I love the great outdoors because it is an open place for all to explore. One can enjoy it with their 5-year-old sibling, their 75-year-old grandma or by themselves with just them and a backpack. It can be a leisure stroll to a city overlook or an intense mission to summit a treacherous mountain. The natural world gives us a sense of freedom and calmness that one can’t get anywhere else. It’s a great stress reliever from our busy everyday lives.
When you’re outdoors, you’re not alone. We share the outdoors with hundreds of plants, animals, and people. There are unwritten rules and guidelines you need to follow — not only for your sake but for others too. Below we’ve put together a list for your handy dandy guide to hiking etiquette 101. Keep these in mind the next time you step into the outdoors.
Your Handy Dandy Guide to Hiking Etiquette 101:
Respect the Sound of Nature. The chirping of the birds, the rustling of the leaves, the howling of the wind, and the rippling of the rivers and streams — these are all sounds of nature people love. It’s peaceful and serene. Playing loud music on hikes can ruin this experience for others. More importantly, the loud music can also disturb animals who use nature’s sounds for survival methods or mating calls. If one must listen to music, please wear earphones instead. Although, I recommend putting all that away and to listen to the natural sounds around you.
Stay Right, Pass Left. Most trails are only wide enough for one party to go up or down. So who steps aside? The rule-of-thumb is the ones hiking down do. Going down, one has gravity on their side, which makes it easier for them to stop and start again. However, when going up, one is hiking against gravity and it would be harder to regain momentum after a few seconds of rest.
Stay on the Trail. It’s tempting to go off trail or cut switchbacks. Many do it for some risky “fun” and because they want to take a shortcut to the top. Stop doing that. Respect the trail by staying on it to reduce erosion and protect the plants that live there. Plus, trail helpers have put their back and sweat into the creation of the trail. Honor their hard work by using it.
Leave No Trace. Keep this in mind: “Take only memories, leave only footprints” – Chief Seattle. The outdoors is for everyone to enjoy. Pack out trash and leave the environment more pristine than it was when you got there. Be a good samaritan and go the extra mile to pick up other people’s trash seen on the trails too.
Leave Flora and Fauna Alone. The environment is a fragile ecosystem and everything has its place. Leave flowers, foliage, rocks, acorns, and pinecones alone. Nature is not a museum for us to come and take items home as souvenirs. Bees and butterflies depend on wildflowers for seed, nectar, and pollination. Squirrels pick up pine cones to stow away for the winter. When these are taken home, one hurts the chances of nature replanting and regrowing its natural ecosystem. The same goes for animals. If a baby animal looks lonely or cold, let them be. It is part of the natural cycle of the wild. If one interferes, it could end badly (click here).
Don’t Drink Standing Water. Avoid standing water at all cost. It is the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes; they love to hang out and lay their eggs in it. Instead, use running streams, or waterfalls, or any active body of water to filter drinkable water.
Hike Ahead When You See Stacks of Rocks. Lost? Pro Tip: look for a stack of at least three rocks. A stack of rocks on a trail is unnatural, meaning another hiker must have put it there. It is a trail marker indicating that it’s the right trail. With that being said, don’t stack rocks for fun; it can confuse hikers and potentially lead them to the wrong trail.
Do Your Business in the Natural Restroom. When out hiking, one should never assume restrooms will be found along the trail. So what is there to do? Go in nature! We’ve discussed this before in our backpacking article, but here’s a refresher. Peeing is easy; pick a spot at least 100 feet away from the trail, waterways, and campsites to do your business. Pooping is a bit trickier. First, pick a spot at least 200 feet away from the trail, waterways, and campsites. Then, gather smooth sticks, rocks or leaves to use as “toilet paper” (it’s less messy and cleaner than using actual toilet paper). After, dig a hole at least 6 inches deep, and do your your thing. When done, cover the hole and put a stick standing straight up, letting others know to avoid that area.
Stay Distant from Wildlife. It’s not every day one gets to see a bear, a bison, a bighorn sheep, or a wolf. Even smaller animals such as snakes and marmots are rare to encounter. Although it can be exciting, remember that they are still wild. It’s very important to keep a distance and to not startle them. Pro Tip: before heading outdoors, do research about the animals that live there and what do do if you encounter one.
Disconnect to Reconnect. When we stare at our phones all day, we forget to look up and see the world in front of us. Like the city, there is always something to see and hear in the natural world. Put away the phones, leave the selfie sticks at home, and enjoy what the natural world has to offer. Pro Tip: it’s okay to take a few snaps here and there, but also make sure you are not taking too long and standing in someone’s way.
Smile Like You Mean It. When I first started hiking, I couldn’t help but notice how nice people were. Everyone was happy, smiling, and acknowledging one another. This was quite a shock as I was used to people ignoring me on the streets. So get friendly and say hi to your fellow hikers. We’re all enjoying the outdoors together.