PATC Hike Leader Guide

Hikes Committee


Rush Williamson, Send Rush an email

Ron Burger
Chris Firme
Emeline Otey
Deb Coleman

PATC Hikes

The first stated purpose of PATC is "to support and encourage the...proper recreational use of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and other trails...." This is done partly through the sponsorship of hikes on the trails in PATC's area and on trails in other areas. The Club has a wide-ranging hiking program which includes both local area hikes and excursions into other geographical areas and foreign countries. Hikes can range from short, close-in day hikes to backpacking to extended excursions. The PATC Council sets general hiking policy, and the Hikes Committee monitors day-to-day activities and reports to Council periodically on the status of the program. This Hike Leader Guide covers Club policies regarding hikes in the local area. Other correspondence available at PATC Headquarters sets policy for out-of-area excursions.

An "official" PATC hike is one that is advertised in writing, either in the Forecast section of the PATC web pages, the Potomac Appalachian newsletter, or in a chapter newsletter. PATC has an umbrella insurance policy that covers hike leaders for liability; if you plan to lead a Club hike, you must make it "official" to remove any question about insurance coverage.

Hikes can be for physical conditioning, social interaction, nature walks, history lessons, to reach a viewpoint, or any of a number of purposes. The Club encourages a wide variety of hikes, and provides training and support to hike leaders.

PATC Hike Leaders

The only official qualification is to be a member of the Club. Hike Leader Training is provided by PATC's Trail Patrol throughout the year, and while attendance is highly recommended, it is not required to lead a PATC hike.

New hike leaders should contact a member of the committee prior to advertising their hike (see item #1below). All hike leaders should print out and carry with them (1) a copy of this guide, (2) the Hike Sign Up Sheet and Liability Waiver form, and (3) the Incident Report form. The latter two are available for download as pdf files using the indicated links.

Responsibilities of the Leader

1. Advertise the hike. This consists of submitting your hike to the PATC Calendar and/or to your Chapter newsletter editor in sufficient time for publication.

2. Know the route. Except under unusual circumstances, the leader should be familiar with the trail. It is best to have hiked the route a few days or weeks in advance of the trip so that the trail conditions are fresh in your mind. Locate the trailhead, assess trail conditions, establish a lunch stop, and locate car parks (at both ends if it is to be shuttle hike). It is also a good idea to find alternate routes into your trail for use in case of emergencies. (Note: there are circumstances in which a hike leader will want to deviate from marked trails or known routes. A bushwhack hike is an example; another, to find a formerly used trail which is no longer marked. These hikes should be advertised only by experienced hike leaders.)

3. Sign up hikers. Hikers contact the hike leader to sign up. At this time, you should discuss the difficulty of the hike and try to assess the ability of the hiker to handle your hike. Ask leading questions such as: "Have you ever hiked with PATC before? "Have you hiked this distance before? "Do you have a medical condition that would preclude participation? Be sure that the hiker has proper equipment and water appropriate for the hike in question. You may want to establish a numerical limit on the number of hikers depending on the type of hike and nature of the terrain you will be hiking. In general, "wilderness areas are less tolerant of large groups, and long-distance hikes are more difficult to do when you have a large group size. (The larger the group, the greater the likelihood that you will have a wide disparity in hiking ability, which leads to wide separation of the group during the hike.) 

4. Establish the meeting place. Hikers normally assemble at the meeting place on the morning of the hike and proceed from there to the trailhead. Try to assemble at a spot accessible to public transportation so that more can participate. 

5. Watch the weather reports before the hike. Although trips are seldom canceled, it can happen. Keeping the names and numbers of those who sign up will help you if weather forces a cancellation.

6. Meet at the appointed time and place on the day of the hike. At the meeting place, the hike leader:

- circulates the signup sheet, insuring that everyone signs up. Point out the liability waiver. Their willingness to sign up constitutes an agreement to hold the Club and you, the hike leader, blameless in case of mishap.

- assesses the equipment and condition of the hikers, and if someone does not appear to measure up to the level of difficulty of the hike this is the time to inform them that they will not be participating. (The hike leader always has the authority to make this judgment.) Ask your hikers if anyone has a medical condition that could limit his or her ability to complete the hike. 

- makes transportation arrangements (usually a carpool system) and establishes a meeting time at the trailhead. (Alternatively, hikers may elect to proceed directly to the trailhead and wait for you there.) Drivers must volunteer to drive, and riders must then make their own arrangements with the drivers. (The hike leader, for reasons of liability, cannot assign drivers or riders.) You should, however, make an effort to insure that drivers know the way to the trailhead. Remember that, in the case of a shuttle hike, you will need twice as many cars as with a circuit hike.

