If you’ve ever hiked on a crowded trail, you know how important it is for everyone to follow proper hiking etiquette. Unfortunately, rules like right of way, trail hierarchy and Leave No Trace principles aren’t common knowledge, especially for adventurers just beginning to explore the backcountry.
We want everyone to feel empowered, safe and welcome in the outdoors, so we created this handy guide to refresh your knowledge of hiking trail etiquette. Even understanding seemingly simple matters, like leashed dogs and playing music from your phone, can help make the outdoors more enjoyable for everyone.
Here are 10 guidelines for hiking trail etiquette:
1. Right of Way
If you’re hiking uphill, you have the right of way. The idea is that it’s much harder to get the momentum going again when you’re climbing up, opposed to going down! The person going downhill should step to the side to let others pass. If you’re climbing uphill but feel like you need a break, communicate by waving the other person on or asking them to pass you. Most importantly, do not block the trail when you need to stop or let others pass.
What about flat or loop trails? First, check for trail signs to see which way to travel if relevant. Then, communicate—if you want to pass, say something to the person so they know you’re approaching, like “passing on your left.” When it comes to which side of the trail you should be on, traffic rules apply. Slower hikers should stick to the right, so faster hikers can pass on the left. You should also stay to the right when passing hikers travelling in the opposite direction.
First, make sure the trail you want to trek is dog friendly. Then, check the rules: do dogs need to remain on leash the entire way? Ensure you can keep your dog under control in off-leash areas and have good recall skills. Remember that not everyone has had good experiences with dogs, and some people may be wary of your canine friend.
Always clean up after your dog and take the plastic poop bag to a garbage can. Do not let your dog chase wildlife or destroy the flora and fauna. For hikers who want to interact with someone else’s dog, always ask first before touching or petting an unknown dog.
3. Leave No Trace
The basics of Leave No Trace are exactly what it sounds like—don’t leave anything that could have an impact on the environment. This includes litter, of course, but it also means food scraps like banana peels or apple cores, which may not be a part of the natural environment and can become foreign food sources for wildlife. Never feed wildlife.
Leave No Trace also means not removing things from the natural environment. Don’t touch, move or create cairns (rock piles used to mark the trail). Leave plants, trees and rocks undisturbed. Every element of nature contributes to the overall health of the environment, and you never know when you may be destroying a critter’s home or taking away something that could break down and feed the forest.
One of the quickest ways to annoy fellow hikers is by playing music out loud. Many people venture outside for solitude and the sounds of nature. Wildlife use sound to communicate, and your music could disrupt their important calls and communication. If you must listen to music, do so at a tempered volume, and use headphones. However, when you’re outside in nature, it’s smart to have your senses on full alert. Try listening to the sounds of the forest, ocean or prairies instead.
Phone calls, selfie sticks and drones can also create disturbances. (And if you’re using a drone, check regulations to see if it’s allowed in the area first.) When taking videos or photographs, make sure you aren’t blocking the trail and be aware of others around you. Try to keep phone calls short and speak in a low voice to avoid disturbing others.
5. Going to the Bathroom
Always go before you go! If you’ve got to use the bathroom when you’re outside, first check for an outhouse or other facilities. If nothing is available, make sure you travel at least 60 metres (200 feet) from the trail. Dig a hole to bury your poop using a stick or your shoe and cover it back up with dirt, marking it with a stick standing straight up.
Avoid trampling vegetation and watch out for cliff edges or other hazards when finding a private spot to pee. Take any used tissue with you in a plastic bag (or invest in a Kula cloth!).
6. Stay on the Trail
Going off-trail can damage the surrounding environment, possibly destroying a little creature’s habitat or food source. You’re much more likely to get hurt or lost when deviating from the path. Straying from the trail can also cause erosion and loosen rocks that could fall and hit someone hiking below you.
7. Leave Wildlife Alone
Spotting a bear, eagle or even a squirrel can be an exciting experience on an outdoor adventure. While it’s generally okay to admire animals from afar, do not move closer to some wildlife for a photograph. It’s also an unwise decision to turn your back to snap a selfie—you won’t be able to react quickly enough or see what’s happening. Even an encounter with a coyote or deer can be dangerous—for the animal and for you. Don’t do it for the ‘gram.
8. Be Respectful of the Best Views
When you reach the summit with a stunning, 180-degree view, it can often be crowded with groups of hikers. Make space for others without walking on plant life or doing anything dangerous.
Be mindful of others’ space and time. During peak hours, limit your time at the viewpoint so everyone gets the chance to enjoy the scenery. If you notice other hikers are waiting to enjoy the view or don’t have space to safely sit, consider lingering for less time and having a snack at a different rest spot along the way.
9. Horses, Bikes and Big Groups
On multi-use paths, give people riding horses the right of way as horses can easily be spooked. Try to keep on the downhill slope—standing uphill from a horse can make you seem like you’re a threat.
Mountain bikers should always yield to both horses and hikers. The trail hierarchy goes: bikers yield to hikers and horses; hikers yield to horses. If conditions require, solo hikers should step aside and yield to groups. Ideally, keep groups small. This will make it easier to determine a suitable trail that everyone can complete, have fun and feel accomplished. When travelling in a group, on horseback or by bike, keep in a single-file line, allowing room for others on the trail.
10. Social Interactions
Treat other hikers with kindness, respect and without judgement. Don’t hike too close behind the person in front of you or make anyone feel unwelcome. Be friendly and open to chatting with others on the trail. Should the worst occur, and you don’t return home, it’s also good for others to remember seeing you on the trail that day. Always leave a detailed trip plan with someone back home with an estimated return time.
If someone is lost, hurt or needs help, be willing to offer assistance while respecting your own limits. We’re all out enjoying the wilderness, and everyone wants to return safely to their homes with a great adventure story to tell.
Now that you’re prepared with this important knowledge, get outside and go hiking this summer!