Etiquette is tricky. I would love to say the best way to act is just to be a “good egg” and treat everyone with respect, but the truth is that many cues get simply missed, or people have different expectations when they go for a hike in the woods. I decided to write this post about etiquette because these unwritten rules are frustrating when broken and can make or break someone’s walk.
Hike your own Hike
Not every hiker will have a rail-thin physique and calves that you can strike matches off of. A part of being human is having a weird relationship with the body that moves your brain from one room to another. Sometimes, people can make unfair presumptions about their abilities or those around them. More often than not, about half of the people I met along the Appalachian trail were double my age and came in all shapes and sizes. If nature is for everyone, we need to welcome everyone to the woods without making judgements that come all too easily.
Doing this also takes humility and a willingness to “hike your own hike.” Hiking your own hike is a creed to make hiking decisions that are right for you rather than those around you. A pair of young men in New Jersey had an awful day hiking because they tried to compare themselves to those around them. They tried to keep up with my partner because they had misguided notions of gender. When they saw this petite woman, they believed they could burn past her, doubling the speed and distance she would cover. To their dismay, she caught them again, and again, and again. They were miserable, and she felt vindicated. At the time, we were hiking with a triathlete too! Four months of consistent hiking means that your body is working differently than someone who is just out for the weekend.
Hiking your own hike means leaving the competitive spirit out of your interactions with other hikers and approaching one another with curiosity. Too often, we seek validation in how we compare to others’ performance, but the last person to the cairn still wins.
No, They are not “doing it wrong”; they are just doing it differently than you.
I have swung around many positions on this one. I wasn’t a fan of trail runners or people looking for the FKT (Fastest Known Time). I thought they were missing out on the beauty of the trail when they zipped by. Truthfully, they probably are. But I failed to realize that in deciding that they were “doing it wrong,” I was unconsciously believing that I was doing it right. My immovable mindset missed out on years of valid experiences, such as the feeling of challenging a hill or pacing myself for several hours. The ways that people use the trail will differ, and the person just out for the perfect picture is just as entitled to use the trail as the person who hikes the same route weekly.
When these beliefs clash, it shows a struggle between public land users; people will ultimately use it differently. So please follow along with the trail user code to check to see that you are in complete compliance. Bruce trail users code
As a side note, Music:
If you choose to listen to a podcast or music while hiking, please wear headphones while you do so. My rationale is that I don’t want to hear your music, and you certainly don’t want to listen to mine. Playing music out loud can ultimately detract from the experiences of those around you, especially if they go to the Bruce trail for solitude in nature.
In many public spaces, there comes the issue of tagging. Tagging is when you sign your name, date, or anecdote on a shelter or carved into a rock or a tree. Along the Appalachian trail, it became apparent that we were hiking behind a pair of hikers with the trail names Frodo and Sam. Not only were they tarnishing the good reputations of some of the best fictional characters, but they were unrelenting in their tagging. Even if something didn’t have a tag because it was built recently or newly painted, you would find their name written with a Sharpie marker. I hated this. It spoke of arrogance to the impact of their actions on the environment for other trail users. It detracted from the natural beauty of the structure, and felt dismissive of all the work volunteers put into making it.
Ultimately, I do not care that “you were here,” and if I’m doing it right by moving lightly over the trail, you shouldn’t see evidence that I even was.
People move at different speeds. It makes sense that eventually, people will catch one another and need to pass by when the time comes. People can get their collective noses out of joint in various ways when this happens. If you are getting passed, sometimes it’s startling to have another person suddenly be directly behind you. If you are passing someone, it is equally frustrating to be “held up” by another hiker who is slower than you. Generally, the person approaching from behind should announce their presence with a friendly “hello, just behind you.” The person in the lead must acknowledge the person behind them and move off to the side when it is safe. An excellent space to initiate this switch is around 15 – 30ft.
I don’t want to get passed. It makes me feel slow.” Don’t worry, me too, so give pulling over another purpose. Take a prolonged water break, step off the trail to use the washroom, and then take a break before the person comes up behind you. Hiking without someone breathing down the back of your neck is better than occasionally being passed.
“Why are they not moving?” If you are looking to pass someone, you cannot get frustrated if you have not clarified your intentions to pass. A slight cough or “humph” does not count. A slight noise like this can often get missed if the people ahead of you are in a conversation. Take a moment to be polite before getting grumpy. Sometimes, the trail also dictates when someone can safely pass as well. It’s unfair to ask someone to step off the path into a patch of stinging nettles while wearing shorts.
What if two people are meeting in the middle of a hill, travelling in different directions? The rule of thumb should be to defer to the person travelling uphill. They expend more effort to keep moving but may move to the side. In short, let them know you are there with a polite greeting and sort it out from there.
You may know you have the best boy or girl in the world, but not everybody does. A quick thought for your fellow hikers when hiking with a dog. The people who interact with your dog may have drastically different experiences with dogs than you. If a dog that I am unfamiliar with bounds up to me and starts to jump all over me, I will be alarmed. This reaction doubles if I can’t see the owner. Certain dogs may also mistake hiking poles for snakes, causing them to act defensively. Keeping your dog on a leash means that you have control over your dog’s interactions with strangers. Having complete verbal control over your dog on a leash is even better.
When planning your hike, consider your dog’s well-being and the effort it may take to extract it if it gets injured. We once met a dog named Abel who sprained his leg on some rocks in the middle of the wilderness. I felt awful for his owner, who had to carry the poor guy onto the road, especially because Abel looked like he could easily weigh 90 lbs.
Aaron “Talus” Holden
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