So, we have covered backcountry hut etiquette in last weeks post. Let’s talk about hiking etiquette. Similarly, with hut etiquette, hiking etiquette is simply don’t be a douche. There are some common sense unspoken rules with hiking that you should know before you head out.
Hiking Etiquette | Read the trailhead guidelines
No matter what, always read the trailhead guidelines. Most trails have the same rules, but some might have specific rules for that trail. Maybe dogs aren’t allowed or must be leashed at all times, there could be detours or closures of the track and other such information. It only takes a couple minutes to read the signs.
Not only read the trailhead guidelines but also follow them as well.
- Don’t enter areas that have been closed off
- Take alternative routes if directed
- Don’t take your dog if they aren’t allowed
- If camping isn’t permitted, don’t camp
Trail closures are in effect for a good reason, typically for your own safety. Crossing into closed areas puts you in a dangerous situation, which could end with injury or require a rescue.
Hiking Etiquette | Leave no Trace
Recently I wrote about leave no trace so I won’t go into too much detail here.
- Pack out all your rubbish with you – even organic waste such as fruit peels. This is to discourage pests and the wildlife may not be accustomed to the nutrients in the food and may do more harm than good.
- If you see others rubbish along the way, just pack it out with yours.
- Don’t damage the surrounding environment and let others enjoy the beauty of the area. When in the outdoors, you should always try and leave it as you found it (or better).
- Leave Cairns be, they are used as navigational tools for some hikers. Don’t go adding to them and disturbing the natural area but also don’t go knocking them down. Just leave ’em as you found ’em.
- Plan well before you go, take heed of the warnings and trail notes. They are there for a reason.
Hiking Etiquette | Right of Way
How do you know who to give way to? Who has to yield when going up or downhill? Avoid a head-on crash with a grumpy hiker by following the right of way rules.
Right of way rules:
- Generally, hiking uphill is harder than hiking downhill. For this reason, those going uphill have right of way over those going down. If you are going downhill and come across those struggling up, step aside to let them pass. If the ascending hikers want to stop for a rest break, they can wave you ahead (like I do when I am going uphill, it’s a good excuse for a breather), but that is their choice to make.
- On mixed-use trails, mountain bikers yield to hikers, and everybody yields to horses.
- If you are meandering along, it’s good to let faster hikers and trail runners pass. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just step aside when you sense, see or hear someone coming up behind you. For those doing the passing, make your presence known with a simple “hello” or “excuse me” when you approach.
- Pretend like you are driving on the road, in New Zealand, we drive on the left-hand side, make sure you stick to the left.
- Solo hikers should move for larger groups. It is easier for a solo hiker or a small group to step aside and let the larger group pass.
Hiking Etiquette | Be friendly
I am the first to admit I’m not so much a people person and go into the bush to get away from said people. The trails that I choose tend to be more isolated, less populated and not very ‘people-ly’ for that very reason. That being said, it is always nice to acknowledge your fellow hiker. You don’t have to become BFF’s but a simple hello or small trail talk will suffice.
Another, more practical reason to stop and have a quick chat is for your safety. That hiker that you exchanged sweaty ‘it’s not too much further is it?’ chit-chat could be the vital link that directs rescuers to your location if something unexpected happens. You want them to remember talking to you.
If you meet them head-on, chat about your plans, ask about the trail conditions ahead, especially water sources, stream crossings, and how far until the next trail junction or campsite.
The exception to stopping is when you feel unsafe to do so. In this instance, keep moving, pull out your phone if it is on you and take notice what they look like.
- Quite often we go out into nature to escape the stressful reality of daily life. Don’t bring it in by talking about politics or religion. People tend to be passionate and feel about these subjects and there are a variety of beliefs and sides. Stick to safer topics.
- Don’t give advice 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.
- Don’t ask how much someone’s pack weighs. It’s almost as personal as asking how much they weigh. Chances are, you will get hit over the head with said pack. Everyone has different wants and needs, so everyone’s pack will have different weights. Asking someone how much their pack weighs can seem like an attempt to judge others based on the decisions they made about what goes in their pack. Plus, if they are anything like me, they won’t know. They will only know that it is heavy enough but somehow gets even heavier when going uphill.
- Don’t worry about other people gear and their choices. If you know the other person wants to talk gear, then sure. Just remember that everyone you meet on the trail is hiking for their own reason, and the technicalities of their gear might not be their main focus. Some people may not be able to afford the best lightweight gear out there.
- Take pride in yourself and your mileage, just be careful that it doesn’t come off as bragging or judging when you bring it up in conversation if you have to. Let’s be honest, no one cares how far you hiked today. Well, maybe your mum, but apart from that, no one really gives a hoot.
In other words, don’t judge, don’t show off and don’t be arrogant. Easy peasy!
Minimizing your wilderness impact includes showing consideration for your fellow hikers as well as the environment you are in. We all have our motivations for going out into the wild. Being accepting and respectful of those differences makes for a more harmonious experience for all.
Hiking Etiquette | Be in the moment
As tempting as it is to send your snaps straight away to everyone in your inbox bragging about the beautiful scenes, send them when you get home.
Use your phone to take photos when needed but take the opportunity to just be in the moment. I personally turn mine onto aeroplane mode so I can use it to take photos, save the battery and pretend that I was out of range which is why I wasn’t replying to any messages.
Plus, when you are really in the moment you are more aware of your surroundings. It is important to be aware of your surroundings including trail conditions, fellow hikers and the actual trail. True story: I have lost the trail multiple times because I was too busy being caught up in the scenery. I was too much in the moment.
