You’ve been four-wheeling for some time now. Probably drove a few challenging trails and endured a weekend in ugly weather. Perhaps you participated in one of my excursions (or someone else’s) and thought, “I’d like to be a Trail Guide.”
That’s great. While the position entails a fair amount of responsibility, it’s a good way to more fully experience four-wheeling. And to give back to the hobby by teaching others.
Trail Guides (also called Trail Leaders) are skilled individuals who are willing to share their passion, knowledge, skills and respect for the outdoors with others. Some outfitter guides use horses and pack mules. We use 4WD vehicles.
To become a Trail Guide requires both skill and personality: the right mix of tangible and intangible characteristics to lead a group of four-wheelers on a trip that could be challenging and memorable.
It starts by being a student while on the trails. Observe how other Trail Guides lead their excursions. Scrutinize their actions, and decide how you might handle the same situations. Take notes throughout the day as you encounter the different situations.
Ask pointed questions along the way. Learn the various nuances needed to master each trail. Help fellow drivers through their challenges.
Benefits of being a Trail Guide
The Trail Guide is a very rewarding position. Here is what you can expect.
- Satisfaction from teaching a respect for the environment and the outdoors, and living an outdoor-centric ethic.
- Satisfaction of providing perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime experience to someone who might not otherwise get the chance.
- Providing lessons in history and geology.
- Setting the agenda and timetable, and generally doing it your way.
- Receiving accolades and fame for a successful run. This can be fleeting but might get you nominated for the next Trail Guide job!
- Being in front, out of the dust.
Challenges of being a Trail Guide
The Trail Guide is also a challenging position. Make note of these.
- In a word, responsibility. You are responsible for ensuring a safe and – to the extent possible – enjoyable trip. A pretty heavy load, if you think about it.
- With responsibility comes pressure to make sure all goes well. That means you don’t get lost, the vehicles come out reasonably intact, and there are no major conflicts. Stress varies with the group size, your relationship to the group (friends, club, large organization), trail difficulty, and your familiarity with the trail. Even with a small group of friends on a well-known trail, you will experience some stress. The stress is much greater on a distant trail you had no opportunity to scout in advance.
- You are constantly on alert. You cannot relax and merely follow the vehicle in front. Know where you are at all times and how to reach designated locations like the trailhead or campsite.
- You must exude confidence at all times. Even when concerned, try not to show it.
- Lots of homework before the trip. It’s your responsibility to map out and scout the trail when possible. You need to determine the last place to gas up, and when and where the group will meet. You also need to decide on campsites, hotels, and a host of other details.
- Grumbling and dissatisfaction after a poor run. Dissatisfaction can come from myriad causes. Poor management of time and not sticking to schedules without easily understood reasons will get you poor marks. So will being a “road monger.” That’s someone who pushes too hard to meet a timetable and cajoles people to get going or staying up with the pack.
Specific skills a good Trail Guide needs
A Trail Guide should have certain skills. These include:
4WD Skills: To become a Trail Guide, you must first be an experienced driver. Experience builds your confidence – and it shows. The ability to read the terrain and pick successful lines is at the top of the list. As the lead vehicle, you do not have the benefit of watching vehicles ahead of you negotiate the obstacle. Except for very difficult situations, you’re likely to attempt the obstacle without a spotter.
A good Trail Guide is also a good teacher. He coaches drivers through tough spots. On some days, you’ll have to spot an entire group through difficult terrain. Observe how different vehicles behave. Of primary concern are wheel base, transmission type (manual, automatic) and suspension (coil springs, leaf springs, articulation).
Your vehicle must be built to a level beyond that required for the trail. Know its capabilities and limitations.
Scouting and Planning Skills: A successful ride is the result of planning and preparation along with the skills you bring. Scout the trail(s), and plan the trip thoroughly. Yes, you must do your homework.
An adventure with unexpected difficulties can still be viewed as highly successful. After all, difficulties create teamwork, camaraderie, and stories to be told.
