Trail hiking is an excellent way to experience some of the local wonders of nature, and all it takes it to lace up some sturdy boots and head for the hills. Hiking has become increasingly popular in the past few years, and while the trails essential remain the same year after year, they have tended to become a lot more crowded. To avoid frustrating encounters on the trail, you can brush up on some of the rules you may have forgotten from your scouting days regarding trail etiquette. Below are a few rules every hiker should be aware of when they encounter other hikers, horses, and bikers on a hiking trail.

While you may occasionally run into people who feel that they have the right of way regardless of others, generally people who enjoy the outdoors are polite and courteous, interested in protecting nature. And have some knowledge of who has the right of way when you meet them on a trail, so make sure you return the favor.

There is an unstated hierarchy on a hiking trail, and the cardinal rule has always been that downhill yields to uphill for hikers and bikers, and horses always take priority whether they are going uphill or downhill, simply because they are much bigger than you are. It is a good idea to check what different types of people and modes of travel will be using the trail before setting off. This will give you an indication of what to expect and an opportunity to be mentally prepared for it.

Horses, Hikers, Bikers

The hierarchy on a hiking trail is that horses take priority in all circumstances. When horses approach, you should step off the trail. Firstly the horse is less likely to be startled, and secondly, it will prevent you from getting injured. Being prey animals they are always on the lookout for threats so bear in mind that standing uphill from an approaching horse may make you look larger and more threatening, so try and stay on the downhill side if possible. Also, when horses are startled, they will tend to bolt uphill so stay well out of their way until they have passed safely. Addressing the rider in a calm, relaxed way will assure the horse that you are a human and not a predator, and you will be able to confirm with the rider that you are safe where you are standing.

– The second part of the cardinal rule involves yielding to uphill traffic. Hikers going downhill have an advantage and should yield to those who have struggled to gain momentum going uphill which can be ruined when forced to change speed. While the rule says that uphill hikers have the right of way, some hikers welcome the opportunity of taking a rest when encountering downhill hikers and may signal for you to pass. This happens quite often, however, it is up to the person traveling uphill to make the call. If you are not sure, it is best to yield.

– The third part is that vehicles like bikes have the right of way when traveling uphill, especially on very narrow roads.

Stay Right, Pass Left

The same rule that applies to the road in the U.S. applies to hiking trails which are to keep to the right and pass on the left. When being passed by other hikers, stay on the right side of the trail. When you are close to passing another hiker, get his attention by calling out something like “coming up on your left”, or simply greeting the person and stating your intention to pass.

Leave Nothing and Take Nothing Away

Clean up after yourself by taking everything you have brought in back with you. Even though organic items like apple cores and fruit peels are considered to be biodegradable, they take a long time to decompose and look unsightly, especially on a well-used trail. It is most important to clean up after your dog if he is coming along for the hike by picking up waste and placing it in a plastic doggy poo bag to be disposed of when you get back. No one wants to see or smell doggy poo while taking a hike in nature. Do not remove anything from the nature trail like cuttings, seeds, plants, or even rocks and stones. Preserve the trail exactly as you have found it.

Protect the Fragile Plant Life

Stay on the trail while hiking and avoid cutting in and out of the path as it can erode the sides of the trail and damage plant life. On the uphill, it can also loosen rocks and injure other hikers below you.

Respect Others By Keeping The Noise Level Down

Hike quietly as there is such a thing as ‘noise pollution’, even in nature. Echoes can be fun, but don’t go overboard and keep conversation levels down by not shouting at companions on the hike. Most people go on a hike to get away from city noises such as engines and horns and don’t enjoy having the tranquility shattered by unnecessary noises on the trail.

Don’t Mark the Trail With Markers

Don’t leave any markers such as little piles of rocks or cairns that serve no navigational purpose. When hiking a compass and a map is all that is needed on a trail. And worst of all, do not carve your name or an image into the bark of trees to show that you have been there. A photograph and memories are adequate for you to remember your hike, and quite frankly no-one else is interested.

Stick to Trail Guidelines

Read trail guidelines for the rules pertaining to the specific trail you are on and obey them.

Report Vandalism

If there is any contact information for the trail you are on, report any vandalism or managing needs you feel should be attended to. The managing agency will appreciate your observance, and it will help them to repair and maintain the trail for the enjoyment of everyone.

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