Be courteous: 9 basic trail rules every hiker should know

By: Geraldine Mills

A hiker isn’t unlike any other physical hobby in that there are specific unspoken rules that come with it. These unspoken rules are often called “trail etiquette.”

It is meant to remind you to respect the environment, the wildlife, and fellow hikers.

If you do not know what these trail etiquettes are, keep on reading.

Hikers should leave no trace

Even children know that you shouldn’t be littering, so if you’re going to be a responsible hiker, you need to learn not to leave a trace.

In the case of hikers, though, there’s more to it than making sure that you don’t throw away your plastic bottle willy-nilly when you’re in the middle of nowhere.

If you bring it with you, make sure that you leave the hiking destination with it. Even if it’s biodegradable waste, like banana peels or food waste, you have to bring it back with you.

If you want extra brownie points while you’re there, consider bringing an extra trash bag with you and pick up some of the trash that you see along the way.

Stay on the trail

Staying on the trail isn’t only necessary because it helps you avoid getting lost in the wilderness during your hike.

Hikers and their hiking poles can cause quite a bit of damage that you wouldn’t know, which is why you should stick to the trail. A well-defined route can withstand more of the abuse. At the same time, you aren’t damaging more things when you stick to the track.

You’re going to encounter a lot of people who go off-trail but try not to be tempted to follow them. The trail is there for a reason.

It will help guide you to the right path towards the best spots. At the same time, you wouldn’t be disturbing the potential pathways of the wildlife when you’re hiking. That’s why it’s best that you know to stick to the hiking trail.

Respect wildlife

Human activities have affected both flora and fauna in different ways.

For example, climate change has made the Alaskan wilderness behave differently than it used to. As a responsible hiker exposed to more wildlife and nature, you have to learn to respect them.

One way you can respect wildlife is by not approaching them whenever you see them. Even if they’re small and cuddly, you shouldn’t try and pick them up or come close to them for a selfie. It allows you to respect the wildlife and keep you safe.

We’ve already mentioned that sticking to the hiking trail also shows your respect for the wildlife. Another version of that is to stick to the designated camping area if there are any.

Know the right of way

Sometimes, even in the most remote locations, you’re going to encounter fellow hikers along the way.

Depending on the trail, you usually won’t have to worry about who gets the right way. The rule of thumb is that the right of way belongs to whoever is going uphill.

However, the people going uphill might also take this time to let you come downhill to catch their breath first to depend on the situation. Nonetheless, you can stick to this rule if they choose not to catch a break.

Keep your volume down

When hiking, you should make sure that you keep your volume down. It would be best if you weren’t blasting music. If you are going to be, wear headphones. Better yet, enjoy the serenity and sounds of nature instead.

Besides no music playing, you should also avoid talking loudly with people if you’re hiking with other people. That way, you won’t disturb or surprise any of the wildlife there.

Keep your talking to a standard or calm level, especially for particularly remote locations. After all, the wildlife may not be familiar with the sounds that humans make.

The slowest hiker should lead

If you’re hiking with a group, you should make the slowest hiker take the lead. After all, not everyone may be at the same experience level as you when hiking.

You don’t want to make your fellow hikers have to chase after you. At the same time, you also don’t want to be chasing after someone when you’re hiking.

That’s why it’s a good rule to have the slowest hiker lead your hiking crew.

Keep your dog(s) on a leash

Having company with you during a hike is always a great idea but hiking with your dog is an even better one. However, you must be both a responsible dog owner and hiker when you bring your dog with you during a hike.

One basic rule that you should follow when hiking with your dog is to always keep them on a leash. Not everyone loves dogs, and some are even afraid of them. Plus, other people might bring their dogs with them during the hike, and you can never predict what their dog’s reactions would be.

Therefore, keeping them on a leash is a safety precaution you should take.

Leave behind what you find

When you go on a pleasant hiking trip, you always want to commemorate it with something. However, it would be irresponsible of you to take a random thing from nature.

What may be a remembrance to you can have a butterfly effect. For one, this can lead to exploitation. Second, the rock you took might be the thing that’s keeping the soil together, preventing erosion.

That’s why you should always leave behind everything that you find along your hike.

Say hello to other hikers

Although this isn’t a requirement, it’s also a good idea to have a friendly approach to your fellow hikers.

You don’t need to go above and beyond, but people always would love to have a short chat, especially your fellow hikers. Plus, it’s always a good idea to broaden your horizons by speaking to people from various backgrounds.

You can also ask them about how the hike is if they’re coming from the opposite direction. Little things like this can make an average hike more memorable.


These nine trail etiquette will help you be a more responsible hiker. And by “responsible,” we mean someone who doesn’t leave behind negative impacts on the trail.

At the same time, you’re going to be the type of hiker that people would want to hike with them or to encounter along the way.

If you do this often, you should keep these rules to heart and remember to follow them no matter where you hike or who you’re with.

About the Author: Geraldine Mills is a self-confessed wanderlust from the land down under, Australia! She funds her adventures by working as a brand consultant and as a travel writer. She loves sharing the allure of backpacking and being one with nature. Read more of her writings here.



The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Wilderness League.