Today’s post is about hiking trail etiquette. While out hiking recently with a group, we came across a small river that we had to cross to enable us to continue on to the top of the mountain.
As we approached the river, we could see there was another group of hikers approaching from the other side who would reach it at about the same time as we did. There was only the one place to cross, a series of stepping stone rocks sticking out of the river, which we were both walking towards.As expected both groups reached the stepping stones at the same time and one of the other party went to start to cross but another man in their group told them to stop and let us pass first.
This is correct based on standard hiking etiquette as they were coming down the mountain and we were going up. It was interesting to witness while out on the trail and afterwards, when I queried some folks in my group on it, most didn’t seem to know that there were ‘rules’ as such. So, I thought a post on hiking etiquette might be useful!
First and foremost, common sense prevails. Even if the rules state that you should do one thing but the situation clearly indicates the opposite is a better course of action, then common sense wins every time.
However, there are some basic rules of etiquette out on the trail which provide general guidelines to follow to help ensure everyone can have as an enjoyable a time as possible.
Right of Way
As already mentioned, if two parties meet on a tight spot on a steep trail, as a general rule the group going uphill has the right of way. Also, when trying to pass someone out, follow the rules of the road in the country you are in. So if you’re in the US, pass on the left. If in the UK pass on the right. Again though, common sense applies, so if it isn’t wise to pass in a standard way, then use your best judgment to do it.
Another aspect to this I came across just now, which I honestly hadn’t considered before, is to do with other users of the trail. In places, it is possible that you could be sharing the trail with other non-hiking parties. For example, mountain runners, people on horseback and people on bikes.
For runners, they should follow the same etiquette as hikers but if they’re running at pace, it might be considerate to let them pass first even when you’re going uphill. Horses are one that I have not personally encountered on the trail but it is bound to be a regular enough occurrence in certain places. Horses have right of way over people so step back and if you can, step off the trail away from the direct line of the horse to avoid giving it a scare.
Finally, as mentioned above, another party who you might bump into on the trail are mountain bikers. When encountering bikers, bikers should give hikers the right of way. However, be careful with this.
I was hiking up near my hometown not long ago and they have recently opened mountain bike trails there. Some of these are clearly marked for bikers only so keep an eye out when you’re in places that have marked trails specific for mountain biking.
In summary, when meeting other parties on the trail, right of way normally goes to horses, hikers and then bikers in that order.
Close That Gate!
First off, my thanks to Mark for mentioning this one to me in the comments below. I am not quite sure how I missed it as it’s one I regularly come across!
When you’re out hiking, sometimes you may cross farm land or other types of private property. Always respect the fact that you’re on someone else’s land and close all gates or follow any other rules the landowner may ask of you. If they’re good enough to let you cross their land you should always show your respect in return by following any rules they have while you’re on their property.
Leaving a farm gate open can have serious consequences. For example, if a herd of cows gets out onto a public road, it could cause a lot of problems and possibly accidents! Many times when I’ve came across open gates or that, I like to think that people do it because they just don’t realize rather than with any malicious intent. However, it’s still something that needs to be taken seriously.
As per the final key point below, leave no trace you were there! If a gate was closed when you found it, be sure to close it again when you go through it! If you find a gate lying wide open, it’s no harm to take the time to close it over if it looks like it should be closed. Common sense again comes into play here too 😉
Sometimes, it can be good manners to let the slowest hiker set the pace if you’re in a group. This will ensure that a gap does not develop between the slower and faster hikers.
I know from personal experience however, that this can drive a lot of faster hikers crazy though. That is why in hiking clubs and associations, hikes are normally graded putting people of similar ability together.
As well as having someone leading a group hiking, following the chosen route etc., it is normal an experienced hiker takes up the rear of a party or group. They can help keep an eye on everyone and ensure that no-one falls behind, gets into difficulty, etc.
This is not always required e.g. in smaller groups. Either way, safety is paramount when out on the mountains and whomever is leading the group should always act in a safe and conscientious manner taking the safety of all the group into consideration.
Generally, avoid making lots of loud noise while out hiking. This would mainly be described as needless and loud shouting. However, I have read that making loud noises can in fact be a good thing though when hiking in certain places e.g. if you’re hiking in bear country.
I have hiked in bear country, only a couple of times, but I’ve never encountered a bear, thankfully! Apparently some noise gives the bears some warning of your approach which I assume is overall a good thing, as if you surprise a bear they are probably going to be more aggressive and freaked out into the bargain. Probably depends on the bear though, I doubt a grizzly will have too much concern about a few humans coming their way 🙂
Also, while you should always have your phone with you as your most important emergency device, don’t abuse it on the trail by playing music or having loud conversations on it, etc. The trail is the place to get away from the technological joys of life, not to indulge in them!
Leave No Trace
I did a detailed post on Leave No Trace which is worth checking out but in brief, when out hiking, leave the land and space exactly as you found it. Their mantra, which is pretty succinct and cool, is:
“Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but photos. Kill nothing but time. Keep nothing but memories”.
