Hiking season is a wonderful time to see beauty, connect with nature, and to find quiet and calm. It’s my own personal opinion that, in order for hiking to be enjoyable, hikers need to demonstrate trail etiquette. Think of trail etiquette like rules of the road. Nobody likes the guy who drives slow in the fast lane, and nobody likes the hiker oblivious to others on the trail. In other words, trail etiquette is an important part of ensuring that everyone can enjoy his or her time in nature.
I’m particularly fussy about trail etiquette for a couple of reasons 1) I’m easily annoyed by others and 2) I want to preserve trails for as long as possible. Today, I’m here to share my own personal rules for trail etiquette. Follow these trail rules and you’ll never be victim to my seething death glare on the trail. If that’s not enough motivation for you, then at least consider our fine planet and help with preserving nature for future generations.
5 Simple ways to show trail etiquette
1. Don’t cut the trail: You don’t want to walk through mud so you step off trail to walk along the forest floor. You don’t want to walk an extra 20 metres so you cut up the slope between switchbacks; someone’s already done it because the “shortcut” is practically carved into the ground. What’s the harm right? The harm is that you’re potentially damaging plant life that’s fragile and important to the ecosystem. The harm is that you’re potentially causing slopes to become less stable over time. Trails have been created to minimize damage to nature. When we go off trail and create trail erosion, we can increase the likelihood of things like mudslides, rock slides, diverted waterways and, ultimately, decommissioned trails. So just stay on the actual trail. What’s a little mud on your boots and extra exercise? That’s part of the accomplishment of hiking, isn’t it?
2. Make room to pass: Oh, few things fuel my inner rage like groups of hikers walking abreast, completely oblivious to others on the trail. I get that you’re out with your friends and want to talk, but you can still talk to people walking single file. Keep an eye out for other hikers. If you hear someone behind you, make room for him or her to pass. Technically speaking, descending hikers are supposed to yield to uphill hikers, too. To me, this is a bit old-fashioned and mostly relevant for very narrow trails. What matters most is that you’re paying attention to your surroundings and creating as much space as possible for other hikers to get around you.
3. Pack it in, pack it out: This should be so obvious, but over the years I have seen an alarming increase in garbage on trails, including non-biodegradable waste (i.e. plastic bags and wrappers). It goes without saying that this is just bad for the natural environment. I’m just as irritated by biodegradable waste, though. The reality is that an apple core or banana peel isn’t any more indigenous to a mountain region than a candy bar wrapper. I get that no one likes carrying around a smelly banana peel all day, but if you feel that strongly about it, either bring a sealable container to put it in or don’t bring it with you at all. Why? Even though some foods break down in nature, wildlife may still be getting exposed to food that isn’t a part of their natural ecosystem, and that’s just not okay in my books. Any food, tissues, toilet paper, or anything at all that you bring on a trail with you should leave with you. See how riled up I’m getting? It’s not going to get any better with the next couple of rules!
4. Do not feed wildlife: This is another one of my hot button topics. Chipmunks do not need your trail mix. Squirrels do not need your sandwich crusts. Do not even get me started on how insane you must be to try to feed larger wildlife like deer, moose or *gasp* even bears (don’t laugh, people still get caught doing it). This is a hot topic item for me because when we feed wildlife, they grow accustomed to being fed. Over time, they can become less capable of fending for themselves. Also, the foods that humans carry are not what these animals typically eat. Bread products, chips, crackers, candy etc. are not healthy for wildlife. Keep your food to yourself and help keep wildlife wild.
5. For the love of God, stop blasting your music for all to hear: I am not in nature to hear the latest Justin Bieber or One Direction or whoever your current musical fave may be (I know, I know, I am horribly out of touch with popular music). Over the last few years, I’ve seen more and more groups of hikers carrying portable speakers or using their iPhones to blast music while they hike. I love music, but I don’t want to hear your music, and I certainly don’t want to be subjected to it while trying to unplug in nature. It’s just annoying, and often makes it so that you can’t hear other hikers approaching and trying to pass. But mostly it’s just annoying. If you feel the need to rock out while hiking, here’s my tip for you: headphones. Sure, it’s not the safest suggestion, but at least you won’t be irritating everyone else around you (i.e. me).
There you have it, follow these rules and you’ll be widely revered as a courteous and nature-minded hiker…and, perhaps even more importantly, you won’t ruin my day of hiking! Happy trails.