the starting point and it is beneficial to do carpooling to use fewer cars.

The problem of people walking on ahead
As the walk leader you are responsible for knowing the route and knowing where to go. It is very common for people to walk on ahead of you. When they get to a junction or a divergence of tracks, they should wait for you so that you can tell everyone the correct path. What often happens is that people become engrossed in conversations and they keep going. This often means that they go a considerable distance in the wrong direction. If you do lose people like this, it is best to wait for around 5 minutes for them to realise their mistake and come back. You should not be angered by this but unfortunately if they don't come back, you have the perfect right to keep going. It is the walkers' responsibility to keep close enough to you so that you can lead the walk.

Do you allow dogs?
Taking a dog for a walk is a perfect activity for dog owners and dogs. I prefer to allow dogs on my walks because it is very rare that they cause a problem. As a walk leader, this may be one of the worst things you may have to deal with and one of the few times you may have to put your foot down and be unpopular. Any dog which is aggressive to other dogs or to humans cannot be allowed to continue coming on walks. The solution to an agressive dog is to use a muzzle. If the owner will not accept the use of a muzzle, then you may have to ban a dog from your walks. Additionally, dog owners should not allow their dogs to behave badly. They should always be kept on a lead when the group is eating. If you are walking along narrow paths, it is normal for dogs to brush past you but any dog that is strong enough to push people over should be on a lead. Of course, it goes without saying that dogs should be on a lead if there are cars or there are wild animals that they can run after, etc.

I can't really help you here. It is a good idea to take some painkillers such as paracetemol in case someone sprains an ankle or something. Make sure everyone has enough of water with them. It is a good idea to have insurance. For example, if you are on a walk and have to call a helicopter, it would be very expensive.

hiking vs walking
If you research these 2 words it will tell you that hiking is more difficult and arduous than walking. There is another component, walking tends to be Britsh English and Hiking is American. On this website we make no distinction between walking and hiking. To go walking or hiking is the same.

A note about this website
The idea of walkingroup.com is to organise walks with the minimum bureaucracy possible.

We are developing tools at walkingroup.com to make it very easy for walking groups to publish walks. At some time in the future, we may allow the general public to use our tools but if/when this happens, it is still very easy to use sites such as Wikiloc to provide maps and information about the walks and then use a smartphone app to actually guide your walks.