Reconnecting with nature has been proven beneficial for the mental health of humans, those strange creatures who so often hide themselves away in concrete jungles instead of breathing the clean air and taking in the Earth’s natural beauty. However, even hiking can lose its enjoyability when hikers don’t follow hiking rules, turning this relaxing and tranquil pastime into a frustrating march through forest glens and mountain passes.
What is Etiquette?
Hiking etiquette, or trail etiquette, is common courtesy. In the same way we refrain from doing certain things indoors, such as yelling, because it bothers others, we restrain ourselves from doing certain things on a hike to make the experience more enjoyable for others.
These aren’t hard and fast rules, however. Trail etiquette is more like guidelines that make traveling in herds outdoors a more pleasant experience. All social creatures follow certain rules, so even in the great outdoors, you’ll be in good company.
Good etiquette doesn’t just help keep the peace among hikers, it also helps the environment. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people have taken refuge in nature, and trail usage has risen. Land management agencies have reported damage to trails and planet life as people crowd the trails and attempt to socially distance at the same time.
One issue that occurs is that hikers and even cross-country skiers damage and destroy delicate flora as they deviate from designated paths. Mounted bikers, too, occasionally carve ditches in the soft earth.
These things take a financial toll as well as an environmental toll, as teams must then spend time and resources rebuilding trails and places meant to be protected from humans. To save the environment, good hiking etiquette is a must.
Fear not! You can set a good example and identify problem areas in your own trail-going expeditions with these tips.
Leash Your Dog, Even if He’s a Good Boy
Dogs are certainly welcome on the trail, but being unexpectedly greeted with a pounce or feeling like you have to babysit other peoples’ pets can make hiking feel onerous. Many parks require dogs to be leashed, but even when off-leash dogs are permitted, it’s wise to keep a leash handy for times when you pass others. If you’re traveling in a group, your dog should be leashed regardless.
Unfortunately, some people are nervous of dogs, and some people might be older or a little more infirm, making it too easy to accidentally become injured by an excited dog. Horses also use trails frequently and may become spooked.
Be aware, too, that dogs roaming off-leash are at risk of harm from other animals. Venomous snakes or predators can too easily claim the life of your best friend if an encounter occurs.
Putting your dog on a leash won’t dampen his experience, and it may help boost the reputation of dog owners everywhere. Picking up after your dog will also go a long way to improve morale on the hiking trail.
Determine Who Has the Right of Way and Stick to It
It’s frustrating, but determining who has the right of way while on the trail doesn’t have very hard and fast rules. Being used to having rules throughout our towns and cities regulating movements such as which side you drive on, cycle on, and walk on and telling you when to yield and how to pass others, the feeling of anarchy on a hike can cause people to clash.
There are good guidelines that you can follow, however, to make it easier on all parties.
When hiking along a narrow trail, it’s best to step aside and yield to those coming toward you or approaching from behind at a quicker pace. The question is, who yields?
If you’re on a flat stretch of trail and there’s only room for one person, simply move aside yourself. If they move aside, remember to thank them and carry on. It isn’t worth it to get into an argument about who should move out of the way.
If you’re going downhill, then it’s you who steps aside. However, you’re going uphill, you have the right of way. But regardless of guidelines, if you’re coming up to someone who has no intention of moving out of the way, then you should offer to move. Also, remember that some people may be looking to stop and rest and might offer to move aside themselves.
Remember, when the trail is wide enough that multiple people can walk alongside one another, move into a single-file formation when passing others. This allows others to pass you without trouble.
There are a few other guidelines to remember.
Disabled hikers always get the right of way. All traffic should also yield to animals such as mules or horses. If on an incline, especially if you’re uphill from the animal, ask the rider where you should stand, as sometimes pack animals get spooked if they can’t see you clearly until you’re right in front of them.
If you’re cycling, you should always yield to everyone. You should also announce when you’re coming up with either your voice, a bell, or a horn to let others know when you’re approaching.
Right of way
The final thing to remember about the right of way is to never blaze a brand new trail when you step off. Don’t truck through the underbrush, just stand aside until the traffic passes and resume your trek.
Headphones and Earbuds are Your Friends
It’s easy to find one person in a group of hikers with a boombox or portable Bluetooth speaker, blasting out their favorite tunes. However, many hikers find this unpleasant.
Some people hike and make it a social event, and in such groups quiet music might be fine. However, some people venture into the outdoors to find peace and quiet, and their wishes should be respected.
A good idea is to wear a pair of headphones or, preferably, earbuds if you’re in a group. Earbuds will allow you to wear one earbud while keeping one ear free to hear cyclists, nature, or other people.
When hiking alone, you may listen to music from your speaker, but be courteous and turn it down when passing others.
Hiking is a fun, peaceful pastime that can reconnect you with nature and help you find balance in your life, but common courtesy and good etiquette are a must to keep the peace, prevent accidents, and save the environment.