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Hiking Etiquette

September 11, 2020

When you go hiking, chances are that you’re doing it to enjoy the unspoiled outdoors. The last things you want to deal with are irritants like rude hikers, ruined landscapes, or dangerous man-made situations.This is why we have hiking etiquette. The core of hiking etiquette can be summed up by the seven principles of Leave No Trace, a set of basic wilderness ethics codes that developed in the 1960s and 1970s as part of a growing societal awareness of the importance of the environment. Leave No Trace stresses leaving the smallest possible impact on the wilderness you travel through and the people you may find yourself traveling with. While these rules are not ironclad and will probably not cover every situation, observing them will put you a big step ahead on the road to a safe, civil, and enjoyable hiking experience.

Plan Ahead and Prepare

It’s important to know exactly what you are getting into before you arrive at the place where you plan to hike. Look up the rules and regulations beforehand; learn exactly what you can and cannot do.Also make sure you bring the proper equipment. Make sure you know about the weather and terrain conditions, and then pack what you’ll need in order to deal with that. Wear the right hiking boots for what you expect to encounter, or pick a versatile pair of boots like KEEN’s Targhee IIs (for women) or Salomon’s Quest 4Ds (for men). Bring a map and compass so that you won’t have to mark the territory for navigation. The fewer uses you make of flagging, paint, and rock cairns, the better.

Travel and Camp on Durable Ground

When hiking, stay on the trail. Don’t cut through unspoiled land or carve your own shortcuts. Going off-road is both dangerous and detrimental to the environment. You not only risk injury by traveling over uneven terrain that may cause severe injuries, but you could also carve unintended trails that other people might follow, thus cutting through a part of nature that would have been better off undisturbed.In some parks and reserves, you will be allowed to go off-trail. In these cases, stay on durable surfaces like existing trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grass, and packed snow. Don’t hike or camp on soft, shifting surfaces like sand or mud. That would not only increases your chance of leaving a mark on the environment, but it would be extremely dangerous as well, potentially leading to steep falls, injury, or damage to your equipment.

Dispose of Waste Properly

If you are planning an extended hiking/camping trip where you will not have access to a restroom, pack toilet paper and other hygiene products you will need. When you need to take a dump, human waste should be deposited in cat-holes that are 6-8 inches deep, at least 200 ft (about 80 paces) away from water sources, campsites, and trails. Plug and cover the hole with dirt and leaves when you are done using it.This principle also applies to littering: don’t do it. Bring plastic or paper bags that you can use to store your garbage; carry it with you until you have access to a trash can.

Leave What You Find

Don’t collect souvenirs. Leave rocks and flowers the way they are. Also, while you should not build your own, leave existing rock cairns the way you find them. Some hikers use old cairns as landmarks and depend on them to navigate. Disturbing the cairns may cause travelers to get lost, which can be dangerous in the wilderness.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

If for whatever reason you need to build a campfire, make only small ones, and build them only in permitted areas. When you no longer need the fire, burn all wood and coals to ash, and then scatter those ashes.

Respect Wildlife

If possible, time your hike to avoid local mating and nesting seasons, times when wildlife is in flux and very sensitive. If you do happen to go out during mating season, never imitate mating calls for birds or any other animals; this may disrupt those animals’ mating processes.At any time of the year, never approach or feed wild animals that cross your path. You could feed the animals food that harms them. Moreover, too much interaction with humans desensitizes animals and makes them vulnerable to hunters.If you bring a pet along on your trek, keep them on a leash or otherwise close to you. Wild animals can be dangerous and lash out if approached.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Be mindful of other people on the trail. A common rule of thumb is: “Stay on the right, pass on the left.” Another common rule is that on a slope, hikers going uphill get the right of way over hikers going downhill. This is due to people going uphill being more tired, having a shorter range of vision, and generally having a harder time than people headed downhill.When hiking in a group, be mindful of all members of the group and make sure no one gets left behind. A popular way of ensuring this is to let the slowest person in the group lead and set the pace, while a faster or more experienced hiker brings up the rear in order to assist those who might otherwise end up lost or injured.Lastly, hike quietly. Making noise or talking on the phone are considered forms of noise pollution and despised by most hikers. There are exceptions to this rule—for example, in bear country, you may be told to make noise to warn bears—but in general, most people hike to escape the noise of the city. Follow their example. Enjoy the quiet and peace of nature.