The following originally appears as Chapter 13 in our “Let’s GetHiking: A Guide for the Aspiring Hiker.” We rerun it today because, frankly, you just can’t get enough trail etiquette.
One Sunday, I was on a multi-use trail (a trail open for more than just hiking: mountain biking and horseback riding, for instance) at a nearby state park when I came upon a phalanx of hikers spanning the width of the trail and spilling onto its shoulders. The trail was quite generous, a converted fire road capable of handling loads of trail users without conflict—provided those trail users were considerate of other trail users. I doubt these hikers were being intentionally inconsiderate: they were simply unaware.
Which brings us to trail etiquette.
With any civilized pursuit, there are certain rules one is expected to observe, and hiking is no exception. These basic rules won’t impinge on your ability to enjoy the escape you seek. Rather, they’re simply an acknowledgment that you are not alone on the trail, that the trail is there for all of us to share.
Here are some ways to be a good citizen of the trail:
- Pay attention. Be aware that you are not alone on the trail. If you’re walking two abreast and a hiker approaches, make room for the hiker to pass. This is especially important when hiking with a group.
- Be aware. If you like to hike plugged in—with earbuds or headphones—make sure the volume is low enough that you can hear what’s happening around you — a hiker approaching from the rear, for instance. Also make sure the volume is low enough that it doesn’t seep out and disrupt the quiet of the woods for others.
- Share the trail, Part I. Remember that you are not alone on the trail. As the scenario at the top suggests, being a good trail user is more about awareness than anything. Lose yourself in nature, but keep a little of yourself in the present and aware of fellow hikers.
- Share the trail, Part II. As mentioned earlier, some trails are multiuse, meaning they’re open to more than just hikers. When sharing the trail, the general rule is that mountain bikers yield to hikers and equestrians, hikers yield to equestrians. There are, however, exceptions to the rule …
- Downhill yields to uphill. The exception to the above: If you’re on a steep, narrow trail, the hiker/biker/runner heading downhill should yield to the hiker/biker/runner laboring uphill. However, there are times when the uphiller is only too eager to cede passage — and take a break in the process. Common sense should apply; do not become obsessed with propriety and insist that the uphill party proceed.
- Passing. When you come up behind a slower trail user, announce your intentions to pass. Something simple, such as “Passing on your left,” or simply, “On your left” is good. Announce your intentions far enough in advance that the person has time to react and isn’t sacred out of his wits. A “thank you” after passing is a nice touch.
- Stop to the side of the trail. If you stop — to take a drink, check a map, eat some gorp — step off the trail so others may pass with ease.
- Hello! Share a simple, “Hey,” “Hi,” “How are ya?” A little wave, a quick smile, a peace sign. A simple sign of humanity goes a long way on the trail. As it does everywhere in life.
* * *
Learn more about the basics of hiking, from how to dress and what to bring, to the dynamics of the group hike, in our Let’s GetHiking: A Guide for the Aspiring Hiker.