Hiking Etiquette | Stay on the trail
You will most likely constantly be tempted by scenic spots and what looks like other almost-trails as you hike. However tempting it is, always stay on the main trail. The trail is there for a reason, it is to protect the area around the trail, the flora, fauna and Mother Nature. When you step off the track you trample vegetation and erode dirt and rock which in turn messes with the local ecosystem.
Some people create small side trails to hidden viewpoints and alcoves. Others even cut switchbacks to make the trek faster. Don’t you be one of those people. Every trail is designed for a specific reason and way. Respect the trail and surrounding area by sticking to the track.
If there is a puddle or mud taking up the track, just go through it. You will damage the natural environment around the puddle if you exit the track to avoid the puddle. Plus, who doesn’t love stomping through mud?
You might think that just this once won’t hurt, but if everyone just this once steps off the track and tramples the surrounding area it will gradually be destroyed. Our forests and bush areas take forever to regenerate, let them do their job without stamping all over it, k?
Follow the orange triangles:
- The majority of the time when you hike in New Zealand you will be following orange triangles or once up past the bush line, poles.
- You may find other coloured triangles such as blue or pink but don’t follow these unless specified (such as Stoat Traps Track in the Ruahine Range). These markers are for people who work in the area to signify that that particular track leads to a trap or bait. New Zealand has a huge number of pests that destroy the forests and the wildlife that lives in them. Often pesticides or traps are used to control them.
Hiking Etiquette | Technology on the trail
Often, people are outdoors to escape technology.
Do not ever listen to music on speakers. Even if you are in a group that all love the same music. Even if you think that you are alone.
The sound carries far and other hikers might be well and truly annoyed by ruining their quiet time with nature. Nature has its own music, the forest, the birds, the wildlife is the perfect soundtrack to your hike.
There is also the safety aspect of listening to music in the bush. It is important to be able to hear what is going on around you or if someone calls out to warn you. If you do listen to music, pop some earbuds in and don’t have it too loud so you can still hear the sounds around you or just use one earbud.
If you use your phone, turn off the sound and don’t be that hiker that talks loudly for a long time. You might find your phones aerodynamics being tested by your fellow hikers.
Hiking Etiquette | Pets on the trail
In New Zealand, dogs are often not allowed on the trails unless they are Kiwi Aversion Trained. Dogs are one of the main predators of Kiwi’s and other ground-dwelling (note: too lazy to fly) birds. If you are going into a kiwi area, it is probably best to leave pupper at home.
Some areas don’t allow dogs at all. Make sure you check before you go. If the area doesn’t allow dogs, it is usually for a good reason, either there are baits in the area for pest control that will harm your pup if eaten or the area is protected for kiwi. Please respect this if it is the case.
If you do take your dog into the bush:
- Keep Ralph on a leash. If they are off the leash keep your dog under control and within your line of sight. When another hiker approaches, leash up Pup and step to the side.
- Let other hikers know if your dog is friendly or not if they approach Doggo.
- Make sure Max is kiwi aversion trained
- Keep Cooper on the trail – try not to let them crash through the bush and trample the natural area.
- Don’t let Molly jump onto others or lick them. Strangers may not appreciate it and may be scared or allergic.
- Just because a dog is an animal, does not mean you can leave its errr, little presents…. along the trails. This is not a natural part of that environment and can cause diseases to spread. Pack it out like you would in urban areas
To find avian avoidance trainers check out this list and contact details.
Hiking Etiquette | Hiking as a group
Hiking can be a fun group activity. All those endorphins, people you enjoy being around and nature make for a pretty choice activity. Before you all head off to get some quality time together, just make sure 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.
Some things to remember when hiking in a group:
- ALWAYS stick together. This is paramount for safety. There was a story not too long ago about a hiker that got separated from his group. They thought he had headed back so carried on but he had just stopped for a rest. He ended up getting lost and not surviving the night on his own. Worst case scenario but still something to keep in mind.
- Walk in single file. If there are loads of you, have some breaks in between the single file. If the trail is wide, feel free to buddy up, just make sure that you aren’t taking up more than half the track.
- Try not to be too rowdy. I know it’s a jolly good time for everyone but sound travels and not everyone wants to listen to your conversation.
- For safety, have the slowest or most inexperienced hiker lead. That way if they have to stop, the whole group can stop together. The slowest hiker will probably need breaks more than anyone else. But if they’re in back, they’ll only have time to catch up every time the group stops and they’ll never get to actually rest.
- If you have quite a large group with multiple fitness levels and abilities, split up into smaller groups (not individuals). This way the faster hikers still get to stretch their legs while the slower ones don’t feel like they have to rush. Win-win.
Hiking Etiquette | When nature calls
When nature calls in, well, nature what do you do?
Set your pack to the side of the trail so it doesn’t block the path, or take it with you. Move at least 200 feet from a trail, campsite or body of water, dig yourself a wee (ha, get it!) cat hole and let nature take its course.
If 200 feet from the trail isn’t possible without trampling sensitive vegetation or falling off of a cliff, then use your common sense. Don’t feel like you have to go over the cliff to get 200 feet away. That would be silly. Do your best to find a private spot behind a rock or a tree so passing hikers aren’t caught off guard. Make sure to pack out your loo paper as gross as that sounds.
Side note: if you do happen to be on the side of a precarious hill, make sure that the branch you are using for support is stable. Luckily when the person this happened to (totally not me BTW…..) was hiking solo so was able to pull up
my their pants and dust themselves off without too much of a red face.
Hiking Etiquette | Step Aside to Take Breaks
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