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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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