I hope you find this post on some of the basic rules of hiking trail etiquette useful. When out on the trail, as in life in general, it is good to give some consideration to others.. Overall, as said at the start, common sense should prevail and it would seem odd to me that there would be any reason to have disagreements or problems. I’ve never seen an argument on the trail and most times hikers will be well spread out so bottlenecks are unlikely, even with big groups.
However, good manners is always a good thing and costs nothing to offer. With that in mind always be mindful of your responsibilities, in the guidelines listed above, to your fellow hikers and other trail users while out enjoying the mountains.
Happy hiking 😉
Have you ever encountered bad manners on the trail? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
John Stewart Sr says
Great advice Colm. I did some hiking while living on Oahu. Most of the locals were very courteous however the tourists were often rude and pushy. Maybe they thought since they were paying to be there they always had the right of way and didn’t have to pick up after themselves.
Wow, hiking in Oahu must be amazing, I can only imagine how beautiful the scenery must be there! I will try and hike there myself some day.
That is a pity to hear about the tourists. You’re right though, tourists can sometimes be prime candidates for bad manners. It’s always a pity to see that kind of thing.
All good points Colm, manners out in the countryside are just as important as when in town. They cost nothing and should be used at all times.
A point I think you could mention is the respect of the countryside you are traveling on. For example if crossing a farmers field make sure to close all gates behind you, don’t spook any livestock and don’t climb over wire fences which weakens their structure and could cause breakouts of stock.
Like all aspects of life you do come across occasional plonkers but on a whole the majority of people I come across are pleasant and well behaved. In fact you can come up with some great conversations by taking the time to interact with fellow walkers while out on the paths.
While fishing in Russia a few years back we were instructed to leave absolutely no litter behind us and walk only on the paths provided, most of which was covered by special wooded board walks to protect the heather and tundra fauna. Its a different world up there with virtually no presence of man…beautiful.
Thanks Mark. Once again you’ve raised a very, very good point that I somehow omitted above!
Closing farmers gates and not messing with their boundaries and the like is really important and something I come across regularly on my normal weekly hikes! It’s one that can be very easily abused too. Although many times I think it’s from people just not thinking rather than with any malicious intent. There are plenty of plonkers though too as you say. I have updated the post with that very, very good observation! Thanks Mark 🙂
I fully agree with your comment that the vast majority of people out enjoying the countryside are always really pleasant, friendly and well mannered. I was hiking up Slieve Donard in the Mournes last weekend and myself and my girlfriend met a couple coming down. We asked how they were getting on and so on. Next thing we were chatting for 10 minutes about hiking, where they were from, etc. Really pleasant and friendly and that’s the general type of engagement I always find on the trail.
Russia sounds amazing. It must be really stunning to hike, fish or experience the outdoors there. I have Mt. Elbrus in the Caucasus on my radar after Mt. Blanc this year 🙂 It’s also really great to hear they take such good care of the tundra fauna too, that’s the way to do it! Leave no trace is the way to go. I get so disappointed sometimes when I am on top of a beautiful peak and I see an empty coke can or chocolate bar wrapper someone has left behind 🙁 That’s true plonker behavior and there’s no excuse for that! I try and make a point of carrying off anything I find if I can though to dump appropriately.
Thanks again Mark!
Wow you were on Slieve Donard recently, that’s only an hour and half away from me. Next time you are in the North you will have to arrange a meet we can swap stories as we walk, I’ll tell you about Russia you can tell me about Mt Blanc. 🙂
Great idea Mark!
I’m sure I’ll have plenty of stories after my Mont Blanc trip and it would be great to learn more from you about the Russian wilderness.
I’ll give you a shout when I head up next 🙂
Useful article. I particularly liked the one about speed. We used to walk as a fairly large group and one individual would always forge on well ahead. A bit off putting for the slower members of our band and very frustrating if a change of plan was needed as he was often way out of range.
Hi Roger, yes the speed one is very important when you’re in large groups. It can even be an issue in small groups.
I was once in a group of four on a hike. I hadn’t hiked with them before except as part of a mountain skills course where we took it relatively easy ‘hikewise’ as we were spending time map reading and so on. We got together the following weekend to practice the skills. So off we went.
I forged ahead. Me being a regular hiker, I was skipping up the mountain. I was oblivious to the other guys struggling a bit. Eventually a girl in the group said to me that she had asthma and needed to go at a slower pace! Took a couple of hours for someone to say something though. Sounds terrible I know but at the time I was completely oblivious to it and no-one said anything to me. I didn’t think I was going at a fast pace at all. I of course took a much slower pace and fell back to the rear to let them lead.
It was a great learning experience for me and I am always cautious with it now when I hike with new people. The group I regularly hike with split the hikes into grades so there’s not usually an issue with big gaps forming but from time to time it can still happen. There’s always a hike leader at the rear and one at the front to keep an eye on it though.
I hear what you’re saying about that one person forging on alone all the time. That would be incredibly frustrating for the group especially if a change of plan were needed as you say. You would think they would learn to stay with the group after it happening once or twice. they’d be better off hiking on their own by the sounds of it!