Hiking seems like a simple enough pastime. You find the hiking trail that you want to go on, pack your bags, tie your shoes and set off. However, picking a trail and packing your supplies are not the only things that you need to worry about. You need to be aware of hiking etiquette. Now this may seem like common courtesy, which it usually is, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t brush up on your trail etiquette with these hiking tips.
Now that more people are heading outside, social distancing and trying to stay safe, hiking has become much more popular among the masses. So I have compiled a few hiking tips, be it for the first timers or for the well versed hiker, it never hurts to brush up on your skills.
Hiking Etiquette and Hiking Tips
Who has the Right of Way?
Depending on your trail route, you may have to deal with uphill and downhill hikers. This then begs the question as to who has the right of way? It is quite simple actually, downhill hikers should yield to the hikers heading uphill. Now some of you may be questioning why, but it is kind of all down to science. Hikers going uphill have to work against gravity, making trekking harder as they try to keep momentum. Whereas downhill trekkers have gravity pushing them downhill. Yes they need to keep an eye on where they are going downhill, but their perspective is a lot broader than those heading uphill. So our first bit of trail etiquette tells us to give way to all those uphill hikers.
As a little side note, there is the question of who has the right of way when you are trying to overtake. Now because there is often a bit more concentration for uphill hikers, probably best not to scare them too easily. Wait for when you hit a wider part of the trail and just ask to pass. That way they are given warning someone is behind them and it is safer to pass. And this tip works well for downhill hikers as well. Just always make sure that it is safe for both yourself and other hikers when it comes to passing.
Who has Right of Way — Solo Hikers & Groups?
Although similar to the above, this is still a very relevant tip that you may need. Again, it comes with a rather simple answer — solo hikers should give way to groups. This is because for a solo hiker it is fairly easy to move to the side for a group and let them pass. Hopefully the group is also sticking to hiking etiquette and travelling the trail single file. Another little quick hiking tip to keep you going, remember that passing lanes on trails is much like driving, stick to the right and pass on the left.
Bikers, Hikers and Horses
Hiking trails are not just for hikers, quite often you will find people cycling the trails and riding horses along the trails. Now, because there are so many travellers taking to the trails, you need to take into account what the hierarchy is. At the top is horses, then hikers and lastly bikers. And don’t forget to check before heading off if you may be sharing the trail with bikers and horses, just to mentally prepare.
When it comes to horses, there are certain things that you should do when they pass. Make sure you step off of the trail and preferably on the downhill side. Horses can sometimes be skittish and are constantly on the lookout for danger. So, by stepping off the trail you reduce the chance of startling the horse and also from being run over if it spooks. Another great tip is to say a quick hello to the rider, this will allow the horse to ease as it recognizes you as human and is simple trail etiquette.
Leave no Trace
Most trails at the start will have ample signage stating for you to take any trash that makes it back home with you. Always make sure that you have a small bag that can be used for banana peels, trail mix and other items. You can then seal it and put it back in your pack, or tie it to the outside for easy access. By taking your rubbish with you, the trail stays safe and clean, plus wildlife is less likely to venture onto the trail or have harm from litter.
Leaving no trace is also for dog walkers. Just like any public place, you should be picking up after your dog. If you are not willing to pick up your dog’s ablutions, then you shouldn’t be on the trail. Fellow trail goers shouldn’t have to keep an eye out for dog messes. For one, it’s gross and two, it can be difficult to clean out of your hiking boot.
Some hikers believe that the leaving no trace hiking etiquette rule also stands for staying on the trail. Certain trails will state whether you are allowed off the beaten path, but others are strict for a number of reasons. If you head out into the wilderness off the trail, you could get lost, damage plants and in some severe cases loosen rocks that can cause harm to others. Just be mindful before heading off on your route, make sure you know where you are allowed to venture and where you are not. I found this information on the leave no trace principles helpful.
What about Technology?
This can sometimes cause much debate between the hiking communities. Phones are useful pieces of technology for emergencies, but now they often used to take that perfect Instagram picture. There are just a few courtesies that should be taken when using technology on the trails. Basically, just remember that you and your phone are not the only ones on the trail. If there is a perfect shot that you need to take, check your surroundings and make sure you are not holding up other hikers. If you want to take a group shot, try it at a wider part of the trail so that people can easily pass you.
Some of my favourite hiking gear:
Be Friendly to Fellow Hikers
A great hiking tip is to be friendly to your fellow hikers, saying a quick hello can prove useful in the long run. Your safety is the most important thing, and stopping for a quick chat can keep you safe. No matter whether you are doing a day hike, an overnighter of just hiking solo, you can learn a lot about the trail ahead of you from fellow hikers. If they are heading from the opposite direction, they can tell you what the trail conditions are like, what to look out for and maybe even a great spot to set up camp. And god forbid something bad were to happen, someone will know where you are and help with directions for rescuers.
What about Going to the Bathroom?
No matter what length of a hike you are going on, at some point you will need a bathroom break. There is simple trail etiquette when it comes to needing the bathroom. First thing first, you can either leave your pack behind, but make sure to leave it to the side of the trail or you can take it with you. Now you need to find a place for a bit of privacy. Many suggest heading at least 200 feet away from the trail. Depending on where you are this may not be possible so use a bit of common sense. Try and find a private spot. Behind a tree or even a rock formation so that you can go in peace and so as not to scare other hikers.
So you now know where you are going to the bathroom, but now you need to know how. Here are some hiking tips that other hikers follow for bathroom breaks. Make sure that you have packed a trowel, some clean toilet paper, a sealable bag and some hand sanitizer. Use the trowel to dig a hole for yourself. Make it about 6 inches deep so as not to affect water supplies or attract wildlife. Once done, cover your hole back up, making sure to keep the trowel clean. Dispose of your used toilet roll in your sealable bag, maybe popping it in a trash bag first to help mask smell. Then place the bag somewhere in your pack that isn’t used for any food or other group gear.
Staying in a Shelter
If your hike is over several days, then you will either be staying at a campsite or in a shelter. Hiking etiquette is still necessary when staying at a campsite or shelter. Make sure that you leave wherever you have slept cleaner than how you found it. This way no one can complain about you and you won’t be fined. Many of your fellow hikers may be wanting to get up bright and early to set out on the trail. Make sure to keep noise down by 9 or 10 pm. Also, if you yourself want to get an early start, make sure that you are all packed up before heading to sleep. This way, you will not disturb your fellow sleepers.
Don’t Feed the Animals
Although the idea of feeding a nut to a chipmunk seems like an innocent task, it does more harm than good to the wildlife. If you feed a wild animal, it ends up putting them more at risk. It also puts your fellow hikers at risk. This is simple hiking etiquette, by not feeding the animals they are not getting used to humans. They are also less likely to be put in danger. When wildlife becomes too used to humans, that is when many accidents can occur, be it for the animals or for the humans.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, hiking etiquette is fairly simple. Just make sure that you have done your research on your hiking trail so that you know which rules apply and which don’t. Then you can be off climbing mountains, trekking through woods and taking some incredible scenic photographs.
Do you have any hiking tips or hiking etiquette that I should add to this post? Let me know and have fun on the trails with your newfound trail etiquette tips! If you aren’t already, follow along with me on Instagram.