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Know Before You Go: T.E.A.M.

“How do I convince my husband he needs to bring more water on our hikes? He thinks he’s fine, but I’m not only worried about him; I’m worried his dehydration is going to affect me and my hike, too.”

We were stopped for a drink break and enjoying the view on the K-Hill Trail when my friend asked me this. I stammered through an answer of sorts, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Kane County SAR team on recent recovery in Buckskin Gulch. Photo courtesy of KCSAR.

You could hit him with the facts: Dehydration can reduce exercise endurance by almost half, decrease cognitive ability (resulting in poor decision making) and can make you feel downright crummy.

But people are often not swayed by facts; they’re swayed by emotion and her fears about what his dehydration would have on her hike feels like an entry point. No one wants to ruin the hike for anyone else because of their dumb decision making. We don’t want to hold anyone back. His failure to adequately plan would mean others, who probably did plan, would have their day altered – at best, his dehydration would put him in a foul mood, affecting the rest of the party; at worst, it would be a medical emergency (and not an uncommon one in Kane County’s summer heat).

When I was an environmental educator leading school groups in the mountains, we often talked about the concept of “T.E.A.M” – Together Everyone Achieves More. When we travel into the majestic, remote locations of southern Utah, we are often far away from cell signal and resources, making us dependent on not just what we have (experience, gear), but who we have with us.

With that in mind, here are five quick tips for traveling safely in the outdoors with a group:

  1. Pick your companions carefully. Is their fitness and experience level appropriate for the activity? Are they good at communicating through decision making? Do they get moody when they’re tired? Do they like to go, go, go, and then take a long break, or do short stints of activity with short breaks? How much experience do they have? If one of you broke an ankle, would they remain calm and help figure out how to get help? Do they bring really great snacks to share?

  2. Make sure everyone is on the same page about the objective and plan for the day. This may change as the day goes on, so continue to check in with each other about the goals. Conflicting objectives lead to conflicting actions, which can create tension, misunderstanding and poor group decision making.

  3. Think about whether or not you are the de facto “leader.” “With great power comes great responsibility.” If others are less experienced, they are likely to take your lead, sometimes to their benefit (they can learn from your experience!) and sometimes to their detriment (they can get in over their heads!). Be aware of the ways that your lead may unintentionally steer group decision making and check in often with those who are less experienced.

  4. Think about whether or not you are the de facto “follower.” It follows that if you are the less experienced person, it’s on you to know your limitations and be capable of communicating that to the group. It is hard to acknowledge when we are “the weakest link,” but being honest with yourself and the group means you’re less likely to create an unsafe situation. Also, don’t assume that someone with more experience knows all. More than one SAR call-out could have been prevented if a less-experienced person spoke up when they thought something was “off” rather than assuming someone else in the group would keep them safe. (This is sometimes called “expert halo” bias, which I discussed in my January 2022 article.)

  5. The “desire to please others” has been cited as a common theme for errors in judgment that lead to outdoor accidents (Meyer, 1979; Williamson, 2013). As mentioned earlier, none of us wants to be “that guy” who keeps the group from having fun or doing what they set out to do. But don’t let that keep you from saying or doing something that might keep you or the group safe. Cultivate relationships where you can disagree thoughtfully with one another and can speak up when necessary (great life advice for non-outdoor pursuits, too!).

Got a pressing question related to Search and Rescue or how to stay safe in the outdoors? Email me at




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