A Letter to Experienced Hikers and Outdoor Adventurers

Dear Experienced Hikers and Outdoor Adventurers,

While I realize we are a community of nature-loving adventurous individuals, we are experienced by others as a unit. And so, I am writing this to the collective of us all. As you read this, you may think that this doesn’t apply to you, and it may not. Please just consider these points and take a moment to reflect.

For years, I have found the outdoor adventure community to be incredibly welcoming and supportive, especially as I’ve learned about hiking rules and etiquette. It’s these aspects of the community that have given me the confidence to tackle increasingly difficult hikes and try my hand at mountain biking, kayaking and so much more.

Recently, however, I have observed behaviors from us that, quite frankly, shocked me. It seems that somewhere along the way, for some of us, our love for the outdoors has transformed into judgement towards those who are still learning the hiking rules. We can do better than this.

And so, I ask of you just a few things.

Of the few things I ask of experienced hikers, is to educate, don't berate, those who don't yet know hiking rules and Leave No Trace. Photo of campsite on the Inca Trail.

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RELATED: Six Lessons Learned While Hiking the Inca Trail

Educate, don’t berate.

Sure, you can cite the seven principles of Leave No Trace in your sleep, but we all start somewhere. Just because someone doesn’t know all of the hiking rules and etiquette, doesn’t give us the right to judge them. Instead, why don’t we relish in the fact that they are outside enjoying all that Mother Nature has to offer? 

So, when someone doesn’t know that you have the right of way as an uphill hiker, just let them know simply and conversationally. Muttering a string of condescension isn’t necessary. And when you see someone wandering off the trail to get that perfect shot, gently remind them the importance of staying on the path. Each interaction about hiking rules and etiquette doesn’t need to be a confrontation, but a connection with a budding outdoor adventurer.

Let’s start with assuming positive intentions and let the other(s) prove us wrong. With information, they can choose to behave differently in the future. Maybe, with the right encouragement, we can help transform their interest in nature into a passion.

Hiking etiquette is important, but so is being kind and patient to those hikers and outdoor adventurers who are less experienced.

Accept That Your Way Isn’t the Only Way.

I get it, you’ve camped your whole life and have a certain way you like to do it. This may come as a surprise, but your way isn’t the right or only way to camp. The same applies for any type of outdoor adventure. There’s no right or wrong way to adventure (for the most part). So, does it really matter if someone has a different approach? 

For instance, when I head into bear country, I carry bear spray and know how to use it. But, I saw many people on the trail that didn’t. That’s cool. It’s up to each of us to have a personal safety plan. And if their plan is to not have bear spray, that’s their business.

Okay, there’s one exception.

If someone else’s behavior is putting you at risk in any way, that’s not ok. In some situations, this will require swift action on your part but if the situation isn’t urgent, try to educate them in a helpful way.

A common complaint I hear from experienced outdoor adventurers is about differing expectations for campsite tidiness. They often express frustration with recreational campers or hikers who want to cook elaborate meals at their campsite instead of eating simple dehydrated food. The concern is valid – they don’t want to invite bears or other animals into the campsite. But, it is possible to cook a delicious, but elaborate, campfire meal and still take appropriate safety precautions. So, instead of commenting on how they’re going to get you eaten alive, glance around to see what precautions they are taking. If you’re still concerned, engage them in a constructive conversation about campsite tidiness and the associated risks. When all else fails, get the ranger involved or choose to remove yourself from the situation.

RELATED: Best Workouts to Improve Your Hiking Fitness

There's room for all sorts of outdoor adventurers and hikers on the trails. Let's not judge those different from us. Photo of group jump shot on the Inca Trail.

Remember That Mother Nature is for Everyone

In today’s digital world, it’s refreshing to see people set down their phones, disconnect and get outside. But, we all venture out into Mother Nature with a different goal in mind. 

Some people hike slowly while others like to push the pace. Some people love to have all the latest gear, but others prefer to be minimalists. And, some love to take loads of photos while others believe in staying present in the moment without their camera. Guess what! There’s room for all of us. There’s no need to comment on someone’s physical fitness, gear quality, style or techniques. 

Hike your hike and let them hike theirs.

Exercise Patience.

I get that it can be frustrating when others are unaware of or disregard hiking rules and Leave No Trace. My guess is that your frustration isn’t based on a single event, but a culmination of many observations of hiking rules not being followed. In the moment, try to acknowledge that your frustration probably isn’t directed at the current offender but the collection of offenses you’ve witnessed before it. Although you may have seen fifteen other people disregard hiking etiquette today, remember that this is just one person and you have this one teaching moment with them. Approach it with kindness and patience.

