Hiking Etiquette; Discussing The Unwritten Rules…Inspired By Real Hikers and Backpackers

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I was brainstorming on what to write for my next article, and decided to take a short break. I was intrigued by an article I read in my Backpacker Magazine about hiking etiquette. I began by googling hiking etiquette, and starting to take notes about what I came across. However, I wanted to get some ideas and inspiration from real people, real hikers, real backpackers, real outdoor people, and not just a list of rules on state and national association sites.

hiking etiquette cover photo

I decided that I wanted to reach out to my many outdoor, hiking, and backpacking groups on Facebook, and ask a simple question. I have to admit that I had quite a laugh and an amazing experience reading all of the comments, rants, and slew of responses to the question I posed. I didn’t realize how many people would actually contribute to this posed question. It was a simple question that returned a barrage of replies. I simply asked, “What is your take or biggest pet peeve regarding hiking/backpacking etiquette? If you wrote the rules, what would they be?”

The response was overwhelming. Some of the comments I read were way out there. I mean, I guess I should have expected that on social media these days. Some of the comments were absolute knee-slappingly jocular, almost bringing tears to my eyes. However, after sorting through all the rubble and disaster caused by this hurricane, I was able to come to a consensus on the most important issues to the masses, and able to put this list together for you.

Now, I do have my own set of rules that I follow, and wish that everyone else would follow as well. But, I didn’t want to just give my views on this subject, alone. I also wanted to reach out to my network to compile a list, and even some quotes, to share with all of you. This is a compilation of what I believe may be the Cliffs Notes version of an upcoming book.

 


Plan ahead and prepare: Proper planning for your backcountry hike leads to less impact on the environment. The thought here is that a poorly prepared person will turn to solutions that may degrade the surroundings or put themselves at risk.

Travel and camp on durable surfaces: Stay on the paths designated for hiking. When hiking with a group, stay single file as to not trample or damage the natural flora. This is why we came here to hike, to see the natural beauty provided for us to enjoy. Don’t cut switchbacks and reduce the footprint we may cause. Good campsites are not made, they are found. Is it really necessary to alter an area for your site?

Dispose of waste properly: This one seems simple, but continues to be a problem. Pack it in, pack it out. Pick up after yourselves; trash, litter, anything that detracts from the naturalness of an area. Carry out any trash you have brought in. Also, properly dispose of fecal waste by burying it 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet off the main trail. (Urinating in the woods is not a violation of Leave No Trace).

Leave what you find: Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints. One should stay away from digging trenches and building furniture or structures. If you move rocks and sticks for your campsite, please replace them after you clean up camp and return the area to its natural state.

Minimize campfire impacts: If you must light a campfire, keep it minimal and low-impact on the environment. Put out campfires completely and scatter the cooled ashes. Use only established campfire rings if possible. Instead of building a fire, use a camp stove for cooking and lantern for light.

Respect wildlife: Observe the wildlife from a safe distance, as to not disturb the natural beauty. Do not feed the animals as this can affect their health and natural well-being. If you bring your pups, keep them within view at all times and don’t let them spook the wildlife.

Be considerate of other visitors: Treat others how you would like to be treated. Respect your fellow hikers’ tranquil experience. Keep your voices and music low, use headphones instead of speakers. Let nature’s sounds prevail.

 

There is a hierarchy for visitors – Horses, Hikers, Bikers. Horses are at the top of the list, being the largest and easiest to spook. If you come across a horse, step off the trail, preferably on the downhill side, talk to the rider, as the horse will then recognize you as another person and not a predator. Bikers move quicker, and have the most control, so they should take heed and yield to everyone else.

Uphill traveling hikers should be given the right of way, unless they choose to stop for a break. They are working harder, and should be given the choice.

Pass on the left, and be courteous and respectful by saying “hi”. There’s no need to make everyone your new BFF, but a smile and a “hello” goes a long way to make someone else’s day.


I completely understand that this may be a touchy subject for some, but it must be discussed and consistently reviewed.  This is a very important subject matter.  After all of the hullabaloo this caused on Facebook, I was able to connect with some great people with awesome feedback, and I would like to acknowledge their points of view on the subject.  Let me introduce some outdoor souls that made the cut.

 

Kelly Baker – “Depends on where I am, but when in the alpine zone it drives me nuts when I watch people stepping all over plants and cutting switchbacks.”

Bill Steiden – “What is the thinking behind bringing electronic media into the wilderness and blasting it for all to hear? Sing a song around the campfire, if you must — but leave your Spotify collection in the car. We’re out in the woods to experience the woods, not your mixtapes.”

Leah Rapp – “Leave no trace. That goes for orange peals, peanut shells, tissue paper, anything that didn’t burn all the way in the fire, those little plastic corners from your granola bar wrapper, ropes you’ve hung on the tree…. If you didn’t eat it or burn it, carry it out.”

Melissa Harris – “People who play music on a speaker while walking on a trail….it really ruins a good hike to hear some bumpy thumpy rap music in the middle of the woods!!”

Martin Ehresman – “I like hikers that don’t leave a trace behind. So the next hikers have an empty canvas for their experience.”

Sharon Ranz – “Hands down my pet peeve is graffiti. I cannot stand to see the trees, rocks and other things defaced.”

Ryan Neilling – “Pack it in, pack it out. Your banana peels do not look great in the rhododendron bushes.”


When I started this whole shebang with a simple question, it was for a good reason. It was not meant to cause any issues or to get a rise out of people. It was to get people thinking about and talking about etiquette or best practices. There have been a lot of great comments, but there have also been some arguments and griping. This was not my intention, but I do understand that this is a touchy subject.

My take-away from all of this…I love the sense of tranquility and mortality I feel when I am hiking. I love just being able to get away from all of the everyday drama of everyday life. I love the enormous feeling of respect it gives me for the land, the flora, the fauna. I feel at peace when I’m hiking, and I look to make sure that anyone else who comes there after me is able to get those same feelings. All I ask for is for others to be respectful of nature and one another. Do what you think is right when you’re out there. Have fun and enjoy it, but make sure you always stay respectful.

Confucius once said, “Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish men from beasts?”

Cheers, and hike on!

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