Navigating as a group means not only do you need to know where you are, but you need to know where everyone else is too. On a trail there are some common etiquette rules which when followed can help you stay together and on track.
- An experienced trekker should take the lead. No one should pass the leader unless you re-establish roles and responsibilities.
- An experienced trekker should be assigned as the sweeper (also known as taking up the rear). No one should be allowed to fall behind the sweeper.
- Spreading out on well established trails can keep you from eating each others dust, and it decrease your impact on the environment.
- When traveling cross-country (where there is no clear trail to follow) the group should remain within eye and ear contact.
Because trail signs have to be read, there is always risk they may not be interpreted in the same way. Even on well established trails, to decrease the odds of the group getting too separated, there are times you will need to stop. Some groups carry two-way radios, which can be used to keep contact between the front and back of the group. With or without radios, the leader of the group should stop, gather up the team and get consensus on what to do next whenever the following is encountered:
- a split in the trail
- a water crossing
- an obstacle like a downed tree
- the trail seems to fade
- anything confusing or ambiguous
These occasional re-groupings also prevent long distances being established between members of the team. If someone in the back is having equipment problems or an injury, the sooner you figure that out the better.
If you encounter others on the trail, share information. Ask where they are coming from. Ask about trail conditions, water sources, potential camp sites and even mosquitoes. Share your information. Most trekkers are friendly, and the information shared is extremely valuable to staying on track.
For some of us, however, our reason for being in the wilderness is to get away. This goal may lead us away from the heavy traffic areas to more primitive trails, where we may travel for days without seeing another person. These adventures may take us through overgrown vegetation, above the tree lines, or into wide open granite spaces, where trails are less obvious.
When following primitive trails, we may find our selves looking for “confidence markers”. Some sign that others have been here before, and that we are generally headed in the right direction. Although varying somewhat from region to region, there are three basic trail makers which can assist us: blazes, cairns , and ducks.