The unspoken rules of the avid hiker…

By Marion Fernandez
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Every sport comes with a set of rules. Whether it is not traveling in basketball, not using your hands to pass in soccer, or not crossing the line of scrimmage in football, the name of the game is knowing what to do. In that way, hiking is exactly the same, but instead of a rulebook, the rules are unwritten, and are only really known and understood by those who have participated in the sport frequently.

If you haven’t taken up hiking before, here are some of the rules you should know that no one will tell you about.

1. Leave nature better than you found it.

Trash in the forest – why?

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. While this may be obvious for most, there are still plenty of hikers out there guilty of leaving behind waste, which also includes dog poop baggies, left on the side of the trail. I know those are gross to carry around, but that is the cost of cleaning up after your four-legged companion. 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 as although they will eventually break down, they won’t do so right away.

2. Hikers headed up have right of way

Because climbing a hill is much harder than walking down it, hikers who are descending should yield to the hikers coming up the hill if they run into each other. The downhill hiker should step aside, and off the track if necessary, to let the ascending hikers pass. In some cases the uphill hiker may wave the downhill hiker to go ahead, giving themselves a moment to rest, but the downhill hiker should not assume that is going to be the case. Better to yield on the downhill.

3. Be smart when nature calls

Toilet paper

If you find that you need to use a bathroom while far out in the woods, you need to be careful about where you take care of things. You need to make sure you are at least 200 feet from the trail as well as any type of water. This will ensure that the water isn’t contaminated. If you need to take a poop, be sure to dig a hole first and then bury it after.

4. Walk through puddles

That is unless there is plenty of room to go around it. The issue is if you step just to the side of a puddle, the puddle 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.

5. Don’t approach wildlife

Not always a smart move

It should go without saying, but don’t feed the wildlife either. You can mess with their sense of the world and introduce them to foods which can turn wild animals into stalkers, looking for another bite. It will disrupt their natural habits and could put them in jeopardy.You also may be feeding them something that is not good for them. You could cause an animal to startle which can make it unpredictable. You don’t want to send an animal into a panic and find yourself in a state of physical peril, fleeing from the wild animal in pursuit of you. It is better to just leave animals alone.

6. Silence is golden

Cell reception has gotten a lot better in the past few years and signal strength is at an all-time high. This means that some areas in the woods where you previously would not have any cell signal may have it now. But just because it’s there does not mean that you should be using it. Part of the joy of hiking is that you get to leave behind the humdrum of the daily grind. Not only is a break from your cell phone good for you, but it is also far less disturbing for anyone else hiking near you to not have to listen to your conversation, ringtone, or music.

Hiking is allowing you to get away from technology for a while. You should still bring a phone in case of an emergency and perhaps for taking pictures, but they should be left in your bag and kept out of sight so you don’t get the urge to use it. If you do find yourself using it you should speak in a quieter voice to prevent the disruption of other hikers as well as any wildlife that may be near you.

7. Stay on the trails

Hiking trail – stay on it

Hiking can be an amazing adventure, but your adventure does not need to be wandering through the woods off-trail. Cutting through the woods to make your own shortcut will leave a trail, perhaps attracting other hikers to also venture the same direction. As a result, plant life can be destroyed. You may have wanted to go in a particular direction because you saw something you and wanted to get a closer look, but even then, going off-trail is a risky business. Don’t forget that you also run the risk of getting lost in the woods by taking a side trail, whereas if you just stay on the trail itself you should be able to return without any issue.

The most important thing to remember when hiking is to be considerate of others. This can mean a lot of different things, but mostly don’t leave garbage or ruin the trail. You should also always greet passing hikers with a smile and a greeting. Hiking is its own community and you should treat the other hikers as you would like to be treated, meaning do not be rude and just think about the health and safety of the other people who may be hiking as well. Otherwise, enjoy your adventure.

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