Trip is Full?

I’ve recently been a bit more strict about the size of trips I organize. Some members of the outdoor group to which I belong have questioned this TRIP IS FULL designation. Some seriously, some teasingly, all wondering.

Here is my response.


Recently, I’ve been asked and/or teased about the TRIP IS FULL designations for the trips I’ve organized.

Though it is mild teasing, I believe there is some kidding on the square involved.

So, why all the TRIP IS FULL designations lately?

Why not just organize another group that happens to meet up with us (wink, wink. nudge, nudge.) or just let everyone on the trip?

There are several reasons why I cap off trips.

The idea of having another group that “just happens to meet up with us” is still one large group of thirty people.

So what is wrong with large groups in the outdoors?

By letting large numbers of people into the outdoors, are we not introducing more people to the outdoors? Exposing others to something we love?

In the past, while I have not necessarily endorsed this view, I could at least understand it.

But it is a view I can no longer believe in.

There are often regulations in place that limit the size of trips. Whether you agree with these limits or not, they are the limits set by the local agency. It is a limit I would like to respect.

As any educator can tell you, a large group limits the lessons that can be taught. A far better way to introduce someone to the wilderness is in a smaller group.

For purely selfish reasons I tend to enjoy an outing, even on social trips, when the group size is smaller.

A small group is something I can manage. A small group is where I can talk to people. A small group lets me enjoy the outdoor experience more fully. I’d like to think others enjoy the outdoor experience more, too.

Finally, it is for philosophical reasons why I mainly limit group size for trips I organize. I just do not think it is right to bring hordes of people into the outdoors, especially for backcountry trips. A large group has not only an environmental impact, but a wilderness impact as well.

Twenty plus people on a backpacking trip changes the environment. Rather than a wilderness experience, it is a social experience. A cocktail party in the woods.

I obviously enjoy the camaraderie the can be fostered in the backcountry. I’ve been known to make a nice fire, enjoy some wine and tell jokes. Even on the very large trips…. But, I feel uncomfortable on these trips.  Our enjoyment may, and has, impacted upon others.

As a group do we want a wilderness experience? Or do we want a party with a nice view? Is it right to impose our impact upon others?

In the past, I’ve been flexible on this position due to wanting to be inclusive and/or other friends wanting a social experience in the back country.

However, I am starting to be less flexible about this trip size limit.

Obviously, some trips have a different feel of what constitutes a smaller trip versus another (e.g. a remote valley vs an Open Space trail), but the philosophy is the same. By limiting group size, we not only enjoy the views. We not only enjoy the camaraderie. Or enjoy the challenges. But we are also experience something a little more wild. A little more intense. A trip that is more intimate. Something more than  just a cocktail party in the woods.

It is an ethic I’ve aimed for. It is also an ethic I’ve not always achieved. But it is an ethic I plan on holding myself to more strictly.

On trips, we want some wildness to go with our wilderness. Large groups in the backcountry do not allow this sense of wildness.

It is a view that I don’t expect all members of the group to share, but it is a view that I hope others will understand.

Further reading:

Walking by Henry David Thoreau

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

Wilderness Ethics: Preserving the Spirit of Wildness by Guy and Laura Waterman

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