The Do’s and Dont’s of Hiking Etiquette

Hike your own Hike—commonly referenced as HYOH—is a mantra that is impossible to avoid if you’re reading anything about a thru-hike. With a meaning quite literal to its phrase, the purpose of HYOH is to remind hikers to concern themselves with only their own hike, and to not let others’ hikes affect them.

Because this quote seems to be used nonstop during thru-hike prep (and during the actual hike itself) it can be “overplayed” and gets a bad rap. HYOH almost takes on a negative connotation, as in “Sure, do whatever… HYOH, man.”

However, HYOH really is the best mantra to keep in mind when hiking. Focus on your own path and, perhaps even more importantly, have respect for everyone else’s. This can be done just by following a few common, everyday courtesies. Below are two lists of different types of hiker etiquette: things to keep in mind while you are on the trail, and things you should steer clear of. Some of these “Do’s and Don’ts” are hard and fast rules that apply to on-trail etiquette, while others are more of a friendly hiker guideline. All of them, however, are based on respect.

The Do’s of Hiking Etiquette

Do give uphill the right of way

Always—regardless of which whether you’re a NOBO or a SOBO—give uphill hikers the right of way. If you come across another hiker and there’s not enough room for everyone on the trail, the person traveling downhill moves to the side to let the upward-climbing hiker continue hiking. The exception is if the hiker traveling uphill needs a break and motions for you to keep hiking downhill…. then feel free to keep hiking.

Do acknowledge other hikers

You don’t need to give them a hug and become their new BFF, but say hi and ask how they are, or at least give them a head nod. One time in Vermont we passed a group of seven thru-hikers and not a single one of them seemed to even notice that we were standing there. Just say hi! It’s a friendly thing to do and will only brighten someone’s day.

Do label your food in the hostel fridge

Hikers are hungry, and if it doesn’t seem like the food has an owner then I guarantee that it will quickly find one.

Do keep your dog on a leash, especially when there are people around

I’ll be the first to admit that our dog hikes off leash a majority of the time. However, we always keep the leash in hand and as soon as we see/hear other people or dogs, we immediately hook him up. Some people don’t like dogs, and some dogs don’t like dogs. Even if they do, it’s not really respectful to let your dog run up and jump on them.

Do remember that there are other hikers calling the shelter home for the night

Not everyone is pulling long days or coming into camp late at night. If you are, awesome! But have respect for hikers that are already in their tents or the shelter for the night. Don’t shine the brightest level of your headlamp all around while others are sleeping, and don’t start cooking dinner right next to someone when it’s well past dark. Gotta respect hiker midnight, ya know?  If you do find yourself entering a shelter late at night, just remember to switch your headlamp to the red setting; it’s a quick solution that gives you visibility while not disturbing those around you.

And as a follow up to the shut eye, consider getting a private room when you’re in town if you know you’re a snorer (and doing so is an option for you). While snoring won’t come as a surprise in any bunkroom, your fellow hikers will appreciate it immensely if they get the chance to sleep soundly for a night.  This is also a good time to remind you of one of the crucial pieces of gear hikers should always have on hand…ear plugs.


The Dont’s of Trail Etiquette

Don’t ask a person how much their pack weighs

You wouldn’t ask a girl how much she weighs in real life, right? Then don’t ask her how much her pack weighs, unless you want her to hit you with it.

Asking someone how much their pack weighs can seem like an attempt to judge others based on the decisions they made about what goes in their pack. Everyone has different wants and needs, so everyone’s pack will have different weights.  While it may seem like an easy go-to topic to start a conversation over, try to refrain from asking and find out where their hometown is instead.

Don’t be a gear head

If you’re not carrying it, don’t worry about it. If you know the other person wants to talk gear, then sure! Just remember that everyone you meet on the trail is hiking for their own reason, and the technicalities of their gear might not be their main focus.

Don’t ask a fellow hiker how many miles they hiked that day

Who cares? (besides their mom who’s tracking their whereabouts in AWOL. She can ask). This is not to say you are forbidden from discussing mileage altogether, especially if another hiker is interested in the same topic. But think of other ways to initiate the conversation. Take pride in yourself and your mileage, but be careful that it doesn’t come off as bragging or judging.

Don’t spread yourself all over the place

Whether it’s in the shelter, the bunkroom, the hostel, in front of the store, etc. Try to keep your gear in as much of an organized mess as possible and don’t encroach too far on other hikers’ and public spaces.

Don’t eat other hikers’ food unless they offer it

If you do accidentally grab something out of the hostel fridge that you didn’t realize already had a hungry owner, then replace it.

