There seems to be a lot of new backpackers on the trail these days. While it's great to see so many people interested in the backcountry it also means we should be aware of the unwritten hiking/backpacking "rules". Why should you care? Simply put, we're all in the backcountry to enjoy the pristine beauty that nature provides. This natural environment fills our souls and rejuvenates us - that's why most of us are there. Understanding and applying backcountry etiquette is a way to help ensure we're all able to soak in the enjoyment of the mountains together. Here's my TOP 6 Backpacking Etiquette things to remember. This isn't exhaustive but hopefully is useful. If you have others that I should include please message me!
Somehow this one still seems to be a controversy but let's be clear, when you're working hard, sweating your ass off, to set a pace as you're climbing the last thing you want to have to do is step aside for a downhill hiker. If you're hiking downhill you have a better field of vision and with that more easily spot a wide spot in the trail to provide the uphill hiker with right of way. Of course the exception to this rule is when the uphill hiker is actually willing to step aside and take a break but the downhill hiker should always step aside first and wait. If the uphill hiker waves you through then fine, move on. Do you disagree? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
A couple of side notes here:
- Horses always have the right of way. Step off the trail so as to not spook them.
- Bicycles are supposed to pull over but let's be honest, they won't and oftentimes they're moving at too high a speed to make this practical.
- Runners should obey these rules, if you're running downhill step aside.
Back to the idea of enjoyment and serenity in the mountains: there was a time a few decades ago when hikers could find a nice spot next to a lake and not see any other travelers. Given the greater number of hikers these days it's unlikely (if you're hiking on trail) that you'll have any lake to yourself. Most often you'll find at least one if not two or three other groups sharing the lake. What do you do in this case?
- First, give one another space. Don't camp right on top of a neighbor if avoidable. One of the interesting things about the mountains is how sound travels. If you're within a hundred yards of a neighbor they'll be able to hear your conversations as if they were right next to you, particularly at dusk. No one wants to hear your discussions when they're trying to enjoy the serenity of the mountains. That said, if camping close by can't be avoided introduce yourself to your neighbor before making camp. We know you've hiked a long way and we're probably aware of limited camping options so sure, camp next to us, but be respectful and polite. Ask first.
- Second, if you've made camp nearby and are looking for that perfect photo, access to the water, or other activity that requires walking through a neighbors camp - ASK FIRST! There's nothing more weird then having someone just walk through your "home" without asking. Again, be respectful and be polite.
Many newer hikers (and perhaps some veterans) don't understand how much damage they're doing when cutting switchbacks or breaking trail through a meadow. This is DAMAGING to the wilderness as it causes erosion. Not only is this hard on the environment but it also makes maintaining the trails harder and more costly. If you're on a marked trail - STAY ON IT. In particular don't cut switchbacks.
Many areas in the Sierra are now requiring hikers to pack out there toilet paper. The reason is simple, people don't know how to dispose of their waste and there are numerous areas I've seen where TP is strewn around. What's super irritating is when campers decide to crap in, or near, an unused campsite and then fail to dig a proper hole. Yes, it's true that animals will dig up TP which is perhaps why the Park and Forest Service are asking hikers to "pack it out". Another alternative is the use of a backpacking bidet. I'll be honest, I've not used this device but will be experimenting with it in 2022. The beauty of the backpacking bidet is no need to carry TP, no need to pack it out, and a cleaner rear end reducing chaffing. Again, I can't comment too much on the effectiveness of the bidet just yet but it all sounds good. In the meantime, if you gotta go, go at least 200 feet from any water source and ANY campground...not just yours. And if you are burying your TP make sure to dig an ample hole - at least 8 inches deep.
This one might be a little controversial but let me try this one on for you. You've reached camp and the first thing you want to do is wash off and cool your feet. I think that's awesome BUT.... Be thoughtful and respectful of those that are getting water. I just can't think of anything worse than trying to get water and someone just upstream from you decides they want to wash their rear end in the stream. If you want to wash up go downstream - PLEASE!!! Also, if you've lathered on any sunscreen or bug repellent DO NOT, under any circumstances, wash in the stream or lake until you wash the lotion off elsewhere - again 100' or more from any water source. Over time these lotions and repellent can damage our water sources so be mindful of what you're putting into them.
With technology I've seen more people on the trail with bluetooth speakers. Seriously? If you can't afford a pair of wireless earpods or a headset then leave the music at home. There is absolutely NOTHING more damaging to other's experience then to have to be subjected your music, no matter how good it is, blasting as you come down the trail, or worse, in your campsite. Yes, I'm sure you're music is amazing but most people didn't come to the Sierra to hear your rap, hip-hop, or even classical music. Get a headset or don't bring it.