Hiking and mountain biking are more popular than ever since the coronavirus pandemic started. It’s no wonder many trails have been busier than usual.
“It was a direct realization with people that we can't go to a restaurant or a bar,” said Jonathan Mincks, wilderness skills and safety specialist at the Arizona Hiking Shack store in Phoenix. “We saw an uptick in new people that have never been in before and never been camping or backpacking during this whole last year and throughout this whole ordeal.”
With so many people on the trails, it can be confusing to know the right ways to coexist with hikers, bikers, animals and the rest of your surroundings. And as COVID-19 vaccination rates increase, mask guidance changes frequently.
Don’t be stressed. Here's a trail etiquette guide to give you peace of mind for your outdoor explorations on foot or bike.
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What is trail etiquette?
Trail etiquette is not just being courteous to other users and not littering. It's also about taking responsibility for your actions.
But trail etiquette is more than just how you interact with your surroundings. It's also about how you manage your responsibilities. Those include caring for yourself and being prepared.
“My take on trail etiquette goes to a broader sense that would also encompass your own responsibility, not just to other hikers, the land and wildlife, but to rescuers,” Mincks said.
“You know, most people don't know that a helicopter is not always going to come to your rescue. They're sending a team to go find you on the ground. So it's going to take a while.
"And our rescue workers are 90% volunteers. So you're disrupting somebody's social life or work. Because they are dedicated to you. A little responsibility goes a long way when you're on your own in the wilderness.”
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Hiking tips and tricks
Be responsible: Dress appropriately for the conditions, hydrate, check the weather.
Rangers are not custodians: Leave no trace and pick up your trash.
Follow the Golden Rule: “Treat others how you want to be treated," Mincks said. “When you meet others on the trail ... treat them like you would want to treat any other person.”
Yield to animals: Give horses and wildlife plenty of space.
Communicate: Tell someone where you plan to hike and what time you expect to be back.
Don’t wander off: Stay on the trail. You'll help prevent environmental damage and be more likely to avoid danger.
Take it easy: Have fun but don't overextend yourself or overestimate your abilities. If you have a medical condition, choose a route that accommodates your needs.
Who has the right of way on a hill?
The hiker going up has the right of way, Mincks said.
A hiker descending will have a broader field of vision when looking down, while the person hiking up is probably looking at their feet and making careful steps. Turn to the side and let the uphill hiker pass you.
If you are hiking with a group, outdoor retailer REI's website suggests hiking single file so your group doesn't monopolize the trail. If a lone hiker meets a larger group, allow the group to go first.
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What if you want to pass someone on the trail?
What happens when you want to pass another hiker from behind? REI says a “hello” is a good way to make yourself known.
Tips for trail bike riders
Arizona State Parks and Trails says bikers should stop for oncoming hikers. However, this does not always happen, especially when bikers are riding fast. If you’re a hiker, be alert. You might have to move to the side and let the biker go by.
Should you wear a mask while hiking?
While vaccination is ongoing and more is being learned about whether COVID-19 spreads outdoors, it's courteous to carry a mask and put it on if you can't give another hiker 6 feet of space.
If you can't get your mask on in time, move aside if you can do so safely and turn your head away from the other person.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends following the guidelines of whatever park or trailhead you are visiting.
Should you listen to music on the trail?
Some hikers wear headphones on the trail, some have speakers attached to their backpacks and some don’t listen to music at all. Mincks said he usually doesn’t listen to music as it prevents him from being fully aware of his surroundings.
“If you pay attention to nature, you will notice all kinds of things about what’s going on around you in the environment. If you are listening to music or even talking loudly, you won’t notice things that you would notice if you were paying attention,” he said.
He also noted that hiking without music lets you hear other trail users coming from behind you, and you'll be able to hear birds and other animals nearby.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Hiking trails: Hiker, trail, mountain biking etiquette answers