This seems like Trail Etiquette is a subject that really shouldn’t have to be discussed but here we are so let’s talk about some things that you should be doing as part of proper trail etiquette. Many of these do not only pertain to trail hiking but to many outdoor activities that you partake in.
Pack It In – Pack It Out
This simply means whatever you bring into the outdoors, you should bring it out as well, that includes your trash. It is widely known that even on the shores of the most remote island you will find human trash in one form or another, and unfortunately the same is true for many wilderness trails. The point is our wilderness lands are shrinking every year, they are valuable to all outdoor enthusiasts, not to mention all the wildlife and fauna that live there. One day our children should be able to walk into any area and feel as though they are the first humans to ever be there!
When you gotta go!
Most everyone knows what a cathole is, if you don’t you should! When you are out in the backcountry you should have a small shovel in your pack (hopefully you followed our other articles on packing a bag properly). This shovel is used to dig a hole for your poo-poo to go in, it should be 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches wide in circumference. This is called properly disposing of human waste. OK, things to consider before digging your hole are; make sure you are well off any established trail or campsite by at least 200-300 feet, the same goes for a water source such as lakes, rivers, streams, or ponds. Found a nice piece of level ground and thinking it is a perfect spot for a cathole, think twice as someone else might see this as a perfect spot to pitch a campsite. If you are with a group of people, everyone should not pick the same area, catholes should be well dispersed.
I also suggest that you poop before you scoop! This saves some stress of being able to hit the hole, which is actually a lot harder than you think especially if you are layered up in clothing for cold weather. This also give you the ability if you are able to bury the toilet paper to put it on the bottom of the hole.
When urinating, you should do so on rocks or gravel whenever you can. Why? because pee contains high amounts of salt which attracts animals, urinating on plants will actually attract critters to chew on the plants destroying them.
Toilet Paper or Wet wipes
This subject has mixed opinions on what you should do with your used toilet paper, some say you should pack it out with you, and others say you should bury it. Actually both opinions are right, depending on where you are hiking. You should check the local regulations in the area you are hiking to determine what you should do and to prepare before your hike. If you must pack it out then I suggest you use the least amount that you have to and pack it out in resealable Ziploc storage bags (I suggest double bagging to prevent leakage and smells). To minimize smell you can bring a little kitty litter in your resealable bags, and I’ve heard that crushed aspirin works too but have not tried that.
If you are allowed by regulations pertaining to your area to bury the toilet paper, make sure that you bury it deep, this helps prevent critters from digging it up and spreading it around. I also suggest you make sure to use biodegradable unscented toilet paper.
Ladies, as for tampons or pads, they should always be packed out with you. Animals are very attracted to a woman’s menstrual scent and will undoubtedly dig them up.
Be Courteous! Share the Trail
Say hello and greet others that you meet on the same trail, it’s just common courtesy. Many say you should always yield to anyone coming uphill, personally I think you should yield either way if you see the other person having a more difficult time, but at the least you should yield to the uphill hiker in case they are in that “hiking rhythm” it’s best not to break stride. After all we should all share the trail! You will undoubtedly meet your share of the courteous, the loud, and the obnoxious so take the high road and be a better hiker.
Stay on the Trail
Remain on the trail wherever possible, every footstep off the trail will eventually start to erode the area destroying plant life, and making the ground unstable. Don’t try to shorten switchbacks by cutting across, the shortest distance between two points is not always the right thing to do! If you come upon mud or a puddle on the trail, walk through it, not around it, after all you came to experience the outdoors didn’t you? Widening a trail by walking around something is bad for trail sustainability.
In the backcountry when you decide to stop for the night and set up camp, make sure that you pick a spot well away from the trail. I try to pick a spot that is well out of sight of the trail because you it’s just more courteous to give other hikers the feeling of being alone in nature without seeing my tent next to the trail, also i have seen many hikers that actually enjoy night hiking especially on the PCT or AT trail, sometimes by necessity to reach a drop box location in time, and being in a deep sleep in your tent to hear cracking twigs or steps coming near can be unnerving to you.
If you bring one, and many do, keep it on a leash! It can be the friendliest dog ever but no one appreciates a dog running up and down the trails and through the woods. It is a shame because many pet owners forget to be courteous to others that are hiking as well.
Leave what you find
The only thing that you should be bringing out of the wilderness as a souvenir is photographs, don’t bring out rocks, plants, etc. All pieces of the wilderness are important to the local ecological environment, that rock you took might have been a home or shade for an endangered critter, the pine cone might have provide some subsistence or nesting material. In most places it is also illegal to take anything, so just don’t do it.
There is nothing wrong with some conversation with your hiking partner but keep the voices low, allow others that might be in the area to enjoy the solitude and silence of nature. Look you’re out there to enjoy nature so you should be listening to nature, enjoying the world around you, hold the conversations for the campsite.