Trail Etiquette

Trail Etiquette

Doing your part to make the hiking experience pleasant for everyone is important, but it’s more important to ensure that, while you’re in the wilderness, you don’t trash it or erode protected areas. Having manners and being a responsible hiker go hand-in-hand. Here are a few tips on Trail Etiquette.


Folks who play music on speakers while they hike: my biggest pet-peeve. Having your headphones in is one thing. But many people go hiking to listen to the wind through the trees, the birds, the rushing creek. They don’t want the noise of everyday life in the wilderness, let alone whatever crap is blasting from your speakers. Keep your music to yourself and let the rest of us enjoy the sounds of nature. This is particularly important because sound carries in the wilderness – I can often hear people’s music from a quarter mile up the trail. And I hate it. Don’t be that person, please.

Letting hikers pass

There are a couple occasions where you might need to let a hiker pass, and there are different ways to handle it. First is when a hiker is behind you, and listening for other hikers around you is a good idea. I’m often hiking faster than the other hikers around me, and getting other hikers who aren’t paying attention to stand to the side is bothersome. First, when I say excuse me, they are often startled because they’re not paying attention to the sounds around them. Second, once they realize they need to move, they get frazzled and jump into the bushes on the side of the trail, which isn’t a good idea for both safety and for ensuring the wilderness is protected and people stay on the trail (and not erode the rest of the wilderness).

If a hiker comes up behind you, stand to the side and let them pass – and tell the others in your group ahead of you to do the same. If you’re so unaware of your surroundings that you can’t hear a hiker stomping behind you, you probably shouldn’t be out where a bear can attack you. On the other hand, I’ve had hikers turn around, look at me coming up quickly behind them, and then just continue on their casual stroll as I ride their heels. That’s just obnoxious.

The second occasion where you should let a hiker pass is when you are going opposite directions. If the other hiker sees you first and stands over to the side, just continue and go past them – whether you’re going up or down. The stand-off of each person trying to urge the other to go ahead is annoying. Whoever stands to the side first continues standing there while the other passes. Period.

If neither hiker stands to the side, whomever is going faster gets to pass – which is usually the people going downhill. Yes, they often want to be nice and let the people struggling uphill go first, but that takes way longer than letting the people going downhill go first.

In regards to which side of the trail to stand on while another person passes, there are two rules. If there is a cliff on one side, stand to the non-cliff side for safety reasons. If it’s safe on both sides, stand to the right – we’re in America where everyone drives on the right, passes on the left, and it’s the same for trails.


C’mon folks, you’re in the pristine wilderness that is only preserved by each individual taking responsibility for themselves. That means leaving the wilderness less garbage-filled than you found it. Pack it in, pack it out, and if you see garbage that someone else left, swallow your “well it’s not mine” ego and pick it up. That’s the only way our wilderness areas will be conserved.

If you’re camping in the wilderness, PLEASE – leave no trace. It breaks my heart when I come across a completely trashed campsite that otherwise would have made for a beautiful scene in the woods. The people who trash the wilderness obviously have no appreciation for it and shouldn’t be there.

Stay on the trail

Don’t take shortcuts, don’t go off trail. That’s not only how people get lost and hurt, but it’s also how wilderness areas get eroded and trails then have to be shut down for restoration.

Abide by regulations

Regulations in the wilderness are not there to cut down on your own freedom, but rather to protect the wilderness. If everyone ignored the regulations, we wouldn’t have any wilderness left to enjoy. So follow the rules and preserve the wilderness.

The first big one is fires. If an area has a fire ban, don’t light a campfire, even if there’s a circle of rocks suggesting it’s okay. Fire bans are in place for a reason, and with the Earth heating up like a furnace, foliage is often so dry that it’ll catch fire with a single spark — and that’s how forest fires happen.

But fire bans are also in place to prevent problems with smoke. Smoke is hard for other hikers to breathe in (and they need to be breathing, often very hard), while it also contributes to smog and totally ruins everyone’s good views.

AND, whether or not fires are allowed, don’t use all the branches, leaves, etc., from the wilderness. The forest is an ecological system, and the decay of fallen foliage helps to foster new growth, enriches the soil, and is a major part of the cycle of the ecosystem you are spending some time in. Respect that. Not everything in the world is for human use and consumption. Don’t burn up the forest, even if you think something is dead and won’t be used – it will, it’s a part of the ecology, and it needs to remain.

The second major one is camping locations. Don’t camp where a sign clearly says “no camping,” or in an area that doesn’t allow camping. There’s a reason it’s not allowed, and it’s often because the wilderness area is already struggling and can’t handle that kind of traffic or damage.

If you are camping, following camping regulations and etiquette (I could write a whole post just about this). Do your bathroom business more than 200 feet away from water sources. Pack it in, pack it out. Be quiet after dusk so other campers can listen to nature (or sleep). Don’t trudge through other campsites. Ya know, normal stuff.


There are many more pieces of etiquette I could write about, and I hope to expand on the camping one in particular in a future post. Little pieces of trail etiquette go a long way in both preserving our wilderness and keeping the experience pleasant for everyone.

Categories: Camping, Hiking, Nature

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