Plan for contingencies but go with the flow. Despite your best effort, you cannot control the weather. An unseasonal cold spell or a rainstorm can make a huge difference in comfort and road conditions.
Assume there will be breakdowns. Some vehicles aren’t maintained well. But even properly maintained vehicles can suffer a breakdown. Brush up on mechanical skills, and pack tools and spare parts.
Be prepared. Have a backup campsite. Know the location of the parts store in the nearest town. Carry a spare sleeping bag for the unprepared guest. These and other contingencies can mean the difference between continuing with a trip and aborting it.
Leadership skills: The Trail Guide is the leader and the manager for the entire trip. This person sets the tone and style for the duration. You need management skills to design, plan, delegate, motivate and make decisions. You need leadership skills to communicate, establish a vision, establish trust, and generate confidence.
The leadership tools and techniques you employ will be influenced by the makeup of the group and type of trip you are leading.
Here are three situations that will influence your leadership style:
- Leading a 4WD club may require you to specify some extra rules and be more insistent. One rule could be, “No one is allowed to pass the trail leader.” Many clubs return to the same trails year after year; members know them well. You may find it difficult to maintain control of this group. On the positive side, you can count on their knowledge and experience when help is needed.
- An Adventure / Expedition of eight to 10 days or more can require significantly more emphasis on certain skills. The planning requirements are higher and scouting in advance may be prohibitive. Fewer details of the trip are known and contingency planning will be more generic. Your leadership can really be tested by adverse weather, poor campsite choices, poor fuel management, and vehicle maintenance issues.
- Professional guiding – meaning you are paid – places new demands on you. Expectations will be higher. Driver experience and vehicle equipment will vary. This group is more likely to defer to your leadership, allowing for quicker decision making. However, some guests may need personal attention. You’ll have to budget your time accordingly.
Communication Skills: This takes many forms. The more people on the trip, the more time you will spend communicating with them. Communication is your primary tool for management and leadership. Communication includes written information (emails, texts, documents), verbal (tailgate meetings, campfire exchanges) and two-way radio transmissions.
Customer Skills: You are providing a service. Everyone who participates on your guided trip is a customer – yes, a customer. It makes no difference whether they pay for the service or not. Adopt a customer-focused mindset.
Bottom line: Be customer-focused. Let the customers’ safety, comfort, and success guide your decisions and behavior. You make better decisions when you view the group as customers (or guests).
Additional Skills: Knowing basic first aid is helpful. Four-wheeling is generally a safe hobby. But minor bumps, scratches, stings and burns can occur. Remember to always pack a first-aid kit.
Basic mechanical skills are also crucial. Your vehicle or someone else’s could suffer a breakdown. Your guests will look to you for leadership on resolving that issue.
Becoming a Trail Guide is a noble goal. While not for everyone, four-wheelers who obtain that status find it very rewarding. For me, being a Trail Guide is the apex of four-wheeling. If you’re inclined, commit the necessary time and effort. That’ll be a worthwhile new year’s resolution.
# # #
- 2016-01-03 Create Your 4-Wheel Drive Résumé
- 2016-04-16 10 Qualities of a Great Trail Leader
- 2019-08-30 Be a Guest-Focused Trail Leader
- 2016-06-20 10 Duties of a 4WD Tail End
- 2016-09-15 A Good Rendezvous isn’t a Secret
- 2009-08-01 Meet at The Trailhead, And Caravan In From There
- 2010-11-17 Hold a Drivers’ Meeting Before Each Trip
- 2016-05-16 Safe Departure Point & Other End Trip Stuff
Did you miss the previous articles?
- 2020-12-07 Deck The Jeeps
- 2020-11-17 Four-Wheelers Have A Lot To Be Thankful For
- 2020-10-28 Spare Parts: Death Valley & Rubicon
- 2020-09-17 Common Breakdowns
Some Upcoming Events (click on the link for details)
The 2021 schedule of clinics and adventures trips has been posted on the web site.
