When I first started hiking, I preferred to hike solo. Not because I don’t like the company of others but simply because I loved the solitude that hiking by myself provided. Hiking is a great way to get in touch with nature and to get a bit of exercise as you explore. From boosting fitness, to improving mental wellbeing – and even helping us in our social lives, hiking offers all kinds of tangible benefits. I loved immersing myself in nature, planning my own route, setting my own pace, walking in total silence to appreciate the sounds nature, starting when I wanted and finishing late into the night if I chose to. When hiking by myself, I felt alive and free.
It is not recommended, by various authorities, that you hike alone for reasons such as safety and survival. However, deciding to hike solo or not is completely your decision to make and a decision you should not take lightly. If solo hiking is not for you, there are a number of options available that will assist you in getting outdoors, on the trail, in a safe and social environment.
You can hit the trail with Friends, join a Meetup Hiking Group, join a more Traditional Bushwalking Club or engage the services of a Commercial Tour Operator (for guided and self-guided itineraries) or Professional Guide. Each avenue will provide you with a slightly different experience and you may choose a different approach depending on the style of hike you are undertaking or the requirements of the land you are entering. Your level of experience and confidence will often dictate how your approach each hike.
So, with so many free options out there to assist you on your next adventure why would you choose to pay a commercial tour operator or guide?
6 reasons why guides facilitate better hiking holidays
- LOCAL KNOWLEDGE
Guides are passionate about the regions you are walking through and will help bring to life the history, culture, flora and fauna. They can help you reach a level of immersion that you might otherwise not be able to achieve and get the most out of your adventure in your given time frame. Guides have received specialist training to educate travellers and are passionate about answering all of your questions and enhancing your experience.
Guides also know about environmental regulations and local customs, so you can rest assured that the correct protocols are being followed.
- INCREASED CHANCE OF SUCCESS
Guides have seen it all and can help you overcome the biggest of hurdles. Think of them like personal trainers who will help you push your limits and walk that final kilometre or gear up for a long climb with their “can do” attitude.
- GUIDES LOVE FUN
Guides have a special knack for making good trips great. From informative daily briefings, funny stories over dinner and drinks and pep talks when the going gets tough, guides strive to make sure that things are fun and that you are having the trip of a lifetime.
It takes a special kind of person to be a guide. In addition to being friendly and engaging, they are skilled at getting groups to interact and can sometimes become fast and lifelong friends.
- TAILORED EXPERIENCE
Guides understand hiking adventures and the preferences and expectations of travellers. They will work tirelessly to tailor trips to everyone in the group’s interests so that everyone has a great experience.
- ROUND THE CLOCK SUPPORT
Guides are with you from the time your trip commences until it concludes and work tirelessly to ensure your holiday runs smoothly.
If a guided, commercial tour sounds right for you, how do you choose the right operator?
If you are familiar with the Meetup platform, you will already be aware that there are a host of Meetup Hiking Groups available for you to choose from. Many people join multiple groups so that they have exposure to a range of hiking opportunities. It is important to realise that Meetup Hiking Groups are NOT commercial groups, nor are they run by professional, certified guides. They are often run by a group of volunteers, who like you, simply enjoy hiking and wish to share the experience with others. There is an underlying premise with this style of group that the event host is simply providing a meeting point for a planned hike and all attendees are required to be self-reliant, meaning the event host is NOT responsible for your safety, you are. So never join a Meetup Hiking group, expecting that you are going to be guided on the hike in the same way that a commercial operator will.
You may stumble across the occasional Meetup Hiking Group who are charging members to either be a part of the group or attend hikes. The main reason they do this is that the use of the meetup platform is not free for group organisers and they have applied this charge to help cover the running costs. Meetup offers six-month subscriptions at a cost of USD98.94 so for anyone running a Meetup group in Australia, it costs them around AUD290 per year.
Sadly, I have recently become aware of Meetup Hiking Groups in Australia who have decided to charge a hike attendance fee ranging from $50-$75 per attendee, per event. They claim that this somewhat excessive fee is to assist with the running of the group which in my opinion is a total fabrication. It seems apparent that they are attempting to profit from the experience under the guise of a volunteer group. Once particular Meetup Group in question states that…
‘Any trips or training are done by experienced volunteers not professionals and there is no insurance provided by the group and/or trip leader/s. On this basis you will ideally have your own ambulance cover and personal accident insurance. There can be significant objective risk on Alpine trips that include slips/falls, sprains, burns, avalanche, hypothermia, equipment loss, broken bones and even death. By joining our events, you agree to take responsibility for your own safety and risks encountered and remove the trip leader from any liability and mishaps that may occur within the extent of the law.’
Now this is for a group where you have to pay $$$ to join any of their events. So what are you really getting for your money? No professionals, no certified guides, no insurance, you take responsibility for your own safety and risk management, it is not a registered business and as such would not have the necessary permits to lead what is a clearly a commercial group (as you paid to attend) into public land.
There are a host of legal requirements that you must satisfy before you can operate as a commercial tour company and some Meetup Groups simply do not satisfy the requirements. So, be very wary of any Meetup Group or tour operator attempting to charge an attendance fee without the following in place.
- Permits/licences require to guide groups on public land
- Indemnity and Public Liability Insurance
- Registered business or incorporated structure
- Certified guides with training in first aid, food & health safety, licences drivers etc
- Guides who have walked the track before – experience and know what to do when needing emergency help – having the safety equipment i.e. GPS/Satellite Phone
- Equipment – having the correct gear for group travel and being well-prepared
- Clearly detailed inclusions – knowing exactly what you are getting and not having to pay extra prior to or during the hike
If you are required to pay to attend a hike, then all the above points are what you should be looking for. This is what a commercial tour operator will provide. Your well-being is their first priority, they are not unqualified volunteers who leave the safety up to you. Professional guides receive extensive first aid and emergency response training and carry mobile & satellite phones or 2-way radios. Thorough risk management procedures and field knowledge mean that you are in safe hands, with 24-hour back up and evacuation procedures in place.
So next time you are planning a hike, think of your safety first and foremost and if you’re uncertain about your own abilities then look for a commercial tour operator who will ensure you are well supported through their guided and self-guided itineraries and will work to ensure you have the experience of a lifetime, not the last experience of your life.