The importance of being a back-marker

Now that many of our walks have grown from their pandemic-limited numbers back to the more traditional size that members from before 2020 will remember, and sometimes beyond with a thriving number of new members, it’s worth taking a moment to remember the challenges this brings and how everyone who walks regularly with the group can help, whether you lead walks or not.

Back-markers are one of the key ways we make sure that no one gets left behind or lost off the back of a group. The back-marker is someone who walks at the back of the group, and can alert the walk leader to wait if the back of the group drops too far behind, or any problems occur out of sight of the leader. They can either be appointed by the walk leader in advance or (more commonly in our group) someone who volunteers on the day (although they must be a Ramblers member for insurance reasons).

If you’re leading a walk with more than about 15 people though, or through dense woodland or other terrain that’s difficult or has limited visibility, I would strongly suggest asking for one. It’s much easier to make sure you can see your back-marker, than to keep counting everyone behind you while you’re on the move. (Though it’s still worth counting from time to time when you stop – especially when leaving a pub stop for example, where someone might still be in the toilets!) If you’re out of sight of one another for more than a short time, then the group is probably getting too spread out and it’s a good idea to slow down or wait. Make sure that you have each other’s mobile number, and ideally that the back-marker knows the route, in case the worst happens and you do get separated.

If you come on walks regularly, please do volunteer to back-mark from time to time when the leader asks for someone, whatever your natural pace within the group – it’s an important role but not a difficult one, and it’s not fair to leave it to the same few people to do this all the time! It’s also possible to split the role, e.g. with one person back-marking before lunch and another afterwards, allowing you both time to mingle with the rest of the group.

As a back-marker, some of the key things to remember are:

  • keep an eye on where the rest of the group is going ahead of you, in case they go out of sight briefly;
  • be aware if the back section of the group is getting too far behind those in front, and alert the walk leader they may need to slow the pace or wait (though the leader should also be looking back themselves to check they can still see you);
  • ensure anyone who is struggling with the pace of the walk is not left on their own at the back;
  • be aware if anyone drops behind for a comfort break in the bushes, and make sure they return.

Occasionally, with a very large group or in particularly challenging environments where it’s hard for the leader and back-marker to keep in sight, it may be helpful to appoint a “mid-marker” as well, who walks in the middle of the group and can pass signals along if needed.

Feel free to ask if you have any questions about back-marking though!

— Zak (Walks Coordinator)
with thanks to stalwart backmarker Steve for additional points