And if in that moment you don’t have it in you to teach or you’re, rightfully so, focused on enjoying the scenery, that’s ok. Try to refrain from placing judgement on them. After all, they’re out there trying to appreciate nature too.

A letter to experienced hikers about hiking rules, hiking etiquette and placing judgement on those less experienced. Photo of winter hiking in Norway.

Hiking Rules & Kindness on the Trail

As I write this, I can anticipate what you may be thinking. “But I’ve tried to educate, and they won’t listen.” I understand how that can be frustrating, but have you tried educating them with kindness and patience? If, after honest reflection, you feel that you have, then you’ve done your part. As an outdoor adventure community, we can create a welcoming space for all to learn hiking rules and etiquette, but new adventurers need to be willing to listen and learn. And, as humans, not all of us will be ready to do so.

I’m not advocating that we are responsible for other’s behavior or enforcing hiking rules, only that we each do our part to bring back the welcoming sense of community that once defined us as a collective.

Related content to read next:

Day Hike Packing List: A Prepared Girl’s Guide

Car Camping 101: An Essential Guide

How Not Be Eaten Alive by Mosquitoes and Ticks (for Hikers!)

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Hiking etiquette and Leave No Trace are obvious for more experienced hikers and outdoor adventurers. But, we all start somewhere. Instead of judgement for those with less experience, let's nurture their love of nature and welcome them into our community. Four things for experienced hikers and adventurers to consider. hiking tips advice | trail etiquette | leave no trace | camping tips | #hiking #etiquette #hikingtips
Hiking etiquette and Leave No Trace are obvious for more experienced hikers and outdoor adventurers. But, we all start somewhere. Instead of judgement for those with less experience, let's nurture their love of nature and welcome them into our community. Four things for experienced hikers and adventurers to consider. hiking tips advice | trail etiquette | leave no trace | camping tips | #hiking #etiquette #hikingtips

23 thoughts on “A Letter to Experienced Hikers and Outdoor Adventurers

  1. This Big Wild World says:

    Thanks for sharing, Farrah! I agree! When you first start enjoying the outdoors there’s so much that you don’t know. The more we can all help others learn proper etiquette and how to responsibly enjoy the outdoors, the more our outdoor community can thrive.

  2. This Big Wild World says:

    Thank you, Karen! I appreciate hearing your perspective as an outdoor educator. I truly believe there is so much value in having the outdoors accessible to all 🙂

  3. Farrah says:

    This is such a great (+ needed) post! It’s hard for people just starting out to know all the proper etiquette + be able to get everything right instantly. I love the hiking community because they’ve generally all been so kind and helpful–I hope this continues for all the years to come!

  4. Karen says:

    You make many important points here to raise awareness. As a long time outdoor educator, I believe that education imbedded in kindness has the best possibilities for success. There are many ways to be outdoors and if we truly want the outdoors to be accessible to all, we have to not only accept but celebrate the differences we all bring to the experience.

  5. Monica Sharma says:

    Interesting post covering the major aspects of a trekker and explaining various points while trekking and making others understand of not judging and shaming anyone, even i trek alot but cannot call myself as experienced as I have so much more to learn from everyone I meet.

  6. Larry says:

    If you go camping , hiking, bicycling always take you a gun and mainly a dog cause it will give you heads up.

  7. This Big Wild World says:

    I really appreciate your comment! I can totally relate to hiking as a way of escaping a lot of what’s going on in our society right now. Which is all the more reason to try our best to be kind to those we meet on the trail. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts 🙂

  8. Janet says:

    Thank you for this post. Beautifully written. Unfortunately there is too much judging and shaming in our society right now. Honestly that is part of the reason I hike, to escape all that. A reminder to gently educate and to respect differences is so timely.

  9. This Big Wild World says:

    I appreciate you taking the time to read this and share your thoughts 🙂 Happy to hear your experiences with the hiking community have been positive and that you’ve at least got some ideas on how to deal with these issues if they do come up. Happy trails!

  10. This Big Wild World says:

    Ha ha “more sweary” 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing yours thoughts! I’m sorry to hear that some in your local area have had such a negative response to bringing your daughter with you on hikes! I don’t have children myself, but if/ when I do, I would be similar to you in nurturing their love of nature from a very early age. Unfortunately, I have experienced the stereotype of solo female hikers being either promiscuous or desperate to find a partner. It’s so disappointing that some think we can’t just be out there exploring on our own with applying such stereotypes. Thankfully, from my experience, those beliefs are in the strong minority. While I did giggle a bit picturing you emptying a nappy into someone’s tent, I would (of course) advise you to pack it out 😉

  11. This Big Wild World says:

    Thank you! Yeah, I can relate. I’m not sure I will ever consider myself an expert or experienced as I seem to learn something new each time I’m out in nature. That’s part of what I love about it! I’m sorry to hear you’ve had to deal with comments about your clothing on the trail. I really don’t understand why something like that bothers other people. Glad that this hasn’t deterred you from getting outside!

