Culture Awareness

Adventure activities like Trekking by nature visit places that have cultures different from our own. In visiting these places, we will be exposed to different customs, values and ways of life which may be very different to the norms we are used to, and it can be very easy to upset the local people by infringing in some of their cultures which they hold dear.

Fitting in with the local cultures will not only avoid confrontation, but it will help ensure sustainability and future access to the area.

Some General Pointers

There are simply too many different cultures worldwide to try to be specific about the do’s and don’ts of every variable, but there are some common universal pointers which should at least keep you out of trouble.

  • Do not take photos of people unless having permission to do so. In most cases we are not talking about people in the far distance. We are referring to close ups or where the subject of the picture is a specific person or group of persons.
  • When visiting religious sites, preserve what you’ve come to see and never touch and remove religious objects. Respect the beliefs and traditions of others even if you do not agree with them.
  • Dress modestly – No flimsy clothes and sleeveless shirts, shorts should come down to your knees for men and women should have longs or a skirt on.
  • Always respect local people and their ways. Allow them to change you, but don’t try to change them!
  • Always ask before taking close-up photographs of religious places / shrines.
  • Don’t give money to children, beggars. There’re better ways to help them – make donations to local projects/organizations.
  • Particularly in rural areas, do not dish out sweets to children. They may not have access to dental care and you are simply ruining their health. Rather give fruit if you want to give something.
  • Abstain from showing affection out in the open. It may be okay in your culture, but it is not in many, and you could even end up in jail.

  • Not all cultures are happy with physical contact, even a handshake can be an insult, so be led by the people you are meeting. If they extend their hand to shake it, then fine, but rather wait for them to make the first move.
  • Watch carefully what is going on around you with others and follow their example.
  • Eye contact can be a good sign but also a sign of aggression. Looking away when talking to someone may be a sign of respect, so try to gauge what the locals are doing and follow suit.
  • In some cultures, men should not sit with women. Again, follow the lead of the locals and observe what they do.

Naismiths Rule Calculator for Estimating Walking Time

Naismiths Rule

Naismiths Rule

Naismith's rule helps with the planning of a walking or hiking expedition by calculating how long it will take to travel the intended route, including any extra time taken when walking uphill. This rule of thumb was devised by William W. Naismith, a Scottish mountaineer, in 1892. A modern version can be formulated as follows:

Allow one hour for every 3 miles (4.82 km) forward, plus an additional hour for every 2,000 feet (600 m) of ascent.

The basic rule assumes hikers of reasonable fitness, on typical terrain, and under normal conditions. It does not account for delays, such as extended breaks for rest or sightseeing, or for navigational obstacles. (Wikipedia)

In Kilometers
In Meters
Hours (Excluding Stops) (distance/4.82803)+(altitude/600)
There have been many attempts and adapting this, and all have pro's and con's to them. In my personal; experience in the Drakensberg, mainly climbing to high altitude, I have found my own variation of the rule which works for me. My estimation works on the assumption of walking at 2km/h.
Hours (Excluding Stops) (distance/2)+(altitude/600)

Try setting your own walking speed.

In Kilometers per hour
Hours (Excluding Stops) (distance/your walking speed)+(altitude/600)

Compare your results with the Energy Kilometers method.

Nutritional Needs and ‘Energy Kilometers’

How much Energy do we need on a walking trip? A sensible and healthy diet is vital when physically active. Over and above any normal expenditure of energy under stress, you must also anticipate extra energy requirements caused by certain typical situations such as cold (even when you are resting), altitude, and a drop in atmospheric humidity.

To trek/hike successfully, the body must produce the right kind of energy to fuel the muscles. Without that fuel, the body will slow down, falter and refuse to walk.

Energy is obtained from the foods that we eat. Carbohydrates, fats and proteins which are modified by enzymes in our bodies to produce a form of energy the muscles can use.

Our Three Main Energy Needs:


This is for a short period of time, e.g. dodging a falling rock, regaining balance after a stumble.

Short Term

Energy used for short bursts of intense exercise lasting less than 30 seconds usually, like running away from a fire. This uses stored glucose and glycogen but has lactic acid as a by-product. e.g. the muscles feel like lead.

