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Hiking Etiquette: 6 Tips for Sharing the Trails

Unlike team sports like basketball or hockey, hiking and camping have no rulebook. But there are several unwritten rules of hiking etiquette that keep everyone happy and safe while protecting the wilderness too. Keep these camping and hiking etiquette tips in mind so we can all share the trails.

Pack Out Trash

No one likes seeing garbage on the trails or in campsites. Bring a plastic bag to pack out your trash, and consider picking up any other litter you see too. Remember, if it doesn’t grow there, it doesn’t go there. That means that biodegradable trash like orange peels and peanut shells are litter too. They can take months or even years to decompose, and in the meantime, they look gross and attract animals.

Lake Ohara, Yoho National Park | Photo: Taryn Eyton

Make Room for Others

Trails are narrow so we need to share them. On most hikes, you will encounter other people at some point. But who has the right of way? According to tradition, downhill hikers should yield to uphill hikers so they don’t have to break their momentum while climbing a slope. As well, slower hikers should step aside to let faster hikers pass.

However, many hikers aren’t familiar with these traditions, so the kindest thing to do is say “hello” or “excuse me” no matter which direction they are hiking. Then ask to pass or let the other hiker know you’ll step aside to let them pass.

The rules are clearer when it comes to horses and bikes. Horses always have the right of way – hikers and bikers should step off the trail to let them pass. Bikes should also yield to hikers, but it can be harder for them to slow down, so be alert when hiking on shared trails.

It’s also important to give others space at popular spots like viewpoints or snack spots. Step off the trail to take breaks so others can pass. Limit your time at viewpoints or move off to the side so others can enjoy them too.

High Note Trail, Whistler | Photo: Taryn Eyton

Practice Good Dog-Owner Etiquette

Check dog regulations before you go so you know what to expect. Some trails and campgrounds don’t allow dogs at all, and others require a leash. These rules keep wildlife and ecosystems safe. If dogs are allowed off-leash, make sure your pup stays close to you and has good recall to avoid disturbing wildlife, other hikers, or other dogs.

Since dogs eat processed food, their poop contains bacteria and diseases that aren’t found in the wilderness. Make sure you bring bags to pack out their poop to avoid contaminating water sources. Don’t leave your poop bag beside the trail, even if you plan to come back that way. Many people forget them!

Respect Wildlife

Seeing wildlife when you hike and camp can be exciting, but be respectful. Give animals lots of space to continue their natural behaviours. Use binoculars or the zoom lens of your camera instead of getting too close.

And please don’t feed animals. Human food can make them sick. It can also cause wildlife to seek out humans for food. In small animals, like birds or squirrels, this can be annoying, but in larger animals like coyotes or bears, it can be very dangerous!

Whyte Lake Outhouse | Photo: Taryn Eyton

Learn How to Go to the Bathroom the Leave No Trace Way

When you gotta go… you gotta go. Plan ahead to make sure you’re prepared. Do some research to find out if there are toilets at the trailhead or along the trail, then plan to use them. If there is no outhouse, learn to go to the bathroom the Leave No Trace way.

For number 1, find a private spot off-trail. Pack out your toilet paper if you use it. (It can take weeks to break down). For number 2, follow these steps:

  • Find a spot 70 big steps away from trails, campsites, and water sources.
  • Use a trowel, tent peg, or stick to dig a hole 6”/15cm deep.
  • Do your business in the hole, then cover it back up.
  • Pack out your toilet paper in a plastic bag.
  • Use sanitizer to clean your hands.

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Be Friendly and Considerate

When you’re sharing the trails and campgrounds, a simple “hello” and a smile goes a long way. Other hikers and campers can be a great resource to ask for directions or trail conditions.

Be considerate of other hikers. Many people spend time hiking to enjoy the quiet of the wilderness. Let nature’s sounds prevail so we can listen to the birds or the wind in the trees. Avoid yelling and please don’t bring music.

For campgrounds in British Columbia check out the Camping Map.

Share your BC travel and camping photos using hashtag #campinbc #explorebc #bcnice.

Published: June 10th, 2021

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by Taryn Eyton

Taryn Eyton is a Squamish-based hiking and adventure travel writer and Leave No Trace Master Educator. She is the founder of the hiking website HappiestOutdoors.ca and the author of Backpacking in Southwestern British Columbia: The Essential Guide to Overnight Hiking Trails (Greystone Books, 2021).