Don’t set your tent up in the shelter

The only time this is okay to do is if you are the only ones camping there, or if there is plenty of room and you checked that it was okay with the one/two other hikers sleeping there. Typically, if you set up your tent then you are camping on the ground.

Don’t leave a trace

Leave everything the way that you found it – no one should be able to tell that you were there. #LNT

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

We’re all out hiking the same trail, right? Heck, we’re all hiking the same mountain, the same forest, and the same world. Stop hating on others who you think are moving too fast or too slow, who you think are hiking the “wrong” way, or that are maybe just not doing it the same way you are. Hike your own hike and don’t let yourself forget the true meaning of the phrase.

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Comments 4

  • FM : Sep 16th

    I would add we should respect the fact that many hikers like to utilize the fullness of daylight hours, and quietly make an effort even in the mere light of twilight to leave the shelters. Crying foul and trying to pull such a person into a shouting match while others are clearly still trying to sleep speaks a lot to the boundaries of his or her concern. This happened to me twice on my thru-hike. Both times the offended person woke everyone up with his unconstrained volume of complaining.

    I remember when I was one of only two guys in a Maine shelter near the end of my thru-hike, and the other hiker was a little tense and defensive when he delivered his warning that he was getting up at 4am in an effort to get to a location to meet some of his friends and/or family. I was a little taken aback by his tension since I’m a pretty laid back kind of guy, and such armoring is misplaced in my case. So that in mind, I assured him in a friendly tone of voice it was none of my business what time he left the shelter. He was surprised at my reassurance, smiled and became very relaxed. He was obviously not expecting to meet a reasonable person. The poor guy had suffered a lot of immature behavior on the trail, and had become conditioned to anticipate and protect himself from it. He opened up, and we chatted a while before finally going to sleep.

    Also, it’s good to keep in mind dark is quiet hours in the forest. People sleeping in a tent at 9:45PM trumps a group of astronomy students who come along and set up a telescope 10-15 meters away thinking they have the right to party and talk loudly until 2AM.

    Reply
  • Cheryl : Sep 17th

    Great advice Emily ! I like your style😁

    Reply
  • Morning Glory : Sep 29th

    Writing about this here will never reach the intended audience because it’s more like trail etiquette for non-hikers but I wish there was a way to politely (and quickly) inform day hikers that I don’t have time to stop and talk to them so they can pick my brain on my clothing, gear, etc. I’m regularly approached by men and women wanting an on the spot lesson. I tell them a few website names (like The Trek) and tell them I need to make it to my next stop by a certain time but many keep asking and getting more specific as they go. I’m not trying to be rude but talking to them would throw my pace off for the rest of the day and frankly, I solo hike to be away from people.

    What is particularly unnerving is that as a (long distance) female solo hiker I’m regularly asked by male day hikers where I began my hike and my destination for the night *shudder*. I give them a very brief response like “17 miles today” or “Not sure” and I never break stride but since they are pack-less they can often pace me for awhile and they’ll persist in their creepy line of questioning until I push really hard to out-pace them or go beyond their scenic overlook destination.
    I get it, they’re probably just curious and aren’t thinking about the inappropriateness of their questions (if you wouldn’t ask it of a stranger on a city street don’t ask it of me in the woods) but I’m sick to the teeth of trying to outrun men that want to know my itinerary. I mean for cryin’ out loud, I only give my itinerary to my family and 2 best hiker friends.

    Thoughts, suggestions?
    Thanks and happy trails

    Reply
    • FM : Sep 30th

      For the inquisitive hiker, you can carry a “business” style card that has website link information.

      For the males in heat, do what most women do–wear a wedding ring. If that doesn’t get noticed, proceed to step two–find a creative way to mention your husband. “Meeting my husband up ahead, in a rush.” That usually quenches the torrential testosterone. A mention of the husband is to me (and any rational male) a clear signal that a girl wants to be left alone.

      If the person persists to try and keep pace with you, you can stop, step to the side of the trail and wait for them to pass. That’s a clear signal you don’t want to be around them.

      If all else fails, you can tell *persistent* hikers who are sticking to you like fly paper that you come to the mountains for solitude and you would appreciate the space for that. (You can have that on the card as well if you want them to catch a hint before they even start to hiker-stalk you).

      Put mp3 player ear buds in right in front of them and leave their company. That creates a barrier to conversation that you don’t want them to continue. Then ignore them.

      There are other sites that can give you general tips for dealing with intrusive people: http://www.wikihow.com/Get-People-to-Leave-You-Alone

      Hope that helps.

      Reply

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