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How to Say No to Unprepared Hikers

It’s 6:00 AM and you’re at the carpool pickup spot. Eight other people are there, bleary eyed, but excited for what promises to be a great day hiking in the mountains. A couple of adventurers are already wearing most of their gear, big hiking boots, non-cotton layers, and all of the other great (and expensive) things we buy to stay safe and comfortable outside.

“Oh man...,” you utter under your breath as you see someone wearing designer city winter “boots” for what’s promising to be a snowshoe filled day with cold temperatures. Or maybe you’re staring at the person who just responded to your question about having microspikes with, “I didn’t really want to invest in a pair.” Perhaps it’s a warm morning in summer, and your mouth is slightly open and stuttering because the person in front of you has nothing but an apple, one small bottle of water, and sunglasses while confidently saying, “I do super light hiking, and I’ve done it before, so I’m good,” before an eight-hour hike.

These events and more have happened, and they all should have warranted a big, fat, “Sorry, but no,” rejection on the spot. In the first instance after 15 minutes on the trail, it became clear that the participant had not read the hike description and had to be turned away back towards the parking lot to wait for a couple of hours. In the second, everything turned out fine, no microspikes were needed, and the hiker did well. In the third, the athlete kept an amazing pace but glowed like a radioactive red lamp at night from massive sunburn and was a source of consternation for others in the group in case an emergency had happened. Everyone survived – all deserved to be turned away before the cars even left.

So, are these people thoughtless, selfish, and filled with mal-intent? The short answer is no, but the longer answer and key part to saying no to unprepared hikers is the following: They haven’t learned how hiking is a team sport. Playing well is impossible if you don’t know there’s a game happening, and there are four steps to say “no” to unprepared team members before the clock starts.

group hiking in winter woods with snow

Step 1: List the expectations briefly and clearly in your adventure posting

Good teams have great communication, and your job is to list what it’s going to take to be a winning group. Consider the following categories that you want your mountain compatriots to be aware of in considering your adventure:

1. Previous experience required

2. Gear list (no exceptions)

3. Time to hike, distance, and elevation gain

4. Speed of hike (leisure, fitness, or “as we go” pace)

Here’s a sample description:

Galehead Mountain is a 4,024 foot mountain in the Twin Range in Franconia, New Hampshire (Grafton County) in the White Mountains. There is a one mile road walk to the trail head due to the access road not being plowed during winter, and total mileage for this hike is 12.4 miles with 2,700 ft of elevation gain. Please read carefully below about required gear, previous experience, and community expectations.

Required Gear & Experience: Microspikes (Kahtoola brand), multiple non-cotton layers, waterproof shell for bottom and upper half, winter hiking boots (no exceptions), non-cotton socks, 2 liters of hot water stored in a thermos inside your bag, food, thick gloves, and a hat are required. Previous experience hiking several 4000 footers in the White Mountains specifically during winter along with snowshoe experience qualifies for this trip. If snowshoes are required for this trip, participants will be notified

Map: You are required to have a copy of this route either at AllTrails or here:

Community Expectations

You will bring the required gear above and will not be allowed to attend otherwise. This is not a fitness hike or a race, and you will ask questions and be vocal of any needs before or along the way.

At this point, semi-responsible people will begin to either a) filter themselves out or b) ask you questions. “Do I need to really have this?” is a common questions received even after listing the requirements, but rather than being annoyed, be thankful this person took the time to double check rather than show up.

Congrats – you’ve passed Step 1 to saying “no” without actually having to communicate with anyone directly!

Step 2: Make everyone take a short quiz

Let’s keep this one short and simple: Create trip questions that people can answer via your group chat, email, or whatever else you use to make sure they read and understand the expectations.

1. What's your hiking experience?

2. When was your last hike? How long was it in miles? What was the elevation gain?

3. What hiking gear will you have for this trip?

4. How many miles is this hike you're signing up for?

Enjoy the sadism of being an educator and give an ‘F’ to people who don’t answer; revel in your position by awarding those providing acceptable answers with ‘A+’ or even ‘B+’ for people you know who are perfectionists. Either way, you just said “no” again, and you’ve helped a couple of people reconsider joining! Nice job, destroyer of dreams!

Step 3: Once everyone is signed up, send another communique

This “no” is easy. Text or email everyone again affirming gear and adventure expectations.

Hey Guys! Just want to repeat the plan for this weekend’s hike…

At this point you will receive an email from one or two people dropping out because a) they’re great test takers but thought more about the trip and realized they underestimated themselves or b) they’re “sick”. Cool – no worries. You just said “no” again and helped your team prepare even better for the fun.

Step 4: Gear check and gentle “no”

Even after being an incredible communicator, unprepared hikers are still bound to show up, which is why you need to have a gear check. Ask everyone to show you the key items needed for the hike. One of three possibilities will happen: a) Everyone has all the gear; let’s do this. b) Someone forgot a key tool or piece of gear; carpool to their house quickly to get it or this person will drop out. c) An unprepared hiker has showed up even after all of your noes along the way.

After you’ve gotten over any initial rage or exasperation, invite the unready hiker over, and kindly bench them. Here’s a sample explanation you can use in this case.

Hey, I’m really bummed about this, but I think having you along today might cause safety issues for you and the rest of the team. Even if you are fine and are able to hike well, the team and I will be worried about any potential emergencies that could come up, and it’s actually psychologically exhausting for others to be concerned during the day out. I know your intention is not to be an inconvenience, and I was really excited to hike with you. Let’s get another adventure planned out and have you along next time, because I want you to have an awesome experience.

Or maybe you don’t want to see the person ever again! That’s okay, and the most important part of what you did was say “no” again so that the great team sport of hiking may begin without preventable issues stopping you from playing your best.

The takeaway: Hiking is a team sport, and you have to help unprepared hikers realize this

The section header says it all – people just don’t get it because they’ve never been taught. However, there’s a less painful way to learn, and that’s by saying “no” at multiple points along the way before the game starts. There’s always a chance that someone might have over-estimated their strength and endurance, or maybe an injury occurs along the way; true, but that’s another entry for another day. For now you’ve learned how to be a harbinger of ‘no’ for the benefit of your group, wilderness first responders, and yourself.

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