The enthusiasm of successful hikers leads them to talk about trips among friends. Newcomers have started out as work and social friends, vacation acquaintances and family. After a group hikes together they learn the idiosyncrasies and personalities of the group, and it’s important that the group's lore be shared with newcomers. The sooner a new hiker feels confident of her competency with the group dynamics as well as with its various hike-related techniques, the sooner she’ll enjoy your fellowship.
If someone expresses interest in your group, invite her to train with you -- it’s an easy way to become friends while learning important things about her. If she’s friendly, reliable and physically fit on your short off-season hikes, you and she may want to share some longer hikes (i.e. training hikes in the months before the backpack).
Sometimes it takes a few years before a new walker/hiker is actually ready to hike with your group. If she hasn’t backpacked before, there’s much to be learned on both sides before a place should be made for her. She’ll watch you train, listen as you ponder menus, buy supplies, review maps and so forth, and then she’ll hear the stories when you return, including the problems faced along the way. All of this is valuable training for her and will benefit your group if she ends up joining you.
As her first backpack trip with your group approaches, the new hiker should share in these preparations, teamed with others she may not know. Make sure she’s included on the mailing list of planning documents, strongly encourage her to join your training hikes, give her packing hints, and give her a pre-hike job such as dehydrating some food or updating the kaper chart. In FLAB, everyone contributes to our “Last Supper”, a potluck at the trailhead – so pair your newest member up with another hiker to bring food for this dinner. When campfires will be part of the trip (many areas prohibit this treat), we encourage each hiker to share something – sing a song, do a little dance, teach a round, recite a poem or share a story. Make it clear to new hikers that they share in the camaraderie and the chores!
Carpooling to training hikes and then to the real trailhead are great integrating opportunities for new hikers, affording time to share stories of earlier trips and anticipate the next one. While backpacking, we find that we scramble ourselves periodically along the trail, talking with one or two here, another one there, throughout the day. It’s everyone’s responsibility to be sure the newest hikers (and not just 1st years) are included in this. Get to know each other, and then get to know each other better! This process continues as tent partners are determined each day; FLAB tries to change tents and partners nearly every night -- "best friends" can be hard on the rest of the group.
With new hikers added each year, each bringing her own style, experiences and talents, your group will be dynamic and exciting. You'll find that the quiet time before falling asleep is often the most intimate sharing time, and it’s wonderful to share it with old and new hiking friends. Over our twenty years of hikes, FLAB has included as few as 5 and as many as 16 hikers; five or six of us have hiked more than 15 years, while others may hike once, twice or half a dozen times. There has typically been a 30-year range in ages on any particular hike, and we’ve shared many of the joys and troubles inherent in life as we share the joys of the wilderness.