Hiking Etiquette 101: The 12 Trail Rules You Should Know

There are not many rules of etiquette that stretch across the world, but hiking etiquette is one of them. No matter where you are, people tend to abide by the same hiking rules, keeping the peace and helping everyone around them to stay safe.

Of course, you might not always meet other people on your treks, but when you do, it is important to know what to do and how to respond to the situation. Here’s a lesson in Hiking Etiquette 101 to teach you the ways of the trail.

Hiking Etiquette

Below are the twelve rules of the trail, each of which is just as important as the last for a safe and enjoyable hiking trip. So, make sure you learn these well before you go off on your next hike.

#1 Right of Way on the Trail

There is a clear rule when it comes to the right of way on a trail:
-Bikers yield for hikers
-Bikers yield for horses
-Hikers yield for horses

This is the first rule of the trail, and it should always be followed. You see, bikers are often the fastest and can stop quickly, so it is only polite for them to let hikers pass first. Horses are the largest and also unpredictable, so everyone should stop and let them pass first. If it’s bigger than you, let it go first!

On the wider paths, you should always stay to the right and pass on the left. If you are overtaking someone, along with ensuring you stay to the left, you should also alert them to your presence. Often, you will hear a cyclist or horse rider announce that they are on your left, so you know to stay on the right.

When you yield to others, always step off the trail so that they have the full path. It is polite and, in the case of horses, offers a wider space in case of sudden spooks or trouble. When you are hiking in a group, make sure to travel single file, or if you are on wider paths do not take up more than half.

When you come across other hikers, and you are in a group, you should yield to single and pair hikers. Sometimes, they will let you go first as there are more of you but it is common courtesy to offer them right of way.

If you are walking downhill and there are hikers walking uphill towards you, they should always be given the right of way. Walking uphill requires a lot more effort, and so it is only polite to let them pass first. Sometimes, they will let you pass first because they want to take a break, but it should always be the choice of the uphill walker to either let you go or pass you. 

#2 Dogs on the Trail

Most trails are very welcoming to dogs, but if they are not allowed, you will find a sign stating this. The best thing to do, however, is to research the place you wish to hike to check if dogs are allowed and what kind of restrictions are in place.

Quite a few trails will expect you to keep your dogs on the lead, for their safety and the safety of other hikers on the trail. It is important that you respect this if this is the case. You are also expected to pick up after them, it’s not nice to come across faeces on a trail hike and picking it up is the polite thing to do.

In areas where your dog is allowed off the lead, make sure you are in control of them. If you are worried about them killing wildlife or causing general destruction, don’t let them off the lead. When you come across horses, make sure the dog is on the lead in good time and that you make it sit off the trail (quietly) with you while they pass.

Dogs are very welcome on the trail, and the vast majority of people have no problems with them. Just make sure you stick to these basic etiquette rules for the best experience. 

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#3 Horses and Bikers on the Trail

In this section, we will take a look at the etiquette for bikers and horse riders as well as hikers who come across them. Horse riders should keep their horses in walk at all times, or a trot at most. Cantering and galloping are not recommended as you do not know who you will come across on the trail and it can be difficult to stop in time.

A walk means that you and your horse can have a more relaxed journey, and the safety of walkers is not put at risk. A trot is generally acceptable in an area where you can see far ahead and will be able to stop in plenty of time when you spot a hiker.

For those who are hiking and come across horses, there are a couple of things you need to do to avoid accidents or spooking the horse. If you notice the horse coming uphill and you are at the top, stand back and out of its line of vision. To a horse, you look like a predator waiting to pounce at the top of the hill, and so standing at the top could spook it.

If you are already on the hill, step right off the trail to wait. If the horse is spooked it will bolt straight uphill and you do not want to be in the way of it. When the rider is about to pass, greet them in a calm and quiet voice before asking if you are ok where you are or if they need you to move. While the horse passes, remain completely quiet so that the atmosphere remains relaxed for the horse.

For cyclists, there is one main rule – don’t go too fast. It’s destructive to the trail, and it can cause injury to pedestrians if you are not able to stop in time. Plus, if you hit a rock at high speeds that could cause some serious injuries to your own body. Be polite to other hikers and give them good warning when you are coming up to overtake them. Don’t whizz past without saying anything, as this is not fair for the hikers. 

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#4 Kids on the Trail

Children are welcome on trails, but it is important you ensure you follow these rules while they are walking. After all, while it is a fun activity for all ages, not every hiker will appreciate coming across rowdy children. Here are some of the things you should keep in mind when you take your kids hiking.

