4 Unspoken Rules of the Trail


There is no better teacher than life itself. Some lessons can only be learned from experience out in the wilderness. There are a few tips we’ve learned along the trails that we think you should know.

Step Aside On Slopes

Just like the highway, the trails also have a right-of-way when meeting other hikers on the trail. If you’re descending on a trail and see another hiker ascending upward ease off the trail if possible and let them pass. This unspoken rule is simply a nice gesture since they are burning much more energy coming up than going down. Causing them to go off the path could cause them to lose their momentum or worse, fall causing injury.

CAIRNS – let them be

A Cairn out in the wild along the trail in Big Bend National Park

If you come across one of these structures on the trail do not topple it. Some claim that a cairns do not belong in nature (man-made structure) so they knock them over – not cool. These small structures are a waypoint for hikers on the trail. Seeing one of these along a trail means you are still heading in the right direction. Some trails can get quite bare with no trail markers so other hikers created them to let others following behind know where to go. If you see one take a photo of it with your phone and leave only footprints.

Walk Farther Than You Think You Should for A No.2

Campsite one on the Outer Mountain Trail @ Big Bend National Park

When you are out on the trails there will come a time you have to take care of ‘business.’ There is nothing worse than stepping off the trail and stepping in a hole full of human waste. The Leave No Trace Initiative has come up with a rule of thumb for when nature calls and you have to dig a hole for human waste. They suggest a buffer of 200 feet (about 40 human footsteps) when it comes to digging a hole for human waste. When you think you’ve walked far enough, go a little further.

Say Hello to Hikers

Catoma Staff on a Research & Development trip to Big Bend National Park

There will come a time when you meet other hikers on the trails. If you are hiking a popular route like the Pacific Coast Trail or the Appalachian Trail talking to others can be crucial. It’s not just about being friendly it is about safety. That group of hikers you met could help direct rescuers to your location if you break your leg. There is usually no cell service in desolate areas so you rely on others for information.

Mac, over at Halfway There came up with a great strategy on making small talk on the trails. He also illustrates that you should ask important questions such as:

  • How far until the next water source?
  • Where are we on the map?
  • What time is it (aka how much daylight is left)?
  • Can I have some toilet paper?

These are crucial things to know while out in the wilderness. You can’t google some of these questions while in an area with no cell service. Chances are you’ll meet some pretty cool people out there on the trails.

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