5 Rules For Sharing The Trail

Simple etiquette for enjoying the great outdoors

By: Tyler Drake
May 8, 2015

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Hiking seems simple enough, right? Follow the trail into the beautiful wilderness, breathe in the fresh air, and enjoy. No further instructions needed. That's basically the idea. But, like other activities that share natural resources, there are a few helpful guidelines for the hiking trail that will make crossing paths with others go more smoothly, keep everyone safe, and leave that wilderness as beautiful as you found it...better yet, if you're feeling more helpful, more beautiful than you found it. For newbie hikers and vets alike, keep these 5 rules in mind the next time you hit the trail.

Photo: Nick Lake

1. Traffic on the Trail

Always be sure to check what type of travel is allowed at the trailhead. If there are bikers and horses, it's good to know the basics of who has the right of way. Hikers and bikers yield to horses, and bikers yield to hikers. This is the technical rule, but because hikers can hear bikers coming, in reality, hikers usually get out of the way first. That said, bikers shouldn’t assume this behavior and should always be prepared to move aside for hikers. When moving out of the way for horses, step to the downhill side and make your presence known by greeting the rider. Uphill hikers have the right of way, so don't break their stride by getting in their way, although sometimes they may welcome the break and insist you go ahead. A little communication goes a long way when directing traffic on the trail.

2. Take Only Photos, Leave Only Footprints

As always, when enjoying the outdoors be sure not to leave anything behind. Better yet, if you see trash or anything that doesn't belong on the trail, do everyone a favor and pack it out. Although it is tempting to pick wildflowers and take home other souvenirs from the trail, please leave them there for everyone to enjoy.

3. Trails & Technology

Definitely capture those amazing views on the trail and share them with friends! But don't let taking photos slow you - or those behind you - down too much. If you need to stop for a photo on a crowded trail, step to the side. Also, always be considerate of others if you want to listen to music while hiking. If there are others on the trail, it's probably a good idea to cut the tunes and enjoy nature's soundtrack. Alternatively, you can plug in your headphones, but keep the volume at a level that you’ll be able to hear other hikers, bikers, or horses approaching.

4. Bathroom Etiquette

Sometimes nature calls...in nature...and you have to answer. When this happens, be sure to take care of business 200 feet from the trail, campground, or bodies of water. Use a trowel to dig a small hole, cover when finished, and pack out ALL toilet paper (a ziplock bag comes in handy here).

5. Be Friendly and Have Fun

This rule is the most important and easiest to follow. Say hello to fellow hikers, offer help if they need it, take in the scenery and enjoy yourself. That's what the whole thing is about, right?!

Photo: Jason Zabriskie

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.