Tom’s top tips: guiding

Here’s a collection of thoughts that I have found have helped me most as a guide and in the outdoors, whether cycling or walking. If you’re interested, have a read through. Perhaps it’s all obvious!

If you have any tips of your own, add a comment.

  1. Be a chameleon. Not necessarily in eating habits or prehensile tail ownership, but rather in adaptability. You will encounter different terrains, equipment, weather conditions, accommodations, transport methods but, most of all, people, with different hopes, dreams and senses of humour.
    A successful guide at work
    A successful guide at work (CC0 image)

    It helps if you can easily switch from cruising along happily in the sun to rallying the group to get through a day of rain and then switch to sorting things out in the most effective way at the end of the day. Routine helps on multi-day trips, but be ready to break it if need be.

  2. Put yourself in a useful place. Wherever you are in the group, try to think “is this the most useful place for me to be?”

    There’s not often a definitive answer, but it can help to think about it. Sometimes you need to lead from the front, other times it’s great to let clients lead the way while you make sure the tail end of the group is managing.

    Where is the most useful place to be?
    Where is the most useful place to be?

    If you’re working with another guide, cruise control sets one at the front and one at the back. However, try to think ahead to gates or junctions where temporarily switching to two at the front, leaving one to close the gate or mark the junction can make things flow more smoothly. Just make sure everyone gets through!

  3. Have a big bag-o-screws, or, “what’s in your bag that weighs so much!?”

    This is more of a cycling biased tip. Along with all the food, layers and first aid, there is worth in having a bag of general bits and bobs. I put mine together years ago and apart from occasionally changing out the rear mech hanger for my bike, it very rarely sees the light of day.

    A photo of the contents of my mountain bike guiding bag from 2013
    A photo of the contents of my mountain bike guiding bag from 2013

    So why carry it around? Because if someone loses a brake mount screw mid-ride, it’s great to be able to have a dig around and save the day!

  4. How is everyone doing?. If you’re tired, your group could be exhausted. If you’re peckish, they could be starving. If you’re thirsty, they could be dehydrated. If you’re warm, they could have heatstroke. If you’re a bit chilly, they could have frostbite. If you’ve been in the rain, they could have been in a tempest.
    A photo from a rainy day on a Land's End to John o' Groats trip
    A photo from a rainy day on a Land’s End to John o’ Groats trip (CC0 image)

    The moral of the story is to take care of everyone, including yourself, ideally before anyone really needs it!

  5. have a selection of group snacks. Related to the above, you don’t need to carry a supermarket, but cater to a couple of different tastes and potential allergies.
    Trail snacks with style
    Trail snacks with style

    I once thought I would be cutting it fine with only one pack of chocolate chip cookies, whereas it was the half bag of dried apricots I had that proved most popular.

  6. When something goes wrong, which it will, stay calm and resort to humour. Besides, this is one of your raisons d’être! Step up and sort things out. Going through the experience will also make future you a better guide.
    If this is the worst thing that happens while guiding, you're lucky!
    If this is the worst thing that happens while guiding, you’re lucky!

    At the very least it can turn into an entertaining anecdote…

  7. Get in on the adventure, especially if you’re going to new places.
    Immerse yourself in the adventure
    Immerse yourself in the adventure

    Excitement is infections, so have fun, check the map and take some photos.

I hope some of these things will come in handy if you are looking to guide walking or cycling groups. I may revise this as time goes on. Add your own thoughts below!

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