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Having a sense of community on a backpacking trip can mean the difference between enjoyment and misery. It can also be the difference between backpacking as a team instead of as random group of people.

The technical definition is,

McMillan & Chavis (1986) define sense of community as "a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members' needs will be met through their commitment to be together."

Source

What could people on a backpacking trip do to encourage this? I don't think that it can be forced, and being on a backpacking trip will help, simply because people are spending time in close proximity, but are there things that a group or group leader could do help create a sense of community?

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    Just the fact that you cared enough to ask this is a great start! – Sue Feb 22 '17 at 4:04
  • Play games during breaks. A single deck of cards is small, barely adds any weight, and can be used for a wide variety of games. There are also a few board games that come in very small boxes. I like Fluxx, myself. – cobaltduck Feb 22 '17 at 16:06
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    Why would you be backpacking with a bunch of people you don't already know? Indeed, from my POV, why would you go backpacking with a bunch of people, period? – jamesqf Feb 22 '17 at 19:59
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    I recommend taking a look at this question about boosting morale on long backpacking trips. It's not a duplicate or anything, but offers some good ideas that could be utilized in this situation. – Sue Feb 23 '17 at 3:05
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    I find 5 or 7 in the group is a good number for building a cohesive social group. Even numbers can pair up, more can make it difficult for introverts. – user5330 Feb 23 '17 at 7:27
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There could be one who is quiet or ill at ease within a group. The group should be mature enough to not tease or make fun of one who seems ill at ease in a group setting or even more quiet or is simply less experienced on a backpacking trip. All should be made welcomed and encouraged to be part of the "family" during the trip in the great outdoors.

Try walking two abreast for awhile. If the trail is not too wide, but is wide enough to walk two abreast, some people are more at ease in very small group. It might be a good idea to mix the walking partners up every so often and let the slow person set the pace, so that everyone get to communicate with everyone in the group. If you can not walk two abreast, try mixing up the hiking order up the best way possible. I realize that the lead person may have to always be in front, but he should also keep an eye out as to how everything is going within the group every so often. Discord can be like a knife in the back, so all should be careful not to employ rude comments about others in the group.

Talking behind peoples back is just as bad in group setting and should be culled out at the very moment it starts, perhaps by simply changing the subject matter. We all have to be mature on this issue as well.

When setting up camp, the various chores (if necessary) can be done in in small groups or partnered up. If there for a few days, let the chores and/or groups be alternated, so as to avoid the "why me all the time" scenarios, while at camp. The leader should also lead by example and perhaps do those things the others find less agreeable. Make sure that any work load of whatever there is does not fall on the shoulders of just one individual either. We have to share this experience together.

If you have a campfire going at night, try to encourage everyone to participate in setting an exciting mood with stories, songs or just talking about the events of the day. Do not pressure anyone into doing more talking because they are simply quieter than others. Some people are better at this than others, and others prefer to listen; but if participation is fostered correctly, with respecting one another as a family would, then I believe that a sense of community would be achieved and as well as a sense of being needed will go a long way.

This is simply my two bits with my thoughts on this question. By the way, Charlie, this is a great question and I am sure others will answer it better than I have.

  • Walk two abreast? No backpacking trail I have been on would allow this, except near a trailhead. Some places there is barely width enough for one person. – wallyk Feb 22 '17 at 21:55
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Create a common challenge, a group purpose

Backpacking (for me) is a lot about the adventure, excitement and challenges that naturally come along if you try to navigate through unknown situations - whether that would be hiking through nature or experiencing other cultures.

If you agree on a common group goal, something that is at least difficult to achieve, the group feeling will emerge very naturally.

Some personal examples I have gone through over the years: When a friend and I found ourselves with little money in an overly expensive city abroad, we tried to get a job. It was not easy because, at the time, we were not fluent in the local language at all and needing to find a job was somewhat of a burden for us but in the end we managed and this experience tied us together for the rest of the trip. Another time, two friends of mine and I were mountaineering and got caught in rain. While passively hiking in a line, each of use developed his or her own fears of hypothermia (it was cold, we were wet). Being experienced trail-runners we decided to speed things a bit up and run rather than walk. While such a decision is not always recommendable, everything turned out well for us: the running kept us warm and it also sparked some sense of group identity. All our bad feelings (misery from the rain first, anxiety, being passive) got washed away and were replaced with positive ones (a common plan to evade the situation, the happiness hormones, the team spirit running at the same pace creates) and because it was us three against the weather, all good feeling were somehow projected onto the group. That was also very beneficial for the rest of the trip.

