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Trail Etiquette: The Basic Rules of Hiking

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Trail Etiquette for Hikers

When you’re on a hike, you’re bound to run into other people enjoying the great outdoors. Since trails are often narrow, there are trail etiquette rules in place to keep the flow going and make sure everyone stays safe.

But who yields to whom? And how can you make sure you preserve the great outdoors while still having a good time? This helpful guide on trail etiquette for hikers will go over all the questions you have about trail rules so you don’t end up being that person.

Trail Rules for Hikers

Group of hikers walking down trail

Whether you’re solo hiking or hiking in a group, here are a few simple hiking rules to keep in mind.

  1. Hike Single File– When you’re hiking in a group, always try to hike single file. This helps prevent erosion from multiple sets of hiking boots all walking in different places.
  2. Stay on the Trail– Likewise, always try to stay on the trail when you’re hiking. Veering off the trail too much can cause significant damage to the environment around you.
  3. Say “Hi”– You’re sure to get enthralled in the beauty around you, but don’t forget to give a friendly smile and say hello to other people on the trail. Beyond simply being polite, it’s also important for safety. If you get lost or hurt and someone has to come look for you, talking with others on the trail will make you more memorable.
  4. Turn Off Your Phone– Some people like hiking to music. Others don’t. However, for the sake of those around you, please don’t blast your music from the speaker on your phone. If you can’t live without music, use your headphones. Also, try to remember to put your phone on silent so any incoming notifications don’t disturb the tranquil sounds of nature.
  5. Leave No Trace– Anytime you’re enjoying the great outdoors, you should practice the 7 principles of Leave No Trace. This will help make sure you’re doing everything you can to protect these beautiful environments for everyone to experience.

Related: How to Quickly and Easily Break in Hiking Boots

Trail Etiquette: Who Has the Right of Way

One of the best parts of hiking is getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city and reconnecting with the peacefulness of nature. Of course, chances are good you’ll still encounter other people on the trail.

Related: Wildlife Safety Tips All Hikers Should Know

When you do, it’s important to know who has the right of way. Here’s how to handle yielding to other hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders.

Hikers vs. Hikers

If you meet another hiker on the trail, the hiker going uphill always has the right of way. This is because the hiker heading up a hill often has a smaller field of vision. Also, they may have a good pace they want to maintain to help them reach the top of the hill.

Occasionally, an uphill hiker will move to the side to take a break and let those coming downhill pass. However, keep in mind that this is always a decision for the uphill hiker to make.

Related: Hiking for Beginners: 10 Important Tips to Help You Get Started

If you’re hiking uphill and you want to pass another hiker who is also hiking uphill, try not to startle them when you approach them from behind. Remember, they might be in the zone and not hear you coming. Instead, simply call out, “Hi there. Mind if I pass?”

If you’re a solo hiker or in a small group and you meet a larger group of hikers on the trail, you should move to the side since you’ll have an easier time yielding.

Also, remember that passing on a trail should be treated just like you’re driving a car: keep to the right and pass on the left.

Related: 10 Rookie Hiking Mistakes You Never Want to Make

Hikers vs. Bikers

Mountain bikers are expected to yield to hikers on a trail. However, since mountain bikers are typically moving faster than hikers, it’s usually easier for hikers to move to the side and let mountain bikers pass. This is especially true if a mountain biker is working hard to make it up an incline.

Also keep in mind that since mountain bikers move faster, you should always try to stay aware of your surroundings when you’re on shared trails.

Many mountain bikers will try to call out a warning as they’re coming down steep slopes or coming around blind switchbacks. However, this doesn’t always happen. So it’s best to know what’s happening around you to keep everyone safe.

Related: Not Sure What to Bring on a Hike? This Packing Guide Can Help!

Hikers vs. Horseback Riders

Since horses are large, not easy to maneuver, and sometimes unpredictable, everyone needs to yield to them on the trail.

If you’re sharing a trail with a horseback rider, give them as much room as possible to let them go by. To make sure you don’t accidentally startle the horse, talk calmly and quietly, don’t make any sudden movements, and never reach out to pet the horse as it passes.

If you’re on a narrow trail and horses are passing, step off the path on the downhill side. Not only is this safer and easier for the horse rider, but a spooked horse is more likely to run uphill than downhill, which makes it safer for you as well.

Related: How to Stay Cool and Safe When You’re Hiking in the Heat

Trail Etiquette for Dogs

A male hiker with dog on a leash standing on a rocky peak, looking at the river and forest

Even your four-legged hiking companions have some trail etiquette rules they need to follow. First, you need to make sure you only hike on trails where dogs are permitted.

For their own safety and the safety of others, you should always keep your dogs on a leash. If you’re on a trail where your dogs are allowed to go off-leash, make sure you always keep them within sight and under control.

Since part of Leave No Trace is properly disposing of waste, make sure you always bring enough poop bags to clean up your dog’s waste.

Also, don’t forget to carry the bag out with you. The last thing anyone wants to see when they’re trying to hike is a trail littered with little poop bags.

Related: 10 Things You Must Have for Hiking With Dogs

Trail Etiquette: Basic Rules of Hiking

These trail etiquette rules help make sure everyone can enjoy their time in the great outdoors. Of course, if you ever forget or you’re not sure who should yield, you can always move to the side, give them a friendly smile, and let them pass.

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