14 On trail 1

Tim, Backcountry Ambassador

Ingredients: Group morale on the trail, why it’s important, how to recognize
when it’s leaving and how to get it back.

 Tolerance for physical exertion, the environmental extremes of heat, cold and rain, level of conditioning, group make-up and comfort level in being miles from civilization can all have an impact on a person’s trail morale. Additionally, one person’s attitude or commentary can start to impact other members of the group. So monitoring individual and group morale is a key skill for a group leader and taking action early can make a huge difference in a fun, successful outing.

Morale, both individual and group, is a key ingredient in overcoming the certain challenges that come with playing in the backcountry. For most people, body language is one of the first outward indicators that things are not going as expected. Some may be quick to verbalize their unhappiness and still others who recognize a shift in their morale are able to offer a change in plans, a trail/food break, creating a group photo opportunity or flat out suggest it’s time to set up camp. As a group leader, it is wise to pay attention to these queues and have put some forethought into the group dynamics and prepare a few strategies.

11 Porkies Sign

I ran into this situation in the Porcupine Mountains this winter, of course it helped that the first apple to consider turning was one of my own family members, so I could see it coming and knew what to do. We were nearing the end of the extended weekend and a few members of the group had to leave a night early. The exodus created a fun vacuum. I could see a change in posture (body language) then I started to hear comments like, “maybe we should go early too.”

Nightfall was coming soon and I knew there was no chance to wrap it all up and hike out. Nor did I relish the idea of driving through most of the night to get home (it’s usually a lonely trip as my crew members are sleepers on the road). Nightfall also meant dinner would soon be on the boil and with two members of the group gone, we had extra food. Knowing my crew is typically motivated by good food and loves a little friendly competition, I offered a creative recipe cook-off. A single eyebrow was raised; a head nodded on another and the last, all smiles. I knew the tables had instantly turned.

53 Cook-off

Here’s what we did:

We pulled out two red and two black cards from the deck, shuffled and drew to form two teams. I laid out all the food. Then announced each team had to cook a main course and a dessert with judging criteria being presentation, taste and health factor. We proceeded as follows:

Phase 1: Collectively we had 2 minutes to review all ingredients.

Phase 2: Individually we had 3 minutes to secretly strategize and concoct a recipe.

Phase 3: One at a time each team had 15 seconds to approach the food cache and select one item. We rotated until all ingredients were gone.

  • This created a situation that could potentially derail any planned recipe. For example, the black team would be powerless watching the red team select key ingredients they needed. This is certainly a defense strategy once a team has all their desire ingredients.

Phase 4: As much as possible, in the close quarters, we respected the privacy in cooking so as not to spoil the surprise.

Phase 5: Meals and deserts were sampled and enjoyed.

Phase 6: Without mediation we were able to judge a winner and, a second runner up J

54 Cook-off


Black team recipe: Pizza crackers and bagels with spicy sausage bits complimented by instant peanut butter on ginger snap cookies (winners for presentation and taste)

57 Runner ups


Red team recipe: Spicy cashews and assorted other mixed nuts and dried fruit with sautéed sweet onions complimented by what else, chocolate (winners for health factor, and in our opinion-taste)

56 Cook-off winners

Needless to say fun was had by all, especially Mom, who wants to do it again at home.