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Is returning a greeting, on the trail, too much to ask?

When I meet someone on the trail, I usually say howdy or good morning, unless they are deep in conversation or obviously listening to music, then I nod.  About 25% of the time, my greeting isn't returned.  They just walk past without even looking at me.  What's up with that?  Is it really that hard to return a greeting?  Sure, if the trail is really busy, it gets to be annoying having to say hello every ten seconds, and I get that women are afraid of giving off the wrong signal, but really, it's a bit rude.  It won't kill you to return a greeting.

I am both a backpacker and a cyclist. I get the same reception from people on the trail and bike paths, they act like they are the only ones there. I always say hello, but don't always get a response. 

The world has changed a lot to me in the past 45 years since I was in school. Can't say I understand why?

Is returning a greeting, on the trail, too much to ask? No.

Is returning a greeting, on the trail, too much to expect? I believe so?

We all go hiking, camping, being on the trail for different reasons. Some of us are deep in thought, some looking for flowers or birds.............Some people want to break the bond with other humans if only for a few minutes.

Nothing personal, but sometimes I just don't want to talk to other people, especially when I've made and effort to get away from the throngs of humanity that I'm usually surrounded by.

I almost always get a response from other backpackers. It's dayhikers who seem more prone to being oblivious.

I'm willing to commit to eye contact and a nod that may include a smile. I'm often inclined to say hello and if I haven't seen a person for a few days will exclaim, "Wow, a people!!" It seems odd not to acknowledge the presence of another person on trail with at least a nod, but I do run into folks like that often enough. Some seem scared when they see me, others just seem focused. Plenty of other folks like to stop and chat so it all evens out.

Joke:

"How can you tell if a Norwegian really likes you?"

"He stares at your shoes instead of his own."

Here it is not unusual not to exchange greetings on the trail, especially in the forest areas around the city where there can be a lot of people. Out in the mountains it's more common to greet or stop and chat but still OK just to charge on by. Weegies are at their loosest/friendliest when out in the mountains. I've had some of my best Norwegian language practice in conversations on the trail or after dinner in the huts. My experience during a number of hikes during my recent year in the US and previous visits and from living and hiking in the Whites beginning in my teen years would probably be a >90% "greet rate", but it ain't the same everywhere.

Mostly I exchange greetings at some level with people i meet on the trail, but not always.  I don't get my panties in a bunch if a greeting is not returned.  i am not out there for social interaction with strangers (usually).

I know where to go and backpack to avoid people---heck it's easy.  And as JRinGeorgia says, I always like to see backpackers (well, most of the time) on my solitary and lonely trips.  Dayhikers on the other hand . . .

Dayhikers aren't out for the duration and so they have a strange mindset---as their day starts in a car and ends in a car.  I make it a habit to not strike up conversations with dayhikers because they are Done In A Day types with one hand clenched around their car keys and the other around their hiking pole.

For me (and my opinion only), interacting with dayhikers can bring down my trip mojo and throw off balance my Away From Towns and Folding Money mindset---losing a certain transcendence that comes from long periods of being outdoors.  That's just me.

I wave to people in my truck, and say "hi" to everyone on the trail.  You cannot let some other person's behavior upset you. Do not give them that power over you. 

Urbanites are not used to saying hello. 

If a lot of the people you pass on the trail do not say hello it is proof you need to find some quieter trails with less people.  

My biggest problem is having conversations with really interesting people and not making enough mileage on the trail. 

On a really good trip I won't meet anyone on the trail (if there is a trail).  You can tell I don't mess with the AT or PCT.....

I talk to everybody - drives my enemies nuts.  I'll even argue with myself, regardless we are not getting along lately, due to our political differences.  But not everybody is so social.  The other day I was shouting at the breeze, when I could get a word in edgewise between its long winded monologues.  But I no longer talk to the walls, however, as they refuse to answer any questions.

Ed  

Actually I find it 75 percent acknowledge it 25 don't where Iam at Backpackers are the ones smiling and greeting

I have said it before several times. Ed is the guy I would want to wander with. 

We never directly answered the OP's question.  Yes, it is too much to ask.  You have minimal social obligations when out and about on the trail.

As a day hiker I can’t remember ever being ignored by anyone when giving some kind of greeting or acknowledgment to another day hiker on the trail. Even people whom I hear speaking a different language will nod, smile, or say “hello” because just about everyone who comes to the US will know that. 

I learned an important lesson in Italy en Cinque Terra on the Ligurian Sea. The five towns are connected by hiking trails.  I naturally would greet people sometimes in 5 languages. Over half them would not say a word.  It bothered me at first but then the realization came, that we cannot control other people only ourselves. 

I find the same thing cycling.  I don't worry about it.  I tend to make eye-contact and say hello.  But I also understand if some people, because of either language difficulties or other reasons, choose not to respond. 

I remember one trip where my wife and I passed a group of about ten young people, all of whom marched by without returning our greetings.  When I chuckled to myself as the penultimate person passed me, the last guy stopped and explained that they were on a spiritual retreat for the trip, and had taken a vow of silence for the day.

Okey dokey. 

The rituals we practice.  Sometimes we receive acknowledgment, but it is subtle, nuanced.  In the Middle and far East some cultures do not encourage overt, casual, exchanges between passing strangers, especially of the opposite sex.  But even the women will exchange an acknowledgment of sorts.  Typically these "non-exchange" societies acknowledge strangers with a redirection of their eyes and entire body, a respectful looking away if you will.  Keyword: respect. Even if they are already looking away, there is a change from their status quo posture and gaze to this subtle, ritualistic acknowledgement.  And if you reply with a similar, respectful, nod to the side, the passing stranger can be seen to relax a bit seeing the respect is mutual.

Ed

I've passed groups of young folks on the AT that would not acknowledge me and looked spooked that I talked to them. Then I realized, they were probably really stoned.

I say hi as well. Spent some time hiking around Germany, France, Spain and it was different there. In remote areas you'd get an acknowledgment, but lets say you were seeing others once per hour. Often they'd not make eye contact. This is 10+ years ago so maybe it's changed. I never took it personally, could just be I'm funny looking. I'm back in the Southern part of the U.S. and we're all funny looking down here, and we all say Hi on the trail.

I've passed groups of young folks on the AT that would not acknowledge me and looked spooked that I talked to them. Then I realized, they were probably really stoned.

I don't know Patrick...if you had just come onto the trail from one of your off-trail scrambles like I know you do, you might have looked like some sort of wild man with sticks in his hair and scratches all over his legs...I've certainly got some weird looks after my off-trail adventures.

I just returned from 3 days near home on the Eldorado NF near Carson Pass.  We got access to our area on the PCT.  Every single person said hello.  Most were so friendly it slowed down our travel time having conversations about fires, raft trips, dogs and forestry.  It was during the week and nearly all older people.  It was 29 last night. 

On a bike trip I exchanged the index finger wave with a farmer, he lifted his finger from the steering wheel the same. Two hours later, same pickup and farmer, same wave.

Stop in a diner for lunch, went to pay, waitress says “ He’s paying “, my farmer buddy.

When I drive to Seattle from Nevada to see relatives, I take the "back way" on some remote ranch country up the East Side. I avoid I-5 completely.  I wave to people on the remote roads and most of them wave back.  It is the opposite of being stuck in traffic on the interstate.  We all can make choices about how we travel. 

If you do not like the response you get from people on the trail, find some lonelier trails and your problem will be solved. 

October 31, 2020
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