How Not to Be a Jerk on the Trails: 11 Hiking Etiquette Tips
May 24, 2021
You may have heard the expression that everyone should hike their own hike. That’s definitely true, but it doesn’t mean you have free reign to be a jerk. If we all follow a few basic rules of hiking etiquette, it’s much easier to share the trails and ensure everyone has a fun and safe hike.
Say “hello” or greet others with a smile when you pass them on the trail. We are all part of the same friendly outdoor community.
Skip the Music
Many hikers like listening to birdsong or the wind whistling through the trees. Leave the music at home. If your hike requires a soundtrack, wear headphones, but keep the volume low or just wear one earbud so you can listen for wildlife and other hazards. (Myth Busted: Playing music doesn’t deter bears. The sound doesn’t carry very far and bears may not associate it with humans. Sing or talk loudly to warn bears of your presence.)
Stay on the Trail
Park staff and volunteers have worked hard to create and maintain trails that are durable enough to stand up to thousands of bootprints. Walking off-trail can damage fragile vegetation and cause erosion. Stay on the trail and don’t cut switchbacks. Keep out of closed areas: they are out of bounds to protect the ecosystem or because there are dangerous areas for hikers.
Know Who Has the Right of Way
Traditionally, uphill hikers and faster hikers have the right of way so they don’t have to break their stride. As well, larger groups should let smaller groups pass. But lots of people aren’t familiar with this practice. The best thing to do is greet other hikers with a friendly “hello” or “excuse me”, then ask to pass or tell them you’ll step aside for them.
Hikers should always yield to horseback riders. Step off the trail to avoid spooking the horses. Hikers have the right of way when they meet a cyclist, but since it can take time for bikers to slow down, it’s best to be alert when hiking on multi-use trails.
Share the Viewpoints
Limit your time at mountain summits or popular viewpoints so that everyone gets a chance to enjoy them. Choose a lunch or snack spot out of the way so that other groups can enjoy the view too.
Pack Out ALL Your Trash
Garbage can be an eyesore on the trail. Plan to pack everything out with you by bringing a trash bag on every hike. Of course, plastic bags and wrappers are trash, but did you know that you should pack out biodegradable trash like banana peels too? They can take months or years to decompose. In the meantime, they look disgusting and attract wildlife.
Learn How to Go to the Bathroom the Leave No Trace Way
Do research ahead of time to find out if there are toilets on the trail and plan to use them. If there’s no outhouse, find a spot 70 big steps away from trails, campsites, and water sources. Do your business in a hole that is 6”/15cm deep, then cover it up. Pack out your toilet paper. Use hand sanitizer when you’re done. Check out How to Go to the Bathroom on a Hike for more details.
Don’t Feed the Wildlife
Animals that are fed learn to depend on humans for food, which can make them aggressive and dangerous. Human food is junk food for wildlife and can make them sick. Read our post about Why You Shouldn’t Feed Wildlife for more info.
Give Wildlife Space
Spotting wild animals while you hike is always exciting, but your presence can scare them away from their feeding areas or young. Be respectful by giving them lots of space. Use the zoom lens on your camera or binoculars, not your feet, to get a closer look. Never touch or hold wildlife.
Be Mindful of Your Dog
Dogs can have a big impact on wildlife, ecosystems, and other hikers. Follow park regulations if you hike with your dog. Some parks don’t allow dogs, while others require a leash. Research dog regulations before you go.
Your dog’s poop contains bacteria and diseases that aren’t found in the wilderness, so please pack it out. Don’t leave bagged dog poop beside the trail. Many people forget to pick them up and they become an eyesore. (Tip: Bring a sealed container like an old peanut butter jar to carry out poop bags in a stink-free way.)
Respect Park Rules
While park rules may sometimes seem like a buzzkill, they are usually in place to prevent damage to ecosystems, to keep hikers safe, and to ensure everyone can enjoy the wilderness. Research rules ahead of time on park websites and keep an eye out for signs along the trail.
Taryn Eyton is a Squamish-based outdoor and adventure travel writer and Leave No Trace Master Educator. She is the founder of the hiking website HappiestOutdoors.ca and the author of Backpacking in Southwestern British Columbia: The Essential Guide to Overnight Hiking Trails (Greystone Books, 2021).