Hiking Etiquette – Manners and Decorum of the Trail’s High Soceity
Hiking Etiquette, manners, decorum, all traits of the Trail’s High Soceity. Trail Etiquette helps to make sure we can all enjoy our next outing. Let’s face it, hikers are not often the hoity-toity type. You won’t often see passers by sipping tea, pinkies up, laughing in a strange belly cackle about how important they are. That doesn’t mean that we are uncivilized however.
This article will help expose and remind all of us of the art of the trail. Who gives way as a Mountain Biker passes a Hiker. The safest way to allow a horse to pass on the trail. The importance of and reasoning behind having a system for who should give way, and how to let other hikers pass.
Proper trail manners not only keep us all safe, they save the trail and environment, and make sure we all have an enjoyable time. I can’t tell you how many times my family and I have been on hikes where we were practically forced to give the right away to every passer by. Not one person stepping aside for us. Even as we were forging forward, breathing hard, sweating, sometimes crying softly as we all have done on a long steep incline, we were pushed to the side.
Some Examples of How Your Behavior Affects a Hike
Down the trail a large group, loudly talking about Real Estate Investment’s and funny cat videos, walking shoulder to shoulder in militaristic rows of three. A loose dog runs by slamming into my knee and rubbing mud from my ankle to my knee. My wife and son performing a circus balancing show on the lip of a cliff as the group forces their way by on the inside of the trail. It sounds like a nightmare, but unfortunately some version of this has happened more than once.
My wife and I have always been big on manners. Trail manners are no different. It is hard to teach our son the proper way to respect other hikers and trail users when 75% of them never follow the rules. It is easy to tell most of the time that they just don’t know. They trip awkwardly by in shiny new boots that match their cute new REI back pack and outfit. These are the people I love to see. Fresh and new to the trail. Virgin explorers taking it all in, and learning a new way of life. It’s just someone needs to teach them the short list of rules that keeps the trail safe and enjoyable.
Bullies aren’t the high society we aim to emulate on the trail. Leave that sort of elitism to Wall Street. We aim to emulate the polite experienced intelligent upper class as the trail’s elite.
Below you will learn a little about the short list of rules that will help us all share the trail correctly as members of the Trail’s High Society.
Hiking Etiquette Basics
- Always yield to someone coming up hill if you are heading down. This for me is a rule for any hiker, biker, horse, or moving thing. It is much harder going up, so politely take the side, and let people moving up hill go by.
- It is polite to nod your head or say hello. Don’t akwardly stare in silence.
- It is a good idea when passing anyone from behind to let them know by saying “On your left” or “On your right” – remember they don’t have eyes in the back of their head.
- If you are in a group, try to hike single file. Absolutely hike single file when passing someone from behind or on coming. Stay on the trail!
- If you are slower, find a safe place to step to the side and let others pass.
- I love dogs, and if you hike with a dog you most likely do as well. This doesn’t mean everyone wants your dog in their space. Keep your dog close, and on a leash if other hikers are around.
- Keep your noise to a minimum. It is great to enjoy the outdoors with a group, but if I can hear your discussion about Escrow percentages from 3 switchbacks down, I am sure you can drop the volume a little.
How to Safely Give the Right of Way
Let’s take a brief moment to talk about safely giving the right of way.
- Always stay on the trail. Step to the side, but not off into the brush to allow others to pass.
- If you are on a trail with a steep drop to one side, it is best to step of the trail to the side away from the steep drop. This may not always be the case, so you will need to communicate with other trail users and may need to use the other side of the trail to give way. However, I would approximate 90% of the time it is safer to step to the side of the trail furthest from a drop off to give way.
- Communicate! Sometimes you may need to verbally or physically communicate with other trail users so that you can understand and come to an agreement of who is giving way, and which direction they will step to the side of the trail.
Hiking Etiquette is Important, But Safety Comes First
Sure there are some rules about trail usage that say this person or this animal gets the right of way. These rules don’t work in every situation however. Safety should always come first. Just because the rule says a Mountain Biker is supposed to give you the Right of Way, does not mean that they will. Don’t expect everyone to follow the rules. Just do your best to use good Hiking Etiquette, and along the way I am sure you will teach others. Often, we find that as we hike, other families will watch how we handle situations and will start to mimic our actions. Not everyone is a professional hiker, and many people are just learning.
Be a good example for others, but don’t expect everyone else to follow the rules. Always do what seems the safest for your group or family.
