When Should You Use a Guide Service for Hiking? Decision Tool!

If you are on this page, then you are considering whether or not to hire a guide for a hike that you are planning to do. You might be sitting at home considering getting into backpacking but don’t know where to begin. You might be sitting in a hotel room in a foreign country near a famous hike, but you are not sure about how to do it safely.

You should use a guide service for hiking when you are uncertain whether you will be able to complete a hike without additional support. A hiking guide service is also indicated when a hiking route requires specialized equipment or training to complete.

Deciding to use a guide service for your next hike is an important one. In this post, I have created a decision tool that you can use to assess your situation and whether a guide service is a good idea or just a waste of money.

Of course, the decision is personal, and if you have any misgivings about hiking without an expert, then perhaps you should reconsider your hike or go ahead and hire someone to guide you. Here are some important questions to ask yourself.

If you are answer YES to a question add the points to your total.

Are you unfamiliar with the hike?+ 1
Is the hike generally considered to be strenuous or dangerous?+ 1
Does the hike require special permits that are difficult to acquire?+ 1
Are you a weak hiker?+ 1
Will the hike last more than one day?+ 1
Do you lack the equipment to undertake the hike?+ 1
Do you lack the tools, knowledge, or resources to orient yourself and stay on the path?+ 2
Does the hike require significant coordination to plan?+ 2
Is the hike in a foreign country with laws, languages, or customs that you are not familiar with?+ 2
Does the hike require some technical knowledge that you do not possess?+ 3

1 – 5 Points: You can probably get by without a hiking guide service.

6 – 10 Points: You should consider hiking with a guide service.

11 – 15 Points: You should definitely go with a hiking guide service.

None of these questions alone are enough to require you to get a guide except maybe the last one. However, if you answer YES to a number of these questions, you should either spend more time or money to get yourself ready for the hike or hire a guide service.

Let’s break each of these questions down and look at what you should be thinking about when deciding to hike with or without a guide service.

1. Are You Unfamiliar With the Hike?

This is a low-level risk, but it does add some texture to your experience, and so if you answer YES to many other questions, this issue of not knowing your hiking route becomes important.

Like the other questions above, worth just 1 point, whether or not you are familiar with the hike is not in of itself a show-stopper. But, when you add in some other factors, then it’s importance begins to stand out.

If you are a weak hiker, on a multiday trip, with improper equipment, and no navigation skills, then you have wracked up 5 points, and you can see how these factors could conspire to put you in a dangerous position out in the wilderness on your dream hike.

2. Is the Hike Generally Considered to Be Strenuous or Dangerous?

If the hike you are considering is in an environment with apex predators that may see you as a prey item, then this answer should total 15 points all by itself. Use your common sense, obviously.

I have hiked all over the United States with large predators, but these were mountain lions, wolves, and black bears. I have come across all three of these species while hiking, and I never felt that I was being sized up for a meal. Usually, they are running away from you, or they are so far away they don’t even know you are there.

From my experience, apex predators in North America would be huge animals such as Grizzly or Polar Bear, not necessarily mountain lions or black bears. Moose can also be extremely dangerous too.

Outside the U.S., you should be wary of going on hikes without a local guide if you know local species are known to kill humans. These can be venomous snakes, large crocodiles, or tigers.

Does the hike have a reputation for being a real butt-kicker, and the thought of this has you worried? Listen to that little voice in your head. If you are running out of time and can’t get in some more training before your trip, then a guide service is a built-in safety net that can allow you to enjoy the hike without worrying so much about what you will do if you need extra help to finish.

Check out this video where I go over the decision to hire a hiking guide.

3. Does the Hike Require Special Permits That Are Difficult to Acquire?

Hiking with a guide service can often come down to timing and convenience. If you want to go on certain hikes you need to plan months in advance, and this includes requesting a permit.

You may have planned the perfect trip to hike a famous trail only to realize that you needed to request a permit months ago. Hiring a guide may be a way to avoid postponing or canceling your trip.

Hiring a guide service for your hike removes the need to do much of this trip planning. This includes getting all of the correct permits before you plan to hike.

4. Are You a Weak Hiker?

Being a weak hiker does not preclude you from going on a hike without a guide. On the contrary, you need more miles under your belt and getting out there and hiking is the only way to become a better, more experienced hiker.

Again, if you are a weak hiker with poor physical conditioning and you have answered YES to other questions in the Decision Tool above then you might want to consider going with a guide service.

