Why guided trips?

As one internet sage stated “It’s just walking“.  So why go on a guided trip?


Note: I am will say up front that I am biased when I write this article as I do some assistant guiding on occasion. 

When I started backpacking, I fumbled, stumbled and no doubt grumbled at times.

In my early 20s, I was not married, had a job but no career and certainly no children.  I had time to go away to New Hampshire on a regular basis and cut my backpacking teeth.

My buddy Tim and I on one of those early trips


I had no obligations other than what a single 20-something normally has. My free time became less about clubbing in Providence  and more about taking my free time and further diving deep into the outdoor world [1].

Because my job at the time had a generous vacation policy (sigh), I was able to take a three-week block of time to hike Vermont’s Long Trail.

And, of course, a year later I did the Appalachian Trail and then moved to Colorado.

My first hike in Colorado on Flat Top Mtn in RMNP


I stumbled, fumbled and grumbled a little less, but I still honed my outdoor skills by going out and simply DOING IT.  Even skiing, I learned the hard way.

Pictured: The hard way! (Winter 2005)


I had (have) the time to use my free time for outdoor pursuits.

Even being married, I tend to take off frequently. An understanding someone who will sometimes accompany me, no children, we do not own a house and I jealousy guard any free time I may have.

But what if I took up backpacking in my 30s or 40s esp if I had children, a house and other traditional obligations?

It would be difficult to carve out so much free time to learn these skills I gained over the miles I walked.

And that’s where the guided trips come in.

As with many people with my self-learned outdoors experience, I must confess I initially scratched my head over the value of these education focused trips. Be it NOLS, Outward Bound or for  my other “boss”. 

It’s just walking right?

Except I think of the skills I gained over my stumbling, bumbling and fumbling (admittedly while having fun):

  • How to pack correctly for a given trip type and environment
  • The basics of navigation
  • Proper site selection for camp
  • Correct food to pack
  • Proper management of clothing
  • Fitting a pack correctly

…and so on.


All skills  I’ve had the luxury of learning and honing over the miles and nights in the backcountry.

But what if I was a family person with precious free time?  Would I want to spend my free time learning the hard way? For some people, the answer is no.

As I am in entering the middle stage of my life, perhaps I matured a bit.

I realize the self-learning style I prefer is not for everyone. Some people simply don’t have the time and/or the temperament to learn this way. Or to go off by themselves.  And while a person can learn from a more experienced friend or even on local outdoor group trips, but that’s not always an option either.  Esp if your friend is lacking in free time themselves or the outdoor groups aren’t doing the beginner/learning oriented trips as much.

Hence the value of learning focus guided trips.  A fast-track learning for someone who is busy and wants to get a good foundation for future trips when they do have free time.

Are these type of trips for everyone? Nope.

But are they a good tool for the right person? Yes.

So, while it may be “just walking“, there are certain skills learned and acquired to make any free time “just walking” more fun and satisfying.

The gift of time is precious. And to enjoy it, best to be prepared when the gift presents itself.  Preparation, experience and knowledge is how to enjoy the gift of time.

There are many ways to acquire these skills.

And a guided trip is a way that may work for some.


[1] The smell of Drakkar, seeing Iroc Z-28s and witnessing a sea of people in leather jackets and blue eye shadow are all hallmarks of my early adulthood. And, yes, people called, and still call, me Paulie where I grew up!


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