If you spend enough time on the trails, it’s inevitable that you’ll run into others during your hike. And just as with any activity, there are unwritten guidelines as to how to behave to keep things running smoothly.
If you’re new to hiking, or you know someone who is, be sure you’re aware of these customs to avoid being “that jerk” on the local trails.
Yielding & Right-of-Way
The general rules for yielding are:
- Everyone yields to horses, as they are the least maneuverable & most unpredictable trail users.
- Bikers yield to hikers, as bikers are considered more maneuverable than hikers (and can cause them more damage).
- Downhill hikers yield to uphill hikers, as they are expending less energy.
- Hikers in a group should yield to singles & pairs.
Of course, that’s what’s supposed to happen, but it doesn’t always play out that way.
Because bikers are often travelling faster than those on foot, sometimes it’s easier to step aside to allow bikers to pass. However, bikers are also expected to announce themselves to avoid a collision – a simple “on your left!” will do.
But I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been nearly bowled over by inexperienced bikers who didn’t say a word before they whizzed by.
I’ve also lost count of the number of downhill hikers who didn’t stop or at least step to the side to yield as I headed uphill.
Granted, sometimes you build momentum heading downhill that’s tough to stop, or you encounter someone mid-scramble and you have to get yourself to a spot where you can step aside.
But generally speaking, the person putting in more work should have the opportunity to continue without breaking stride.
And if they want to rest, let them wave you on before you continue downhill.
Just as on the road, slower traffic stays to the right while faster traffic passes to the left. And if the trail is narrow, slower traffic should step to the side to allow someone to pass.
However, as noted above, bikers should announce themselves with a simple, “on your left!” before passing. As a hiker, that means you need to stay to the right.
If you’re passing another hiker, you can also announce, “on your left,” but sometimes a simple, “pardon me” or “excuse me, on your left” may be easier depending upon the situation.
Pack it In, Pack it Out
It should go without saying, but if you’re spending time in the woods, you need to take your crap with you.
I think I speak for most of my fellow hikers when I say that seeing cigarette butts, beer cans, bottles, diapers & other trash is infuriating.
An item might accidentally fall out of someone’s pack, but many times these things are left behind because someone was too lazy to pack them back out.
If you aren’t familiar with Leave No Trace Principles, check out their 7 principles here, which include planning ahead, leaving what you find, disposing of waste properly, being considerate of other visitors & respecting wildlife.
While phones are fine for photos, texts or emails, they shouldn’t be used for loud phone calls or blaring your favorite music.
As a fellow hiker, it is thoroughly irritating to be assaulted with someone’s thrash metal, hardcore rap, or boisterous phone conversation while I am trying to find a little peace outdoors. So please be considerate and keep the phone calls & music to a minimum while you are sharing space with others.
Don’t Be Obnoxious
Along the same lines, if you’re out with friends – or even by yourself – be respectful of others. Unless you’re in trouble, there’s no need to holler, argue or otherwise make a spectacle of yourself.
By all means, be friendly, say hello to others & carry on conversations with your friends along the trail. But use common sense & keep your volume at a courteous level.
Give Fellow Hikers Some Space
One morning I hiked to a local mountaintop & was quietly enjoying the view when two people emerged from one of the nearby trails.
Now, on smaller peaks, you may be in close proximity by default & everyone does their best to give one another some space.
But that’s not what happened here.
Despite having hundreds of square feet from which to choose, these two people sat RIGHT next to me at a picnic table, unpacked their bags & started talking.
Eventually we struck up a conversation (uh, it was kind of difficult NOT to) & they were nice enough. But I had a tough time overcoming that mental hurdle. Because out of three other picnic tables & more than enough open space, they chose to sit TWO FREAKING FEET from me.
Don’t. Do. That.
Unless you know them or need assistance, allow fellow hikers to enjoy their zen.
While I’m not advocating that people never speak to one another, it’s usually obvious when someone is keeping to themselves.
If you encounter someone who seems chatty & outgoing, by all means strike up a conversation. But if you encounter someone who appears quiet or focused, respect their wishes & give them space.
Leave What You Find
As the saying goes, “take only photos, leave only footprints.”
Whether it’s rocks, pine cones, feathers, frogs, salamanders, nests or other items, resist the urge to take any “souvenirs” with you after your hike.
Clean Up After Your Dog
Last but not least, everyone’s favorite outdoor topic: dogs.
Though dogs can make loyal & loving companions, be sure that they are always under your control when you head outside.
And if they poop on the trail, be sure that you have a baggie to pick it up.
Now – here’s the part that many people overlook – even if they poop OFF the trail – you’re still responsible for picking it up!
A lot of dog owners use local conservation lands as an easy way to get their dogs some exercise without having to clean up after them.
But that’s not how it works.
When you take your dog outdoors, you’re responsible for picking up after them regardless of where they go (and regardless of how big the dog is).
Though you might think that their waste is “biodegradable” – it’s not that simple.
Dog waste contains a number of bacteria & viruses that can cause trouble in local waterways…not to mention wastewater facilities aren’t equipped to filter dog waste.
While you might not enjoy it, cleaning up after your dog is part of your responsibility as a dog owner.
To learn more, check out this helpful infographic via Bangor Daily News that showcases why dog waste isn’t as innocuous as you might think.
The trails offer us boundless opportunities for fun, fitness, peace & solitude.
But they can also offer frustration when others don’t behave as they should.
When you head outside, always be courteous & polite, and follow these unwritten rules of the trail to make everyone’s outing more enjoyable.