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Hiking Etiquette 101: The 5 Rules of Being a Polite Hiker

Updated: Dec 17, 2021

Woman hiking with her dog on a trail

When I go hiking, I am at my most peaceful, I feel one with nature, the sun is shining and I couldn't be happier. Until I hear the roar of some base-thumping pop song coming out of someone's crappy blue tooth speaker heading my way.

While you've probably been hiking for a while and know all of the basic etiquettes of the trail, it's always nice to get a refresher. You can also share this with beginner hikers so we can all know the basics and have a fun time out on the trails because no one wants to be that buzzkill that ruins a good time for everyone.

Now on to everything hikers need to know about respecting each other and the beautiful environment we all love so much!



1. Do Not Play Music Out Loud

Hannah Unbound wearing headphones on the trail

This has to be the worst culprit for trail annoyances. While I do frequently listen to music on the trail, I use headphones, like a civil member of society. Please at all costs refrain from playing your music out loud, even if it seems like you're alone, you could be disturbing the natural wildlife in the area or a hiker that isn't in your field of view.

The headphones I use are $20 Bluetooth headphones from Letscom. I love these headphones for hiking because they're connected so I can't lose one and they wrap around my ear so I'm not worried about them falling out while sweating and moving. I'm also not associated with the company at all so you know I'm telling the truth, I seriously love these headphones!


2. Move Over for Other Hikers

A well groomed trail in southern California

While this depends on the situation, whether the uphill or downhill person should move over, REI says it's the uphill hiker that has the right of way. This is because the hiker heading uphill may have their head down, and be in a zone that prevents them from seeing the other hiker. Personally, if I'm going uphill I could use the break so I usually let the downhill hiker pass me.

Either way, if it's a skinny trail (1-2 hikers wide) someone should move over for the other instead of squeezing by.

I also say that single people should let groups go by them, but that's simply my preference instead of waiting for the whole group to decide they're going to move over for me.

A woman following hiking etiquette

Another issue with thinner and busier trails, when in a group, you should be hiking single file so there is an option for another hiker to pass your group from in front or behind you. This stops all confusion on who should move over for who and simply allows a regular flow of traffic.



3. Do Not Stop in the Middle of the Trail

A woman not following trail etiquette while hiking

When you are hiking and know there are others on the trail, it is a best practice to move to the side even if there isn't someone directly in front or behind you. Whether you're stopping to look at the map, the views, or take a drink of water, always step to the side of the trail to avoid a hiker pile up.

If a trail runner comes up behind you out of nowhere and smashes you because you couldn't step to the edge of the trail, it's not the trail runner's fault.



4. Leave No Trace

Hannah Unbound unpacking her hiking bag on the trail

Simply put, take out what you bring in. If you eat a snack on the trail, take the wrapper with you. If you use the bathroom, do not leave toilet paper behind, pack it out! I always bring a gallon-size zip lock bag for any trash I might have so it can be stored away in my backpack.

This also works for dog bags, always bring extra bags or a ziplock so you can double bag your dog's poop, this way it hides the smell while you carry it out of the hike. And if you don't want to carry it, then please don't bring your dog on the hike, leaving dog poop on a trail, bagged or not, is horrible for the natural wildlife in the area.

A hiking pee rag to reduce harm to the environment

Also, for the ladies, look into a "pee rag" of some kind such as a Kula Cloth or a simple microfiber towel which is what I use to avoid worrying about toilet paper altogether. They work great while camping as well and it's really not as gross as it seems.


5. Stay on the Designated Trail

A muddy trail and alternate route

This is more of a politeness to the wildlife and people who take care of the trails. Crews work very hard to create these trails for us to use and every time even a single hiker goes off the trail they damage the local ecosystem and the hard work put into the trail.

Construction supplies near a trail in California

This can be exacerbated when multiple hikers decide to cut a trail to make it easier on themselves or avoid some mud and instead create their own trail. This can cause massive issues with the trail construction. Factors such as rain and wind can cause the trail areas to degrade and even shut down the trail for rebuilding if it's bad enough.

Always stay on the designated trail.


Bonus Tip:

Hannah Unbound and her sister hiking with their dog

Please be nice to other hikers. Even if they're blasting Brittany Spears from a boombox (do either of those things exist anymore?) everyone is on the trail to enjoy nature while getting a good workout, and we should respect anyone with those missions in mind.

So just say hi, or lift your hand for a wave as you pass someone. It makes everyone happier, even you, just to pass along the kindness.



A snowy mountain trail in California

When you're on the trail just respect each other and nature its really that simple. While I have run into people who simply don't understand common decency I think anyone who would take the time to read this would understand how to be the best hiker they can be.

These are simply my observations from the trail, let me know below if you agree with my opinions and if you have anything to add to this list. Maybe there is something I didn't even know about!

Also, feel free to check out my other hiking and camping tips such as the car camping checklist and how to camp alone. And contact me by Instagram or email with any other questions!

Until next time,

Happy Trails!

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Hey there! My name is Hannah Smentkowski, I'm the photographer, writer, hiker, camper, and craft beer drinker of this blog!


Here, I share my travel, camping, and hiking tips to help anxious explorers get outdoors with confidence!

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