Hiking Trail Etiquette

Be respectful of fellow hikers and the environment by practicing proper trail etiquette when you're enjoying the outdoors.

Whatever your reasons for heading into nature — to get out of the city, clear your head, explore the outside world — I’ll bet you’re going there to enjoy yourself.

And so are the other people on the trail. By practicing proper trail etiquette, you’re doing your part to ensure everyone can enjoy the beauty of nature.

Luckily, trail etiquette is mostly just common sense.

Practice Trail Etiquette

If you’ve spent any amount of time in the outdoors, I’m sure you’ve come across people who just grind your gears. Whether they’re taking up the entire trail or blasting their self-proclaimed theme song, there’s nothing quite like running into the trail jerk. Don’t let it be you.

The basics of trail etiquette are simple: treat others like you want to be treated! With that in mind, what is it really?

1. Right of Way

Unless you’re hiking in the absolute middle of nowhere, you’re bound to run into other trail users. So what does trail etiquette say should happen when you meet people, especially on a particularly narrow trail?

Uphill & Downhill Hikers

Mountain Bikers, Hikers & Horses

2. Let Faster Hikers Pass

When you’re hiking, you should always be aware of the other people on the trail. When someone inevitably catches up to you, step aside and let them pass. You don’t have to immediately step to the side, especially if it’s unsafe to do so, but try to let them pass as soon as you can. They’ll really appreciate it.

If you don’t let people pass you, they’ll end up hiking on your heels the entire way. You won’t have a good time and neither will they. Everyone will leave the trail unhappy.

If you’re trying to pass slower hikers, let them know you’re there. Don’t just show up beside them and scare the living hell out of them! Make some noise by humming, hitting your poles together, or simply calling ‘hi’.

Everyone should be able to enjoy the trail at their own pace and if you follow good trail etiquette, everyone will.


3. Hiking in a Big Group

Hiking with your friends is a great way to make memories. But since you’re hiking in a big group, there are additional things you should be aware of to ensure you and other trail users have an enjoyable time.

Be Aware of Where You Take Breaks

Hike Single File

4. Be Friendly

Hikers are a friendly bunch! Unlike the city where everyone’s glued to their phones, hikers almost always say a quick hello as they pass you. Sometimes they’ll even stop to chat.

Saying hi is about more than being friendly, though. It’s for everyone’s safety. By saying hi, other hikers are more likely to remember you should something happen. You can also ask about upcoming trail conditions or warn others about hazards.

If you’re out in nature to be alone, try not to ignore hikers that say hello to you. Give them a quick nod or smile; they’ll be thrown off if you don’t even acknowledge them.

If you’re the chatting type, don’t force your conversation on other hikers. While it’s true that the hiking community is very friendly, not everyone will want to stop to chat.

5. Tech on the Trail

We live in a world where we’re constantly bombarded with tech whether we like it or not. It’s not like that in nature, though, and it’s one of the reasons so many people are drawn to the outdoors.

Many of us bring our tech such as phones, cameras, or other hiking gear with us when we go on hikes. When we do that, it’s important to be conscientious of how we use it.


What About Other Technology?

6. Follow “Leave No Trace” Principles

A lot goes into Leave No Trace and I’m not going to cover it all in this article. To keep a long story short, Leave No Trace means you let nature do its thing and don’t damage the area.

This means you don’t pick plants or flowers, you pack out your garbage (including used toilet paper), and you stay on the trail. Those are only a few examples, but they should be enough to give you an idea of what Leave No Trace is all about.

If you want to check out the official rules, head over The Center for Outdoor Ethics, who are the original creators of Leave No Trace. If not, here’s a quick overview.

Stay on the Trail

If You Pack It In, Pack It Out

7. Respect Wildlife

You might be on the trails to escape your home, but the animals you encounter aren’t. Those mountains and forests are their home. Respect them by respecting their home.

When you see wildlife, always give them plenty of space. Not only does this help not disturb them, it helps keep you safe. A seemingly peaceful animal can quickly turn aggressive if it feels threatened.

This definitely goes for bears. We wrote a post about bear safety that you should know before you head onto the trail.

8. Hiking with Dogs

It’s always fun to bring your furry friend on the trail with you! But remember that your dog certainly isn’t exempt from trail etiquette.

Only bring your dog on dog-friendly trails and always follow the leash laws. If the trail is off-leash, that doesn’t mean your pooch can run wild doing whatever it wants. Your dog needs to be under control and always in your line of sight. Don’t let them disturb wildlife or trample plant life.

When hikers approach, regardless of if they have a dog or not, always leash your pooch and step aside. Not everyone appreciates a dog running up to or jumping on them – you never know if someone is scared of or has had a bad encounter with a dog before. If your dog is unfriendly or has problems with dogs, let your fellow hikers know.

And always, always, always clean up after your dog! Don’t leave your poop bags lying around, even if you plan on picking it up on the way out. Not only is it gross for other hikers to stumble upon a poop bag (or worse, not cleaned up poop), it’s just plain bad hiking etiquette and goes against Leave No Trace principles.


9. Follow the Trail’s Guidelines

Before you head out on a hike, check the trail’s guidelines at the trailhead. Most trail rules are quite similar, but sometimes there are important specific things to know.

Maybe bears have been spotted in the area. Maybe dogs aren’t allowed or are only allowed on leash. Or maybe there’s been a washout you need to navigate.

By following proper trail etiquette, you’re ensuring that you and everyone else on the trail has a wonderful time enjoying nature! And that’s all we really want.