All dates are posted to our web site. You can register for any 2021 event now including Death Valley, Easter Safari, the Rubicon and others.
We cancelled most of the January classes. The pandemic is blowing up in Southern California and it felt appropriate to pause for a month. The sand class is not cancelled as yet since it is scheduled at the very end of January however, the issue of a permit to us is not assured. We are in almost daily contact with the Park.
Despite the cancellations, we introduced a new event called Getting Started – Day 3: Putting it all together. The purpose is to gives novice off-road drivers the opportunity to “put it all together” from their Day 1 and Day 2 clinics to gain more confidence and trail experience behind the wheel of their 4WD vehicles. The day will begin with a brief refresher of the important safety rules, spotting commands, and best practices when caravanning. We will then be off into the mountains guided by an experienced off-road instructor and trail leader. We will be driving most of the day and there will be less discussion than during the Day 2 class. Since the entire day, everyone is isolated in their vehicle, we are offering the first two clinics in January.
Quick link to sign up for the new clinics:
See the entire 2021 Schedule
February 07, 2021 Super Bowl Club Run
February 20, 2021 Getting Started Off-Road – LA Area
February 21, 2021 Day 2 Getting Started Off-Road – LA Area
February 20-21, 2021 Two Day Package Getting Started Off-Road – LA Area
February 27, 2021 Getting Started Off-Road – SD Area
February 28, 2021 Day 2 Getting Started Off-Road – SD Area
February 27-28, 2021 Two Day Package Getting Started Off-Road – SD Area
February 27, 2021 Starting Rock Crawling
March 06, 2021 Getting Started Off-Road – LA Area
March 07, 2021 Day 2 Getting Started Off-Road – LA Area
March 06-07, 2021 Two Day Package Getting Started Off-Road – LA Area
March 12, 2021 Death Valley Adventure
March 20, 2021 Getting Started Off-Road – LA Area
March 21, 2021 Day 2 Getting Started Off-Road – LA Area
March 20-21, 2021 Two Day Package Getting Started Off-Road – LA Area
March 20, 2021 Getting Started Off-Road – SD Area
March 21, 2021 Day 2 Getting Started Off-Road – SD Area
March 20-21, 2021 Two Day Package Getting Started Off-Road – SD Area
March 23, 2021 San Rafael Club Run
March 29, 2021 Easter Safari
April 10, 2021 Getting Started Off-Road – LA Area
April 11, 2021 Day 2 Getting Started Off-Road – LA Area
April 10-11, 2021 Two Day Package Getting Started Off-Road – LA Area
April 24, 2021 Getting Started Off-Road – LA Area
April 25, 2021 Day 2 Getting Started Off-Road – LA Area
April 24-25, 2021 Two Day Package Getting Started Off-Road – LA Area
April 24, 2021 Getting Started Off-Road – SD Area
April 25, 2021 Day 2 Getting Started Off-Road – SD Area
April 24-25, 2021 Two Day Package Getting Started Off-Road – SD Area
Wavian NATO Military Steel Jerry Can – 20L/5.3 Gallon $79.99
Order several cans now at:
Best to order these cans now. The warehouse has sold out every can they have 3 times this year due to natural disaster. People bought any color and any size just to have one right away. Half of the new supply shipped as soon as it came in due to a long waiting list. You don’t want to be caught without a gas can or forced to buy an inferior can that leaks. So get on the list, even if you need to wait.
Check out this fire test of the cans https://youtu.be/xG6x_BoGqNY
These are the real deal and are now legal again. These cans do not leak! They are the ones I recommend. However, the penalty we have to pay to get these cans again is that every can must come with a CARB approved spout. That adds about $30 dollars to the can. Still worth it. I have cans built during WWII that still hold gasoline and do not leak. (I am not that old. I bought them surplus.)
I hope to see you on the trails!
Tom Severin, President Badlands Off Road Adventures, Inc.
4-Wheel Drive School
Make it Fun. Keep it Safe.
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Copyright 2021, Badlands Off-Road Adventures, Inc.