Professional guide services for hiking can also be a great way to learn new techniques that will make you a stronger hiker, not just physically but also technically.

5. Will the Hike Last More Than One Day?

Piling into the car and driving to a trail head for an afternoon hike is a low risk activity. Once you start adding on days, and nights, to your trip the risk goes up considerably.

A hiking guide service may be a good idea if you have never planned a multi-day hiking trip.

A professional hiking guide service will tell you exactly what you need to do and what you need to bring for an extended hiking trip. The guide will also keep track of your progress and the pace you need to maintain to complete the hike in the number of days planned.

In Peru last year, I hiked with my family around the Sacred Valley on some day-hikes. For our five-day hike around Ausangate, though, we chose to hire a guide service. Planning an extended trip on a new route requires lots of time and energy in a foreign country. Paying a guide service was definitely worth the money. Check out our experience at this post.

6. Do You Lack the Equipment to Undertake the Hike?

A guide service may have the equipment that you don’t have. A guide service might be a great idea if you are unsure about whether you want to invest in the equipment required to do overnight backpacking and camping.

When I hiked in Peru for 5 days around Ausangate, hiring a guide service was a no-brainer because I did not have to bring all of the gear and equipment on the plane with me. The guide service already had tents, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, etc.

When I hiked to the top of Mount St. Helens in 1986, we hired a guide. I think it was required, but it also came in handy because we had to walk across snow and ice on steep slopes.

The guide gave us ice axes and taught us how to stop our descent if we slipped and were shooting down the side of the mountain. It was on this trip that I learned to appreciate the rest step on long, steep ascents.

7. Do You Lack the Tools, Knowledge, or Resources to Orient Yourself and Stay on the Path?

Getting lost in the woods is a terrifying experience. As a young boy, I separated from my father once, and I spent a very long hour banging a large branch against a tree.

If you consider a hike into a remote area with trails that are not well marked because of erosion, snow, or lack of maintenance, then a hiking guide service might be a good idea.

A professional hiking guide will hopefully be familiar with the area and have maps, a compass, or a GPS device to keep oriented and on the trail.

8. Does the Hike Require Significant Coordination to Plan?

This question is a bit of a catch-all. My first instinct is to say that as a new hiker, you should start with day-trips in your area and then graduate up to longer trips with overnight camping.

Another consideration is if the hike requires coordinated logistics before and after. Hiring a professional guide service can be nice for hikes that don’t return to their starting point. The guide service will plan for the drop-off and pick-up times and locations with their transportation.

Having a guide service in these cases saves time and money since you don’t have to bring multiple vehicles and drive back and forth to retrieve hikers.

This was clearly the case for our five-day hike in Peru last year. The Ausangate trek was a few hours from Cusco by car, where we were staying. We also began and ended the hike in two different locations. All of these coordinated plans are alleviated by hiring a hiking guide service.

9. Is the Hike in a Foreign Country With Laws, Languages, or Customs That You Are Not Familiar With?

Planning and coordinating a hike in a foreign country can be daunting, especially when you do not speak the local language. Not being able to read signs or understand instructions from locals puts you in an information deficit that can lead to bad decisions.

The greater the distance between your home culture and the country’s culture where you plan to hike, then the more difficult it will be for you to plan and coordinate your hiking trip.

You might miss simple things like trail closures or warnings about bad weather. By hiring a local guide service for hiking, you add another layer of security for your hike.

10. Does the Hike Require Some Technical Knowledge That You Do Not Possess?

For the most part, hiking is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. However, hiking routes might require crossing terrain or overcoming obstacles that can be dangerous without specific knowledge.

A hiking route that crosses a river can pose a serious threat to a hiker with no experience. Shallow, fast-moving water can be treacherous. When crossing a river, you risk getting soaked or slipping and injuring yourself.

Does the route include glacier crossings? A professional hiking guide service familiar with the route will know how to navigate the more dangerous terrain.

Deciding to hire a guide service for hiking can be an important decision. Use the decision tool in this post to consider how prepared you are for a hike.

Recently, we were in Colorado at the Beaver Creek resort enjoying some day hiking. A guide service was available in the hiking center, but there was no reason to hire one, or was there?

A guide service for hiking can be useful for more than just safety. A local guide may be able to identify local features and may know the local lore or history that can bring an added layer of interest to the experience.

On our guided hike in Peru, the guides shared local customs with us, identified local fauna and flora, and told stories about the mountain’s importance to Peru’s people.

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