The Happy Camper: Group Dynamics Can Make or Break a Trip

Group dynamics can make or break your next camping trip. Let's look at how to get along better out there.

Credit: Kevin Callan

Forget worrying about bears, bad weather or a crop of biting insects.

On your next camping trip, agonize over group dynamics instead. 

The sun can shine the entire time, you can have wildlife sightings throughout and be constantly gazing over amazing scenery—but if there is a distasteful person in your group, it will become the worst trip you’ve ever had. 

I’ve seen my share of clashes, squabbles, fistfights and divorces out there—it’s not a pretty sight—and I’ve seen other things that were simply bizarre. Once, I was leading a canoe trip with a middle-aged man and his three young sons. The man had heart issues, but failed to let anyone know. On day three of five, he fell to the ground during a portage, grasping his heart. He proceeded to tell me that his life was meaningless and he had planned to go on this trip to die out here with his sons. Wow! I ended up rescuing him, while his sons belittled him, and he’s still alive today.

Being selfish out there is never a good thing. Steps must be taken to minimize conflict, friction and anxiety amongst your group. To maintain positive group dynamics on your next camping trip, keep in mind these tried-and-true tips. (And there’s always a solo trip if all of this overwhelms you.)

Choose a leader.You need someone to make the important decisions with good judgment and fair consensus, especially within groups of friends. You also need someone to blame when things go wrong. A good leader is well organized, honest, compassionate, decisive, positive, enthusiastic and can deal with stress under pressure. He or she should also have excellent outdoor skills (but doesn’t need to prove it all of the time). 

How do you choose who’s coming along? Skillset and the ability to communicate are more important than friendship. It’s nice to be best buddies, but you won’t be pals after the trip if you don’t share responsibilities.

Ever heard the expression, “too many cooks in the kitchen?” Your group should consist of no more than six people.

An important question to ask everyone is: “Why are you going?” You may not want to share a gruelling backcountry trek with someone who wants to stop and smell the roses. Goals must be set out long before the trip begins.

Selecting who’s bringing what must be carefully planned. And remember—no mocking someone else’s camp gear. That sort of thing can get quite personal. 

Give each group member a separate task or duty; something they’re confident in or wanting to improve upon. At least it will let you know who’s to blame when something isn’t properly done (or not done at all).

Once the date of departure is set—it’s set. Period!

Attempt to plan a route that meets each member’s objectives for the trip (good luck) and provide each member with a copy of the route map.

Create a contingency plan (what to do if something goes wrong).

Make the first day the easiest, so everyone can get used to carrying heavy loads. Include a rest day every five days. Make the last day the shortest, so you have plenty of time to get home.

Always be aware that no one is perfect. Keep an open mind and welcome contrast in your group. 

Think twice about borrowing gear. I’ve seen mild disagreements turn into fisticuffs simply from taking a few sheets of someone else’s toilet paper. 

And yes, arguments will most likely erupt the longer you stay out there together.

The top reasons for disagreements are: 

  • Not paying his or her fair share of trip costs.
  • Carrying less than everyone else, but complaining about the weight more than anyone else.
  • Constantly complaining about the weather. 
  • Sneaking food or gear from someone else’s pack.
  • Singing the same song over-and-over-and-over.
  • Becoming obsessed with completing the route as quickly as possible.
  • Yelling, “There’s a moose” then watching it run away before the group photographer gets a chance to snap a picture.
  • Constantly critiquing group-members on how they: run rapids, start the fire, hang the food, make meals…
  • Using someone else’s toothbrush and not telling him until the last day.

Characteristics to look for in a teammate: 

  • Good communicator.
  • Unselfish.
  • Does his or her fair share of work.
  • Dependable.
  • Good sense of humour.
  • Has a special skill to share.
  • Confident in abilities (but not arrogant).
  • Knows his or her limits.
  • Expresses good judgment.
  • Accepting of each member’s “unique” character.