When people find out I'm a trail guide I not only get a few questions, I also get to hear "Wow, that's the best job in the world! I'd love to do that!" followed by attempts to ask about getting hired at the company I work with or how they can start a hiking company on their own. While working as a trail guide is a wonderful and enjoyable job, I always try to stress to people that working as a guide and hiking in general are not the same thing. If you've ever thought about getting into the world of guiding, here's some practical advice to help you decide if you'd like to get into the guiding industry.
You're Going to Hike SLLLLLOOOOOOOWWWWWWW
My normal comfortable walking/hiking speed is between 3 and 3.5 miles per hour. As a guide, however, my hiking speed is approximately 1 mile per hour. Why the difference? People hiring a guide are doing so to get out and enjoy nature - many of them for the first time ever. When a mountain mile is approximately equivalent to walking 3 miles in a city on sidewalks, you can imagine people are DEFINITELY not going to be able to walk 3-3.5 miles per hour. Not only will you be hiking slow, you'll be taking plenty of rest breaks and be reading the cues on your client's faces to make sure they're not exerting too much. While it's enjoyable to work outdoors all the time, your comfort and abilities don't matter when you're a guide. If you're a fast hiker, be prepared to slow it down considerably and be prepared to hurt A LOT when you do.
You Are Responsible For Everyone's Safety
When you're out hiking with your friends, especially if they're adults, they're all responsible for their own decisions and safety. When you're out with paying clients chances are you're the only one in the group with any first aid training and any first aid items in your pack. While going out with friends it's a lot of fun to hop up on that giant rock and take photos, with clients it's important to watch their steps and check for rattlesnakes that could be under or around those rocks. Keeping people safe not only keeps your hikes enjoyable, it also keeps your insurance rates low and your company's reputation high as well.
You Will Carry a TON of Extra Gear
I don't know about you guys, but I don't carry ANYTHING extra in my pack I won't need on a backpacking trip. When I'm out with clients though, this level of thinking goes right out the window. On trips where I have a group of 8, I often am carrying two stoves (Jetboils) and extra fuel canisters, two water filters (Platypus Gravity with two 4-liter bags a piece), a tarp for rainy conditions, extra string, more first aid items, and even homemade baked goods (when you're working for tips, extra touches help!). I can easily add an extra 10 pounds of stuff I'd never dream of carrying to my pack. This doesn't include gear that your clients are unable to carry. It doesn't always, but sometimes will, happen that a client is physically unable to walk with a pack on, but when it does be prepared to carry some of their gear as well.
You are Working 24/7
If I'm on a trip and during the middle of the night a client needs me, I am on call. If we are sitting around camp and an emergency arises, I am on call. I am never not working on a trip. While I do get some down time to relax with clients around a small campfire at the end of the day, I still need to make sure I'm doing my job and keeping people safe. "Did she just take food into her tent? Did he just pour grey water into the creek? Where is that guy's food bag now?" You are continuously monitoring camp and the people around you to make sure your group will be safe and enjoy their camping experience. Working 24/7 on a trip can definitely be exhausting.
You Will Meet Incredibly Inspiring People
Just like when you're hiking on your own, even with all the above-mentioned things you'll be doing, you're going to meet incredible people with incredible stories to tell. I have met inspiring hopeful thru hikers, women leaving abusive relationships, men trying to reconnect with their kids, people celebrating their victory over cancer, and been a part of some incredible celebrations. On a trip I am their guide and afterward I am here to answer their questions if they're ready to get back out and try another trip. Knowing that I helped people enjoy their trip into the backcountry, no matter their ability level or the trail conditions, is incredibly rewarding.
While being a trail guide is a physical demanding and mentally exhausting job, it definitely has wonderful moments. I work incredibly hard on everything I do, be it an hour-long walk or a week-long hike. Teaching people the right way to get out and enjoy nature and showing them how accessible it can be is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done.
Have you ever been on a guided hike or trip? Do you think you'd enjoy being a hiking guide?