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Trail etiquette 101: how to behave on trail

When we hear “etiquette,” we often think of situations like a “refined candlelit dinner,” “Megan and Harry visiting the Queen,” or “exclusive receptions serving oysters and champagne.” But did you know that even on the hiking trail, where many traditional etiquette rules don’t apply, there are unwritten rules of courtesy?
These rules are “unwritten” because you won’t get fined for not following them, but they do contribute to a pleasant atmosphere on the trails, making the whole experience a bit more enjoyable. They are often universal: once you learn them, you’ll notice that hikers from different parts of the world also follow these rules. Curious about how to be part of the group of courteous hikers? Here we go!

1.Learn the priority rules
While there may not be traffic signs on hiking trails, there are definitely unwritten priority rules. Two important guidelines are:

  • Climbers > Descenders. Hikers going uphill have the right of way over those going downhill. This is because climbing is more tiring and you don’t want to lose momentum while ascending. So, make space for climbers when you are descending and there are hikers coming from the opposite direction.
  • Horses > Hikers > Cyclists. Horses have priority over hikers, and hikers, in turn, have priority over cyclists. Make sure to always move aside in time when you need to yield to others.

2. Greet other hikers
You’re probably familiar with this: while walking through the city, everyone avoids eye contact, but as soon as you’re out in nature, everyone greets each other when passing by. It’s an unwritten rule to greet other walkers when you meet them on the trail. Don’t worry: a simple “good morning!” in the local language is sufficient; you certainly don’t have to engage in extensive conversations with every hiker you encounter.

3. Stay on the trail
It’s tempting to wander off the trail in search of hidden gems, I’ll admit that. I’ve been guilty of this myself several times before becoming aware of this rule. You might not be so aware, but by straying from the paths, you’re not doing nature any favors. Unknowingly, you’re causing damage to various species of animals and plants around the trail, putting the ecosystem at risk. It creates unnecessary stress for the environment. So, just stay on the trail and explore the surroundings with respect for nature.

4. Keep your decibels to a minimum
We’ve all probably experienced it: while hiking, you hear a loud echo of electronic music in a valley, coming from hikers hundreds of meters behind you. Or you’re trying to peacefully fall asleep at night after a tiring day of hiking, but you’re kept awake by fellow hikers loudly chatting around the campfire. As my father always says: not done. Respect your fellow hikers (and above all, the animals in the vicinity) and keep the volume to a minimum. So, don’t use a music box, but use headphones. Tune in to the rhythm of the sun and call it a day when it gets dark. Your fellow hikers, the environment, and your own body will thank you!

5. Don’t venture out in adverse conditions
“What does this have to do with etiquette?” I hear you asking. Well, when you decide to venture out when the weather conditions are not good, you not only put yourself in danger but also the rescue team that may have to come to your aid. So be wise and don’t set off when the weather forecast indicates a storm is brewing. A thunderstorm may not amount to much in the city, but it can be relentless in the mountains.

6. Keep your dog on a leash
A dog can be a great companion during a hike, but no matter how lovely they are, accidents can happen. Local animals may be intimidated by your dog, and other hikers may behave in ways your dog is not accustomed to. You never know how your dog or others will react under certain circumstances. That’s why it’s always wise to keep your dog on a leash. Prevention is better than cure!

7. Leave No Trace
A comprehensive article on the exact principles of ‘Leave No Trace’ is forthcoming, but the general rule is simple: “leave nature as you found it.” So, leave no trash behind, bury your waste, don’t break branches for fires, don’t pick flowers… If an action permanently alters nature, refrain from doing it.

There you go. If everything is in place, there should now be a seasoned, extremely courteous hiker on the other side of this internet connection. Hooray, welcome to the club! Thank you for considering your surroundings while hiking. But above all: don’t forget to enjoy the hike and the community it brings. As you may have already experienced, that’s priceless!
Happy hiking and big kisses

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