Hiking & Camping Etiquette or How NOT to Be an A*hole on the Trail
We leave our urban shelters and go in the Nature to find beauty, peacefulness and clear air. It’s utterly annoying when inconsiderate and selfish folks ruin the experience for others.
Do you want to know what the hiking etiquette is to not be “that obnoxious hiker” people talk about when they are back from the trail? Read on!
Hiking Etiquette – while on the trail
Breaking Leave No Trace rules.
I won’t go long on them here, as I wrote an article on it already. The general idea is – don’t damage, let the natural beauty be enjoyed by others, too. Take your garbage out, don’t leave behind anything – that includes organic waste like fruit peels. Learn how to relieve yourself in the wild. If that grosses you out, don’t go hiking in Nature.
The first rule of the Leave No Trace codex is to prepare. It’s annoying and dangerous when people go out to hike trails they haven’t read about, come unprepared and endanger themselves and/or others.
Each year we hear about the mountain rescue saving unprepared tourists who had no respect for Mother Nature.
Be aware of the specifics of you destinations – the weather, conditions, sunset time, early escape routes, etc.
Know the Right of Way
This is particularly important when hiking on narrow trails. The general rule on hills is, the person who walks downhill yields to the hiker climbing. Why? Because it’s really hard to climb hills and quite often it takes a lot of energy to build up the momentum. Being forced to step aside when not ready for a break will make starting again hard. It might be that the climber will want to take a break anyway – but that’s their call.
I remember when I was hiking recently in Iceland I had this annoying problem. I was kind of hiking against the traffic, as I chose to go north bound and most hikers go the other direction.
At one point I had to go up almost 300 m mountain on a very narrow and steep trail. Some people stepped aside to my puffing and sweating self, but some – mostly engaged in loud talk with friends – didn’t seem to even notice me, so I preferred to step aside instead of them bumping into me or something.
Be aware of other hikers trying to pass you, too. There are folks who walk faster than you and might want to pass you from behind – don’t suddenly speed up, just let them pass. Everyone should be able to walk in their own pace – no matter if it’s faster or slower than the average.
If you are the one who is about to pass someone from behind, don’t scare them by suddenly appearing next to them! Make some noise ahead of it – hit your poles, call “hi” or something like that.
If there are any cyclists around – they should yield to hikers. And everyone yields to horses. For your own and the rider’s safety, step on the downhill side of the path to not seem like a predator to the horse.
Be friendly and polite
Now, I’m not a big people-person and I go hiking alone to kind of escape from them. But that doesn’t mean I am anti-social. When I pass someone, no matter how tired I am, I put on a smile and say “hi” or “hello”. It’s really not that difficult! If you don’t feel like saying anything, that’s fine but at least smile or nod your head. It’s just weird when I say “hello” and smile and the person looks at me and does nothing.
Some people like to chat with other hikers – check if both sides want to do it. Don’t force conversations on people who might want to make it to the camp faster or don’t want to break the momentum. If someone picked a place for a break, you don’t have to make your break right in that same spot (unless that’s a designated picnic area) which might create an awkward situation. This is especially important if you are a man and you encounter a solo female hiker. Don’t create a creepy feeling by imposing your presence on her.
Use of technology while hiking.
Do not ever listen to music on speakers. Never. Even if you are in a group and you all love this music. The sound carries far and other hikers might be truly annoyed by ruining their quiet time with Nature.
I listen to music non-stop while in the city – on a bus, when I go shopping, on my way to work… but I rarely do it when in Nature. I love listening to the sounds the forest makes. It is also a safety thing – it’s good to hear what is going on around or if someone calls to me to warn or something. If you like to listen to music while hiking – awesome! Just put your headphones on.
Similar rules go for the use of your phone. Turn off the sound and don’t talk loudly for a long time. A lot of people try to escape the technology when in the outdoors – don’t force it on them.
The best would be to not smoke at all – we came here to breathe in the fresh and clean air! If you have to – go away from the trail and check the wind, so the smoke carries away from the trail and not towards it. Believe me, non-smokers can smell the putrid disaster from 100 yards away (I can). This is one of my biggest pet peeves.
I remember hiking once in Wisła, in the Polish Beskidy Mountains, when I was climbing a pretty long and steep ascent. There was this group of hikers who made their break on both sides of the trail and two or three persons were smoking. Maybe they thought that the smoke magically disappears when in the open, but I had to hold my breath to cross this section and I thought my lungs would burst. What a selfish and idiotic behavior. Seriously, don’t be that hiker.
Hiking as a group.
First of all, you have to check what the rules of group hiking are at your destination. Some parks might impose maximum group members to protect Nature and protect the equal opportunity for all to enjoy the trails (and campsites).
