Learning the rules of hiking etiquette has made me a happier, more relaxed hiker. I have also been able to pass along those skills to my children. Trail etiquette is so important, and it keeps everyone safe, happy, and enjoying mother nature to the fullest.
If you want to pass your hiking etiquette master class, follow these easy rules!
The Basics Of Hiking Etiquette
Hiking etiquette is all about being aware and courteous. You’ll benefit a lot from simply putting yourself in another person’s shoes; or hiking boots!
Know The Trail Pecking Order
Not every moving object on the trail is created equally. There is a pecking order that should be observed in order to make sure that everything, and everyone, is moving along smoothly. Horses take precedence, so always move aside when you see these big beasts on the trail. Hikers are second, and bicyclists are third.
If you cross paths with a horse, you should step fully off the trail to let it pass. Most horses that you encounter on the trail will be correctly socialized and difficult to spook, but you are still dealing with animals. Resist the urge to pet the horse, but say hello to its passenger. It always pays to be friendly on the trail.
Climbers Get The Right Of Way
We all know that climbing uphill is much more complicated than going down, so this second piece of advice should be a no-brainer. If you cross paths with someone hiking up as you are hiking down, give them the right of way. There’s a good chance that they are struggling a bit more than you are.
I’ve personally experienced situations where I’ve developed quite a bit of momentum on my upward climb, and having someone standing in my way can really throw me off. Whenever you want to let anyone pass, move over to the right side of the trail. If you want to pass another hiker or group of hikers, it’s a good idea to verbally acknowledge them and express your intentions. A simple “heads up” will suffice, and is even better when a smile accompanies it.
Do Not Litter
Avoid littering at all costs and pick up any trash that you come across while on the trail. It’s a good idea to bring a bag to put your garbage in. Some people think that disposing of biodegradable items, like fruit rinds, is okay, but I’d beg to differ. Trail etiquette is really clear on this one; leaving any sort of trash behind is a major no-no.
If you see trash, consider stopping to pick it up. If you see rampant vandalism, take a picture and make sure that you report it to authorities. It’s usually not a good idea to confront anyone littering directly, and the last thing you want to do is get into an argument while on the trail. Just pick up the garbage and congratulate yourself on having better hiking etiquette than they do.
Of course, when you’re hiking with children, remember to teach them the basics of leaving no trace. Form good habits at a young age, and you’ll have gold star hikers for life.
Leave Rock Formations Alone
Occasionally, you might come across some seemingly random rock formations. These are called cairns, or ducks. If you’re hiking in certain parts of the world, specifically Peru or Bolivia, you’ll see plenty of these cairns. They are considered sacred and should not be disturbed. You can photograph them, but resist the urge to add or remove a rock from the formation.
Be Polite To Other Hikers
Trail etiquette has one golden rule; treat other hikers the way that you would want to be treated. Being as polite as possible will ensure a pleasant hike for everyone, and it costs nothing to smile and say hello on the trail. It’s also an excellent way to announce your presence.
When I hike, I tend to drift off into my own world, so a person appearing out of nowhere can startle me. If they are friendly and say hello, I’m much less unnerved.
Stay On The Trail
As tempting as it might be, do not veer off the trail. There are a plethora of reasons why sticking to the beaten path is preferable, but the biggest one is that it’s safer, and you’ll be less likely to destroy any delicate nature that is on either side of the trail.
It’s very common for hikers who veer off the trail to need assistance, eating up valuable resources, and potentially putting other people at risk. This is especially true if you are a novice hiker attempting a climb that is not well-matched with your physical ability. It’s really easy to overestimate your skills and wind up in serious trouble.
Additionally, if you go off the trail, you risk trampling on delicate flora or disturbing animal habitats. You also set a bad precedent for other hikers. If you’re hiking with your children, as I often am, you’re setting a bad example for them. Remember, hiking is just as fun when you are playing by the rules.
Leave The Wildlife Alone
Speaking of animals, do not disturb or attempt to interact with the creatures that you meet along the trail. Many of these animals are not people-friendly or socialized, and you could be putting yourself in a very dangerous situation by interacting with them. In certain parts of the country, wild animals can carry rabies.
If you are bitten or scratched by a wild animal while hiking, make sure that you seek proper medical care immediately. Rabies is almost always fatal in humans.
You also run the risk of hurting an animal that you’re trying to help. Often, humans will feed wild animals out of misplaced compassion. This type of behavior introduces new foods to the animal’s diet, potentially harming it. It also makes animals more people-friendly, leaving them vulnerable and possibly shunned by other animals in their pack.
Admire the wildlife from afar, but don’t interact with them. It’s okay to take pictures if you are within close range.
Choose Where You Need To Go Carefully
This next one is a bit of a sensitive topic, but we need to talk about it. When nature calls, you have to answer, but do so in a way that won’t affect your fellow hikers. Bathroom breaks on the trail are universal and necessary, but it’s important to step aside and do your business well away from others. This is one situation where it’s okay to veer off the trail.
Try to go at least two hundred feet away from the marked trail.
Mind Your Technology
Of course, you’ll want to bring your phone with you on the trail, especially so you don’t miss any epic pictures. There’s no reason not to take snaps when you feel the need, but you shouldn’t be glued to your phone the entire time that you are out in nature. After all, why do you need to be looking at a screen when you have the whole natural world to marvel at?
If you want to listen to music or podcasts, use headphones. For your safety and that of others, leave the volume low or take one of your headphones out. That way, you’ll still be able to enjoy your entertainment while staying fully aware of everything else around you.
Make Sure That Your Best Friend Follows The Rules
Is there anything better than hiking with a dog? We love to take ours for adventures in the woods, but you need to make sure that your pup follows the same trail etiquette that you do!
Never bring an unsocialized dog out on a hike. Dogs who are aggressive towards people, or exceptionally skittish do not deal well with other travelers on the trail. The last thing that you want your dog doing is biting or snapping at a fellow hiker.
Your dog should be up to date on all of his or her shots, especially their rabies booster. Also, respect leash laws. You might think that your dog is a very good boy or girl, but they are animals who can be unpredictable. Your dog could easily spot a wild animal and decide to chase it. Many dogs are lost in the woods every year simply because their owners thought that they could control unleashed animals.
Generally speaking, the woods are full of all sorts of tempting stimuli for our four-legged friends. Err on the side of caution and keep everyone safe by following the rules with your pup.
Hiking etiquette helps everyone stay on the same page and enjoy their outdoor adventures to the fullest. These simple rules will help you and your family be polite, respectful, and safe hikers. Simply keep them in mind next time you want to visit the great outdoors, and you’ll have a fantastic time!