8 Tips to Hiking Etiquette and Safety

Anytime the weather is good is a great time to enjoy day hikes. I love hiking and wish I could do more. For years my husband and I have taken annual camping trips that include daily hikes.

Hikes are a great way to relax and enjoy a little solitude or to share time with loved ones, family, and friends as a group activity. It’s a perfect way to expose kids to the beauty of nature outside city life. It can also be a fine business activity. A few years back a potential client invited me to join her for a morning hike, instead of a morning coffee meeting.

Wherever you hike, you will invariably encounter other people who are also enjoying the same activity. If you abide by these few simple courtesies, your hikes will be pleasant, safe, and stress-free.

1. Hiking pace. Don’t try to hike at your partner’s pace. If your speeds don’t match and you are on a well-defined clear trail, try splitting up for a while. Meet up at predetermined points along the way. This way you can hike at your own speed and enjoy the special solitude of hiking alone; and probably see more wildlife in the process.

2. Hiking with kids: As soon as children can walk well by themselves (around age 4 or 5 and certainly by 6 years old), head out on a short day hike to get a feel for your child’s pace, level of interest, and endurance. You will also test your own patience and tolerance, not to mention your ability to carry your kid back to the car when that last half-mile is just a little too far. Younger kids are much less likely to continue and not complain when the going gets tough. Some kids don’t see the point of suffering like most adults who are too embarrassed to complain. When many kids get tired, hot, wet, or miserable, they simply stop walking.

3. Enjoy the peace and quiet. Leave your electronic devices (phones, radios and music devices) at home. If you want to listen to something, listen to the sounds of the wilderness. Resist the temptation to catch up on your phone calls.

Be sensitive to how much noise you make, especially in a group. When you’re outside, sound carries much more than you think. Keep your voice down and don’t make unnecessary noise. Act as though you are in a library or watching a performance in a theatre.

And there’s so much to hear. While there is a distinct lack of city noise such as traffic, honking horns, telephones, buzzers, beepers, car alarms, and (I hope) blaring music, there is no shortage of sound. Sounds of wind, water, birds, and other animals all add to the “music” of the wild. This is the most common reason people go into the woods, to enjoy the sounds of nature and the relative silence that ensues.

4. Stick to pre-arranged plans. If you are hiking with a partner or a group, don’t go off alone without telling someone what you are doing and when you intend to rejoin the group. If you agreed to hike, picnic, or camp in a certain location, don’t make a spur-of-the-moment decision to go off on your own. Your group could get worried or even frantic if you disappear. They could even get hurt or worse if they go looking for you in unfamiliar territory or in the dark.

5. Stay on the trail. Hike on existing trails. They are designed for the high impact of many hikers. Walk single-file so as not to widen it. Wear hiking boots so you can keep on the trail through wet or muddy stretches. Skirting puddles creates additional side trails and unnecessary erosion. Don’t shortcut the switchbacks. They are designed to minimize erosion and ease the ascent and decent in steep sections of the trail. Cutting these corners causes downhill drainage that can quickly erode a trail. When taking a rest break, move off the trail to a hard, rocky area, a non-vegetated place, or a place with durable vegetation, such as dry grass.

6. Share the trail. You have a pace that is natural and comfortable. If people behind you catch up, step aside—typically to the right—and let them pass. While this may seem obvious, you’d be surprised how many hikers choose to speed up instead. The problem is that slower hikers usually can’t maintain the faster pace and must slow down eventually, so faster hikers catch up anyway. Repeating this becomes uncomfortable for everyone, so don’t do it.

7. If you pack it in, pack it out. Whatever you bring with you, even on a day hike in a local park, take it out or dispose of it in a trash or recycling container provided by the park. Some trash items, such as batteries, are considered toxic waste and must be disposed of properly, not tossed with the regular trash.

8. Respect the environment and wildlife. Don’t alter the environment to your liking or bring home souvenirs. Allow the next person to see as much of the natural world as you did. It’s exciting to find an arrowhead or deer skull by the trail. Why not leave it there so the next hiker can enjoy the same excitement as you did?

You are in the home of wild animals and birds, so respect their need for undisturbed territory. Disturbing animals can interfere with feeding or breeding behavior. When following an animal for a photo, stay downwind, avoid sudden motions, and don’t charge or give chase. Resist the temptation to feed them. Leaving seeds for birds or breadcrumbs or nuts for squirrels can upset the natural balance of their food chain. Feeding wild animals can make them dependent on human food, which causes big problems, like bears in some areas ripping the doors off cars to get to the people-food inside.

BONUS: Protect yourself from lightning:
If a thunderstorm comes upon you while hiking, your instinctive response might be to take cover and get into shelter. But sometimes shelter can be more dangerous than staying outside. Find a place least likely to attract a strike. Stay away from peaks or tops of hills, exposed ridges, tall trees, and open fields.

Probably the safest shelter is inside the “safety shadow” of a potential lighting target. This means you’re far enough away that you are relatively safe from a direct strike and ground currents, but not so far away as to be a target. If you are near a large tree or other target, stay inside an area where the horizontal distance from the target is about one-half the tree’s height above you. It is best if the tree is 5 to 10 times your height so you place yourself a reasonable distance from the potential strike zone.

Wherever you place yourself, put a non-conducting item between you and the ground by crouching on top of your pack or knapsack, a rolled up jacket, or a dry rock. Assume the “lightning position” with your feet close together and your buttocks off the ground. Hug your knees or put your hands on them.

Enjoy your time in the great outdoors.

QUESTION: What other items do you think should be added to this list of hiking etiquette? Do let us hear from you by locating this article at www.AdvancedEtiquette.com/blog. You may also reach us at www.AdvancedEtiquette.com. If you enjoyed this article and want more, subscribe to our “Etiquette Tip of the Month” newsletter—at no charge—filled with great monthly tips on all sorts of topics from international business and social etiquette and protocol to everyday life subjects. It will be great to have you as a member of our happy family of subscribers.

Happy Practicing!

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