Trail Etiquette 101: The Basic Rules of Hiking

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Discover the Do's and Don'ts of how to be respectful to others and to the environment while you are out on the trail. Here is a complete guide to hiking trail etiquette - the unwritten rules of hiking - that every hiker should know.

TRAIL ETIQUETTE 101: THE BASIC RULES OF HIKING

Being aware of proper trail etiquette can make or break your’s or someone else’s experience outdoors. If you have ever found yourself held up in a traffic jam on a ridge line or wondered what is the best way to engage with another passerby on a hike you’re certainly not alone. Although trail etiquette is synonymous with common courtesy it isn’t always common sense among the masses.

Want to know more about the unwritten rules of the outdoors? Here is your guide to proper trail etiquette.

Do Uphill or Downhill Hikers Have the Right of Way?

Proper trail etiquette requires downhill hikers to always yield to uphill hikers. Why? The reason being is simply that hikers trekking uphill have a more narrow field of vision since they are concentrating on the smaller and more immediate areas in front of them. Plus, they are working hard against gravity to have a good pace and momentum to get them up that steep ridge. Since downhill hikers have gravity and a broader perspective on their side that allows them to easily see what’s ahead, it’s common courtesy to give uphill hikers the right of way.

If you are an uphill hiker trying to pass a fellow uphill hiker it’s nice not to sneak up on them and instead let them know you’re there. There’s nothing wrong with this but again, it’s important to extend others common courtesy and friendliness on the trails that you are both out there to enjoy.

Discover the Do's and Don'ts of how to be respectful to others and to the environment while you are out on the trail. Here is a complete guide to hiking trail etiquette - the unwritten rules of hiking - that every hiker should know.

Read more about how to protect your knees while hiking

Should Solo Hikers Move for Big Groups?

The answer is yes. Especially if the big group is following proper trail etiquette and hiking in single file so as to not go off trail and risk trampling wildlife. As a solo hiker or a small group, it’s easier to step aside and let the group pass. Just remember, the passing lanes on a trail are the same as when you drive a car: keep to the right and pass on the left.

Discover the Do's and Don'ts of how to be respectful to others and to the environment while you are out on the trail. Here is a complete guide to hiking trail etiquette - the unwritten rules of hiking - that every hiker should know.

What is the Trail Hierarchy of Horses, Hikers and Mountain Bikers?

While hikers are used to sharing the trail with other hikers it’s not always common to encounter someone on horseback or two wheels. Whether you are on two feet or two wheels everybody has a right to be out there, what’s most important is knowing who has the right of way in order to keep the trail safe.

  • Mountain Bikers + Hikers

If you are on a shared trail, be aware that mountain bikers should always yield to hikers. Bikes are typically moving faster than hikers and are more easy to maneuver out of the way, so it’s proper trail etiquette for bikers to yield to hikers, although both should always remain alert.

  • Horses + Hikers 

In this case, it’s the exact opposite. A rider on horseback will most definitely be moving slower and since horses can be spooked or easily lose their footing on a trail with a loose and granular surface, hikers should safely move out of their way.

Discover the Do's and Don'ts of how to be respectful to others and to the environment while you are out on the trail. Here is a complete guide to hiking trail etiquette - the unwritten rules of hiking - that every hiker should know.

What is Trail Etiquette for Dogs?

Even your pooch isn’t exempt from the rules of the trail! Always hike on dog-friendly trails and keep your furry friend on a leash if there are signs that only permit leashed dogs. If the dogs are allowed off-leash always keep your dog under control and within a line of sight. When another hiker approaches — dog or dog-less— leash your pup and step to the side. Be polite and let them know if your dog is friendly or if they are not. As a part of the Leave No Trace principles, always clean up after your dogs and keep them on the trail. Do not let them bother the wildlife or trample on flora and fauna, and don’t leave your poop bags lying aroud for others to pick up (even if you intend to pick it up on the way out).

Discover the Do's and Don'ts of how to be respectful to others and to the environment while you are out on the trail. Here is a complete guide to hiking trail etiquette - the unwritten rules of hiking - that every hiker should know.

