Before you take the first step:

  • Take a stand and stick with it. If you contact a group and tell ’em you’re coming, do it. If you change your mind at the last minute, tell the leader so nobody waits around for you. Bay Area Linkup basically built a get-together engine around what to do about people who say they’re coming and flake off (and the cool thing is: they punish flakes!). Don’t be one. If you’re paralyzed by doubt, hike solo.
  • Make sure you know you can handle the planned hike. Thanks to morons like me who provide all this free hiking-related wonderfulness, there’s no excuse for not knowing what you’re in for. If the hike leader can’t tell you “it’s seven miles with 2,000 feet of elevation gain,” find another group.
  • Find out how fast they go. If they’re young, tough and treat their hikes like a geeky-Granola version of the Grand Prix, make sure you can keep up. Also: find out what they do if you’re a slowpoke. (If it’s “leave ’em for the mountain lions,” perhaps you want less-Darwinian hiking companions). If they’re retirees: Go with them anyway, walk slow and ask them about their lives (and if any of their grandkids are single, because all available youngsters love to be told “there’s this fine young man in my hiking group you should meet.”)
  • Learn the rules. Many group leaders become so fed up with with the minority of thoughtless hikers that they develop a Body of Law for everybody who goes on their hikes. Laws were created to confront the Compound Interest of Indecision Effect, which says that if you have a hard time making up your mind, imagine what it’s like if your indecision is multiplied by 12.
  • Help organize car pools. The best trails often have the worst parking, and besides, there’s no better place than the captive cocoon of an automobile to introduce your new friends to the wonders of multilevel marketing.

On the day of the hike

  • Arrive on time. A little early wouldn’t hurt. Nobody will think badly of you because you have nothing better to do at the appointed hour. There are no fashionably late arrivals on group hikes.
  • Be prepared: Don’t expect anybody else to supply your water, snacks, rain gear and crude body-function jokes.
  • Anticipate post-hike grunge: If you ride in somebody else’s car and it turns out to be a shiny new Beemer: bring a bag for your muddy hiking boots (although I think it’s a bit of a breach to willingly offer a bunch of filthy, sweaty hikers a ride and then expect them not to stink up your Beemer.) Volunteer to help pay for gas before the driver asks; this often oddly motivates the driver to say “no worries, I was going that way anyway”).

Once you’re actually hiking

  • Make sure you know where you’re going. A few hike leaders provide maps with the route marked and everything, but most won’t. Once you’re going, pay attention to where you’ve been. It’s easy to stray off the trail to, say, answer the call of nature and get lost on the way back. If somebody else has been doing all the navigating, you can be in deep doo-doo. Always hike under the assumption that your group outing can become a solo outing, and bring your 10 essentials..
  • Make sure there’s a reconvene plan: Most groups pause to rest and regroup at major trail junctions. If you find yourself way head and come to a turn, stop there and wait.
  • Watch out for your fellow hikers: Don’t assume somebody else will look out for stragglers. One of the main appeals of group hiking is that you’re not all alone out there.
  • Don’t presume hike leaders know what they’re doing: They can take wrong turns and make bad decisions like anybody else. Unlike anybody else, they cannot walk you out of the woods. However: life is happier when everybody abides by the hike leader’s decisions. If you think you can make better ones, volunteer to lead the next hike.
  • Don’t be a whiner: Nobody will fault you for mentioning you’ve just slipped and fractured your tibia, but minor annoyances are best kept to yourself.
  • Don’t suffer in silence: If you’re sick or injured, tell somebody before it gets too serious.
  • Don’t annoy people with your conquests. Wait to be asked about the Kilimanjaro expedition in which your ineptitude caused a mudslide that buried 13 native porters (and don’t tell anybody about the village medicine man’s 13-generation curse … it’s all superstition anyway).
  • Don’t annoy people with your career, religion or political views, either. Better to say “don’t get me started” when asked. Then, don’t let them get you started.

After the hike

Standard rules of decorum resume. Be kind, be thoughtful, tip your server.