Hiking Etiquette – A Guide for Fun & Safe Hiking

Last Updated: January 2021

The Importance of Hiking Etiquette

From our experience, hiking trails across the US, Europe, and Asia, one thing is common. People can get very annoyed if they feel their experience is being ruined. Hike rage can be very real.

For most people, hiking is an opportunity to get away from the masses and enjoy some time in nature.  However, often, you will need to share the trail with others.

If you are new to hiking, it can be quite confusing as to who has the right of way and what other hiking etiquette is required.

Through following some simple guidelines, everyone can have an enjoyable experience. 

crowded hiking trail

Know Who Yields when Hiking

The first hiking etiquette tip to know is who has the right of way on the trail. Thankfully, there are some easy guidelines to follow.

Uphill Hikers vs. Downhill Hikers

The proper hiking etiquette is ascending hikers (i.e., those hiking uphill) have the right of way, and consequently, descending hikers should yield.  

The reasons for this are as follows. Firstly, the uphill hikers are exerting more effort. Imagine how frustrating it is when you are straining on a steep climb only to have to keep stopping to let the downhill hikers pass.

And secondly, when hiking uphill, you have a narrower field of vision. You typically are only looking at the ground immediately in front of you. Whereas coming downhill, you have a much broader field of vision.

Ultimately, while this is the accepted guideline, it is not a hard and fast rule for the ascending hiker.  For example, you can step aside to take a breather while you are hiking uphill, but it is your choice to do so.

Horses vs. Hikers vs. Bikers

Occasionally, hikers will also need to share the trail with other users, such as horses and mountain bikers. 

The hierarchy of who has the right of way is the following - horses, hikers, then bikers. 

As horses can be difficult to maneuver and unpredictable, they have the right of way.  Horses are easily startled, so it is always best to give them as wide a berth as safely possible. The general rule is that hikers should step to the downhill side of the trail to let horses pass.

Bikers, on the other hand, should yield to hikers on the trail. This is because mountain bikers are often moving quicker than hikers, and they are also considered more maneuverable.

Regardless of the guidelines, hikers, bikers, and horse riders should always remain alert and practice safety.

Hikers vs. Hikers

It is proper etiquette that groups of hikers should be courteous and allow other hikers the opportunity to pass.  

If approaching a slower hiker ahead, do not tailgate them, but instead give them warning that you are there and then safely pass them.  

And finally, it is always advised to walk in a single file and not spread out across the path.  This not only allows people to pass but also avoids the need to go off the trail and potentially damage the wildlife. 

Don’t Bring the Noise

We all enjoy listening to music, but a playlist we have no control over can spoil the experience of being away from it all. 

Considering the availability of hiking appropriate listening devices, such as sweat-resistant headphones and earphones, there is no reason to be “that guy." 

Everyone is allowed to enjoy nature in their way. If you would like to listen to music, that is fine, but at least let others have the option of hearing the sounds of nature. 

Stay In Your Lane

As hikers who have walked trails around the world, we still get confused on this one and often end up 'doing a dance' with oncoming hikers.

The general rule is that the side of the trail people walk on is the same as the one cars drive on in that country. Drive on the right, walk on the right, and vice versa.

Here’s a quick guide -

  • New Zealand, UK, Australia – walk on the left, pass on the right.
  • US, South America, Europe, Canada, Africa, Most of Asia – walk on the right, pass on the left.

Be Prepared

Being far from civilization and emergency services is not the time to play it loose with personal safety and the safety of others.  While I am sure fellow hikers are always happy to help, it is best to prepare for the hike accordingly.

Make sure you have plenty of water, take notice of your surroundings, and dress appropriately for the conditions to decrease the chance of having to seek help.

Check out our article on How To Prepare For Day Hiking for more information.

hiker and dog

Don’t Let the Dogs Out

Taking Fido along for a hike can be a wonderful experience for both the owner and the dog.  However, as crazy as it seems, other people may not love your dog as much as you do. Also, dogs can do severe damage to the local wildlife.

If you want to take your dog for a hike, before arriving at the trail, it pays do look online to see what the rules are. Some trails don’t allow dogs at all, while others may have leash restrictions. 

Regardless, when you are hiking on a dog-friendly trail, it is best to have the dog by your side and under control when passing other hikers.  Also, do not let the dog get too far out of sight at any time, as there may be potentially dangerous animals nearby.

Also, make sure to take a bag to collect your dog's golden nuggets. No one wants to soil their fancy hiking gear.

For more advise check out our article on Hiking with Your Dog.

Stay on the Trail

Other than to yield, wherever possible, it is recommended that you stay on the designated trails. 

This not only helps to keep you safe, but it also protects the surrounding plants and animals from being trampled.  Going off the trail or taking shortcuts can lead to irreparable damage to the soil, vegetation, or animal habitats.  

friendly hiking monk

Be Friendly

Hikers are some of the friendliest and most helpful people going around.

And as they say, life is not about the destination but the people you meet along the way. And hiking is no different. Don’t be afraid to stop and talk as most hikers are more than happy to swap stories with you.

Importantly, this can also serve as a safety precaution as if in the case you do get lost, it is more likely that people will remember seeing you and be able to assist rescue services. 

Last of all, if you do run afoul be apologetic and if someone does not know the rules, please be forgiving.

Key Takeaways

Hiking should be an opportunity to get away from the stress and aggressors of daily life.  So hopefully, through following these simple guidelines, the experience can be safe and pleasurable for all. 

We hope you enjoy hiking as much as we do and you never know, we might run into you on a trail one day.  And if we do, be friendly.

Happy Hiking!

This post may contain affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here.

Related Posts