Hiking Etiquette for Properly Sharing the Trail

Don't be the guy who ruins the trail for everyone else.

Hiking itself is a simple enough endeavor: stay hydrated, enjoy the scenery, put one foot in front of the other, and you’ll get to your destination (and fall even more in love with the great outdoors) before you know it. But if you want to do things right –making sure you treat the trail and your fellow hikers with respect – there are some finer points you’ll want to have under your belt, especially if you’re just starting out. Stick to these few rules the next time you’re steeped in nature, and you’ll be all set.

Share the Trail

Some of the most pleasant people around can be found on mountain paths, and while most hikers tend to be easygoing and understanding, you still want to take care to act responsibly so as not to leave a negative impression. That starts with sharing the trail. You’re bound to pass other climbers on the way, and yeah, it’s easy enough to just say play it by ear to either squeeze by or stand aside to let someone past. But there are actually a few best practices for sharing a path if you want to follow proper etiquette.

Stay to the Right

Most hikers abide by this general rule, and it makes passing others hiking the opposite way simple without having to stop moving on wider paths. If you’re climbing more quickly than someone in front of you, pass them on their left, and give them a verbal warning if you’re not sure they know you’re coming. Easy.

Right of Way

When it comes to passing by other hikers when there isn’t enough room for both of you, you should always yield to climbers who are doing tougher work than you. Meaning, if you’re hiking downhill, and someone is heading towards you on their way up, stand aside and let them pass before continuing your descent. This way, you won’t risk accidentally bumping into them and knocking them down onto their pack.

If there happen to be mountain bikers sharing the trail, you should move out of their way as soon as you see they’re coming close. Technically, mountain bikers should yield to hikers, but because it’s so necessary to maintain momentum while on a bike, it’s best to just allow them to pass with as much extra room as possible so you avoid being knocked over. If you come across someone mounted on a horse (it’s not common, but it isn’t unheard of), apply the same rule, and be sure to not make any sudden noises or movements to keep from startling the animal.

And if you’re stopping to snap a photo or just to take in the sights, make sure you’re completely out of the way for other hikers passing.

Leave No Trace

Every experienced hiker and camper knows to keep these words close to heart at all times. The idea is to leave all trails and campsites in the exact condition that you found them in, with no trace of you having ever been there. Meaning, don’t forget to clean up after yourself, and don’t leave anything, especially trash (even bio-degradable stuff like banana peels and orange rinds) out in the open. It’s rude, and can potentially attract predators to the trail or campsite, making it unsafe for anyone who treads there after you. So by all means, enjoy a few beers around the campfire – so long as you can pack up your empties and carry them out.

You also want to stick to the well-trodden parts of any given path, and never try to take shortcuts or make switchbacks up the mountain. That'll avoid damaging plant life and creating small trails that can throw off inexperienced hikers, causing them to get lost.

The last part of this rule involves cairns, which are distance markers made of rocks that passing hikers can contribute to. If you see one, it’ll look like a tall pile of carefully placed stones situated on a flat rock surface. Snap a photo if you like, and feel free to add a rock to the pile to commemorate your passing; just be careful not to knock the whole thing down. And it’s best to keep from starting new ones – they can confuse other hikers into thinking they’ve strayed from their usual path. Leave it to the trail rangers and hikers who regularly frequent the trail you’re on.

Keep Distracting Tech Away

Sure, it can be tempting to turn on some tunes to pass the time, or to call up your friends who had to miss out on the trip from the summit, but it’s important to consider that most hikers are on the trail to enjoy some peace and quiet.

The best solution: bring along a camera and keep it easily reachable on the outside of your pack, so you can quickly snap higher quality shots than you’d get with a smartphone without being tempted to log into your office group chat. Just keep your phone charged and in a sealed pouch on the interior of your pack for safe keeping, so it’ll always be accessible if there’s an emergency, and then forget all about it.

Some swear by digital GPS systems to stay on track, but one of the most rewarding parts of hiking and camping is relying on your own skills to keep your group safe and heading in the right direction. Plus, it's impossible for a classic compass-and-map setup to run out of batteries.

The one tech concession we will make: if you'd rather play it safe in case you find yourself lost somewhere there’s no cell service, you can pick up a personal hiking beacon that’ll let you send S.O.S. messages to the nearest emergency response center. Probably not necessary for a weekend jaunt up the local trail, but it could be a life-saver (literally) for more intense expeditions.

Now tighten up those straps, and let’s get climbing.

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