Long Term

Here the addition of oxygen from breathing promotes efficiency and strength in the cardiovascular system and burns the stores of fat for energy. Fat is very efficient at producing energy and the colder it gets, the more fat is the best choice of energy. In Polar Regions, pure fat is often eaten to produce energy.

Good nutrition is the key to energy. Individual nutritional needs vary, but all of us have a continual need for the essential nutrients supplied by food – for energy, growth, maintenance and the renewal of the body tissue, and for the regulation of vital functions in the body.


Some pointers:

  • Without water we cannot process food. Regardless of altitude we need to take in a minimum of 30 ml or water per Kg of body weight per day to process the food you take in or the energy stored in that food is wasted.
  • At 2000 to 3000 meters (top of the Drakensberg) you must drink at least 3 litres of water a day to make up for losses just due to the altitude. Even when resting you will be consuming about 6000 kilojoules in twenty-four hours.
  • Under stress when trekking, with an oxygen consumption rate that can reach 3 to 4 times the normal rate, consumption can reach as high as 15 000 to 20 000 kilojoules a day.
  • The optimum food ration, however, is only 50% of the Kilojoule requirement; it is advisable to divide it into small, repeated snacks of 1000 – 2000 Kilojoules each, so as not to overload the digestive system. The Kilojoule deficit indicated above is not significant for short periods of up to 4 days as your body has enough reserve to cope with this.
  • The ideal diet contains one gram of protein for every kilo of body weight per day, dividing the rest between 70% Carbohydrates and 30% Fats. However, do not get all your kilojoules from simple carbohydrates such as sweets. Rather get them from complex carbohydrates such as full grain products. (Whole wheat Pasta, Brown rice etc.)
  • The glucose required by the body’s cells is stored by the liver in the form of glycogen, extracted from carbohydrates, fats and proteins (Food). The body normally converts the glycogen to glucose with enzymes and oxygen before using it in the muscles.
  • With exertion, the consumption of oxygen in the tissues increases, but if this is not sufficient, there is a shortage of oxygen and the body starts drawing directly from the glycogen reserves, with the resultant production of lactic acid.
    • This ‘oxygen-less’ reaction releases 16 times fewer kilojoules than those produced in normal aerobic metabolism. In this state the muscles become intoxicated and there is a typical sensation of fatigue. (The heavy burning sensation in the muscles)
  • Lactic acid can only be digested when resting, with an inflow of oxygen through breathing, which turns it into carbon dioxide and water.

Time and Energy is often more important than Distance

You are out on a trek. It’s 9:30 am. The sign at the trail start says there is a great lake just 1.5 kilometres from the camp you are staying at. Easy enough for you and children in the group to do with you and be back at camp for lunch. No need to take food with. Right? It’s only 3 kilometres return. Even at a child’s pace that’s only 2 hours.


What the sign does not tell you is the lake is 300 meters higher than where you are now, and gaining altitude takes energy.

As you gain altitude each 100 meters of ascent uses the same energy as walking between 1.5 to 2 kilometers depending on your walking speed. So that 300 meters ascent will equate to 4.5 to 6 kilometers extra “Energy kilometers”.

Assuming the distance to the lake is 1.5 km each way, that makes it 3 km total, but now we add the energy kilometres needed for the altitude gain which is an additional 4.5 to 6 kilometres. (We only count the up hills)

So now the trip to the lake is going to be a total of between 6 to 9 “Energy Kilometers”. Can you and the children do that before lunch without having substantial drinks and snacks along the way?

A child walking at 1.5 kilometres an hour is now going to take between 4.5 and 6 hours. An adult will take 1.5 to 2.5 hours.

Energy Kilometers Calculator

Energy Kilometers Calculator

In Kilometers
In Meters
Average in Kilometers per Hour
Hours (Excluding Stops)

I have found this method to be a bit more reliable than Naismiths Rule, but like any method you need to personalise or adapt it to your own hiking style.

Your Turn

Give a few examples of trips you know that take longer than anticipated. Do the math. How about Table Mountain in Cape Town? Work out the Energy Kilometers of the popular routes up and add your suggestions to the comments below…

Guide Better by Travelling More

You are passionate about your activities you offer, spending an inordinate amount of time out there doing it. It consumes all your free time in addition to the time you spend guiding others. But does this make you an experienced guide?

No matter how much time we spend honing our technical skills, we will always be able to learn something new, or better equip ourselves to provide what our clients need. Often what they want and need are very different to what we offer.

