Hiking How-Tos

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In an effort to get healthy, I’ve decided to take up hiking next summer. I did a little hiking when I was a kid, but I haven’t really done much since. I’m a little nervous – I don’t think that I’m going to get lost, or anything, but I also don’t know how well I’m going to fit in on the trail. I know that people aren’t always thrilled with newcomers to hobbies and passions. How do I hit the trail without making a fool of myself and upsetting the longtime hikers?

Hiking is a fantastic way to stay in shape while gaining a new hobby and taking in fresh air and beautiful scenery. No wonder, then, that so many people do it: 47.2 million of us have hit the trail in the past year.

Yes, it must be said: all of that foot traffic can make die-hard hikers a little cranky. And there’s no denying that hikers and campers have a culture of their own, say the designers behind popular hiking posters and stickers. But hikers are an easygoing bunch, and it’s not too hard to get on their good side. Abide by basic rules and etiquette standards, and you’ll be just fine.

What are those standards? A good place to start is with the various hiker’s codes that you’ll find online. Everyone from the Boy Scouts of America to the State of Utah has tried to codify the etiquette of hiking, and reading over a few will help you get the gist of things. At their core, almost all of these rules come down to the simple fact that you ought to respect your fellow hikers, who are here for the same reasons you are: exercise, fun, natural appreciation, and (depending on their plans) a good time with friends or a day of seclusion. If you’re heading up the trail with a boom box playing classic rock or are tossing trash over your shoulder, then it doesn’t take much brain power to realize that you’re ruining others’ experience (and the environment).

There are some more specific rules, sure: hikers going up hill have the right of way, for instance, a little-known rule even some experience hikers forget. But, in general, you’ll find that you’ll fit in well as long as you use your common sense and remember that golden rule of preserving others’ experiences.

Of course, there is a more important concern than etiquette when you’re on the trail. You need to be safe, too! Make sure that you’re showing up ready for your hike and that you’re not biting off more than you can chew – nobody wants to come rescue you after dark. Sign in and out of the trail where sign-in sheets are provided. Bring along the ten essentials (you can find the original and modern lists online – either is a good starting point for your packing checklist) even if your hike is a short one. And if you really feel you must hike alone, be extra conservative about your plans and let people know where you’ll be.

Good luck, and have fun! Hiking isn’t always as simple as it looks, but its rules and culture are fairly straightforward. With your passion and your clear desire to do the right thing, you’re sure to fit in.

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” – John Muir

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