Vlogging Etiquette: How to Document Your Hike Without Making a Scene

I have vlogged two hikes already (the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Colorado Trail), and also plan on vlogging my upcoming Appalachian Trail hike. However, in the weeks approaching the AT, I have noticed more eye rolls and grunts toward vloggers than I had two years ago, and in a way, it bothers me.

“Why is it that those who blog their hikes are ‘so creative’ and have ‘such great memories to look back on,’ but those who vlog the same thing get scoffed at?”

This was the main question I’ve been debating.

For me, vlogging was never the goal. I decided to blog my PCT hike because I wanted to keep my parents and family in the loop, but after just a week on trail, typing a blog post was not something I was willing to do. By the time I made it to camp at night, I was tired and wanted to sleep. By the time I made it to town to resupply, I forgot the little details that would make my blog something I’d want to look back on. By default, I began to vlog.

It wasn’t until I began talking to others about my bloggers vs. vloggers confusion recently, that I started to receive feedback clarifying the differences which I, as a vlogger, couldn’t see on my own. The main takeaway for me was that it is very hard for a blogger to affect another hiker’s experience through their blog. Sure, perhaps they could write something that wasn’t kind about another hiker, but that doesn’t seem to happen often, nor does it really affect in-the-moment people, like the guy next to you at the shelter. With vloggers, however, because it is not a quiet “keep-to-yourself” activity, so to speak, I received more and more stories about how our actions can and have negatively impacted the people around us when we aren’t conscious of what we are doing.

With the number of vloggers rising each year due to the popularity of trails, lighter and better recording options, and easier editing tools, the risk of making a bad name for ourselves continues to grow. As one of these vloggers, I don’t like hearing the negative experiences, because I love looking back at my videos to remember my trips, and I never want to feel like documenting my experience could be ruining someone else’s. As a result, I decided to take the feedback and stories I’ve heard and put together what I think is a good starting point for “Vlogging Etiquette.” I’m not perfect with my vlogs, and I have had times when I’ve slipped up, so I am in no way saying that I do everything right. What I am saying is that if we can all try to be conscious of these eight things, I think the overall experience for everyone could improve.

1) Be Considerate

This is a great thing to try to remain conscious of. Not everyone wants a camera in their face. In fact, some people actually came to trail to get away from technology. While recording our trips and having memories to look back on is special, it should never be done in a way that affects another person’s experience. Filming people we don’t know and shoving a camera in someone’s face can be poorly received, as can pulling out a camera at inappropriate times.

My overall thought on being considerate is that if you aren’t sure if filming will be well-received, just don’t do it. That leads to the next point..

2) The People on the Computer Don’t Need to See Everything

Just because we can film everything doesn’t mean we need to. As someone who has done video editing as a professional job, I know how easy it is to get stuck on a vision or goal when it comes to videography. Because I know I can be this type of person, I intentionally try to not get wrapped up in my vlogs to the point where I forget to take time to put the camera down.

On my PCT hike there were times that I received negative comments on videos because I’d mention, “I just came from trail magic,” but wouldn’t show it. Don’t get so wrapped up in the comments that you let people behind a screen dictate how you hike, what you do, or what you choose to record. There’s only a certain amount of time we get with each experience, and sometimes it’s nicer for everyone if, when coming to a situation like trail magic, the camera goes away, we take time to talk to the person who is showing us generosity, and we thank them and continue on our way. The people watching on their computers don’t need to see every moment, and we don’t need to feel bad for not showing it.

My exception to the note on trail magic is if the person providing magic mentioned that they watched my videos (I never asked), I would maybe film a clip or two after having a conversation and feeling the situation out, because in those scenarios the video could be just as fun for them to look back on, and some do enjoy it. However, if the person providing magic is someone I don’t know, and who doesn’t know me, I try to let us both enjoy the experience for what it is without adding a camera.

3) When in Doubt, Ask

This kind of piggybacks off the first two. If you don’t know someone well enough to know that they’d be OK being featured in one of your videos, ask before you film. I’m not talking about people in the far-off distance, because going all the way up to them to ask might be odd, but rather situations like if you’re sitting in a group circle and want to start filming everyone sitting with you.

Just taking a moment to give a quick, “Hey, is everyone cool if I take a few clips at some point while we’re sitting here?” is a great way to get approval before you film. I know candid shots often look nicer, but even wording it in a way that says “at some point” instead of “right this moment” can help keep your shots candid and your hiker acquaintances happy. That being said, it is equally important to understand that anyone can respond “no,” and their choice needs to be respected.

4) Stay Humble

This one is broken up into two items because there are two parts of staying humble that I think are important. The first is in relation to other hikers. Remember that when push comes to shove, no one cares about your “following.” The people you interact with on trail will remember how you treated them, not how many views your YouTube videos get. If you act like you are better than them, that is what they will remember.

We are not better than anyone else on trail just because we publicize our hikes.

5.) Don’t Act Entitled (i.e., Stay Humble, Part Two)

This part is more geared toward trail angels, people in towns, and anyone who is not a current hiker. There are a lot of kind and generous people in the hiking community who are willing to help hikers at the drop of a hat. There are also many that love to live vicariously through vloggers during the summer. Sometimes, people are even generous enough to mail supplies, offer rides, and help out in ways that other hikers usually don’t get to witness. (To refer back to #4, that isn’t because you are better than other hikers, it’s because you publicize your hike.) Keep in mind that you are not entitled to these things. If someone goes out of their way to help you, even if they are a fan of your channel, the normal etiquette still applies—show that you’re grateful by engaging in conversation, getting to know them, and letting them get to know you a bit more too. That’s probably the whole reason they came out to see you. If you are not willing to do this, you should not be willing to accept extra forms of magic or support that come as a result of your vlog. When someone is telling you they love your videos, or that they’re so excited they got to meet you, etc., it can be easy to forget that they are the one doing you the favor, not the other way around. That being said…

6) Don’t Be Stupid

This one is more about not letting your vlog affect your experience rather than another hiker’s, but I feel like it is an equally important reminder for anyone new to vlogging their hikes. Just because someone online is offering you magic or support does not mean you need to accept it. Denying magic or support should not be something you feel bad doing, though declining it politely is always better. I know personally that I can fall into the habit of reading a message and not responding, but I try to remind myself that if they were willing to do me whatever favor they’re messaging about, then the least I can do is send back a line of text thanking them.

