7 Unwritten Trail Rules While Hiking

Most of America and the world has been thrust into the outdoors as it’s the only thing that is available during a pandemic. With a surge in new explorers on the trails, the unwritten rules of hiking that experienced hikers, campers, and backpackers know far too well are new and unknown to the uninitiated.

And that’s the problem with unwritten rules of the trail. They’re assumed to be understood even to people who’ve never had to associate themselves with them. We’re going to dive into some of the biggest unwritten rules of hiking.

These aren’t meant to put an undue burden on your experience, but to instead amplify your nature time, while also respecting those around you.

hiking ridgeline summiting mt daniel pnw

Unwritten Rules of Hiking


Uphill Hikers have right of way

For whatever reason this is not obvious to everyone on the trail. Maybe it was just my dad being experienced, but I learned from a very young age that uphill hikers have the right of way. I adhere to this religiously and it’s hardly a burden unless you’re trailing running and trying to break a FKT. Here’s the easiest way to do this. Find a good spot and step 12 inches off the trail in a manner that won’t injure you or disturb the vegetation. In all, this give the hiker working the hardest the ability to keep their momentum and is the right thing to do. I’d argue this is the biggest unwritten rules of hiking. I recently had a friendly back and forth with a hiker that thought donnwhill hikers have it due to increased risk of falling.

In case you don’t know yet, that’s inaccurate.

Hike with headphones

No one wants to listen to your music. Full stop. I feel this pertains more to local hiking for workouts, but people in National Parks or State Parks definitely didn’t come out to listen to your DJing skills.

unwritten rules of hiking

Don’t take up the entire trail

Hiking with friends is a great way to spend the day, but no one wants to try to weave through a group of 10 people that have spread out on a trail. Be cognizant of how big your group is and if it’s more than five, considering splitting into two groups so you’re not hindering other’s experiences. Now, even with a group of five, if you see people coming in the opposite direction, form into a single file when passing. Your fellow trail friends will be thankful.

Be aware of your surroundings

Stay aware. This pertains to not only people but animals. Understand what actions could lead to future outcomes. The biggest thing, for photographers, are to understand that you aren’t the only person attempting that shot. As they say in football, ‘keep your head on a swivel,’ and see where other people are. Another one here is to not do things that will make those around you uncomfortable. Now, I’m not saying, don’t do you, but also don’t go do something that could kill you and scar the rest of the people around you.

For campers/backpackers, don’t set up a tent right next to another if you don’t know them. They’re there for some peace and quiet. Give it to them and find another spot, even if it’s not as great.

HydraPak Flux 1.5L hiking colorado backpacking

Wildlife don’t get human food

Your food is meant for you, not the animals. This goes for large animals such as bears, down to the smallest chipmunks. DO.NOT.FEED.THEM.FOOD. It not only puts you in danger as animals can behave erratically, it also makes them less wild – leading them to rely on human food vs finding their own food. This, in the long run, will kill them.

Pick up your shit

Literally and metaphorically. No one wants to see your poop nor do people want to deal with whatever other trash you have. Furthermore, your banana peels, apple cores, or anything you’ve heard will disintegrate doesn’t actually just magically disappear. They take years or decades to fully decompose. If everyone did this, our wild places would look like a trash heap. Remember, no matter where you are, pack out what you packed in and Leave No Trace.

Adhere to all fire rules

Thanks to climate change, the west is going to be a tinderbox for potentially the rest of time. And because of this, I’d fire restrictions in the national forests will likely continue into eternity. Yes, it sucks when you go camping and you can’t have a fire. But you want to know what sucks more? When there are uncontrolled fires ravaging, threating homes and lives. Just suck it up and stop having a fire. **OR** Get a propane fire pit that you can bring camping and stay warm without the risk of a forest fire.

tent view backpacking washington enchantments


No matter your experience level with unwritten rules of hiking, the most important part is to have fun and ensure others also have the ability to do so too.


Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.

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