Top 11 Tips for Trail Etiquette
Trail etiquette is uber-important to help us run/hike safer and find more enjoyment, while preserving our natural environments.
Give these a try when you're out enjoying the trails. It will help make your time out there more enjoyable as you engage with other trail goers.
Be Friendly – Wave and Smile!
The trails are a friendly place. Although many of us go to take in the scenery and connect with ourselves, it’s a great time to connect with others too. Acknowledging other trail goers with a “Hello” or “Good morning/afternoon” and “Have a great day” is an easy way to release those feel-good hormones for you and the person you’re greeting. If it’s safe to do so, make eye contact. Small gestures like these are appreciated. Think about how you feel when someone greets you kindly as they pass you, instead of blowing by you without saying a word. I once had the very same trail users who I greeted going up a trail, help me off that trail, after I fell and broke both bones in my wrist. I was glad I had made being kind and friendly a trail habit.
Let Uphill Traffic Keep Moving
If you’ve ever run or hiked up a hill, you know it’s harder than downhills. Stopping your momentum and starting again is hard stuff! If you’re going downhill, stop and let the uphill travelers by. Almost every rule has an exception, and, often, that exception has to do with a scientific law. Here’s the exception - if a runner is coming downhill at a fast pace, they cannot stop themselves easily without risking falling or injury. Step aside and let these runners pass for their safety, and yours.
Stay on Designated Trails
Travelling off designated trails harms the habitat of the creatures who live there. This includes cutting through switchbacks. Would you like it if someone cut through your house and/or yard because it was faster and easier for them? Be respectful of the creatures whose home we’re barrowing. If a trail is closed – stay off it. Cutting switchbacks in a race is usually considered cheating, especially in the United States. Not only is it harmful to our trails, it can get you disqualified. Keep only to established/marked trails.
Be Considerate of Cyclists and Those on Horseback
I know all those etiquette signs say that bikers should yield to runners, hikers, and horseback riders, but we’re going to take the high trail (pun intended). Because of reasons I’ve mentioned throughout this post (so read it all to find them) please be considerate and yield to bikers and those on horseback. In many situations, it is often more difficult to find safe places for bikers to get off the trail. Bikes coming down are going too fast to stop safely very quickly and going up have gravity working against them far more than someone on foot.
Always slow down and approach someone on horseback at a walk. Horses can get spooked easily. I’ve had two sisters get bucked off a spooked horse in the same year (different horses though), both underwent surgery for broken bones. Safety for everyone is important, walk calmly, or stop and wait altogether, until the horse passes you.
Keep an Ear Open
Have you ever tried to pass a runner, calling out to them without response, only to find they had earbuds in, music blasting? When you’re on the trails it’s not safe, or courteous, to cut off your ability to hear what is going on around you. You must be prepared to hear the zipping of a bike tire coming downhill toward you, or the warning rattle of a snake as it suns itself close to the trail. A good rule to follow is to keep at least one ear open. I’ll listen to music or a book at a low volume in one ear, but keep my other ear open to hear what’s going on around me. Portable music speakers should be left at home. They are distracting to you and other trail users, while limiting your ability to hear what’s going on around you. You don’t need to travel in silence, though. Talking to others in your group and/or wearing a “bear bell” helps alert others (including bears) that you are in the area. Coming around a turn to a large black bear grazing on the trail can be unsettling for everyone – trust me.
Let Faster Travelers Pass
Whether they pass you travelling your direction or coming downhill towards you, let faster runners pass. This is especially important to do in races. Elite runners need to push their limits, at top speed, and blocking their way could mean precious seconds off their time. Be courteous and aware. It’s much safer for all when travelers going up are prepared and yield to runners flying down (or passing on their way up). If you’re the faster runner, pass on the left (in the United States) and let others know you’re doing so.
Most trails are not wide enough for side-by-side use without blocking the trail for oncoming or passing users. Although it’s in our nature to walk next to the person we’re out with, stay single-file. Often, trails are shared with mountain bikers and horse-back riders. Be especially mindful if your group has four or more people in it. Mountain bikers fly down trails and it is difficult to hear them, even if they are using a bike bell. I once had a biker come around a blind curve so fast, he crashed as we both tried to keep from a head-on collision.
Bring it In, Bring it Out
Maybe what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, but what you bring to the trails goes home with you. Keep the trails clean. This means ANY trash, like wrappers from gels, and energy bars or blocks. One of my biggest pet-peeves is when people bag their dog’s poop and leave it on the side of the trail. Keep the trails clean. I carry an empty bag (the zipping kind work best) in my short’s pocket or running vest. All my wrappers (and others I find on the trail) go in that bag, so I can throw them away after finishing my run.
Plan Your Nutrition and Fluids
I know I just chewed you out about keeping the trails clean, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring nutrition with you (just take your trash home and throw it away). Make sure you have enough nutrition and fluids so you can avoid dehydration, bonking, low sodium and potassium, and other serious health issues (sliced oranges in a sealable container are awesome). This is especially important on long runs. Without fail, in every ultra race I have done, there is at least one person who is not prepared and drops out or has to be rescued. I have made it a habit to carry extra, so I can help out in these situations. Don’t be that person who’s ill prepared. Do your homework and reap the benefits.
Volunteer for Races
As part of a race company, I can tell you this – WE LOVE VOLUNTEERS!!!! There is so much involved in putting on a successful race and volunteers make race day so much easier. There’s always something to do, from handing out nutrients and water at aid stations, to setting up or taking down the course. If you’re interested in volunteering with us, we’d LOVE to have you! Just send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Give Back to Your Trails
Giving back is an important part of belonging to the trail community. Here is a list of over 200 organizations that help maintain our trails, and can use your help. Some ultra races require documentation that you have helped with trail maintenance, before you can race. There are local parks and trail systems you can connect with to offer your support. Think about taking a course on becoming a certified sawyer or trail captain. Trail work is really fun and an awesome way to meet fellow trail runners!