Take for example simple things like greetings. Many cultures will shake hands as a form of greeting, but there are others that do not. Could you inadvertently upset your client by offering your hand when meeting for the first time? What about foods, dress codes, sacred days etc. There are many different ways we can be ignorant about what our clients expect or are used to.

A Guide purchasing supplies including live chickens slaughtered in the shop for her clients at a vendor on Morocco.

Yes, they are on a trip away from home in another culture, and we do not want to try to make our country just another version of their own, but understanding their background and framework of understanding will go a long way to help us accommodate their culture, needs and expectations in a way that is positive.

Over the many years we have been training Adventure Guides, one of the biggest failings we see is that guides fail to travel enough themselves outside of what they do daily.

Ask yourself:

  • When last did you take part in an activity that is not one of your guiding scope?
  • When last did you travel to someplace you have never been, (local or international), simply to see what is there?
  • When last did you book on a guided trip with someone you do not already work with?
  • What research have you done on the culture and backgrounds of the clients you regularly work with?

In my own experience a ‘wake up’ came when I had a client book for five days climbing. On the first day of the trip we discovered that his interpretation of ‘climbing’ and mine were very different. To him he wanted to ‘climb some mountains‘, to him that meant ‘walk up them‘. To me it meant harnesses, ropes, carabiners etc and vertical rock faces. It took some very fast negotiation to quickly set up a new itinerary that would serve his needs.

Having traveled a lot world wide, I have a far better understanding of what is considered the norm in many other countries. ‘Wild Camping‘ and ‘Wild Swimming‘ are regarded as the extreme end of the activity to many, whilst it is the norm in South Africa. (TIP: Maybe this is a niche market you could tap intoWild camping/swimming tours)

Think of the horror on your multi day trek when the clients expecting a heated refuge or at least a ‘Bothy‘ are presented with a tent and sleeping bag, or even worse a rock shelter.

Wild Camping – image Pixabay

Imagine your predicament when your group of clients strips off for a bit of nude sunbathing on Clifton beach. Quite normal in many places around the world on public beaches, but did you inform them about our local rules, and can you explain why it is still okay to sit watching a local tribal dance group when often the ladies will be topless, but they cannot get a tan themselves?

Local culture can cause confusion…

Even understanding the cost difference of items between your clients home country and your own can be used to your advantage. That easy cappuccino at R27.90 in South Africa, (M&B) is a steal compared to a similar coffee converted to +-R52.00 in the UK (Costa). You can use this information to your advantage.

Getting to the mountains takes serious wheels in Iceland

Travel tends to broaden the scope of reference we all have and allow a Guide to better meet the expectations placed on them by their clients. Not only is it a great way to experience unknown places, cultures and activities, it allows you to observe other guides working and learn from their mistakes and best practice.

Learning about pastries from a local guide in Venice

Travel is fun and all Guides should make an effort to travel as much as they can outside of their own guiding operations. It does not have to be international if money does not allow it, even just going to explore the next town from where you live, taking part in a new activity, or, hiking an area you do not know will assist you to become a better guide.

Image: Steve Jurvetson

Can you think of other reasons to travel more as a Guide? How will it improve your own guiding? Tell us in the comments section below…


Walking Skills

Walking is one of those skills we mostly take for granted and people who spend a lot of time in the outdoors will develop efficient walking techniques over time without having to think about it.

Many others however often spend little time in the outdoors except when on a walking trip. The rest of the time is usually behind a desk at work, so these skills and techniques do not come naturally but can make a huge difference to your experience on the trip by relieving stress and strain on the body, conserving energy, providing good balance and confidence and generally making it easier to cover the distances required comfortably.

Being Prepared

Of course the first aspect of good walking skills is to be properly prepared with well worn-in and fitting boots, good socks, comfortable balanced pack and possibly trekking poles. There are two very different techniques when using walking poles. Trekking technique and Nordic Walking technique. It is not our aim here to teach the difference, but just to say once you know both you will be about 80% more efficient when walking.

Once out on the trail, there are a number of things you can do to make life easier. Even walking on a good trail will make your heart and lungs work harder so you need to take it easy the first few days. Steep terrain and rough trails put extra strain on the body so this is where good technique comes in to make your body into an efficient walking machine.

