What is Hiking and Trail Etiquette? The Right Way to Be Polite

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When on the trail, travelers need to be polite to one another and follow the rules of the road. You are sharing with them and need to be courteous. But how exactly do you do that? One person tells you one thing and another tells you something else. You will find this article, What is Hiking and Trail Etiquette? The Right Way to Be Polite, to be of help.

With everything I discuss here, be aware most everything is up for debate and situation. A lot of these rules are agreed upon and common consensus exists. These are guidelines, not hard, rigid rules.

Let’s get started.

The Most Common Situation – Downhill Meeting Uphill

You are going to run into this situation a lot. Any hiking trail worth its money will have uphill and downhill sections to keep you entertained and busy. Variety is the spice of life.

In short, downhill yields to uphill. Because the latter is burning more calories, the former stays put to let them pass. Downhill hikers also have a wider field of vision, so they can anticipate what is coming more readily than their uphill co-parts.

Gravity and eyesight also intermingle with each other. A person crashes their 9-11 Porsche into the only tree in the middle of the desert because their vision was transfixed by the tree. The driver would have been fine if they had looked at something else, but people often don’t. Where your vision goes, your body follows.

Downhill hikers are looking downhill, so they will fall and roll into uphill hikers if they misstep and crash into other hikers. Unless the slope is particularly tricky and slippery, the worst an uphill hiker can do is fall on the ground.

You need to be careful on the slopes.

Bikers are Speed Demons Tearing Up the Slopes

If on the trail with mountain bikers nine times out of ten, my experience has been hiking as you would expect me to and then a biker speeding past me, whether oncoming or behind. You will encounter this quite often. They are on a mission. More often than not. Most hikers stop to let the mountain bikers pass. Common sense tells most people to get out of the way of fast moving objects or else you run the risk of getting run over.

However, the most common situation I described is not how the rules are set up. If you are a mountain biker, you yield to everyone because it is easier for a mountain biker to move out of the way. Bikes have more maneuverability and speed, so they have the burden of responsibility.

As a hiker, you need to take in your surroundings, so you do not risk a high speed accident on the trail.
If both are paying attention, then you can take care of each other.

Horses Spook Easily and Heavy Things Hurt

Everyone, this includes bikers and hikers, yields to horseback riders. To be frank, you cannot predict or communicate with a horse as much as you can with a human. Horses also lose their footing much more easily than a person on loose terrain like gravel or sand. They are also quite heavy and dangerous if spooked, so they injure the rider or others.

Horses are the least maneuverable mode of travel on the trail, so give them a wide berth if there is space available on the trail. If you meet a horse on a slope, you need to stop and let them pass. They have priority over you.

Pet Lovers Unite! Keep an Eye on Them

Stick to the dog friendly trails. If your dog is explicitly not allowed on a particular trail as evident by signs and the like, do not bring them. You would be breaking the rules.

If another hiker approaches, keep them on a leash and on the trail. If you meet other people and they want to pet your dog, tell the person whether your pooch is people-friendly or not. I was bitten by a dog when I was young and it was not a pleasant experience to say the least. An off trail dog can disrupt flora and fauna, wreaking havoc on local species trying to recover. Just because you understand leave no trace principles doesn’t mean your dog does. They need to follow them too. Clean up poops and do not discard the baggie.

40 Adult Paces or 200 Feet (61 m) Equals a Fine Bathroom

According to Leave No Trace, you want to go 200 feet (61 m) off the trail and the same distance from a water source. Use your common sense and go where others won’t see you. It’s awkward for both the pooper and discoverer to encounter each other. If 40 paces away means going over a cliff, don’t do it.

Follow proper outdoor guidelines on trail pooping.

Group Hikers Need to Understand Their Size

Groups should not take up more than half the trail to allow oncoming traffic and people behind you to pass. More often than not, the trail will get narrow. Your group needs to then go single file. It might be enjoyable to move like a bulldozer on the trail gobbling up all the space and chatting with your friends, but you inhibit your fellow trail travelers.

If you are a solo hiker or in a small group and you encounter a larger group of hikers, then you yield to them. It is easier for the smaller number to stop than it is for the larger group.

According to the Boy Scouts, “we hike as fast as the slowest man.” In other words, the slowest hiker leads a group. The point is to keep the group together. Some group dynamics may differ. Other groups might say, “we hike as fast as our egos allow us and leave the slowpokes behind.” Take a quick read of the approaching group and formulate a polite, appropriate response.

My Top 5 Tips to Be Polite on the Trail

1. Do Not Toss Anything.

Pack in what you pack out. This goes for biodegradable foods like apples and oranges for example. Because those plants are often not native to the area you are hiking in, they can disrupt the food supply of native species.

2. Hike Quietly and Enjoy the Sounds of Nature.

Silence your cell phones. I put mine on airplane mode and minimize usage. This means getting out of the way and whipping it out only if I want to take a picture. It’s unpleasant for a stressed 9-5 employee to try to get away from work only to then encounter a large group of hikers talking and blabbing on their cell phones. You go on a nature hike to escape technology.

3. Walk Through a Puddle, Not Around It.

I made this mistake the other day at Wilder Ranch in Santa Cruz. I will admit I got lazy. When you make an error like this one, you widen the trail. Anytime you take a detour off the trail, you widen it. For national and state parks and anytime you go through nature, you, well, want as much nature as possible, not a zigzag and dizzying array of detours that distract from the scenery.

Unless circumstances say otherwise (like a forest fire for example), stay on the trail.

4. Leave What You Find.

On a minimal environmental impact hiking trip, you leave only footprints and take home only pictures and happy memories. It might be nice to take the solid walking stick you found with you home, but it is meant to decompose in the woods and stay put.

5. Smile (You’re Beautiful! :)) and Say Hello to Other Hikers.

You are sharing a trail with others. Friendliness goes a long way in developing a relationship. It is also about safety. If you chat with someone, they can be the one to let rescuers know your last location in an emergency situation. They will also tell you about conditions ahead. Most nature hikers feel happier after being on the trail for a while, so they should more than readily respond well to you.

Of course if someone makes you feel unsafe, do not talk to them. Keep moving, pull out your cell phone, or pretend like you are waiting for the rest of the group. These situations are quite rare though.

Friendliness smooths over any error you make, so be kind to your fellow hiker. People will overlook problems and issues of another for a while because they like them. Also, be aware that what I list here are, for the most part, not hard and fast rules. Sometimes larger groups yield to smaller groups. Politeness smooths over a lot of mistakes.

Are You Looking for a Backpack?

You should now be all set to go and now know what to do on the trail to be excellent to each other. I do have a ‘call to action’ to ask of you before you go though.

If you are using a backpack on your hike, then you should check out a previous article, The Best Backpacking Backpacks of 2019 (do not fret if it is 2076 and this article still reads 2019; I update these types of articles on an annual basis :)). Many of the backpacking backpacks listed there also work as day packs. They’re just a little bigger. If you get a backpacking backpack, then you are bound to become an expert outdoor adventurer.

==> Click Here to Find the Perfect Backpack for You <==

If you have any thoughts, questions, or think I missed anything, do not hesitate to comment and please share this article. Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!

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