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There are a lot of games out there ("team building" games, introductory ones, icebreakers etc.). This is just the first result of a google search. All games can be adapted to the size and age of the group, but using such games needs preparation in advance. Some people find such games a nuisance, others tend to enjoy them a lot - it really varies. A lot of (youth) organizations have game databases with all kind of searching parameters (size, age, purpose, environment etc.), for example there is this one for small children. I know others, but not in English, so... :(

Besides the aforementioned common chores and "doing something hard" together I would mention introducing some sort of ritual. It can be as short as a few minutes, but it should include everyone in the team. Some examples:

  • Preparing topics/tasks for each day: after getting ready to leave, get a quick circle for sharing the topic of the day. At the end of the day gather up and reflect on it. Encourage people to talk about it also during the day. All this could be done in a total of 15 minutes, but can also extend to longer discussions at the evening campfire. For example: find out a thing you didn't know before about each team member until the end of the day; ask at least 3 people about what they wanted to become when they were kids; how to make an awareness event of the state of the local trails/national park. No better ideas now, but I guess you got the point :)
  • Discussing today's trail: every morning, after breakfast+packing but before leaving discuss the details of that day's trail. Landmarks, challenges etc. We did it on bike trip with beginners, but for experienced hikers it may be boring.
  • Evening ritual (can be done also at dinner, when everyone sits down together): each person shares answers on the following (of course, customizable) questions: what am I grateful for today? what was the most surprising thing I learned? did I manage to talk with someone today? how did I manage to challenge myself today? what am I the most proud of today? etc. You may vary the questions, or ask the same thing every day.
  • Build the fire together: this is nicest perhaps on the last evening of the trip. Send everyone away for 30 minutes to find all sort of wood suitable for building a fire; if you have a certain topic you would like to discuss, then you can share it, so they could reflect on it while gathering wood. After the 30 minutes meet at the place you would build the fire on, and build the fire together - here it is not the point to see who takes the leading role, just make them aware that "we build one nice fire, we all put our part in it". Avoid big, groundshaking arguments about the best fire building technique :) the fire is the common goal.
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Most of it will come from having done hard things together. Just being together, say in a classroom, isn't enough, there has to be an element of difficulty. The extreme example of this is men who have served together in combat, which is described extensively in this book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.

Nothing that intense should ever happen on a backpacking trip, but going through difficult stream crossing or long days of hiking or getting low on food will create a sense of community that an idyllic walk in the woods will not.

Some example of things that can be done to encourage it are,

Everyone cooks and eats together. There is something special about breaking bread with one another that will really bring a team together. Years later no one is going to remember what the food was or what it tasted like, but they will remember if they felt like part of the team.

When disagreements arise they need to be brought up and discussed, not hidden away. You can't have people secretly hating each other.

Look out for the weaker people on the team, they should never be at the end of the line. This way they won't be left behind and someone will always be ready to help.

It also helps the more people know about each other and so games that get people to share are a good idea. Having them tell their life story in 5 minutes is one idea.

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It's extremely important to create a sense of community on any excursion you take. I read this blog post and it had really good ideas for different team building activities to do. Its a good way for the people in the group to get to know one another in a relaxed atmosphere.

My favorite one was- Shipwrecked: Your plane has just crashed on a deserted island in the middle of the Pacific. You have just a few minutes to salvage some items from the wreckage before the whole plane burns down. What items will your team choose?

A great activity inspired by classic shipwrecked stories. This one will inspire collaboration and creative problem-solving skills.

Another great one: Guess the Object- A quick take on dumb charades. One person from the group has to demonstrate an object. The others have to guess what it is. Great for inspiring creativity and getting people to loosen up at the start of an event. Also works great as an interlude between longer activities.

These are just some of great activities that can create a sense of community on a biking trip.

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