So while you are trying to plan your trip of a lifetime, here are some things to consider when deciding if you should go with a hiking guide service or DIY.
Most guided tours include all the essential gear – tent, backpack, sleeping bag, cookware, food, etc. You will be able to learn a ton from your guide, such as to how to pack your backpack, what to bring, hacks to make wilderness living easier, putting up your tent, trying out gear before making the investment, best meals for backpacking, trail finding, map reading skills, etc.
From obtaining the permits for your excursion (which can be a complete pain in the A**) to transportation from and to your hotel, a guide service will save you the headache of trying to navigate areas you may never have been before, as well as navigate around tricky rules, regulations and just overall logistical nightmares.
Let’s take a Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim trip for example. You need to obtain an ever coveted permit 5 months in advance, be able to figure out how to shuttle from one side of the canyon to the other, obtain lodging, figure out food, water needs, gear and most important – how to deal with an environment unlike most in the US – the arid, unforgiving desert.
You are with an expert in the area
A guide, especially in a place where you may see no other living biped for days on end, is not a bad person to have with you. They know the environment in which you are hiking. They know what to do when Mother Nature has other plans than a warm, sunny day. They know the history, flora, fauna and just cool stuff about the place you are visiting. They can point out things you would simply pass by when staring at your feet while hiking on the trail. They understand the local norms. Oh, and they will save you from doing something totally novice like burning your TP in the desert and starting a raging wildfire.
This is just an extension of the expert discussion. An expert in a particular location will provide a sense of safety and peace of mind. You don’t have to think as much about the “what ifs”. The guide service will have you prepared for those and covered to their best ability in the event a “what if” occurs. Plus, many wilderness guides are certified in backcountry medical protocols in the event something does occur.
Spending several days in the backcountry with a small group of people means you are going to get to know people quite well. Since you are on a trip, you are very likely going to meet people that have the same love of challenge, wilderness, Mother Nature, being dirty, or whatever else floats boats, as you do.
These groups are perfect for the solo traveler who wants to get out into the backcountry but doesn’t want to be in the middle of nowhere, in the dark, with a killer on the loose, all alone. Actually, that’s not likely to happen but that is how we feel when laying in a tent, at night, with the trees rustling in the wind all around you. BWWHHHAAAHAAAHAAHAHA
Guided backpacking trips cost money – this service is invaluable for some, a waste of cash for others. While buying your own gear is a big investment, it is something you can use over and over again. Guided trips may supply it, but you do have to give it back. Also, guides are trained and certified experts in their field, so they are not cheap. And depending on who much the trip includes, you will be paying more.
In order to keep the tour streamlined, pick up and drop off locations and times are not flexible. Itineraries are rarely changed as they must accomodate for the entire group, not just one person.
Menus are set so if you are picky, you will either just have to deal with the menu, starve or bring your own food. Most guide services can accommodate some dietary restrictions, but when you are carrying everything you need on your back, there is no room for menu selections. Want fresh food? Not happening! There is nowhere to fit a fridge in a backpack, so you will need to be open to a very specific style of menu on a style of trip that lacks the refrigeration that would meet any health code.
Going it solo, you can carry all the raw meat you want, but commercial guides are a bit adverse to providing the group with a big helping of E. coli.
This can be good and bad. As a pro, you can make new friends. As a con, you may not like the people you are with or they may not like you. That is human nature, unfortunately, so if you are not one that likes to meet new people or to you a friend is just someone you haven’t alienated yet, a guided trip may not be for you.
Guides can also be hit or miss. Sometimes you just may not get along with your guide because you don’t like being told what to do, or your guide just may be a complete douche. Either scenario could happen, and it’s a risk you take on a guided trip. Not every personality meshes and multiple days of really having to get to know someone, can make or break a trip.
The group stays together
On a guided hike, there is safety in numbers, so it is rare a guide will let fast hikers just go it on their own. This means you have to stay with the slow hikers. And there are times a member of the group may not have been forthcoming about prior medical conditions or did not train. This can put a damper on the trip as a whole. But also remember, you could be the one to hold the group up, so everyone is in the same boat and must be able to deal with each other’s different levels of ability. But if being in complete control and powering through a hike is your bag, a guided trip is not your bag.
You will look like a tourist
Not much to say here. When you are next to someone telling you the geology of Grand Canyon while pointing at the rock layers and the rest of the group is taking selfies – all while sporting matching backpacks – you will look like a tourist.
As You Consider a Guided Hiking Vacation
Of course, these are generalizations. If you are considering a guided trip, keep these pros and cons in mind and just ask questions. If you find the cons outweigh the pros, then that works best for everyone. No one wants to be on a trip they are not enjoying and no one wants to be with someone not enjoying their trip.
And, one more word of advice for anyone that is planning a backpacking or hiking trip that requires a permit…if the only reason you are considering going on a guided trip is because you COULD NOT obtain a permit, DO NOT hire a guide unless you are willing to fully embrace these pros and cons. No one wants to spend multiple days with someone continually reminding the group and guide how they can totally do the trip on their own because they are the champion of everything outdoors.