Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Andrew Stephens.
After spending a number of years in Utah hiking infrequently used trails, I returned to my native Washington state. Last month, I wanted to show my girlfriend some of the more popular local natural wonders, so we laced up our boots and headed for the hills. Not much had changed since my youth, but the trails sure did seem to be more crowded. After a few frustrating encounters on the trail, I realized that I had forgotten just about everything from my scouting days regarding trail etiquette. Here are a few things with which I needed a refresher, and that every hiker should keep in mind:
1. Horses, Hikers, and Bikers
The first thing that you need to know is that there is a hierarchy on the trail. Horses have priority, followed by hikers, and then bikers. It’s pretty simple to remember and makes encounters much more pleasant when everyone knows who gets to go first. Always check to see what other kinds of travelers will be sharing the trail with you before you start. If horses or bikes are allowed, then be mentally prepared to encounter them.
When being passed by horses, it is important to step off the trail, on the downhill side if possible. This helps in two ways: it will help keep from startling the horses, and it will keep you from getting run over if they do get spooked. Horses are prey animals, and as such they are always on guard for threats from predators. Standing uphill from a horse may give it the impression that you are larger and more threatening than you actually are. So always try to stay downhill and stay relaxed. Talking to the rider also helps the horse know that you’re a human and not some mountain lion lying in wait. Horses also tend to bolt uphill when they are startled, so staying out of the way will keep you from getting squished.
2. Yield to Uphill Traffic
Always yield to uphill traffic. If you’ve ever been plodding up a hill at a nice steady pace only to be run into by someone in a hurry to get down, then you understand the logic behind this. Going uphill is hard work, and changing up your speed can ruin your momentum. This is why people traveling uphill have the right of way. Of course, some hikers (like me) welcome any opportunity to stop and rest and we will often signal for downhill hikers to pass us. This happens a lot. Just remember that it’s up to the guy going uphill to make the call. Otherwise, yield.
3. Stay to the Right, Pass on the Left
The trail is a lot like the road in this respect. Keep to the right side of the trail when you are being passed.
If you want to pass someone from behind, get his attention by shouting out “On your left.” However, you don’t need to be overly formal or gruff, and a friendly, “Hi there. Can I get around you?” works just as well.
4. Leave No Trace
This rule can be observed in a number of ways.
The most apparent way is to clean up after yourself and pack out anything that you brought in. Even things like banana peels and apple cores can take quite a while to decompose and they don’t improve the scenery one bit.
This goes for dogs too. If you’re unwilling to clean up after your dog, then don’t take it out. No one wants to step in your dog’s little presents on the sidewalk, and the trail is no different.
Another way to leave no trace is to stay on the trail. You don’t need to prove your manliness by cutting across switchbacks on your way up the mountain. This can damage fragile plants, erode trails, and loosen rocks and boulders that may injure you or people below you.
5. Tech on the Trail
The increase in the use of technology in our daily lives has led to a proportional increase in its use in the outdoors, so a few courtesies should be taken. Remember that you (and your twitter followers) aren’t the only person on the trail. If you are listening to music or taking pictures or videos, be sure to be aware of your surroundings. Look around to make sure that you are not blocking the trail or holding up fellow hikers. Your kid really is adorable, but he will still be adorable after you get out of the way of the people behind you.
Phones are good to have on hand in case of an emergency, but their use should be limited to such. One of the wonderful things about hiking is the chance it provides to get away from the noise and annoyances of everyday life, and loud gabbing ruins this restorative stillness. If you absolutely must make or take a phone call, keep the conversation short and your voice low.
6. Be Friendly and Have Fun
Your fellow hikers are out to have a good time just like you are, and a friendly “howdy” or “hello” can go a long way toward fostering a positive atmosphere among everyone on the trail.
If you’re looking for more information about trail etiquette or hiking in general, there are a lot of great resources. One of my favorite sites in Washington is the Washington Trails Association. Do a quick search for more resources in your particular area.
I hope to see you all out there!