Backpacking is a chance to get away, but in most cases, you’re not alone. You’ll be camping with fellow campers, encountering hikers, and more. Proper outdoor etiquette helps instill respect for other trail users, and it promotes stewardship of the land. The best thing you can do is to remember the golden rule: treat others the way you would be treated.
To ensure that other backpackers enjoy their experiences, here are some unspoken outdoor rules you need to follow.
Trail etiquette is important, especially when hiking with a group. Always hike single-file, never taking up more than half the trail space, and stay on the trail itself. Over time, those off-trail boot prints can badly erode switchbacks and destroy drainage diversions.
Be Smart When Nature Calls
If you find that you need to use a bathroom while in the wild, you need to be careful about the right spot. Make sure you are at least 200 feet from the trail and any type of water. This will ensure that the water isn’t contaminated. Remember to dig a hole first and then bury it after when taking a poop.
Walk Through Puddles
Walk through puddles unless there is plenty of room to go around it. This is because if you step just to the side of a puddle, it will get bigger and become more of a problem for the trail. If there is a wide edge to get around it, then it is fine to go around, but otherwise, hop over or walk through it. This will help keep erosion on the trail at bay.
Respect Quiet Hours
Almost all campgrounds have quiet hours, usually from 10 PM to 6 AM. These are for those who need a good night’s sleep after a very tiring hike or those who are camping with kids. Voices carry in the still of night, so be respectful of this time. Be mindful of your early morning routine, as well, which can be just as disturbing.
Leave Extra Wood
If you do not need them at home, leave your extra firewood. With fewer things to pack, this is one of the camping rules that benefit you and those who use your site after you.
Greet Fellow Hikers
When you encounter other hikers on the trail, greet them. Have a small talk not just for friendliness’ sake, but also for safety. The family you chat with for two minutes could be the vital link that directs rescuers to your location after you break your leg and become overdue. You want them to remember talking to you. You can ask them about the trail conditions like water sources, stream crossings, and how far until the next trail junction or campsite. The only time you shouldn’t stop is the rare event when you encounter another person who makes you feel unsafe. Keep moving in those situations, pull out a cell phone if you have one, or pretend you are with a group if you are hiking alone.
Leave Nature Better Than You Found It
This is self-explanatory, and it’s the most important unwritten rule. This means that you don’t leave any garbage or other belongings out on the trail and if you come across a piece of trash, pick it up and dispose of it properly. Unfortunately, there are still so many hikers who leave behind waste, including dog poop bags. I know how dirty and gross they can be, but tagging your dog along means being responsible for the dirt they produce. You also should be carrying dog waste bags with you if you are hiking with a dog. It’s just polite. Even biodegradable items need to be removed.