Novice and experienced hikers alike sometimes need a reminder about basic hiking etiquette. By following a few simple rules of the trail, you will ensure that both you, and those who come after you, will be able to enjoy the many incredible natural habitats in the world around us.
Camping – Look for a location which is already clear. Try to avoid erecting your tent in locations where grass or vegetation may be damaged by the tent. Make sure your campsite is at least one hundred feet from the nearest water source. By making sure you are sufficiently far from the water, you will reduce any chance of inadvertent contamination.
Campfires – Avoid building a campfire if at all possible. Fires are, obviously, a fire hazard in dry environments. In fact, some areas you visit may prohibit them altogether. A back packing stove is your best option for cooking on the trail. However, is you must build a fire pit, be sure to take it apart once you are finished so the scenery remains undisturbed.
Trash – As you hike, try to produce as little waste as you can. Do not leave food remnants behind or bury them, they will attract animals and can be unhealthy for them. Be a good Samaritan, if you spy trash left behind by others along the trail, add it to your own collection. You will leave the trail cleaner than you found it, and improve others’ experiences.
Stay on the trail – By venturing off the established path you may damage the surrounding environment. If too many people stray from the trail it can lead to damage like soil compaction, erosion, and vegetation death. It can also lead to injuray or death to other hikers or yourself. True story – I was hiking on Bright Angel Trail at Grand Canyon when a not so intelligent person decided he would cut across and off the trail. In the process, said “hiker” slipped and fell from the switchback above, falling inches from my 12 yr old son. He was also inches away from causing serious injury to other hikers and luckily did not injure himself.
Water – Biodegradbale soaps are great and a must have in the backcountry, but avoid using them in creeks, streams and small rivers. Fish have to live in your sudsy water and animals have to drink it. When was the last time you looked at your bath water and said “Yum, pour me a glass!” Also, when emptying any wash basins of waste water, for example your wash water, do so 200 ft from the natural water source. You do not want to accidentally contaminate the natural source.
Animals – Avoid interacting with wildlife. While watching for and spotting animals along the way is an enjoyable part of your hike, do not try to feed or pet them. Any animals you encounter are wild, and not used to humans in their environment. To prevent animals from being attracted to your campsite, do not store any food in your tent, cook in an area that is away from the tents, and try not to spill any food on your clothing. Even a small amount may produce enough scent to attract an unwanted visitor. By respecting your environment and utilizing these tips, you will ensure that you have a fun, safe backpacking trip, while at the same time preserving the same experience for others.
Other Hikers – People hike to get away from civilization, other people and noise. Try to keep voices down, leave the iPod speakers at home and don’t encroach on other campers “space.” Additionally, there is a general rule about trail etiquette – yield to hikers hiking uphill. You will understand when you are hiking uphill and just want to keep going instead of stopping for every downhill hiker that barely looks out of breath.
So enjoy the outdoors and make sure you leave it just as you found it!