Trail Etiquette: Hikers’ Right of Way

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Trail Etiquette: Hikers’ Right of Way

Whether you’ve been hiking for years or you’re gearing up for your first trek, it’s worthwhile brushing up on your trail etiquette.

After all, it’s a basic trail principle that combines common courtesy with a bit of hiking know-how.

With more and more people taking to the trails, knowing the ins and outs of what good etiquette looks like can be the make or break in your or someone else’s outdoors experience.

Below we’ve pulled together some key components of proper trail etiquette to stay safe, get the most out of your experience and maintain a positive atmosphere on the trail.

  • Right of way

Although you can often use common sense to navigate busy paths, the official rules are as follows:

  1. Stay to the Left, pass on the right: Just like on the roads, keep to the left side of the trail when you are being passed. Note that in America, like driving, this is the opposite way round. If you want to overtake someone, call out to get their attention and let them know you are approaching from behind.


  1. Hikers vs. hikers: In summary, those who are hiking uphill have the right of way. This is based on the notion that when trekking uphill we have a narrower field of vision and are working harder to maintain momentum to get up steep sections.

If you’d prefer to stop for a breather and let downhill hikers come past, that’s totally up to you but not expected as such.

  1. Hikers and bikers: Mountain bikers are expected to yield to hikers as they have more speed and power. That said, it’s much harder for bikers to slow down, so if in doubt just step aside. Mountain bikers often have to plan their downhill route and make split-second decisions, so why not help the rider out and let them pass by stepping off the trail.


  1. Hikers and horses: Occasionally you’ll find yourself on a shared trail and come face to face with a giant. Horses always get the right of way, so give equestrians a wide berth and don’t make abrupt movements as these animals can scare easily.
  • Hiking with Dogs

Even our furry friends aren’t exempt from the rules of the trail.

Always check in advance whether the whole of your chosen route is dog-friendly.

Keep dogs on leads where signs indicate and when passing any wildlife or livestock.

When off-leash, keep your dog under control and within a line of sight.

This is particularly important around other hikers, who you may want to advise as to whether your dog is friendly and can be patted/touched or not.

Always clean up after your dogs and keep them on the trail.

Although they may want to go exploring, pets can do as much damage to flora and fauna as kids and adults alike.

  • Using your Smartphone and Technology on the Trail

Lots of people need to bring their smartphones with them when hiking for safety and navigational purposes.

If you’ve got technology in tow, use it sparingly, discreetly and be aware of your surroundings.

Be aware of your surroundings when taking photos. Don’t block the trail, other people’s views or hold up fellow hikers.

People spend time in nature as an escape from the the high-tech world we live in today, so respect that.

Put your phone on silent, make phone calls short and sweet and don’t blast music out loud.

Shouting about what you’re up to for the rest of the day ruins the restorative stillness.

If you must make a phone call, keep the conversation short.

If you’re hiking solo and have a soundtrack to walk to, use earphones or be ready to mute your speaker volume when you see others coming.

If it would be considered antisocial in an enclosed space or public transport, don’t do it on the trail either.

Let nature’s sounds prevail, especially at night and in remote places.

  • Using the ‘bathroom’

We’ll jump right in with the unspoken rule of going to the toilet.

Everyone has to go, so there’s certainly no shame in doing it, but just be mindful about when and where you choose.

Leave your backpack off to the side of the trail where it won’t block the path then go 200 feet / 60 metres away from any trail, campsite or water source and do your business.

Sometimes this isn’t possible due to delicate plants, animals nesting or nearby cliffs, in which case just use your common sense and find a private spot behind a rock or a tree.

The most important part is packing out any used toilet paper.

Yes it may be biodegradable but it’s disrespectful, unhygienic and an eye-sore.

  • Don’t litter

This is the most obvious of all.

Every piece of rubbish, waste and food remnants should be packed out and taken with you off the trail and campsite unless there are designated disposal facilities.

Abide by the Leave No Trace principles and you can’t go wrong.

  • Be Social

We’re not saying you need to invite everyone you cross to your next soirée, but be friendly and chatty with passersby.

Everyone is out on the trail to have a good time just like you are, and a quick “hello” can go a long way toward fostering a positive atmosphere amongst hikers.

On top of that, it can be beneficial in terms of safety.

Interacting with those walking in the opposite direction is a chance to learn important info about current trail conditions ahead.

If you’re hiking alone it might even aid rescue efforts if you were to later get lost.

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