Hiking Etiquette 101
When it comes to being on the trail, there are a few things that most hikers would consider to be the standard hiking etiquette.
Recently, we’ve noticed a lot more people getting out and exploring, which is freaking awesome!
With all those people has come some not so awesome stuff…like the multiple piles of dog poop and trash we’ve seen on recent hikes.
We know that a lot of people are new to outdoor recreation. Or at least new to areas that don’t have as many services.
And, currently, recreation sites that are normally full service may be scaled back, so it’s important that we do what we can to keep these sites open.
Here in this post we’re going to cover the basics – let’s just call it hiking etiquette 101 – so that we can all enjoy the best that nature has to offer. And, most importantly, we’ll make sure you don’t end up being THAT guy. 😉
A lot of these tips also cover general outdoor recreation etiquette, but we are talking mainly about hiking trail etiquette in this post. For our post on camping etiquette, head to this post.
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Honestly, I think this is the most important of all the hiking etiquette principles. And, generally, all the rest of the guidelines really boil down to this as well. If you’re going out with the mindset of being respectful and responsible, you really are going to have most of these covered already.
When it comes to being respectful of others on the trail, one of the biggest things that often gets discussed is noise level. Most people head to nature to get an escape from the noise and the hustle and bustle of town.
Sure, you’re in nature to have fun and, often, enjoy time with your friends or family. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone on the trail with you also wants to know what’s going on at work or hear your favorite playlist blaring for a five-mile hike.
So, just be mindful of who is around you, how busy the trail is, avoid loud phone calls on the trail, and take headphones instead of a speaker if you like music while hiking.
Also, if you’re too noisy, keep in mind you’re likely to scare away any animals you might want to catch a glimpse of…not just the ones you don’t want to see. 😉
Of the Land
Take a minute before you head out to check the hiking rules and regulations in the area and pay attention to posted signs. Often, certain meadows and areas surrounding popular attractions may have notices announcing that the area is off-limits to allow for regrowth, etc.
When an area is replenishing, it can be very fragile, so it’s essential to pay attention and respect these notices so that we can all continue to enjoy it.
As parents, this can often be more challenging if you allow your kids to explore a bit on their own, but if you start teaching them early, they will pick it up. Now that they are older, our kids are generally better at noticing these things themselves – plus, we’ve tried drilling it into their heads that they need to pay attention to signs, that trails are there for a reason and, in general, that’s where they should stay.
When we’re hiking, we are visiting the home of wildlife, so we always try to be respectful of that. This means things like keeping our distance, not feeding the animals and being careful not to disturb nesting areas.
I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this one, but sometimes people don’t do it, so I’m going to mention it anyway.
Being friendly doesn’t mean you have to shake everyone’s hand you see and introduce yourself. Actually, that would be pretty weird – definitely don’t do that. 🤪
But, a smile, a small wave, or a hello goes a long way. And, it really can make a day of hiking a trail (especially when it’s crowded) much more pleasant.
Plus, if you happen to find yourself lost or stranded and someone starts looking for you, if you have any interaction with other hikers, they may remember seeing you and help pinpoint your last known location.
Leave It Better than You Found It (a.k.a. Leave No Trace)
You know those signs in the breakroom at work that say “Your Mom Doesn’t Work Here”?
Yeah, she’s not gonna follow you to the woods and pick up after you either. Unless you’re two.
But, if you’re not used to being in the woods, it can be confusing. You know people go backpacking and camping for long periods, but knowing exactly how to handle everything can be a challenge. It’s okay though, we’re going to talk about it all here.
Our goal is always to actually leave the area better than we found it so that often means we pick up trash we see ourselves and pack it out. But, at a minimum, you should at least not leave it worse than it was when you arrived.
Trash (including compostables)
Most people, even if they aren’t experienced hikers, know that it’s proper etiquette to carry out trash – like paper and plastic. Although, it still doesn’t happen all the time…
We’ve found all kinds of stuff that doesn’t belong in the woods – food wrappers, toilet paper, doggie bags (and not the good kind), toys, and food scraps.
Wait a second…did you catch that?
Yes, I included food scraps. And, to be honest, I didn’t always realize this. 😬
But, there are big reasons for not leaving even compostable food scraps behind. One of the most important reasons is that animals can find and eat them. And, while something like an apple core may seem harmless, it can encourage them to keep coming closer to hiking trails and people. Plus, it looks and smells gross when you come upon it.
It’s normal. But, what’s not normal is leaving a pile on the side of the trail. Ew.
You don’t always get to choose when you want to make a bathroom stop. Especially if you’re hiking with kids.