Hiker vs Hiker
Anyone moving uphill has the right of way. They will have a smaller field of vision, and it is always proper to move to side and let someone heading up hill pass when you are headed downhill. However, hiking uphill is hard. Many times someone headed up hill may want to stop for a breather, and will happily do so giving you the right of way. This is common, but it is completely up to the person moving up hill to do so.
If you are passing someone from behind, I feel it is best to say which side you are going to pass on. Say it loudly, as they may be zoning out or wearing headphones. Be careful not to startle them. I always appreciate someone saying “On your left” if they will be passing on my left, or “On your right” if they will be passing on my right. This is especially important for Trail Runners and Mountain Bikers. So if you are moving fast make sure you let the person know which side you will be passing on.
Here is another safety measure my family and I take when we hike on busy trails.
You could just trust everyone else on the trail to use proper etiquette, but lets be honest, that is seldom the reality. Whenever my family and I are on a busy trail, especially one full of trail runners, mountain bikers, or even other quick moving vehicles we always hike in a single file line.
If the person in front of the group sees an on coming mountain bike or runner they yell “In Front” just loud enough for everyone in our group to hear and get out of the way. If the person in the back hears or sees an on coming mountain bike or runner they yell “In Back” just loud enough for everyone in our group to hear and get out of the way.
Technically it is the job of the person coming at your group to alert you and pass safely, however this seldom happens. It is unfortunate, but it is reality. Also, if you have a group of people moving slowly, not in single file, or taking up the majority of the trail and someone comes quickly around a corner on a Mountain Bike or Vehicle your slow ASS just became a very dangerous obstacle.
There are some rules about sharing the trail with vehicles and mountain bikes, but in the next section I will share my opinion.
Mountain Bikes, Runners, and Vehicles
This is one area where good Hiking Etiquette can be confusing. For the ease of understanding we will use the term Mountain Biker in this section to describe anyone riding any vehicle or running at a high rate of speed on a trail. This is because they are the most common, and the rules are the same. The rules of the trail say that a Mountain Biker should give way to any other person on the trail, rather they are hiking or riding a horse or trail animal.
DON’T BLINDLY FOLLOW THIS RULE!
Mountain Bikers are often moving at a high speed. Also, if they stop they have to dismount and then remount their bike to get moving again. I say it is always best for a hiker to give way to a mountain biker, especially if that person is moving up hill. Can you imagine having to stop your bike, dismount, and then restart up a steep grade every time a hiker passes?
If a mountain bike is headed up hill treat them exactly like another hiker and give them the right of way.
In almost every situation it is safer for you and the Mountain Biker, for you to give them the right of way.
What about horses or trail animals though? Lets explore trail etiquette when animals are involved.
Horses and other Trail Animals
I always give way to Horses and or other Trail Animals, and would suggest you do the same. Here are some tips to do this safely.
- Step as far out of the way as possible.
- Do not make any loud noises or quick movements that might spook the animals.
- Do not ever run up on the back of a Horse or other Trail Animal. Stay far out of the kicking radius of the back legs.
- Control your pets! If you have a dog or other animal that is excited or aggressive towards the animals which are easily spooked this is a dangerous situation for all animals and persons on the trail. If your dog is lunging towards the Trail Animals or making loud aggressive noises it may be best to back track. Hike back a ways until you can find a good spot that gives plenty of room for the Horses to pass.
- These animals are fun, and can make some great picture opportunities. Never reach out or grab a Horse or other Trail Animal in an attempt to stop it or slow it down. I know you want a picture, but safety comes first. Maybe if you ask the rider politely, they can position the Horse in a safe manner so you can take a picture.
So there it is. A simple breakdown of some rules, manners, and behaviors that will help everyone on the trail stay safe and happy. Hiking Etiquette is key in our enjoyment of the outdoors. It is your job to be an advocate for polite and intelligent hiking, mountain biking, horse riding, and trail usage. You have now graduated into a new class of elite outdoor enthusiasts. I hope that your new manners and knowledge keep yourself and others safe. Welcome to the trails high society.
Leave No Trace Ethics
Many of the concepts taught in this article are included in Leave No Trace. Others are my own opinion, and things I have picked up over the years on hundreds of camping excursions. Leave No Trace is an important idea and teaching, and classes are available on their site. The program consists of seven key principles. I recommend you take sometime to learn the principles, or even get more involved and become a trainer or part of the program.