Image by Paige Trubatch.
As travelers, we know all too well that sometimes even the best-laid plans go awry. And, sometimes, this universal principle manifests in a rare groups of hooligans stealing your Mountainsmith tent and goose-down sleeping bag from your spot at Sundown Wild Forest.
Thankfully, I returned home from my latest (almost) camping trip with all my precious cargo. But I was taken aback by the experience of my stuff having been temporarily stolen. “Trail people are supposed to be good people,” friends echoed when I recounted why I was back on my couch watching Netflix when I was supposed to be sleeping under the stars further up the Hudson Valley.
This particular experience left a bad taste in my mouth, but the day wasn’t a total bust. I explored Woodstock, inhaling a hearty brunch at the hip Phoenicia Diner. I drove through windy roads and spotted waterfalls I vowed to visit again. And, in the spirit of making the best of a less-than-ideal travel situation, the experience inspired its own post on trail etiquette.
Here are my top tips for etiquette on the trail.
Greet your fellow travelers in passing.
One thing I’ve always enjoyed about hitting the trail is that I’ve never been weary of encountering a scowling jerk. This is a broad generalization, I know, but even the simple, ubiquitous smile and “Hello!” when passing fellow hikers, and allowing others to pass, is a respite from my daily commute of elbow-shovers. You’re all there for the same reason, and presumably you’re happy about it. Smiles all around!
Sometimes there will even be a dog walking their human. If you are the human of an outdoors pup, it’s also more than okay to not want to stop for every other hiker who wants to pet your dog. Just because you’re not on a busy city street doesn’t mean that the rules of respecting a pet owner and their animal’s comfort go out the window.
Respect other campers’ space and gear.
Respect is the name of the game when you’re spending time in the great outdoors. While respect for the landscape and habitat is a no-brainer, it also applies to other humans who are enjoying the same outdoor spaces. If you’re camping in a designated area with labeled sites, it’s important to be mindful of your noise levels, particularly if you have a large group.
Additionally, if you come across a site you’d like to use, but there is gear present — i.e. a tent with sleeping gear — don’t touch it! Keep moving until you find an empty site to set up camp, rather than making any assumptions about the whereabouts of the other folks. A site with gear and a tent set up is not up-for-grabs, even if no one’s home when you arrived.
Backcountry camp etiquette is a bit different. If you meet a fellow hiker in need, sharing is considered polite — as it should be! If caught in inclement weather overnight, you may need to share an improvised campsite, but the onus is on the latecomer to move on in the morning.
If you’re eager to dive further into the world of backcountry etiquette, the website High County Explorations has compiled a pretty comprehensive cheat sheet.
Leave No Trace.
The Leave No Trace philosophy can be outlined according to the seven principles:
- “Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors” (Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.)
These principals serve as a wonderful guide to how we should conduct ourselves when embarking on any outdoor adventure, and they lay the groundwork for a shared spirit of stewardship and enjoyment in the natural world around us.
Leave no trace. Keep only the scent of freshly fallen pine needles in the back of your mind to conjure up peacefully later, as a reminder of why you love the trail in the first place.