I don’t know about you… but I go hiking to get away from people, society, and the hubbub of the big city. The time I spend driving to far flung corners of Virginia, the hours slogging on, and sometimes off, trail are all in search of one precious and increasingly scant commodity… solitude. Don’t get me wrong, I love people… but my inner introvert needs time away, time to recharge.
But, what do you do when you amble up the trail and bump into a another hiker (if you said reach for your bear spray… this post is for you)? Well, like many other groups, hikers have some unwritten rules to help govern their interaction. For example, at poker night… you can take the last slice of pizza and you can take the last beer, but by-god you better not take both.
Hikers are no different. Following a few unwritten (well, ok… now they are written) rules can help make your hike and the hike for others more pleasant. Below are a few observed practices:
• Hike quietly. Speak in low voices and, if you didn’t already leave it in the car or pitch it off a mountain top, turn your cell phone down or off. Enjoy the sounds of nature and let others do the same. The same thing goes for personal music devices, If I can hear it on the outside of your headphones… its probably too loud.
• Don’t obstruct the trail. When you take a break, move off the trail a ways to allow others to pass by unobstructed.
• Don’t toss your trash – not even biodegradable items such as banana peels. It is not good for animals to eat non-native foods and who wants to look at your old banana peel while it ever-so-slowly decomposes? If you packed it in, pack it back out.
• Hikers going downhill yield to those hiking uphill.
• When bringing a pet on a hike, be sure to keep it on a leash and under control. Don’t forget to pack out pet waste as well.
• Don’t feed the wildlife. While many animals stay hidden, others are not so shy. Giving these creatures food only disrupts their natural foraging habits.
• Leave what you find. The only souvenirs a hiker should come home with are photographs and happy memories. (And maybe an improved fitness level!)
• When relieving yourself outdoors, be sure to do so 200 feet away from the trail and any water sources. Follow Leave No Trace principles.
• Walk through the mud or puddle and not around it, unless you can do so without going off the trail. Widening a trail by going around puddles, etc. is bad for trail sustainability. Just because it looks easy to cut the corner off of a switchback doesn’t mean it is a good idea. Help preserve the trail by staying on the trail.
• If hiking in a group, don’t take up the whole width of the trail; allow others to pass.