Trail Etiquette 101:

Be the Best You on the Trail

Look at you! Thanks to COVID and the general avoidance of other people you have discovered the Great Outdoors. Better yet, it turns out you enjoy hiking and spending time on the trails. That is amazing and I’m so happy for you and your new found passion.

Now that COVID is mostly past you may have noticed more faces along the trail. And now you are unsure how to act out there. Have no fear, the following list will ensure you are the best hiker you can be. And, if you follow these suggestions not only will you be the nicest hiker out there but you will do your part to ensure that these natural treasures are available for generations to come. Let’s get started…

1.  Be Mindful

You aren’t the only person on the trail. If you can hear or see others, they can hear or see you.  Whether you are hiking with a group or just on a traveled trail, be mindful of your impact on the trail, the surroundings, and those that are also using the trails.

2.  Turn Down for What? Silence your phone

Most of the time your phone won’t have signal anyway. And, hopefully you are out there to cut your electronic tether. I understand most of us are using our phones for pictures and mapping but take a moment and silence your phone at the trailhead. You and those around you will thank you. Save the peace for everyone, silence your phone!

3.  Be Aware

A simple wrong turn on the trail can lead to overnight work for the local search and rescue team. Be aware of where you are and your surroundings. Be aware of the trail and trail markers. Have a trail map and know how to use it. Be aware of others in the area. You may be the lifeline for someone that wasn’t paying attention and lost the trail. Be aware of wildlife, nothing good has ever come from finding yourself on the trail between a bear and her cubs. And lastly, be aware of the weather. Just because you started your hike in the bright sun doesn’t mean it isn’t going to turn into a downpour while you are out there.

4.  Listen to Nature, not your Earbuds

Nature is the greatest symphony ever created. There are so many sounds out there, it would be a shameful waste to miss it all because you have earbuds stuffed in your ear canals. When you turn off the electronic noise you will be amazed at what nature has to say. Not to mention, you can’t hear someone’s call for help if you are blocking out the sounds around you.

5.  Be Respectful

They call it the Golden Rule, “do to others what you would have them do to you.” This still applies on the trail. This applies to others on the trail and the caretakers of the trails you are using. Respect the trail signs and respect the experience of others. If the sign says “Do Not Cross“, there is ABSOLUTELY NO reason you need to take your selfie there.   

6.  You Go… No, No You Go!

Trail right of way is simple, the uphill hiker has the right of way. If you are going downhill, step aside and let the uphill hiker pass. It is a nice thing to do, and you will find that often the uphill hiker is looking for an excuse to take a break and they let you pass by anyway. Either way, it is an opportunity to say hi and meet someone new on the trail.

Note: Bicyclists yield to hikers and hikers & bicyclists yield to horses & pack animals.

7.  Don’t be this Person…

There is nothing worse than the peace and harmony of the forest being shattered by someone blasting their music from a Bluetooth speaker hanging from their pack. LEAVE YOUR BLUETOOTH SPEAKER AT HOME! You may love your music; you may not be able to perform a task without some artificial input. If that sounds like you, I’m sorry for your loss. I am not sympathetic though. If you can’t hike without a soundtrack, do everyone else a favor and stay home.

8.  Stay on Trail

There is a great desire to prove your wildness and crash through the undergrowth in search of your primal self, I get it. However, every time you wander off the trail you break a new trail, and someone is going to follow your path. Add a little time and erosion and your moment of primal discovery has eroded the topsoil and undermined a 100-year-old oak tree. Save a tree, stay on the trail.

9.  Walk Through it, Not Around it

Contrary to what you may think, when you encounter a puddle or mud, walk through it. It is nice to stay high and dry, but each pass around a wet spot expands the trail. This is bad for the trail. Unless you can keep dry without leaving the trail, this is one place where you are encouraged to splash a bit.

10.  Take Only Picture and Memories

I should only have to write ‘don’t take souvenirs’, but I know that isn’t enough. There are so many wonderful things you will see and find when you start spending time on the trail, the best thing you can do is leave them there so that the person behind you gets to experience them as well.

11.  Leave only Footprints

There is a very human desire to leave some sign that we too were there. Don’t! Don’t pile rocks along the trail… really please stop doing this. Don’t leave trash, even organic waste, it isn’t good for the animals, and no one wants to see your rotting banana peel browning in the woods.

12.  Single File Please

When you are hiking with a group, don’t fill the trail. Make sure others can pass. It is best to hike single file, you can congregate at resting spots or points of interest. This is a great opportunity to have hikers in your group change positions from time to time, so that everyone gets a chance to chat and share stories along the trail.

13.  Bathroom Breaks

The general rule is 200 feet from the trail and any water source. We all go to the bathroom and if you spend enough time on the trail, you’ll have to go in the woods. So, when you do, try to keep people alive by not contaminating water sources and get away from the trail because no one wants to smell that. If you do go in the woods, please follow Leave No Trace practices.

14.  We all Love your Pets

I love your dog; in fact, it is likely that I will greet your dog and not you on the trail (nothing personal). But, first not everyone is as comfortable with dogs, second wildlife is not as comfortable with your dog. I want to see your dogs on the trail, I just want them on a leash or voice controlled. If your dog leaves you to hike with me, your dog is not controlled.


Be Courteous. That is pretty much the only conclusion needed. Most etiquette is just about considering how your actions impact others. When we head out on the trail, we are sharing that space with others. We are all out there together; each with our own motivations and goals. When we are courteous to each other and follow these very simple guidelines we can all enjoy our time outside and be sure it is just as beautiful for generations to come.

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Mike lives in Southwestern New Hampshire with his wife, teenage child, dog, and cat. He leads guided hikes for all ages and skills levels around the region and volunteers his time with trail maintenance, planning, and promotion with various local trail organizations. Mike has put his outdoor knowledge and experience in courses which he offers both online and in person. You can follow his adventures via You Tube, Social Media, and this Blog

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