Learn these basic trail etiquette rules to make the outdoors more enjoyable for everyone! Learn how to interact with other hikers, leave no trace principles, use (or not use) technology, and dog etiquette.
Hiking is one of the most free-spirited activities on the planet. You can set out early in the morning on any given trail and potentially never encounter another soul…some of us desire this solitude on the trail while others look to hiking to disconnect from their usual lives, but not completely eliminate social interaction. Regardless of your stance, there are some unwritten rules that we should all consider to ensure the hiking experience is as enjoyable as possible.
I put together a list of common trail etiquette considerations we should all acknowledge each and every time we go on a hike. Some of these unwritten rules are obvious while others seem to be broken almost every time Whitney and I go hiking, but if we can all understand that every hiker seeks a different experience then we can guarantee his/her experience goes as expected.
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TRAIL ETIQUETTE: THE RULES OF HIKING
Please take all of these suggestions into account next time you’re on the trail:
Interactions with Other Hikers
- Yield to uphill hikers – this is not obvious, but yielding to uphill hikers ensures the person huffing and puffing up the trail doesn’t have to break stride and lose their momentum or get out of their hiking groove. It’s also quicker going down than it is going up, so it helps to make sure uphill hikers reach their destination at a reasonable time. With all that said, most uphill hikers love the chance to catch their breath, so if they yield to you, by all means…go ahead!
- Hikers yield to horses, bikers yield to hikers – horses are historically prey animals, so they can be spooked by humans haphazardly walking on the trail and take off running or, even worse, kick at you with their hind legs. Bikers must yield to hikers because it’s not easy for hikers to get out of the way of cyclists on the trail.
- Allow faster hikers to pass – we get it…it’s not a race, but Whitney and I like to hike at a faster pace than most because we like to treat our hike as a workout along with the enriched experience of being in nature. It’s also more dangerous to not allow faster hikers to pass through because you tend to hike faster than you’d like to accommodate the speed of the hiker(s) behind you.
- Groups hike single file – don’t take up the whole trail – spreading out on the trail increases erosion and leaves a long-lasting impact on wilderness. One of the biggest rules of proper trail etiquette is to leave no trace.
- Move off trail when taking a break – this one is obvious…there are likely other hikers on the trail, so please move out of their way when resting.
- Watch your language – don’t get us wrong…we definitely aren’t prudes, but have some bleeping respect for others on the trail; there are kids out here! We recently heard some girls in their early 20s ranting about the trail talking about how f’ing awesome it was and how the trail f’ing kicked their asses…nobody wants to hear that!
- Use headphones if you want to listen to music – nobody wants to hear “Despacito” blaring from 50 yards away just to encounter you on your way down the trail, refusing to yield to the uphill hikers. You can get a pair of headphones for less than $20.
- Don’t text or post to social media on the trail – hiking is supposed to be an opportunity to unplug…nobody cares to see your portrait on top of the local scenic vista right at the minute you arrive. We get it, you’re proud of the accomplishment…we are too, but it can wait until you get back off the trail. And please, don’t “hog” a scenic viewpoint playing on your phone where others may want to take pictures as well.
Leave No Trace
- Pack out what you pack in – food scraps, wrappers, Kleenex…all of it. Don’t leave it on the trail. It’s an eyesore and leaving your trash may even cause trail officials to close a trail if the trash cannot be managed.
- Relieve yourself 200 feet from trail and water sources – dig a “cat hole” to bury waste in and do not leave toilet paper visible. Feces decompose very slowly in rocky and alpine areas, so you may even be required to use a “wag bag” and pack out your own waste. Do NOT leave the wag bag on the trail to pick up on your way out…it won’t kill you to carry it for a few hours!
- Don’t cut switchbacks – trail maintenance volunteers and officials have to work tirelessly to prevent erosion when hikers cannot stay on the trail. When trail become overly eroded they are at risk for closure and have a long-lasting impact on the landscape and surrounding areas. You’re also more prone to injury, tick encounters and interactions with poisonous plants when you go off the trail.
- Leave existing cairns, don’t create new ones or destroy previous cairns – there are mixed reviews on cairns (called ducks in some areas). Some people think it violates “leave no trace” principles while others find them very useful for navigating less obvious trails. We’re a fan of cairns because they help identify the optimal path for summit approaches in rocky or talus terrain where a clear and obvious trail is not possible. If you see a cairn, leave it as is…there are hikers that depend on them!
- Don’t feed or approach wildlife – this is our biggest pet peeve on the trail. That cute little chipmunk is not your friend…feeding the chipmunk a little bit of your trail mix does nothing but hurt him/her because it disrupts their normal foraging process and tricks them into thinking food is always available and human food is their primary food source. It also causes the population of chipmunks living around trail stopping points to become overwhelming and they get so focused on human food sources that they will dig into your bag and steal your food when you’re not looking (this happened to us on Clouds Rest in Yosemite National Park). Feeding bears or other large animals is worse because it increases potentially dangerous interactions with those animals.
- Read more about the LNT Principles here.
- Use a leash – not everyone likes dogs – we are indifferent to dogs, but I really don’t enjoy hiking with your dog for hundreds of yards while he/she runs ahead of you unleashed on the trail. I also don’t want your dog begging for my snacks when I’m hanging out at a trail stopping point. You can get a leash for less than $15. Using a leash is also important in order to protect other animals and/or native species on the trail.
- Pick up poo bags – when hiking the Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado, we came across about 10 different dog waste bags in the span of a mile. What an eyesore! You can buy dog waste bags that comes with leash clip for less than $20.
- Try to avoid your dog urinating in water sources – to ensure decent water quality when refilling your water on the trail or around camp. Dog urine does carry viruses and bacteria just like human urine does, so please take proper precautions to keep our water supply as clean as possible.
- They even make saddle bags for dogs where you can store waste bags, food, and water. We always suggest you carry a first aid kit but you should also consider a first aid kit for your pup!
Following these “unwritten rules” will ensure everyone on the trail enjoys their hike to the fullest, but you may want to familiarize yourself with all the dangers on the trail and read this article on why you probably shouldn’t go on a hike.
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