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Trail Etiquette for Hiking Groups

Posted: Monday, August 20, 2018

Like everything in life, there are some all-too-often unspoken norms that dictate hiking etiquette. This is especially true for hiking in a group!

We've compiled a list of the most common questions we receive about trail etiquette to help you learn the dos and don'ts of the trail.

Are there different rules for group hikes?

This is a prevalent question on our trips. Group hiking is fun! But it also has the potential to be louder, more destructive, and more stressful. 

  • Hike single file when traveling in a group on a narrow trail. You will likely only be able to talk to the people directly in front or behind you, but that helps you maintain a quiet volume and not trample the delicate flora that often borders trails. If a trail is very wide and you can leave room for people to pass, it’s not inappropriate to hike alongside one other.
  • Designate a "sweep," or a person who commits to staying at the end of the group for the duration of the hike. That way, nobody gets lost or hurt without the certainty that someone will be looking out for them. 
  • Be aware of your hiking companions' pace. When hiking with a group, you might have to slow down or speed up (take fewer pictures and breaks) to create a median speed that is bearable for everyone. On a guided group hike, it's a little different. The group can split into smaller groups and trust that the "sweep" will make sure no one gets left behind. 

Who Has the Right of Way?

Much like driving, there is a "right of way" when hiking that is influenced by the other travelers on the trail (hikers, horses, bikers, etc). When in doubt, just talk to the people around you to find out who should step aside. 

  • Hikers going uphill have the right of way because hiking uphill is generally harder than hiking downhill. Downhill hikers should yield to people going uphill so they don't have to break their gate (unless the uphill hikers are eager for a break and step aside to allow the downhill hikers to pass).
  • Alway yield to horses. If you come across a rider on horseback, give them ample space and don't make any loud noises or sudden movements as they pass. 
  • Look out for mountain bikers. Technically hikers have the right of way on a multi-use trail and bikers know to yield to those traveling on foot. But because it's easier for a hiker to step aside than for a biker to slow their downhill speed or lose their uphill momentum, it's courteous to wave a biker on if you as a hiker feel comfortable doing so.

How does "Leave No Trace" Apply? 

The seven principles of Leave No Trace are even more important for groups than they are for individual hikers. 

  • Be prepared. That means doing research on trail conditions and local wildlife before you go so that you can easily follow any rules, like keeping a dog on leash.
  • Travel on durable surfaces. The best trail (and campsite, for that matter) is the one you find, not the one you create. Staying on a trail means you aren't trampling the delicate vegetation, eroding dirt and rock, or disrupting the local ecosystem. When we make social trails (detours the become almost-trails), we negatively impact the flora and fauna of the area. 
  • Dispose of waste properly. This might sound counter to what you just read about durable surfaces, but when nature calls its best to get off the trail. Be careful about where you're walking and where you decide to do your business and be sure to pack out any toilet paper or sanitary supplies so that no natural area ends up looking like a portajohn. 
  • Be courteous of others. Getting in touch with nature often means getting out of touch with the noises of everyday life. Be aware of your volume: don't play music on a speaker system, don't yell to people in your group, and keep your conversations appropriate for anyone hiking nearby. That means turning off your cell phone and leaving loud conversations behind. 

When and where should we take a break?

Taking breaks is a normal and important part of safe hiking. There are lots of reasons you might break: you see a photo opp, feel a hotspot in your boots, are craving a snack, need a breather or a bathroom break, or any number of things. 

  • Stop in places with plenty of room for others to pass you safely. That means you- as a group or individual- shouldn't stop somewhere where that isn't possible, i.e. a ledge or ridge. 
  • Take a break when you need it. This might mean you break more often than the rest of the group- that's fine! But if you are someone who needs lots of breaks, consider limiting your picture taking stops so that you have time to stop if and when you really need to.
  • Take the break you need, but remember that you're hiking with a group. Everyone should get a full break but it is common for the fastest hikers to stop for a break just long enough for the slower hikers to catch up, then take off again. This prevents the slower hikers from getting a full break when they might be the ones who need it most! If you're a speedy hiker in a group, make sure that you're considerate of other hikers' break time. If you're a slower hiker in a group, be sure to take the break you need even if the faster group has taken off. 
  • Be alert and aware of weather, distance to the end of the trail, other people's needs, and the safety of there being two groups. 

Finally, say hello! While you want to be respectful and connect with nature, its always nice to find another human out on the trail. A simple hello alerts other hikers to your presence without startling them. It's also an opportunity to find out if there is anything you might need to know about trail conditions or wildlife in the area. 

This is also a safety issue: you want people to remember seeing you and that's easiest if you've spoken to each other. If a hiker gets injured or goes missing, other hikers may be able to offer clues to help. 


Now go on, get out on the trail and enjoy your newfound knowledge!

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