Open main menu

Hiking Etiquette 101

by Alicia MacLeay
February 24, 2010

If you've hiked or backpacked, you've probably observed someone breaking one of the exalted but unwritten rules of hiking and trail etiquette. Whether an infraction is the result of innocent ignorance or deep character flaws can be debatable, as are the rules and codes themselves.

The American Hiking Society recently included the following hiking etiquette reminders in their newsletter. Share your own below.

  • Hike quietly. Speak in low voices and turn your cell phone down if not off. Enjoy the sounds of nature and let others do the same.
  • If taking a break, move off the trail a little ways to allow others to pass by unobstructed.
  • Don't toss your trash — not even biodegradable items such as banana peels. It is not good for animals to eat non-native plants/foods and who wants to look at your old banana peel while it ever-so-slowly decomposes? If you packed it in, pack it out.
  • Hikers going downhill yield to those hiking uphill.
  • Leave what you find. The only souvenirs a hiker should come home with are photographs and happy memories — and maybe an improved fitness level!
  • When "going" in the outdoors, please do so 200 feet from the trail and any water sources. Follow Leave No Trace principles when doing so.
  • Walk through the mud or puddle and not around it, unless you can do so without going off-trail. Widening a trail be going around puddles, etc. is bad for trail sustainability.
  • When hiking in a group, don't take up the whole width of the trail; allow others to pass.

Here are a few more from me:

  • Acknowledge others on the trail with a smile, nod, or brief "hello" at the minimum. No one has to stop or even slow down to do this, but it's good manners to recognize your fellow hikers.
  • I'll go one step further than AHS and say, turn your cell phone off. Then stow it away in your pack and forget you even brought it.
  • If you hike with your dog, have your pet under control at all times. On the flip side, when you meet well-behaved dogs on the trail, recognize that effort and training and praise them and their owners.
  • If someone is hiking faster than you, just let them pass. Do not try to walk faster, then slow down, then walk faster, and so on. If you're the one hiking faster, don't hike on someone's heels. Wait for an appropriate spot to pass and politely excuse yourself past them.
  • Don't drop anything off a cliff.
  • Unless you're officially involved in trail construction, don't start building rock piles on summits or trails because they look neat. Those rock piles are called cairns and are used for route finding.

Are you a stickler about trail etiquette or rules? Do certain acts get your hiking goat? Maybe you've been the guilty party yourself...(gasp).

I'm human, so I know I've broken a rule or two. The problem is, I don't know when because I was probably oblivious at the time. I will say that years later I still remember that group who kept yelling across the peaks in the southern Presidentials, and the fancy-dressed lady in Shenandoah National Park who looked at us like we were scum for making eye contact and saying "hello" while passing on the trail.

However, as most of us have found, the majority of people on the trail are friendly. So offer up a smile to the next one you meet. And assume the best of others, and hopefully others will assume the best of you.

Share your own rules or stories of gross hiking infractions below.