- insures that hikers know that riders must reimburse the driver for transportation expenses (see notes).

7. Brief hikers about the hike at the trailhead. Be sure you introduce yourself and ask the participants to introduce themselves to the group. Discuss the route, pace, rendezvous points, lunch stop, major intersecting trails, promontories and viewpoints, and other necessary items. Show the group on a trail map where they will be going, and approximately what time and place the hike is scheduled to end. 

8. Appoint a sweep hiker. The larger the group, the more important it is to station an experienced hiker at the end of the group. Hikers should not get behind the sweep. 

9. Keep track of your hikers. On the trail, make periodic stops to ensure that all hikers are still with you. It is your responsibility to keep the group together and to find lost hikers. Do not adjourn the hike until you can account for everyone. If someone gets lost, alert authorities by dialing 911 (see notes). 

10. Be prepared for emergencies. Carry a first aid kit. You should be able to take care of minor cuts and scrapes, blisters, bee stings, and so on. Know what to do for more serious problems like broken bones, bleeding, or shock. PATC,s Hike Leader Training, wilderness first aid, or other course is strongly recommended. (American Red Cross first aid is nice, too, but in wilderness situations it is sometimes off target.) Be sure to carry a flashlight, map, and compass. In the case of an accident or altercation involving any member of the group, be sure to fill out the PATC Incident Report Form, follow up on the incident to be sure everyone is OK, and send the form to Headquarters as soon as possible.

11. Offer nonmembers a chance to join the club. To further that cause, carry some Club brochures/application blanks in your pack. 

12. After the hike, mail the hike sign-up sheet to PATC headquarters. Be sure to write the date of the hike, your name and phone number, and the hike length in miles. If the trail was in bad shape, fill out the trail condition report on the back of the form. If there are serious problems, don't wait for the condition report to makes its way to PATC headquarters; report the problem to the Club at or 703/242-0693, ext. 7 (trails coordinator).


Estimating the hike pace 

When advertising the hike, use the following scale: 

Slow: less than 1.75 miles per hour
Moderate: 1.75 - 2.5 miles per hour
Fast: 2.5-3 miles per hour
Very fast: more than 3 miles per hour

Of course, the difficulty of the hike will depend partly on the elevation gain and condition of the trail. Study the elevations on the appropriate PATC map. If the trail is very difficult, slow the pace a little.

Reimbursing drivers 
There is no charge for PATC hikes, but the Club requests that all riders reimburse the driver for reasonable costs. This is variable because of fluctuating gas prices, variations in the size and economy of the car used, etc. However, a good rule of thumb is to assume that it costs the driver about $2.50 per hour to operate his or her car (for gas and a very modest allowance for wear and tear). This cost should be split evenly among the riders (including the driver). If gas prices go up, or if the vehicle uses lots of gas, adjust accordingly.

Permissible reproduction of PATC maps
A hike leader may elect to reproduce a portion of a PATC map under certain conditions. Be sure to use the current copy of the most recent edition of the PATC map. You may reproduce only the specific portion of the map that your group will be hiking. You should use an inset identifying the specific map and giving credit to PATC (see below). You should also provide a bar scale and a north arrow. 

PATC Map____, Edition____
Photocopy made with permission of:
Potomac Appalachian Trail Club
118 Park St., Vienna, VA 22180

PATC Maps may be purchased at PATC's on-line store.

Co-sponsored hikes 
PATC encourages joint hikes with other clubs. If you lead a joint hike, you can use the PATC signup sheet, or that of the other club. Whichever you use, be sure to send a copy to PATC after the hike.

PATC Pet Policy
The hike leader has the discretion to permit a pet on a Club hike. However, if the pet becomes a problem on the hike, the hike leader can terminate the participation of the owner and pet.

Emergency Contact Numbers
If you run into trouble, you may need to contact an emergency service to find a lost hiker or rescue an injured one. Generally, it is best to dial 911 and explain the problem.

The hike leader should know what jurisdictions he or she will be hiking through, and should prepare emergency procedures in advance, including knowing who to call. 

Leave No Trace Principles
The PATC has adopted the following Leave No Trace Principles for all activities:
1) Plan Ahead and Prepare
2) Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
3) Dispose of Waste Properly
4) Leave What You Find
5) Minimize Campfire Impacts
6) Respect Wildlife
7) Be Considerate of Other Visitors

See you on the Trail!