Contributed by Katie Levy of Adventure-Inspired
We’re getting closer and closer to spring hiking season, and as the weather gets nicer, more outdoor enthusiasts will take advantage of warmer temperatures to get outside. Trail etiquette is important no matter the time of year, but when trails get crowded, it’s essential to observe a few key unwritten and written rules to make the experience as enjoyable as possible for you and other hikers.
What you take into the woods with you comes out with you.
It should go without saying, but somehow I still frequently see items like water bottles and granola bar wrappers left behind. Even on the most well-used trails, the “pack it in, pack it out” concept is still crucial to the protection of the landscape and to the enjoyment of others using the trail, including organic matter. Things like orange peels and apple cores take time to decompose, and if they’re not native to the area, tossing them into the brush is even worse.
Be courteous with technology on the trail.
As ubiquitous as smartphones and other gadgets are these days and as useful as they can be in emergencies, most of us are familiar with seeing them in use on the trails. But that doesn’t mean everyone around us wants to hear our text message alerts, ringtones, and favorite music or bump into us because we’re not paying attention to where we’re walking.
Keep your phones on silent unless it’s essential you hear alerts, and if you do stop to use your phone, make sure you’re not blocking other trail users. Also consider leaving your headphones at home. Listening to music makes it tougher to hear what’s going on around you, including other trail users and wildlife.
Know who has the right of way.
During peak hiking season (and even during non-peak hiking season), you’re bound to run into other people making good use of the trails. But what happens if you run into someone on a mountain bike or on a horse?
As a rule of thumb, no matter what method of transportation you’re using—two wheels or two feet—horses have the right of way. Step in the downhill direction from the horse when you’re yielding to avoid spooking them. As another rule of thumb, mountain bikers should yield to hikers. As always, let common sense guide you. If it’s easier for you as a hiker to yield to an oncoming cyclist flying down a hill, step aside to help keep everyone safe. Know what direction has the right of way.
In addition to the hierarchy of who yields to who, it’s important to remember that if you run into another hiker or hiking party coming uphill toward you, they have the right of way. As much fun as it can be to run downhill, going uphill is a lot of work. Interrupting the pace of an upward-bound hiker is a no no, unless they let you know it’s OK. I know I’m often grateful for an opportunity to step aside and take a break! Offer to yield first, then let that upward-bound hiker make the call.
Do your business far, far off trail, and clean up afterward.
The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is pretty specific around how to relieve yourself in the woods with minimal impact on the environment and other outdoor enthusiasts. Specifically, “Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug six to eight inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.”
And even if you’re not depositing solid human waste, ultimately getting yourself far away from trails and being picky about where you do your business makes it less likely that someone else will stumble upon your temporary bathroom spot. Try bringing a sandwich bag with you to pack toilet paper and hygiene products in, too. There’s not much worse than seeing a pile of used TP in the woods.
What other rules do you think we should add to the list? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!