If you go in a group don’t go all together blocking the trail. Go in a single file with some longer breaks between you otherwise it would be extremely difficult for other hikers to pass you by or yield the way to wait until all of you pass.
Walking in bigger groups brings also bigger risk of loud talking and shouting. Be considerate and talk softly with the person next to you.
I really hate when I hike and I can hear from far away that a group is approaching because of their loud behavior. Talk if you must but keep your voice down.
Additionally, pick your break time spot carefully. Don’t block the whole path or crowd the only suitable break spot. At view points and mountain peaks – make sure you don’t take the whole place to yourself. See if there aren’t any people wishing to see the view but simply can’t because there is a group of twenty people blocking it all to themselves.
Socializing with just met hikers
It's great to have a chance to chat a bit with people who enjoy the same things and are passionate about hiking. But it requires some sensitivity for it to be a fun time instead of a creepy or aggravating encounter.
Pick your conversation subject carefully. It’s quite normal that when hikers gather they might want to talk about their experiences, how was their day and so on. Quite often we go out there to escape the stressful reality of daily life. Don’t bring it in by talking politics or religion. These are the most common polarizing subjects that should better be avoided – unless it’s about protecting the Park you are walking through or similar idea that is a high chance both sides are passionate about.
Another thing that should be a no-no – is volunteering advice and/or critique on other hiker's hiking technique or style, their gear, clothing, etc. Unless someone asks for your advice – keep your thoughts to yourself. Don’t assume you know better or that someone who uses heavier/cheaper gear or walks slower is automatically a less experienced hiker. Don’t preach how your way is the best way. And I hope I don’t need to say that mansplainig is not appreciated.
Hiking Etiquette – at campsites and shelters.
Respect people’s privacy.
I absolutely hate when people camp their tents right next to mine (if there is a lot of other good spots) or choose the same wild camping spot (again, when the terrain allows picking a different spot). Sometimes there is no other way when the terrain is tough and available land is hard to find. Even then – have in mind there are other people there. Tents’ walls have no soundproofing so keep your voices down and if you think of some romantic activities – either learn how to do it silently or buy a hotel room. No one wants to hear that, believe me.
No matter how much time you would save that way – do not cut through someone else’s campsite. It’s simply rude. Even if the tent is closed, I can hear you stepping just a meter away from my tent’s entry. That’s creepy and annoying.
Shelters bring even more need for consideration for other people’s privacy. People want to change and it might be super awkward to do it with others inside. Be polite – go out or at least turn around so others can change.
I was so lucky that when I stayed at a bothy in Scotland, the guy I stayed with was really considerate of my needs. When I asked him to turn around so I could change, he actually volunteered to go for a walk so I could change without any fear of creepy peeking or anything inappropriate. If you are a man with women in a shelter – be the good guy, make women feel at ease and safe in your presence.
I know I wrote about it already in the above section but I feel it needs to be repeated again. Campsites differ – some are oriented toward long-term hikers along secluded trails, some are open to various kinds of tourists, including RVers on staycation. In the second kind people are more used to socializing well into the night and I don’t think anything can be done about it. I try to avoid such campsites if I can.
It’s much easier on a hikers’ campsite. We all should understand the needs of fellow trekkers. The general rule is that no sound should be heard after hiker midnight – or when the sun sets.
I don’t know about you, but I sleep long when I hike. I am tired and need at least 9-10 h of sleep for my body to recover. I don’t want to socialize into the night and I don’t want to hear other people loud laughing, music playing or simply talking. Some people like to start their hike right at the sunrise, falling asleep as soon as they can. Let them rest – keep your voice down, don’t play any music.
If you arrive at a campsite after dark, be extra careful when pitching your tent so you don’t wake up everyone around.
When walking around campsite or a shelter at night, the red light in your headlight is a wonderful thing – use it.
Don’t smoke in front of your tent if there are other tents nearby (I mean, in the radius of 50 yards or so) – go away and make sure the wind takes the smoke away from the campers.
Hiking Etiquette – hiking and camping with dogs
Have a complete control on your dog at all times.
The best would be to have it on a leash. Even a small dog can be annoying to other hikers. Don’t let it jump onto others, lick them or such – it might be cute to you but not necessary to the random hiker.
Not everyone loves dogs and some people might be scared of them or be allergic.
Make sure you clean after your dog.
Just because a dog is an animal, does not mean you can leave its feces along the trails. This is not a natural part of that environment and can cause diseases to spread. It is also not a pleasant thing to step into it. Pack it and take it with you.
Keep your dog quiet.
If you know your dog is a crazy barker, don’t take it hiking and camping. If you can’t control it – don’t take it hiking or camping. If you don’t want to hike with your dog on a leash – don’t take it hiking.
Also, check the rules of your destination – some parks might not allow dogs in or have seasonal bans (during calving season for example).