Generally speaking, the rules for adults apply to children. However, it is important to remember that it is preferred if you prevent your kids from running around and throwing things. Running, while a part of childhood, can be dangerous for them, as there are many roots and small stumps that could easily trip them up and cause an injury.

Throwing has a similar basis, but there is also the risk that rocks and sticks could cause injury to wildlife if they hit them. The trail is meant to be a place of calm and serenity, and so harming or disturbing the wildlife is hugely frowned upon. We know that most kids don’t mean to hurt anything, but it’s something that does happen, often by accident.

Stay together and don’t let anyone wander off, it can be so easy for children to get lost if they wander off the path. Keeping everyone calm and occupied is useful as well, as other hikers want to enjoy the peace and tranquillity that comes with the trail, as opposed to screaming and excited noises. Take time to enjoy the outdoors and the serenity it offers as a family.

Of course, a parent knows their child and the needs of that child best, so there may be certain things that need to be implemented to keep them calm and polite on the trail. This is just general advice for bringing your kids hiking with you. 

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#5 Keeping it Clean

This is also known as Leave No Trace, and it is a widely-accepted rule when it comes to hiking. If you bring snacks and food with you, make sure you clean up after yourself and don’t leave litter lying around. You go hiking to admire nature and get closer to it, not to leave rubbish and pollute the area. This is also known as the pack it, bring it rule. So, whatever you pack to take with you should also return home with you.

The only thing you should be leaving behind are footprints, and this is one of the most important etiquette points for those who are out hiking. So, if you are bringing food or a dog, make sure you have enough bags for rubbish and other forms of waste. It’s unfortunate that so many hikers break this rule, which is all the more reason for you to stick with it. 

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#6 When Nature Calls

Sometimes you will end up needing to use the bathroom, and there is nothing but wilderness around. When this happens, there is little choice but to use the surrounding area, and this is a perfectly acceptable thing to do. However, as with everything, there are a few things to remember.

The first is that you should relieve yourself away from the trail. It’s good to go a good distance away so that people don’t end up stepping in something unpleasant or smelling it. The other reason to leave the trail to answer the call of nature, is that you are far less likely to have a Duke of Edinburgh group stumble upon you. Trust me when I say it is both an awkward and hollowing moment.

If you find yourself in need of a leaf, make sure you know your leaves, and you don’t end up using something poisonous. This happens more than you might think, and there is little worse than an itchy crotch area for the rest of your hike.

If you are the kind of person who is prepared enough to have toilet paper in their backpack, please bag the paper afterwards so that you can dispose of it when you reach the next bin. Used toilet paper still counts as littering and spoiling the area. Plus, the wildlife doesn’t appreciate it. 

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#7 Respecting Other Hikers

Be respectful of other hikers, which includes ensuring that you adhere to the yielding rules that are mentioned in the first point. The majority of people you meet on your journey will be very friendly and ready to give you a smile or even stop for a quick chat.

As a result, it is only polite to at least say hello or exchange other pleasantries when you pass another hiker. It’s the easiest rule to follow, and being a nice person makes the journey and area that much nicer for you and others who are walking it. There’s no point being rude in such a beautiful setting.

It is good manners not to stop in the middle of the path to take photographs and selfies if there are people behind you. Either step off the trail to take your photo, or let the hikers behind you pass so that you can take your picture without holding anyone up. It’s only polite, and others will appreciate it. 

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#8 Stick to the Trail

This is such an important thing to do. Sticking to the trail is essential if you want to stay safe during your travels. Thinking you know a shortcut can be a huge mistake, and so many people end up very lost or even injured because they thought they knew of a quicker way. Unless you’re Bear Grylls, stick to what you know, and the path that has been designed for you.

Plus, if you go crashing through the forest or wilderness, you are disturbing nature and the wildlife that resides in it. No one else on the trail will find you impressive for going off the trail, and you are only putting yourself in harm’s way. So, stick to the trail, and don’t wander off. 

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#9 Respecting the Trail

This does tie in with the concept of Leave No Trace, as respect for the trail is also respect for the area around it. There is no point in creating markers along the trail, and this certainly goes for marking trees because you think you might get lost. This is not only disrespectful to the area, and harmful to the trees, but then other people will be doing the same, and you will be bound to lose track of your own marks.