Go backpacking with your dog for the first time!

Be Friendly to Other Hikers

It’s important to be friendly and chatty with other passersby you meet on the trail and not just because you’re all having such a great time bagging peaks and taking names. The benefit of briefly pausing to say hello, introduce yourself and chat about your plans is for safety reasons. Especially if you are on a long day hike, an overnighter or hiking solo, this could be the difference between having someone know where you are in case of an emergency or having no one to help direct rescuers at all. If you can ask them about the trail conditions ahead and if there’s anything you need to be aware of and always extend that same courtesy to other hikers if something makes you question the trail’s safety.

Discover the Do's and Don'ts of how to be respectful to others and to the environment while you are out on the trail. Here is a complete guide to hiking trail etiquette - the unwritten rules of hiking - that every hiker should know.

Should You Bring Your Smartphone on the Trail?

In the high-tech world we live in today, avoiding smartphones is nearly impossible. So what’s the consensus on bringing your technology out on the trail? Use it sparingly, discreetly and be aware of your surroundings. Don’t blast music on your phone, make loud phone calls, or get in the way of others while taking a photo. If you want to play music, we suggest a single earbud, so you can still hear or simply turn down the speaker volume when you see others coming. The bottom line is using a smartphone on the trail is a personal choice, but be aware of how you using it affects others.

Going to the Bathroom

Everybody has to pee or poop once in a while when you’re out hiking. If that’s you, set your pack off to the side of the trail so it doesn’t block the path or take it with you so critters don’t get into your food. Then, according to Leave No Trace, best practice is to go 200 feet away from any trail, campsite or water source and do your business. If 200 feet from the trail isn’t possible without trampling sensitive vegetation or falling off of a cliff, then use your common sense. Do your best to find a private spot behind a rock or a tree so passing hikers aren’t caught off guard.

And please please please, pack out any used toilet paper. Click on the blog post below to learn more about going to the bathroom outdoors.

Read our complete guide on how to poop in the woods!

Leave No Trace

An important part of following trail etiquette includes the guiding principles of Leave No Trace. In the outdoors, it’s just as important to consider your etiquette towards people as it is to the wildlife and the environment around you. This frame of mind helps all of us take better care of our wild places and recreate with respect and responsibility by being accountable for our actions. Here are two great ways to Leave No Trace while hiking; staying on the trail & packing out your trash & waste.

  • Pack out any trash you find

Always carry in and carry out your trash, recyclables and food waste, and make sure you are following Leave No Trace principles when it comes to human waste. But carrying out trash shouldn’t just be limited to your own. If you find other trash on the trail that others left behind, pack that out too. Leave it better than you found it!

  • Stay on the Trail

While hiking, be mindful and stay on the trail to avoid damaging the surrounding environment and leave the area just as you found it — including rock cairns. Don’t add or take away from those strategically placed piles of rocks, instead, simply leave them be. These rock cairns have a navigational purpose and by building your own you could cause someone else to get lost.

Discover the Do's and Don'ts of how to be respectful to others and to the environment while you are out on the trail. Here is a complete guide to hiking trail etiquette - the unwritten rules of hiking - that every hiker should know.

Got any questions? Something we missed? We want to know your the best ways that you practice trail etiquette outdoors. Leave us a message in the comment section below!

 

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Hi! I'm Kristen....blogger, hiker, sunset-watcher, and dance floor shredder. I feel most alive in the outdoors and created this website to help you enjoy the best that the West has to offer.

2 Comments on “Trail Etiquette 101: The Basic Rules of Hiking

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  1. Thanks for the article, especially clarifying who yields. Wish people would mute their damn phones!
    One thing needs correction: “Whether you are on two feet or two wheels everybody has a right to be out there.” Mountain bikes are like dogs or horses. They aren’t allowed everywhere. It’s not cool to selectively choose rules we’ll follow then toss out the rest. It makes all of us look bad when other mountain bikers are on hiker-only trails.

    Great post, especially about staying on the trail and leaving no trail. Always frustrates me when you see signs asking people to stay on the trail and people completely ignoring them.

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