To find out more about how the terrain conditions, what we call ‘Conditions Under Foot’ (CUF) affects your walking, have a look at the section on the CUF Scale.

Basic Principles

Before we get into the actual techniques, here are some basic principles that always apply:

  • Keep balanced. Nothing should be tied loosely to your backpack – swaying / swinging items affect balance.
  • On easy terrain legs are generally swung from the hip and the head is centred between the front and back foot for good balance.
  • Start off dressed a little cooler than you’d like to be – strip off a layer just before starting so you do not have to stop after 10 minutes to take off a layer.
  • Check boots and laces before starting to walk. Seems obvious but most people don’t and they have to stop a short while later to tie them properly.
  • If you still need to make adjustments, stop after the first 20-30 minutes:
    • Adjust backpacks
    • Adjust boots
    • Shed or add a layer of clothing
  • Pace your self – most walkers start at a fast pace, enthusiastic to get out on the trail, but this is counter-productive. The body needs time to warm up. You should not get out of breath when walking. If you cannot hold a conversation and walk at the same time you are going too fast.
  • Try to maintain a constant rhythm when walking – if necessary adjust your stride length. You need a pace that you can sustain all day.
  • Try not to take too frequent breaks – they disrupt your rhythm and you never really get going. Resting for 10 minutes every hour is great, but in very wet or cold conditions you may want to keep going until you have found shelter as you may become more prone to hypothermia. If there is no natural shelter, carry a portable emergency group shelter. Just a two person one is fine.
  • On up-hills take baby-steps: find the smallest step up that you can each time.
  • Trekking poles are a great tool for saving energy.
    • They assist with balance, saving leg muscles and reducing injuries.
    • Also useful for river crossings and difficult terrain.
    • Using Nordic technique will turbo boost your walking.

Foot Placements

The placement of each footstep must be deliberate and focused on stability. This will become automatic with practice.

  • When moving uphill step over small rocks, not on them.
  • On boulder terrain, use the stiffness of your boots sole to ‘bridge’ between rocks.
  • If you are forced to cross boulders, step directly on top of the boulders, moving slowly from one to another, always ready to hop to the next if the one you’re standing on shifts or rolls.
  • Look at rocks and judge what leverage you’ll be applying before you step. Will it move? If it does what will I do? What’s my next step going to be?
  • In grassy areas step on the uphill side of the grass tufts – the ground is more stable
  • In areas of boulders look for texture on the rock on which to get grip. Choose lichen-covered rocks, since lichen is usually a sign of long-term stability, the rock is less likely to move.

Walking in Groups

Walking in a group can be a challenge for many people. You may not be able to maintain your favoured pace, and on narrow trails, stopping can hold up the whole group. However we need to adapt to the situation finding our most efficient pace and walking style whilst still in the group.


Experienced walkers will often have forgotten what it was like on their early treks so will set a pace inexperienced walkers cannot maintain. When walking in a mixed group, remember newbies will take longer to get ready, walk slower and stop more frequently. Experienced walkers can assist the group by helping newbies with packing, advice and befriending them whilst walking. The conversation can help them maintain a faster pace. If they are still slow however, perhaps offer to carry some of their load, or simply accept the slower walking speed.

Group sizes should ideally be small, but commercial treks become unviable in very small groups so they tend to be larger. Large groups have a greater impact on the land, local population and other trail users. Also the bigger the group, the more there will be differences in abilities.

Walking in a group has other benefits. More knowledge and expertise to draw on, easier to carry loads, bigger range of interests and experiences to share, better safety. However you will also be less likely to see wildlife in a large noisy group.

If there are children in the group, everyone will have to realise that the pace will be much slower. There are advantages though as children tend to see much more than adults do. For the child the experience is totally new and opens their eyes to the wonders and excitement of the natural environment. Adults can be reawakened to this as well by the children’s excitement.

A few tips for walking in a group:

  • Discuss at the start of the day how the group will plan the day. How often will stops be? Fast or slow pace? What will the group do if someone is battling?
  • In a group, try not to get too close to the person in front – 3m is already too close as:
    • You can’t anticipate foot placements
    • You can’t compensate for changes in place
    • You can’t compensate for sudden stops
  • Try not to get too far away from the group – if the group gets too spread-out the leader has to stop too frequently to re-group which ruins everyone’s pace.