  12. This Big Wild World says:

    Thanks so much for taking the time to read this and share your thoughts! I’m so glad to hear that you found this educational 🙂 The last thing I want is for someone to hold themselves back from getting outside because they don’t feel welcome or are unsure of the rules of the road (er, trail).

  13. This Big Wild World says:

    Yay! So glad to hear you’re hooked AND that your experiences have been so positive. That’s how it should be! Also, the Narrows is such a fun trail – glad you got to have that experience as one of your first 🙂

  14. This Big Wild World says:

    Thanks so much! I agree… I think these considerations apply to any activity or community we belong to.

  15. Emma says:

    Interesting post – I’m an amateur hiker and have always had positive experiences but have always wondered how I would deal with any issues such as those noted above!! Thought provoking and helpful for sure

  16. Suzy says:

    YES! Someone needed to write this and I’m glad it was you rather than me because I would have been more sweary ha! I have to say I love our hiking community here in Western Australia, and have made many good friends. But there are a group of really small minded people who make it really hard for everyone else. I, myself, have been kicked off more than one FB hiking group because the admins were so offended that I dare take my daughter out for a hike – apparently carrying a 6mth old was just too much of an inconvenience for any hikers we potentially cross paths with. I’ve been called selfish, a bad mother, and been told I’m ‘clearly looking to get f&*ked’ because I have dared to hike solo as a woman. The so called experienced hikers who dominate the big track here in WA and run the foundation, need to read this. I now run my own FB group for nice, inclusive people, and if I ever run into those people on the track I’m going to empty a stinky nappy until their tent – serves them right for thinking children should not be allowed into the great outdoors.

  17. Danielle says:

    This is a really great post. I hike quite often but I am in no way an expert or experienced. Most of the time walks are a lovey community of people do you do get certain people who can be slightly judgemental. I get comments and looks about the clothes I hike in because there not the ‘correct’ walking trousers. Let people walk and enjoy mother nature. As long as no one is at risk then let them be! Great post!

  18. Laura says:

    This was a really good to read, thanks for posting your honest views. Hiking snobbery sucks and can really put off people that are just starting out in their love for the outdoors. The world is there for us all to explore and as a community we should all be welcoming, inclusive and educating (like this post was).

  19. Kirstin says:

    Great post! I am not an avid hiker, but I do love it! Since starting my world trip I have consciously endeavoured to get out into nature and do more hiking. I can honestly say that hikers are the friendliest people I have met on my travels and haven’t had any rude encounters as of yet. Even still, I’m sure things like that still go on in the community and it’s good to know the proper etiquette as a beginner so that I don’t piss anybody off too much.

    I can officially say, after a few short trails, and hiking the Narrows at Zion NP, I am officially hooked!!

  20. This Big Wild World says:

    Thank you SO much! I don’t know if you can ever really be an expert hiker 🙂 I’ve still got so much to learn too!
    You bring up a great point. Which, now that I think about it, is almost a whole other category of people who blatantly disregard signs/ warnings. When I was writing this post, I didn’t think about that category. It’s one thing to not know or be unaware, but when you are choosing to disregard signage that’s a choice. They have the information readily available. I can totally understand your frustration! Why must people do these things for the ‘gram?!
    I appreciate you sharing your perspective 🙂

  21. Josy A says:

    Excellent post!
    I’ve been hiking a lot in the last couple of years, but I still don’t feel like I am one of the experienced hikers. I have so much more to learn!

    Having said that, I did get soooo mad at some people a couple of weeks ago. They had ignored massive signs and climbed over some huge barriers to climb down to a cave that had been closed to protect a wild bird. In that kind of case, they had to go for a lot of extra effort to ignore all the signs, and their actions could well kill off the last fledgling, in the only nesting site in Alberta. That kind of willful ignorance will always make me mad. It didn’t put me in danger personally, but I find it so hard to see how anyone could think that behaviour is okay!

    We were only in that area for about 10 minutes, but I saw 4 people (in two separate groups) trying to sneak down there. It makes me worry about just how many people are willing to put their own photos in front of the needs of wild (and rare) animals. *sigh*

    Urgh. All they wanted was a photo of a cave, that has already been shared a zillion times on instagram. 🙁

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