The other day, I decided to climb Echo Mountain to Inspiration Point.
Granted, this is one of the most popular hikes in the Los Angeles area, so I wasn’t expecting pristine solitude. But even so, I was pretty shocked at the number of hikers displaying such blatant indifference to how they were acting. What began as two people running down straight at me as I was ascending the same hill became a person blasting cheesy trance on their phone for his group to collectively hear. A girl eating a banana then throws the peel off the side of a cliff.
Seeing stuff like this happen continuously over an 11-mile hike made it seem like a 25-mile hike through pure drudgery.
I get pretty annoyed when I see people displaying bad manners as most of the time, they should know better. My hiking partner had to talk me down from a few incidents, as I was annoyingly sucking down tepid water from my Camelback hose to cool off.
So should I have given those unruly hikers the benefit of the doubt?
Now before you scoff and call me a sanctimonious snob, hear me out. Simple trail etiquette, like I’m about to explain, is like driving etiquette with a human component. Practicing good driving etiquette means being a safer driver, and having good human etiquette ensures that you won’t be perceived as a jerk. Same for hiking. Win-win.
With the increasing popularity of hiking, what I’m about to say is a good reminder to us all. Hell, I’ve even been guilty of a couple of these, at one point in my longish life. Everybody’s human.
So here goes. Twenty-six ways to ensure you’re not being “one of them.” So here goes. Hiking trail etiquette 101. Bonus points at the end!
1. Stop blasting music on your phone.
Why? For years, people have looked to hiking to enjoy peace, relief from city noise, daily stresses, and technology. Yeah, music is also another way to de-stress – with headphones, people.
But without headphones, blasting music on your phone so that both you and your friend can hear it is almost as bad as littering. It’s the same as that subwoofer schmuck letting it all hang out at any given stoplight. Just because you like your crappy music doesn’t mean anyone else does.
2. Don’t talk needlessly loud.
Why? Same rationale as playing music. It’s tempting to gab to pass the time, but other people don’t need to be hearing your latest news.
3. When you’re hiking downhill, yield to hikers going uphill.
Why? Hikers who are going uphill, move slower, have a smaller field of vision, and may not even know you’re there. And do you like being momentarily barricaded when you’re trying to concentrate on your pace going up? Put yourself in their shoes, or remember when you were first making that incline. Of course, you may find that uphill-hikers will choose to yield because they can then take a breather, but it’s up to them to signal it.
4. When you’re hiking solo, yield to hikers in larger groups.
Why? Because it’s harder for larger groups to move off the trail than smaller groups.
5. When wanting to pass a slower hiker, greet them first.
That means saying “hi, can I pass?” and not just an “excuse me” as you’re brushing past them. This isn’t a downtown sidewalk.
Why? Often times, a slower hiker will understand you’re wanting to pass upon greeting. And it’s just common courtesy.
6. If you’re hiking with a dog, always yield when the trail is narrow.
Why? While I love dogs and don’t mind them running near me, not everyone is the same. Other hikers could become startled, scared, or worse yet, they could become mean towards your dog.
7. Always yield to horses/mules/burros, etc.
Why? I get super excited when I see a horse, and always want to pet it. However, horses and other pack animals easily spook. I was once leading a burro on a backpacking trip when the burro suddenly bolted. Took off. Gone. Probably trampled everything in its path. Couldn’t find him until nightfall.
8. Just because your apple core is “biodegradable” doesn’t mean you should throw it on the ground.
Why? Wild animals (read: those that will eat you too) will smell it from miles away. Plus, introducing people food isn’t great for them and detrimental to their habitat. Pack it in, pack it out.
9. Don’t litter non-biodegradable stuff either.
Why? Hopefully, this is self-explanatory. If not, bring a plastic grocery bag and carry it in your backpack. Place your trash in said grocery bag. Pack it in, pack it out.
10. Don’t feed wildlife.
Why? Same reason as #8. True story, the chipmunks in Mount Rainier National Park have become SO accustomed to this that they’re no longer cute from afar. They will climb right up your back and steal food right out of your hand like beast mode. I actually lost a handful of granola this way.
11. Pee/poop at least 50 paces away from any water source, like lakes, rivers, ponds, babbling brooks, etc.
Why? Your pee/poop has less of a chance of contaminated said babbling brook, etc. Fifty paces (200 feet) is the standard distance set by Leave No Trace. Guys, please don’t pee right off the trail. So gross.
