What is a guided trip?

Jun 2016

In the simplest sense, you can consider any event as “guided” if there is a knowledgeable person leading the group. This might include a guided walking tour of a major city such as San Francisco, or a guided sightseeing bike ride through Washington, D.C. However, if you find yourself in a more adventurous category of traveler, a guided trip will entail much more than just a person leading you from point A to point B. Guided adventure companies provide a range of experiences from rugged to glamping, single-day excursions to weeklong adventures. Guided trips are designed to provide travelers with expertise, assistance, and safety.

Many travelers are skeptical of going on a guided trip the first time, it can be difficult to know if a guide company is reputable, if the cost is justified, if you really need a guide. We’re here to tell you what guided trips are all about, and help to decide if this style of travel is really for you. 

What do you want out of your trip?

When planning an adventure trip, you might consider three main types of travel: guided, self-guided, and do-it-yourself. Knowing what you want from your trip will help you decide which of these options is for you.

The pro’s and con’s of going guided vary depending on the trip itself, your level of ambition and what you hope to take away from your experience. 

DIY or self-guided trips are quite a manageable undertaking for a half or single day adventure.

If you are aiming for a multi-day adventure the pro’s of hiring a guide might drastically outweigh the cons depending on your priorities. You just have to ask yourself what factors are most important to you. Comfort and ease? Factual information and local insight into the hidden secrets of the area? Spontaneity and flexibility? Figuring out what exactly you want out of your trip will create a strong starting point and make the planning process easier to manage.


Why Go Guided?

After you have figured out what you want from your trip, the next step is to figure out if going guided is the right fit for you. There are countless providers of guided tours available to you, but they all offer and prioritize different trip features. Some outfitters may offer only one style of trip, but others may have a range, offering everything from luxury-style travel with accommodations and everything dealt with for you (all you have to do is show up), to more rugged trips that may provide solely the basics of route logistics, knowledge, and risk management. Guided tours, have historically been thought of as part of the mass tourism scene with busses and boredom aplenty. Backcountry outfitters have instead moved distinctly towards focusing on authentic experiences for small groups of like-minded adventure enthusiasts.

Pros to going on a guided trip:

  • All logistical planning is done for you; permits, ground transportation/shuttles, accommodations, gear
  • Opportunity to relax and let someone else make decisions
  • Meals are often provided or arranged for you
  • Access to hard to reach areas
  • Professional guides to lead you and ensure your safety

Cons of going guided:

  • You may be traveling with other people
  • The activities are more specifically planned out
  • Can be pricier than DIY


Who Are the Guides?

The hiring process for backcountry guides should always be rigorous and thorough and when vetting guide companies this is a great place to look to see if they’re someone you want to travel with. To work for a reputable adventure company, guides are required to have extensive wilderness experience, leadership skills, certifications and training in wilderness first response, be a skilled communicator, and work well under pressure. Once hired, guides typically go through challenging training programs to turn them into experts in all aspects of logistics management, safety, and to build a thorough base of knowledge and information relevant to the area in which they are working. Most importantly, professional guides should always be adept in crisis prevention and risk management, no reputable adventure tour operator will ever take safety lightly.

  • Safety Certified: First Aid/CPR and Wilderness First Responder (WFR)
  • Local experts, a wealth of knowledge concerning the environment and area’s history
  • Fun, sociable, customer-service oriented
  • Rigorously trained professionals


What Does Self-guided Mean?

If you aren’t keen on the group setting, but still want the majority of the benefits guiding companies provide, then finding a company that offers a self-guided option could be your perfect solution! Self-guided trips are the middle ground between guided and DIY. This touring option offers tremendous freedom, flexibility, support and independence. You can pick the travel dates that work best for you, there are no set itineraries, you can travel with your own small group, the routes are meticulously planned out ahead of time by the company, and they will still take care of the daunting task of planning it because that’s what they love to do!

Pros to going on a self-guided trip:

  • Planning is done for you, access to local knowledge
  • Still traveling on your own, lends a sense of independence
  • Ease of logistics and personal flexibility
  • Back-up support if necessary
  • Access to gear you may not have

Cons of going self-guided:

  • Traveling alone means missing out on the group camaraderie and new friends of a guided trip
  • No professional guide to lead or advise you
  • You may have to cook for yourself…



The classic route to the outdoors, planning your own trip into the backcountry is an incredibly rewarding experience and a great way to explore the wilderness. If you are heading out into the backcountry in any destination, be sure to research thoroughly well in advance, consider the time of year you plan to be traveling and make sure you understand all weather concerns, research any necessary permits before buying flights, consult with an expert, and make sure you break in your gear! Preparedness is always key to reducing risk and ensuring that your trip is enjoyable, memorable, and safe.

Pros in doing-it-yourself:

  • The feeling of accomplishment
  • You are the master of your travel schedule
  • Flexibility
  • Lower cost

Cons/Challenges in traveling on your own:

  • Do you have the right gear?
  • Finding reliable information
  • Logistics
  • Ensuring you have enough food and water without overpacking
  • Safety risks


How Going Guided Differs From DIY

We will never tell you that traveling on your own isn’t as good as going guided, but it can offer a new perspective to the trip you plan to take. Money and accessibility to supplies are two huge factors to consider when deciding between guided and DIY.  Going with a guide company can save you money by providing materials the average traveler wouldn’t have with them. Not all people pack hiking poles, advanced first aid kits, trail-friendly food, and shelters when preparing for their trips.