Trail etiquette: tips for hiking

Trail etiquette: tips for hiking

I love that many new folks are enjoying the great outdoors and learning to hike!  I’ve been hiking since my college days and have learned trail etiquette from other hikers along the way.  In an attempt to help new hikers learn more about trekking, I’ve listed 7 rules to follow to ensure the outdoor experience is great for you and the others on the trail.

Stay on the trail and don’t alter nature

Trail etiquette includes staying on the trail to prevent damaging flowers, plants and animal homes.
Protect nature by staying on the trail.

If you are trail hiking, try to stay on the pathway to decrease your footprint in nature. Leave the area on and around the trail the way it was when you arrived.  Don’t pick the flowers, carve words into trees, spray paint rocky outcrops, or mess with animal homes.  Look, listen and appreciate what nature has to offer.

Give hikers who are ascending the right of way and step aside for faster hikers

It is much easier to restart a downhill pace than it is to start going uphill.  For that reason, yield to those trekking up the incline, unless, of course, they stop first to get a bit of a rest. Often times those hiking long distances must keep up a relatively fast pace to complete their mileage before sunset.  Be respectful and step aside when a hiker tries to pass on the trail.

Carry out what you’ve carried in

Never leave your trash on the trail, in the woods or at campsites.  This includes food waste which can attract bears or can can take a long time to break down in the environment.  Pack up tissues and toilet paper in a zippered disposable baggie.  Also, be a good steward and pick up others’ trash, too.

Know and respect your own limitations and avoid life-threatening risks

Enjoy the view from overlooks, but don't take dangerous risks.
Enjoy the view from overlooks, but don’t take dangerous risks.

Be aware of your own abilities.  It is always good to push your physical limits, but be reasonable.  Hiking to a point of exhaustion can cause slips, falls, injuries and heat-related illnesses.  Avoid taking unnecessary risks that will put you and others, including rescuers, in danger.  I have seen too many hikers take dangerous risks just to get cool photos or video for social media.  Snapping a selfie in front of a coiled rattlesnake is just plain stupid.  Climbing rock faces without experience or proper gear can be deadly.  Last summer, I grabbed the arm of a toddler who was on the edge of Humpback Rocks in Virginia.  Her mom was holding the child’s sleeve as she took, what was sure to be a really cool photo.  But the little girl’s arm began to slip out of the jacket.  I shudder to think what could have happened as a trade for instagram likes.

No need for cairns

Creating unnecessary cairns along trails is not good trail etiquette
Cairns are used for marking pathways and are not needed for trail hiking

Cairns are stacks or piles of stones used as a trail marker or landmark.  If you are hiking on a marked trail, there is no need to create a cairn.  Leave the stones in their natural state.  If you are bushwhacking and hiking off-trail, use the cairn as your marker, but knock it down on your return trek, so as to keep the view for others as it was prior to your visit.

Leave bluetooth speakers at home

If you enjoy listening to music on your hike, please wear headphones.  Most hikers enjoy solitude.  Last summer, after months of planning, my family joined me on a hike to Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon.  This was a bucket list trip, so you can probably imagine my dismay when, after only 5 minutes of hiking from the canyon rim, Kanya West music was reverberating off the canyon walls.  I was initially confused by the sound, and then became increasingly annoyed as I was forced to listen to an ascending hiker’s playlist for the next mile.  I preferred to hear the quiet chatter of my family and  the silence of the canyon.

Be kind to other hikers

When you see another hiker, share an acknowledgment: a head nod, a wave or a verbal greeting.  Often on long distance trails, hikers seek information about water sources, camp sites and terrain.  When crossing paths with another hiker, provide warnings regarding animals or barriers.

“There is a rattlesnake sunning on the ridge about .5 miles on the left side of the trail.”

Offer words of encouragement when a hiker asks about distance to the top of an incline.  Be willing to share supplies with those in need: excess water to distance hikers and first aid supplies to unprepared trekkers.  Hikers are part of an outdoor community and using trail etiquette is a great way to look out for each other.

Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon
Using trail etiquette is a great way to care for others in the hiking community

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