Walking Through Bush

Trails often have sections of dense bush – especially in the gullies where rivers flow. Certain precautions make walking in bush easier:

  • Allow additional space between yourselves to allow for branches flicking back
  • Remove your hat – the brim obscures the branches you’re going to hit your head on.
  • Be aware of the possibility of stumbling across wild animals who may be frightened by your sudden appearance.

Waterlogged Ground

Trails will invariably try to avoid waterlogged ground, but if the weather has been very wet this may not be possible. The mud becomes very difficult to cross with each step becoming an effort as the mud sucks at your boots trying to keep you in one spot.

If you have to cross waterlogged ground, try to follow as many of the following hard spots as possible. Look for and follow natural hard spots. Tufts of grass will often provide a firm footing, as will the ground around larger trees a shrubs. Rocks also provide hard stepping-stones. Your poles come in handy for balance here.

Steep Terrain

Most walking routes will avoid steep terrain, but they do not always do this. If you have to walk in steep terrain there are additional skills and knowledge which can make life easier and safer for you.

Gullies are narrow areas which channel falling rocks like a funnel, so avoid entering or passing below a gully when sun is melting snow or ice, loosening rocks above or when there is a group ascending or descending the gully. If you have to climb a gully, do so one at a time, and don’t climb directly above or below companions. You could send a rock flying onto someone below you. If staggered travel is impossible, walk close together so rocks loosened by one walker doesn’t have time to gain speed before striking those below. If a stone goes flying, shout “Rock!” to alert others. Wearing a helmet is wise if they are available.

Be very weary of climbing up unknown gullies or slopes unless your leaders / guides have specifically told you to. Scrambling upward is always safer and less awkward than coming down, because your eyes lead your body, making holds easier to find. That’s the reason people get stuck up high, they’ve climbed up through sections they later find too frightening or difficult to descend. Look down while going up, imagining yourself coming back down. Don’t like what you see? Then turn around before you get too high.

The constant freeze and thaw of some environments loosens potential hand-holds. These can come off suddenly if pulled on, causing falls or showering loose stones on others. Test every hold before you rely on it; pull, hit or kick down to see if it shifts and listen for a hollow sound which means the hold is loose.

If you have to cross snow slopes, check the “run-out”, the place you’d end up if you slipped and slid. Don’t cross hard snow if there is a cliff or hard rocks below. Look for a crossing place with a smooth soft run out of snow or grass that will catch you.

Moving Up Hill

Ascending is physically more difficult than descending, but is easier for most people as your eyes can easily see where to go and what the next safe step is. When descending your vision is less clear and often you cannot see exactly what you are going to step onto making for a more hazardous movement.

A few points to remember when moving uphill on steep terrain.

  • The first tip is do not rush. Constant slow movement will get you to the top faster than trying to race up. By constant movement we include mini breaks of a few seconds to get your breath back. It does not mean you cannot stop.
  • Look backwards often to see how much you have climbed. The top always seems far away, but when looking back you will be reassured that you are gaining height.
  • Soft scree is hard to go up (two steps up and one step back), but great to go down. Try to kick toe steps and create platforms for firm footing. For better traction zigzag with your feet angled across the slope rather than pointing straight up.
  • On harder surfaces with stones on them, put your toe on the slope and heels onto a stone. This will help level out your foot-bed.
  • Employ the mountaineer’s rest step to conserve energy in very steep terrain. With each step, pause for a breath or two with your lower knee locked, bearing weight on your skeletal structure.
  • Loosen any pack straps that inhibit your ability to twist and turn or step high. For instance, the “stabilizer straps” on the sides of your hip-belt, shoulder straps and load-lifters, but do not make them so loose that you become unbalanced.
  • Loosen the upper laces on tall, stiff boots so your ankle can flex fully forward to relieve strain on the Achilles tendon.
  • When moving uphill step over small rocks, not on them.

Moving Down Hill

Moving downhill can be more dangerous because it is not as easy to see the footholds you will use, and because the mind thinks it’s easier so relaxes your concentration just when you need to concentrate more. Make an effort to keep concentration high when descending slopes. Most accidents happen on the downhill section of trails.

