Nothing spoils a good walk in the great outdoors like someone who simply doesn’t know, or doesn’t care, about the rules of the trail.
Most of them aren’t even rules as much as they are fervent suggestions.
Still, when you’re hiking you have to know them.
The basics of hiking etiquette are almost a given. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics — see, it’s about ethics, not law — spells them out in seven steps:
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
(Photo: Larry Mundy/Shutterstock)
What if you see people littering? What if you see them drop that corner, even accidentally?
I always bring it and say, ‘Hey, I noticed that you dropped this […] I just wanted to make sure this didn’t end up out here in the wilderness.’ You want to kill them with kindness.
That’s a big key to etiquette on the trail: Making sure everyone knows that the outdoors are out there for everybody, not just the guy flicking his cigarette butt or the woman going to the bathroom too close to the stream — and then covering it, toilet paper and all, with a rock.
Some basic etiquette — the American Hiking Society has a list — most people know, or should. Like:
- If you’re headed downhill, give way to uphill climbers (they’re usually hard at work, with their heads down).
- Give way to horses (they’re bigger).
- Stay on the trail. Don’t cut through switchbacks. If there’s a mud puddle in the middle of the trail, go through it. Don’t make the trail wider.
- Be aware. Listening to music — with headphones or earbuds — is fine. But don’t listen at such levels that you can’t hear other people (or a bear) coming up on you.
- Say hi to other hikers. Be encouraging. Be positive. Lend help if they need it.
Other etiquette falls in the Leave No Trace realm. Like being considerate, which includes being quiet (especially when it’s quiet on the trail) and not hogging up that great viewpoint by taking a half-hour worth of selfies.
Many hikers see modern technology in the wilderness as a kind of cop-out, but many view it as a critical tool. A device that has GPS and maps and helps you to stay connected while deep in the woods is something many just won’t give up.
“I don’t sit on top of Mount Whitney and talk to my kids aloud, because that is annoying,” Rosander says. “But I do text.”
In the end, hiking etiquette is mostly common sense about respecting both the environment and your fellow hikers. And on the occasion you need to enforce a rule — or, maybe, just point out a little etiquette faux pas — that’s OK. Most hikers, rookies and long-timers alike, are good with a little well-delivered tip now and then.