The important takeaway is that while online generosity usually comes with the best intentions, anyone can watch your videos and anyone can send you a message. Be careful about telling people your exact locations. Be careful about accepting rides from people you don’t know. If you are going to accept in-person magic or support from someone you met online, have a friend or two that is willing to join you. More times than not, the viewers mean well, but it never hurts to stray on the side of caution and trust your instincts, especially if you are solo.

7) Practice LNT and Set a Good Example

LNT principles are important. Please learn and practice the principles of Leave No Trace. While this is a rule of thumb for everyone, not just vloggers, I think we need to be conscious to hold ourselves to a higher standard when we can, because what we do sets a precedent for the people who are watching us. This is a great way to improve the reputation vloggers have on trail, especially as we grow in numbers, and it isn’t all that hard.

Something I started trying to do on the Colorado Trail, besides just practicing LNT principles, was that if I saw an example of where LNT was not practiced, I tried to point it out on camera. If trash was left behind, I’d pick it up and show that I was packing it out. If a rope was left dangling from a tree where someone cut down their food bag, I’d try to get footage of someone taking it down. If toilet paper was left on a rock or around a campsite, I’d make a comment on camera about how messed up and gross that is. For me, this was not about receiving praise. It was because the people who watch the vlogs we post are often planning for hikes of their own, and showing them that the vloggers they look up to are practicing LNT, annoyed at improper LNT, and going out of their way to keep the trails clean, will make them more likely to follow those examples when they are out on trail themselves.

Point being: If you want to publicize your hike, try to be a role model.

8) Don’t do Things Just to Record Them

I wasn’t sure where to put this one, so I saved it for the end. One last bit of feedback I was given about negative experiences with vloggers was that sometimes vloggers may say or do things that seem nice, helpful, or genuine, but then pull out the camera and start recording. The problem for the other person is that suddenly the interaction feels inauthentic, or like the vlogger is just doing a good deed to get rewarded (via praise on the internet).

If you are going out of your way to help another person, be it someone who has run out of food, is injured, is struggling, or just looks like they need support in any type of way, make sure that the decision to help isn’t merely to receive a pat on the back. We should be helping each other when we can, but when the motive is to get more taps on the like button, it shows, and the person needing help feels uncomfortable. Just don’t be that guy/gal.

Like I said, I am not the poster child for perfect vlogging etiquette and there are instances when I mess up or could do better, but the point is not to be perfect, rather to address ways that we, as vloggers, could do better. Let’s be more conscious of our impact and try to set a great example out there. – Chaunce

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Comments 6

  • Lisa : Feb 1st

    Great info and the first person I’ve seen cover the topic. Thanks Chaunce!

    Reply
  • Sonya Richmond : Feb 3rd

    Good advice, thank you. Would you recommend any particular vlogging software for a beginner?

    Reply
  • Michele "Artemis" Rosa : Feb 3rd

    Doing extensive research into my new craft of vlogging, if a vlog like a book does not have a begining, middle and and, the comments will come in for more content “show the trail magic” because the audience was left for more. Check out Casey Neistat’s explanation how to make a vlog. he has 10M subs. As far as being humble, the highest ranked hiking vlog as only 155k subs which is not even a YouTube blip on their radar. Yet I have met more male chauvinistic male vloggers and female record breakers with an ego. Arrogance is a loose mask for insecurities. If anyone wants to vlog, they need to get a thick skin. The trolls are a part of every day life because fail adults have an outlet for pent up passive aggressiveness for their miserable existences.

    Reply
  • Steff : Feb 6th

    Ha, love the title.

    I enjoy the feeling of being offline on hikes – and I’m pretty shy around cameras and microphones as well, so I really appreciate your guidelines and all the thought you put into them. I’ll also look more kindly onto vloggers from now on. So far I always suspected vanity to be the main motivating factor for doing a vlog, so reading about your perfectly reasonable decisions behind doing one instead of a blog/journal puts my own prejudice into perspective.

    Reply
  • Mari Johnson : Feb 11th

    Really great post! You’ve touched on a lot of things that I’ve felt before. It’s too bad to hear that vloggers are getting a bad name due to some disrespectful people. Good reminders though before I head out with my camera on the PCT this year!

    Reply
  • Still Thinking : Feb 12th

    9) Don’t Narrate Over Other Peoples’ Experience.
    Ever been watching a movie while someone in the theater describes the story to a friend on the phone? Ever had a conversation where someone next to you starts talking about what they just overheard you discussing? Been in a group and had someone start talking on their phone while still in the conversation circle instead of moving away? These things are just as annoying on trail as they are in the ‘real’ world. If someone is at a great overlook soaking in the view, please don’t walk up right next to them and start describing the parts of the view they should be looking at to your camera. If you see someone coking a ramen bomb, don’t just start filming a segment about how nasty ramen bombs are on your camera right next to them. Remember that you’re still part of the situation even if you’re focused into the lense. Be considerate not just of filming other hikers but of talking over and framing their experiences for them unasked.

    Reply

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