The leader’s chief job is to ensure that, at the conclusion of the trip, everyone has enjoyed themselves.

Rather than do all the tasks that need to be done, a good leader will delegate jobs to less experienced party members so that they have the opportunity to learn.

Good judgement is usually the result of experience and experience is frequently the result of bad judgement. Never pretend to know something that you don’t. A sense of humour helps.

On the move

Adjust the pace to accommodate the slowest member. This is best achieved by putting the slowest party member behind the leader. Have an experienced member at the back of a large party and make an effort to keep the party together by waiting for everyone to arrive before river crossings, taking a side track, main track junctions, leaving the track, or surmounting obstacles. Remember that trampers do get confused at track junctions, particularly if these are not clearly signposted, or when a party member mistakenly turns off on to a side track instead of continuing along the main track.

Party fatigue

Towards the end of the day, keep an eye out for a party member lagging behind, perhaps looking distressed. Consider stopping for refreshment – maybe a hot cup of soup – in spite of the party’s natural wish to press on, especially in miserable weather. Lightening their pack will help lift morale and energy levels too.

Risk taking

There is a thrill to be had from taking a risk and elation afterwards, but taking unnecessary risks with big consequences is reckless. Before entering a risky situation ask:

  • What would you say to the coroner if there were a mishap?
  • Would your boss prefer you to turn up a day late, or never again turn up?
  • What would a respected outdoors person that you know likely do in the same circumstances? And what would they say if you told them what you intend to now do?


The most experienced person should take decisive command: act promptly, deliberately and calmly. Always ensure that the group’s safety is paramount, even before that of the victim. The leader should delegate tasks to other capable members in order to keep abreast of the overall situation and allow time to clearly plan the next steps.

This page is a reproduction of the relevant section of FMC’s Safety in the Mountains booklet; first published in 1937, and still in print today, 11 editions later. You can buy your copy from the FMC website, at near giveaway price. More than 130,000 copies of this distilled mountain wisdom have found their way in to packs, huts and collections of generations of outdoors enthusiasts.