Make sure you read the trail guidelines before you get started, so that any specific rules that need to be followed are adhered to so that you can give the trail the respect it deserves. It is requested, and good manners, not to pick any of the plants or take anything from the trail and its surrounding areas as souvenirs. They say that the only marks to be left should be your boot prints, and the only souvenirs your memories and the photographs you take.

Something that is important to note, but is often forgotten, are cairns. They are a controversial topic, with some being very useful, and others being nothing other than a blemish on the landscape. However, many hikers see them as an opportunity to carry out a romantic tradition of adding to the cairn. Please do not do this. Some are put there to mark the trail, and adding them can cause collapse. Aside from getting hikers lost, it can point them in the wrong direction which then leads them to add to the growing problem of erosion and the trampling of plant life. Don’t add to them, and don’t knock them down so that you can restore the landscape to its natural form. Your intentions might be good, but the results are not.

If you have horses, it is requested that you do not tie your horses to the trees. This is because they often end up chewing on the bark, which can cause damage to the trees. If you need to dismount, it is advised you hold their reins at all times, or if they must be tied to a tree for lack of something else, it is done for a very short period so that they cannot eat the bark.

If you see acts of vandalism being carried out, make sure you report it. Even if you don’t witness it and you only see the aftermath, it is vital that it gets reported to those that manage the trail. Usually, their contact details will be online or on the trailhead brochure. 

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#10 Respecting the Wildlife

It is equally important to respect the wildlife when you are out hiking. They are what makes the hike that much more beautiful, and they also play an integral part in our eco-system. Part of respecting them means not feeding them, even if they are quite tame and willing to approach you. After all, you do not know which foods could cause them harm, and possibly death. Take a step back and observe instead of interact – it leaves the moment with a certain beauty that cannot quite be described.

Equally, please do not throw things at the wildlife or torment them for fun. The Leave No Trace rule also applies to the wildlife as litter can be very harmful to them if ingested. The same goes for empty cans and the plastic rings found on multipacks of cans. Leaving litter is not looked upon kindly, so make sure you pick it up and bring it back with you.

If you are passing skittish wildlife, try to be quiet as you do so. This way, you will not disturb them too much, and they can continue to go about their business. If they are frightened or spooked too often, they may decide to stop using that location for grazing and move somewhere else – so no one else will be able to enjoy the experience. Plus, it gives you a wonderful opportunity to observe nature in some of its rare and peaceful moments. 

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#11 Keeping it Quiet

Hikers go out to enjoy the peace and tranquillity that nature has to offer. Loud music from your headphones or music device will not be appreciated, as the trail is a place to escape town and city noises. It’s ok to listen to music while you walk, and many people do it, just keep it to personal volume levels.

Similarly, loud noises from your hiking group are not appreciated. Keep your conversations to normal sound levels, there is no need to shout at each other just because you are out in a quiet area. The same goes for mobile phone conversations. The reception is unlikely to be good, so your phone conversations will likely lead you to be louder than usual. Unless it is an emergency, leave it at home. No one wants to hear your yelling disturb their walk through nature. 

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#12 When Noise is OK

This rule is primarily for those who have decided to wander beyond the UK in search of a hiking adventure. If you are in an area that has a bear population, then it is ok to make noise, and it is something that is often encouraged. It is often advised that you tie pots and pans to the bottom of your rucksack so that they bang together while you walk. This is because bears are more likely to avoid the loud noises being made by the pans and so will not come near you.

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Things to Note While Hiking

When you go out hiking, you are going to meet people who think they own the wilderness and as though they have the right to do whatever they like. These include people who ride their bicycles far too quickly down the trails and give you no warning as they fly past. It is important to keep an eye out for the people who are more aggressive and less thoughtful of those around them.

However, while these are the ones that often make the biggest impression, it is important to remember that most of the people hiking are actually very polite and will be more than happy to stop and help if you need it. Remember to stay aware of your surroundings, and you will be just fine. 

To Conclude

Hiking is a beautiful and enlightening experience. It allows you to escape the noise and business of city life, and escape back to nature where it is tranquil and calm. People go hiking so that they can find some peace in an increasingly hectic world, and that is why it is so important that you follow hiker etiquette. Across the world, these rules will come in useful when you are out on your trekking adventures. So, stay safe, follow the rules, and be kind to your fellow hikers.

What did you think of our hiking etiquette guide? Are there any tips you would add here for your fellow hikers? We love hearing from you, so leave a message in the comments below.