Expedition Behavior: What It Is and How to Foster It

©istockphoto/TG_Studios It’s day eight of a two-week trip to a remote moun­tain peak. The weather’s turned for the worse, and some­one los­es con­trol of the stove and din­ner gets burnt to a crisp.

Then, some­one leaves some gear out in the rain. Anoth­er team­mate, wor­ried about not mak­ing the sum­mit, stress­es that the weath­er win­dow might close. Ten­sions build.

Two things could hap­pen here. First, the group could fall apart. Or, they could take a deep breath, eat a crispy din­ner, dry out some gear, crack a few jokes, and see what the weath­er does the next day. The dif­fer­ence between the first and the sec­ond sce­nar­ios is some­thing called “Expe­di­tion Behav­ior.” It’s the dif­fer­ence between func­tion­al and dys­func­tion­al groups when the going gets tough.

What Exact­ly is “Expe­di­tion Behav­ior”?

“Expe­di­tion Behav­ior” is the term Nation­al Out­door Lead­er­ship School founder Paul Pet­zoldt used to describe the set of behav­iors that keep a group mov­ing togeth­er in the wilds. Like a fine­ly tuned mar­riage, an expe­di­tion must nav­i­gate good times and bad and man­age com­plex unknown risks. Also like a mar­riage, while any group can hang togeth­er for a week­end, the pres­sures of long out­door adven­tures mean that it’s like­ly that at some point every­one will mess up in one way or anoth­er. Expe­di­tion Behav­ior is how teams get along while also per­form­ing at a high lev­el.

How To Cre­ate Pos­i­tive “Expe­di­tion Behav­ior”

1. Sup­port the Group’s Goals
Before your group leaves the trail­head or put-in, every­one should know what the goals are. Is it to climb a peak? Have a relax­ing time in a wild and remote place? See a lot of wildlife? If these goals aren’t clear and aligned, the group is in for trou­ble. There is often room for indi­vid­ual goals with­in the group goal—like using lay­over days to climb near­by peaks—but the group goal comes first.

2. Take Care of Your­self
Man­age your own needs. If you let your­self get dehy­drat­ed, cold, or exhaust­ed, you’ll end up slow­ing down the rest of the group or putting them at risk when dehy­dra­tion or exhaus­tion affects how you can per­form in chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tions.

3. Pitch In
Every­one should con­tribute to group tasks. This includes rou­tine camp chores like cook­ing meals, hang­ing food, and fil­ter­ing water; and roles like route-find­ing, deci­sion-mak­ing, row­ing rafts, and lead­ing and belay­ing climbs.

4. Help Oth­ers but Don’t Do Their Work For Them
Of course, there will be plen­ty of times when your team­mates need help. Help out. That doesn’t mean you should fill in for them entire­ly. This can lead from “help­ing” to “enabling” and builds frus­tra­tion and depen­dence.

5. Mod­er­ate Poten­tial­ly Annoy­ing Behav­iors
Every­one has behav­iors that are fun on the first few days but get old quick­ly. These range from the goofy jokes, bois­ter­ous laugh­ing at night, or for­get­ting to brush their teeth. Keep a han­dle on these habits. You want room for indi­vid­u­al­i­ty, but the pres­sures of a long trip will make what once was charm­ing now a nui­sance.

6. Admit Short­com­ings and Cor­rect Them
When you make a mis­take, fess up and move on. This lets the rest of the group for­give and help out. Mask­ing them or try­ing to blame them on some­one else or some uncon­trol­lable sit­u­a­tion will build ten­sion instead of cohe­sion.

7. Sup­port Everyone’s Growth
Expe­di­tions exist in part to build skills and strength in humans, as well as to achieve goals. Rotat­ing lead­er­ship and an envi­ron­ment where every­one takes turns lead­ing, set­ting up safe­ty, scout­ing rapids, and oth­er key roles builds everyone’s lead­er­ship abil­i­ty as long as there are safe­guards in place if things go wrong. This redun­dan­cy is also a group’s pro­tec­tion against one crit­i­cal per­son get­ting injured.

8. Be “Cow-Like”
When the going gets tough, the tough…don’t react much at all. Being “cow-like” means stay calm and sort it out. This applies to sud­den storms or a frus­trat­ed team­mate. React­ing strong­ly rais­es the group’s ten­sion lev­el. A calm demeanor doesn’t mean disregard—but it does help you think, act calm­ly and make a plan.

9. Relaxed Aware­ness
Cul­ti­vate a men­tal­i­ty where you’re relaxed and enjoy­ing nature but still very aware of sub­tle changes in weath­er, snow con­di­tions, sea state, and oth­er key con­di­tions. Groups that are con­tin­u­ous­ly scan­ning their envi­ron­ment will have storm-proofed their camp hours before the front hits….because they saw a nuanced change in the cloud pat­terns or noticed the barom­e­ter drop­ping a few hours ago.

10. Be Fun­ny
Expe­di­tions can be stress­ful, and even more so when things aren’t going per­fect­ly. Keep the atmos­phere light…except when it shouldn’t be.

Expe­di­tions are too chal­leng­ing to boil down to black-and-white rules. But Expe­di­tion Behav­ior can help any group stay togeth­er when the rain is com­ing side­ways, the tent is leak­ing, and a warm bed is far away. It’s also what makes the bond between adven­tur­ers deep and last­ing.