12. Always say “hi” to other hikers.
Why? Common courtesy. No man is an island.
13. Don’t knock over cairns.
Why? Trails can be complicated to navigate, and cairns are initially made to help point the way. There have been a few incidents when I lost the trail, and more often than not, seeing a cairn is a savior.
14. Don’t make new cairns.
Making new cairns increases the probability of confusing hikers. Even if you strongly feel that making a cairn would help navigate someone away from imminent death, think about it. If that were true, the whole trail would be lined by cairns after a week.
And though it seems harmless, don’t make cairns for fun, spiritual purposes, or for any other reason. Doing so is like taking a selfie using nature as a billboard, and letting the world know you’re an ignorant, egocentric tosser. Plus, messing with rocks ruins the surrounding habitat. Think about it. You go scouting around for the perfect rocks. You build your cairn, likely in some random place off the trail. In the process, you trample fragile plants, contribute to erosion and cover the place with footprints. Your cairn has ruined that habitat for life. But in consolation, at least you got to be spiritual and free, and the whole world gets to know that. How does that make you feel?
15. In fact, don’t make your mark on the trail AT ALL.
Why? Carving your name into anything isn’t a romantic thing like books and movies portray. In fact, every time you carve your name into a tree or write your name on a rock, a puppy is slaughtered and someone clubs a baby seal. Yes, I’ve belabored this point. For proof, look up Casey Nocket.
16. Don’t hog scenic vantage points.
Why? Other people have also hiked long distances to see the same vantage point. Case in point, I went to Big Basin a few months ago and decided to hike to some waterfall 11+ miles away. Unfortunately, a group of 25 had the same idea. And guess what? They parked their arses to eat lunch/nap on the only balcony that faced said waterfall, which happened to be the only space you could view said waterfall off the trail. Seriously?
17. Don’t take rocks and other stuff.
Why? It’s tacky and not cool. Think of it like taking something from someone’s home. That “someone” is the bear, insect, mountain lion, flower, etc. that was there long before you were. And don’t try and justify it by the fact that you pay taxes.
18. Pick up trash.
Why? It’s not hard. If you see gum wrappers, bottle caps, empty water bottles, or anything seemingly not disease-ridden, just put it in your own plastic trash bag that you’re already carrying. Every little bit of plastic helps.
19. When taking a break, tying your shoe, checking your map, etc., move to the side of the trail.
Why? You won’t be blocking oncoming hikers.
20. Don’t move geocache boxes
Why? People search for them via GPS from around the world. Sign your name and leave it where you found it.
21. Hike in single file.
Why? Because hikers are like sand people. They always ride in single file to hide their numbers. #starwarsreference
And you won’t be blocking oncoming hikers. Moving on…
22. Stay on the trail.
Why? To preserve the natural habitat as much as possible. The only exception is when you need to pee/poop. In that case, tread lightly and try walking in areas that were previously walked upon.
23. Don’t smoke.
Why? Because it’ll kill you, man. I was on a hiking trip when a guy disappeared. He apparently decided to light up halfway up Mono Pass. While we were able to locate him based on his cigarette smoke wafting at 10,000 feet elevation, consider this. Smoking has no place on a hiking trail, especially at high elevation. Thankfully the poor guy didn’t keel over for lack of oxygen. Wait for camp.
24. Don’t lie when someone asks you “how much further?”
Why? I saw a bratty kid doing this on the Mist Trail. It’s mean and hateful.
25. Don’t throw stuff down hills, cliffs or off boulders.
Why? You’ll never know how it could land, who or what is in the landing zone, or what it could set off. Think: avalanche, hitting a marmot on the head, hitting a person, etc. True story: I’ve seen a mini-rock avalanche happen with the toss of a pebble.
26. If you see another hiker in potential distress, always stop.
Why? Hikers need to look out for one another because you can’t exactly call 911. On one occasion, another hiker gave me a bottle of water when I ran out. On another occasion, I did the same thing for someone else. I once gave someone a band-aid. Someone else gave me some moleskin. Etc.
26.5. BONUS! Mountain bikers, don’t forget that hikers have the right-of-way.
Why? Same concept as pedestrians having the right-of-way vs. cars. Unfortunately, in my 30 years of hiking, I have yet to come across a mountain biker who demonstrates knowing this, if at all.
OKAY, hopefully, I haven’t scared you into coming 100 yards of me on a hiking trail. Hope this helps you gear up for Fall/Winter hiking! Please share and tag your favorite hiking bud.