How to: Determine Party Size for Mountaineers Trips

The Mountaineers Outdoor Ethics Policy encourages leaders to consider several factors when determining how large or small of a group to take on their outing. Learn about these considerations, and how you can be a safe, responsible, and respectful steward of our wild places!
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
June 13, 2018

When is a group in the outdoors too big? Too small? The answer, of course, is subjective, and also depends on the place and the activity. The Mountaineers Outdoor Ethics Policy encourages leaders to choose a maximum party size based on six important factors.

1. Land Manager Requirements

The Mountaineers runs activities on public land and private land. We run trips and courses on national forest land, national park land, state park land, and other state land. We also run programs in city and county parks. Each land manager has unique requirements for recreational use. For example, most wilderness areas on U.S. Forest Service land have a party size maximum of 12. Other areas have no guidelines, but it's important that the leader understand and complies with the land manager guidelines when they do exist! This includes applying for and obtaining permits when required. 

Questions about whether or not you need a permit?

The Mountaineers regularly updates permit information on our Routes & Places. In addition, you may always contact the land manager or info@mountaineers.org!

2. Sensitivity and capacity of the area

It's important to understand the nature of the area you're planning on visiting. Often (but not always), large city parks are high-impact areas that also have a high capacity - meaning that they can take a high volume of use with minimal damage to the natural spaces. It's typical to see a party of 30 having a picnic at a city or county park, and the impact on others' experience and on the area is relatively minimal. On the other hand, some areas have a much lower capacity - a small cove, or an area where stepping off trail would mean trampling fragile vegetation.

3. Typical public demand for the area

Mountaineers should strive for smaller party sizes in popular areas. This allows us to be more nimble and to accommodate other parties who may be in the same area, modeling camaraderie with the outdoor community. For example, on a popular climb, a smaller party might be easier to pass if a faster party is behind them. Likewise, a smaller party can more readily share precious ledge space with others. 

Looking for an alternate location?

Be sure to check our Routes & Places for new ideas! Did you know that you can view all routes/places in a map view (click "Map" above the first listing) or filter by the type or difficulty of the activity (use the faceted search on the left)?

4. Goals and objectives of the activity

The goals and objectives of an activity can and should influence party size. Oftentimes standard trips can be a great success with a small party, whereas educational activities such as course field trips will inherently require more people to accommodate a certain number of instructors for the students. Other activities, such as family activities, thrive with a larger group so that they can be inclusive of all members of the family. There are also cases when a leader may want to allow as many students as possible on their activity, without compromising other factors, because they want to help those students meet their graduation requirements.

When thinking about these factors, the leader may choose a location that is a good choice for a large party, or if the leader is intending on having a very small party, they may choose a less popular area to avoid running into other larger groups.

5. Assessment of leader skills and abilities, and participant skills and abilities

In addition to choosing a location that fits the skills and abilities of your party, it's also important to adjust your party size accordingly. If you are going to a popular climbing area with a party that is highly skilled relative to the terrain, you may choose to go as a part of 6 or even 8 because you know they can move quickly and efficiently. On the other hand, going to the same location with a less skilled party may be reason to reduce the size, so that you can take the time to coach participants without getting in the way of others.

6. Risk management and safety considerations

There are plenty of objective hazards that a leader should consider when choosing a party size. An area with lots of loose rock, for example, may indicate a need for a smaller party size to reduce the risk of participants kicking down rocks on other participants. On the other hand, the leader may be wise to choose a larger party size because of the remoteness or difficulty of the terrain, improving the team's human resources should an emergency arise.

REcommendations

The Mountaineers recommends that, in general, leaders keep their party sizes to 12 members or fewer. Many times, given the above factors, fewer is a better choice. In some cases, a larger party size is ideal, and our Outdoor Ethics Policy is designed to provide ethical guidance to empower our leaders to make good-faith decisions in the interest of preserving the outdoor experience for everyone. Leaders who lead activities that are larger than 12 should consider the above guidelines before making that decision.

Additionally, The Mountaineers generally recommends that no two Mountaineers parties are scheduled to be on the same route at the same time - unless otherwise determined by the considerations outlined in the Outdoor Ethics Policy. This is to limit the club's impact on one area or trail head, reducing our overall impact on other land-users. 

Questions?

If you have any questions about offering a larger trip or scheduling multiple activities at the same location, please contact info@mountaineers.org for support. You may also use the Route/Place Updates, Images & Resources Form to request a change to an existing route/place.


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Ian Lauder
Ian Lauder says:
Mon, Jun 18, 2018 7:23 AM

You might want to add something about not deliberately poaching another branches posted climb especially when it is an area that is difficult to do with too many parties. And if you are going to poach another branches climb you better not be so slow that you clog the route and cost that other party their climb. If you are too slow on the route you need to pull over and let others climb through. And whoever that group of 3 Seattle branch intermediate students were on Forbidden yesterday who knew we had the climb posted and showed up unprepared and not ready for that climb who jumped ahead of us after we kicked you boot path all the way up the couloir then sat on the route not moving and tell us at one point we were climbing behind you. You cost us our climb. Then we hear afterwards you trashed talked us slowing you down to justify your failure. I'll expand on my rant in the trip report. But yea, don't clog up a route you aren't ready for especially when you poached another branches climb.

The Mountaineers
The Mountaineers says:
Mon, Jul 9, 2018 3:59 PM

Many of Washington’s classic hikes and climbs see increased use in the summer, especially on weekends. The Mountaineers has an Outdoor Ethics Policy written to encourage and empower our leaders and members to be mindful of our collective impact on our public lands. While we do limit multiple Mountaineers parties on most of our routes/places, we cannot limit or control other private or public parties – which sometimes includes Mountaineers members out for their own trip. We encourage all Mountaineers members to be good stewards of our public lands and respectful of other parties, whether they are “on the clock” or off!

To give your group the best opportunity for a successful trip, arrive prepared to share the route with other parties and plan for extra time to complete your objective, navigate the trail, or find a good camp. We encourage all groups to have a friendly conversation with other parties to discuss how they can share the route in a way that leads to the best chance of success for all involved. We also encourage leaders to consider visiting mid-week or finding less-travelled destinations! Our route/place database is always growing, and is designed to help you find alternate destinations.