  • The best way to go down a steep, soft surface such as snow, scree or soil is to plunge your heels hard into the surface (Plunge Step) with your knees slightly bent. Bend forward at the waist slightly for stability.
  • Pull your pack’s hip-belt and stabilizer straps comfortably snug to prevent your load from shifting.
  • When crossing slippery slopes, use the edge of the boot to ‘cut in’ to the slope to make a more comfortable footing.
  • On harder surfaces with stones on them, put your heel on the slope and toes onto a stone. This will help level out your foot-bed.
  • Lace your boots snugly by lacing the lower half of the laces tight for optimal support and stability, and to avoid jamming your toes into the front of the boots.
  • In descent, the centre of gravity should be over the load bearing leg which prevents tumbling forward.
  • Step down moderately steep slopes sideways crab style. This will assist with keeping good balance and allows edging with the boot for good stability.
  • When descending steep terrain, “Bum It” by facing away from the slope and go down “crab” style, using your bum for friction (but don’t let your pack launch you out from the slope). As the descent steepens, face sideways to the slope. This allows a good view of holds and the route below. When it’s nearly vertical, face directly into the slope, just like when climbing down a ladder.


It’s all in the wording

Be Careful…

What does “Careful!!” actually mean? To a Guide it may mean, the rocks are slippery, the edge is crumbling, a rock is tumbling down the hill… In your mind it all makes sense, but what are your clients thinking?

Very often I hear Guides shouting a warning, or telling their clients…


When in fact a slight change in wording will be more beneficial… and understandable.

  • Careful here… could rather be said as “Listen to the rocks rolling under the water, orLook how fast the water is flowing“.
  • Careful here… rather say, “Move your feet quickly over the boulder bed of rocks rather than trying to balance on each rock. The momentum will keep you balanced.
  • Careful here… could be replaced by, “Look at this poisonous plant. Can you see any of the other group members getting too close?
  • Careful here… could mean, “These rocks are slippery.
  • Careful here… it’s better to say, “Try using your hands to balance.
  • Careful of the stove… better said as, “Can you feel the heat coming off the stove? It’s very hot.
  • Careful… “Whats your plan if you cross over that log across the river?
  • Careful… “How will you get down?

What makes sense to you, may be totally misunderstood by your clients. Speak in a way that is understandable to all and cannot be misunderstood.

CUF Scale

Ever heard of the CUF scale?

The CUF scale (conditions under foot) is a guide to the type of conditions under foot one may expect on a walking trip. The CUF has an important effect on our walking efficiency. Not all people use the same grading scale, so investigate what the scale you are using uses. If you are leading your own trips and do not have a scale you use already, then this is a good one to use.

There are many other methods of grading walks, but the CUF Scale shown here was developed after 20 years of professional guiding a variety of groups over very differing terrains and has been found to be extremely useful….

Using the CUF scale

Each level may include all the elements of the previous levels and for a trip to be classified at a level, at least 10% of the trip must involve those conditions.

A Class + trip means that it is the class specified, but there may be small sections (<10%) of the next higher level. E.g. Class 3+

Snow, Rain, Wind, Darkness etc. could increase any level to the level above it.


( 4-5 KM/H AVERAGE )

  • Walking along a clear, well established trail.
  • Could be some erosion to negotiate.
  • May be wet areas with mud.
  • A few rocks or steps in path may be encountered
  • Easy to moderate slopes


( 3-4 KM/H AVERAGE )

  • Walking along a sometimes-obscured trail.
  • Will be some boulder hopping to cross rivers etc.
  • Moderately steep slopes.
  • Easy cross-country travel (bush, climbing over and around fallen trees, and big talus – hands may be used for balance)


( 2-3 KM/H AVERAGE )

  • The trail is either very uneven, intermittent or non-existent and you may need to put your hand down occasionally for balance.
  • Requires use of hands for climbing steep sections
  • Rope is necessary only to provide safety in unusual circumstances


( 1-2 KM/H AVERAGE )

  • Climbing on steep terrain maybe requiring roped belay or rope handrail in sections
  • Scrambling on rocks using hands as well as feet
  • Exposed climbing such as a ladder
  • Rope required to prevent serious injury if a fall occurs
  • Head for heights required in some places.



  • Climbing on steep terrain requiring roped belay
  • Safety rope must be used for exposed sections
  • Thin, exposed areas requiring skill and good balance as well as a head for heights.


%d bloggers like this: