Hiking Etiquette 101

In 2017, the num­ber of folks who report­ed hav­ing gone hik­ing or back­pack­ing in the Unit­ed States tal­lied a whop­ping 47.2 mil­lion. That’s a lot of boots on the trail, and a lot of poten­tial ground to cov­er when it comes to our expec­ta­tions for polite behav­ior. Whether you’re brand new to the out­door lifestyle or would just like a quick refresh­er, here are our tips for basic hik­ing etiquette.

Right-of-Way
Fig­ur­ing out who yields to whom on the trail can be a lit­tle com­pli­cat­ed, espe­cial­ly since the rules typ­i­cal­ly aren’t as hard-and-fast as, say, the rules of the road. The first thing you’ll want to be aware of is with whom you’re expect­ed to share the trail. Some per­mit foot traf­fic only, but oth­ers are mul­ti-use trails designed for hors­es and moun­tain bik­ers too, and come snow sea­son you may also be look­ing at the pos­si­bil­i­ty of skiers, snow­shoers, and snow­mo­biles. As a gen­er­al rule, vehi­cles, bik­ers, and snow­mo­biles always yield to hik­ers, and every­body yields to hors­es. Addi­tion­al­ly, down­hill hik­ers yield to uphill hik­ers. This is a cour­tesy that allows uphill hik­ers to main­tain their pace and momen­tum. Yield by step­ping just off the trail on the down­hill side where pos­si­ble, or to the right if the ground is even.

A quick note about groups: if you’re lucky enough to hike with a group of bud­dies — when it is safe to do so — it’s impor­tant to go sin­gle-file on estab­lished trails. This gives oth­er hik­ers room to pass on your left, whether they’re out­pac­ing your group or sim­ply com­ing from the oppo­site direc­tion. And while more may be mer­ri­er, keep in mind that larg­er groups tend to be nois­i­er, so take extra care to keep the vol­ume low so that both you and your fel­low out­door recre­ation enthu­si­asts can appre­ci­ate the nat­ur­al sounds of the wilder­ness around you.

Woman Hiking With Dog

Leave No Trace
Some of the most basic hik­ing eti­quette requires adher­ence to the prin­ci­ples of Leave No Trace. Remem­ber the say­ing “take only pic­tures, leave only foot­prints”? That’s the gist of it. Remem­ber that you’re a vis­i­tor in that wild blue yon­der, and take care not to leave evi­dence of your pas­sage. This means no graf­fi­ti, includ­ing scratch­ing your sweetheart’s name into pic­nic tables or tree bark. Also, no lit­ter­ing, includ­ing uneat­en food and bags of dog poo you total­ly intend to come back for lat­er. And speak­ing of poo, if you’ve got to go and you’re not in an extra-sen­si­tive area where you’re expect­ed to pack it all out, dig your cathole about forty paces off the trail. Oth­er­wise, stay on the path. Cut­ting switch­backs might save you time, but it’s not worth adding trail ero­sion to somebody’s main­te­nance back­log. Leave cairns as you found them, espe­cial­ly if they’re mark­ing trails, and don’t build new ones. If you’re back­pack­ing or in trails-what-trails back­coun­try, walk and camp on durable sur­faces to avoid dam­age to vegetation.

Leave Wildlife Wild
If you’ve ever been dive-bombed by an over­ly-aggres­sive gull at the beach, you’ll under­stand why some folks get irate when oth­er folks just can’t help but feed the adorable squir­rels. Look, we get it, the siren call of Insta­gram love for pics of cute crit­ters eat­ing right out of the palm of your hand is mighty tempt­ing. Just keep in mind that those adorable squir­rels are prob­a­bly laden with han­tavirus, and those grey jays are prob­a­bly car­ry­ing sal­mo­nel­la. Deer kick, chip­munks bite, and by def­i­n­i­tion, no wild ani­mal is “safe.” Feed­ing them just embold­ens them to approach and harass hik­ers, back­pack­ers, and pic­nick­ers. Also, the food you’re giv­ing them is prob­a­bly bad for them anyway.

Be Friend­ly
Last but not least, say hel­lo! You’re not required to become BFFs with every­one you meet on the trail, but par­tic­u­lar­ly on more seclud­ed or less well-trav­eled routes, it can make the out­doors feel just that lit­tle bit friend­lier when folks are will­ing to see one anoth­er and offer a kind greet­ing. Plus, if you find your­self in need of res­cue, those folks just may be the last peo­ple to have known your where­abouts, so it pays to make a good impression.