But, there are some general hiking bathroom etiquette guidelines you should follow if you need to relieve yourself when you aren’t at a restroom.
Peeing in the Woods
When it comes to urinating in the woods, in general, you should be 200 ft away from water sources such as streams, ponds, or lakes.
Additionally, you’ll want to find a secluded spot, so you aren’t exposing yourself.
If you’re a female, you can squat to pee, or you can consider using a pee funnel, which is my personal favorite. I don’t have to fully drop my pants (a.k.a. less chance of giving someone a show they didn’t want), and I can stand up to pee. You can carry a small amount of toilet paper with you and place it in a zip-top bag to carry out, or bring something like a bandana or Kula cloth for use as a “pee rag” or wipe. asdf links
Pooping in the Woods
If there’s any chance of pooping in the woods – with kids, can you ever really predict this?! – you’ll need to go prepared.
When you’re packing your bag for hiking, make sure that you have a small trowel or shovel for digging a hole – they make lightweight versions specifically for this purpose. Also, you’ll want to bring some toilet paper, a sealable plastic bag, and hand sanitizer.
If you have these items, you’ll be prepared if you need to go. Take your supplies with you to find your spot. Make sure to stay at least 200 feet from water sources, campsites, and trails. Find a spot where you have a little privacy, and with loose enough soil so you can dig a hole 6-8 inches deep to poop over. Once you’re done, cover the hole back in with the dirt you dug out, put a rock or branch over the top to help keep animals from digging, place your used toilet paper in your plastic bag, clean your hands, and you’re done!
Some areas actually require waste to be packed out. Most places are okay with the above guidelines, but it’s always good to double-check.
Wanna guess what the biggest issue we see with pets on hiking trails is?
If you guessed poop, you’re right! Apparently, it’s going to be the biggest theme of this post. 💩
Last week, we headed to a trailhead that is the starting point for several hikes near Mt. Hood. I can’t tell you how many piles of dog poop we saw – especially in the first 1/2 mile of the trail. Just because your dog is an animal and animals live in the woods does not mean that you should let them poop and not pick it up. Especially on or directly beside the trail.
It’s gross. And, we’ve totally had a kid or a dog step in it before. 😠
Take dog bags with you to pick up after your dog and pack out their waste. You can tie the bag to the outside of your bag to carry out. If you happen to be hiking somewhere that you can bury human waste, you can also dig a hole to bury your pet’s waste if you prefer.
Stay in Control
We love dogs.
And, we’ve loved hiking with ours over the years.
But, I don’t love it when a dog I don’t know runs up to one of my kids, and I’m not sure if they are friendly or not.
In general, it’s usually a good plan to keep your dog on a leash when hiking. Make sure to check guidelines in the area you’re hiking for leash rules. But, even if a leash isn’t required, it’s good practice to keep them under voice control or a leash if you can’t. Especially on busy trails.
Stay on Trail
I know, I know. I just told you to go off-trail to poop!
And, you should.
But, in general, you should spend the majority of your time on the designated trails to prevent any damage to flora and wildlife. And, when you do need to go off-trail, just be mindful of where you are and avoid things like stomping wildflowers.
Right of Way
Just like driving on the road, there is a right of way guideline when it comes to hiking trails.
The most common things you will see on trails are people hiking on foot, horses, and mountain bikers.
Here’s the hierarchy: Horses > Hikers > Bikers
What does that mean? It means if you happen across a horse, you should yield to the horse and rider. It helps prevent spooking the horse. Plus, they are bigger than you anyway. 😉
Mountain bikers should yield to hikers. However, I’m always on the lookout if we are on shared trails as well because sometimes it can be hard to stop quickly.
When it comes to other hikers, those hiking uphill have the right of way. It’s harder to start and stop when you’re moving uphill, so it’s a nice thing to do to let them go first. Although if they stop first for the break, then it’s totally cool to go ahead around them.
Especially when hiking with kids, there may be faster hikers who catch up to you. One thing we’ve taught the kids from early on is that we should step to the side to let others pass.
Ideally, we all step to the same side, but somehow one kid always ends up going the opposite of the rest of us.
We’re still working on it. 😬
As you can see, most of these hiking guidelines are pretty simple in nature and mostly boil down to simply being respectful and following rules of safe hiking. But, we know that some of them are things that you just might not know until someone tells you about them.
If we all work together to do our best to follow them, we can all continue to enjoy the beautiful landscapes and peacefulness of nature.
Related Hiking Posts
- Wahkeena Springs Hike
- What to Bring on a Hike (and What to Leave at Home)
- Hiking for Beginners: Get Started with These Helpful Tips
- Hiking with Kids Near Portland