By: Blonde Two

There is nothing like coming back after a break from something to make you think about what you are doing and how you are doing it. Recently I found myself back in the world of Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expeditions with some DofE silver expedition training on Dartmoor (my first since October). The weather was standard Dartmoor, rain to soak through the most expensive of waterproofs, wind to demolish the tightest of plaits and mist to hide the most obvious of landmarks. It is the combination of conditions like these and the responsibility for a group of young people that can really test the experience and decision-making capability of any outdoor leader and highlight the importance of looking after yourself so that you can look after your group. I was lucky, I was with a very well organised and experienced team who had both contingency plans and dynamic planning skills, we were all (youngsters included) well-equipped and looking out for each other.

Combining the dual roles of training and looking after a group of youngsters in tricky conditions can keep a day very busy. Whilst you make sure that your teaching and activity decisions match the level and needs of the group and check constantly that everyone looks healthy and ‘with it’, it can be easy to neglect your own needs. The consequences of this are not generally good. If you get too hungry, tired or cold, you are less likely to make sensible decisions and if you make less-than-sensible decisions there is the possibility that you might do any (or all) of the following:

  • Miss vital clues as to the welfare of your charges
  • Make navigation mistakes
  • Become angry or withdrawn

The good news is that looking after yourself as an outdoor leader is not too difficult once it becomes a routine. That said, there is nothing wrong with giving the matter some consideration and, from time to time, checking that you:

  • Know that your own kit is up to all possible weather conditions
  • Know that you have provided more calories in your rations than you are going to burn on the hills
  • Know where your own limits are and allow for them in your planning
  • Allow yourself enough time to make sensible decisions rather than hurried ones

I had a fantastic day on the hills. It is always good to revisit old (or maybe not so old) skills and discover that they still work; it is great to be able to make decisions with the back-up of experience; but most of all, it is always encouraging, at the end of the day, to be able to recognise a job well done and a mission completed.