Updated: Nov 13, 2020
I learned a long time ago, when struggling uphill, not to ask a hiker approaching me, “how far to the top?”
The answer is almost always the same. “You are almost there!”
An hour later, still not there, and I am thinking of ways to cause anguish to said stranger via mental telepathy.
In actuality it is not the fault of the person answering the question. People don’t like to disappoint. And the downhill trek often yields an impression of a shorter distance. If you are constantly asking other hikers how far it is to the waterfall, you are the one being not cool.
How To Not Be a Cool Hiker
Part of learning how to be a cool hiker is adhering to the Leave No Trace principles. These principles apply equally to day hikers and backpackers.
Leave No Trace does not mean you carry a broom to hide your footprints. That is what people on the lamb do. So if you see someone acting this way...
National forests, state parks, and other wilderness areas do not have janitors to clean up our mess. A plastic wrapper thrown on the ground will remain on the ground until it decomposes. Plastic does not decompose quickly. It will likely be there long after you have passed.
Throwing trash on the ground equals “you are not cool.” I mean, seriously folks. This applies to anywhere. The wilderness, your town, and even the front yard of that person you really don’t like because he glared at you years ago at a neighborhood barbecue.
The Leave No Trace principles go beyond not leaving your trash on the ground.
Plan ahead and prepare
When staying overnight, store your food in a manner such that wildlife can not access it while you sleep. Check out my article on hanging a food bag.
Remain on trails and footpaths. Venturing off trail destroys underbrush and increases our impact on the wilderness.
This is also a safety measure.
Pack out whatever you pack in. So let’s add to those items in your backpack or daypack. Carry a small trash bag.
There is much more to Leave No Trace. Check out this website: https://lnt.org/why/7-principles/
Being safe is part of being a cool hiker. If you do something moronic, like leave the trail to chase a really cute chipmunk and get lost, causing rescue agencies to spend resources finding you, that’s not cool.
Always remain on or near the trail. Wherever you go hiking, consider reciting the following to yourself, or out loud for all to hear.
“This trail is my friend. This trail is here so that I may travel and enjoy the wilderness. People work hard to maintain this trail. I am thankful for their hard work. I will be a cool hiker and remain on this trail until I exit this forest.”
If you state this out loud it is possible all hikers in your immediate vicinity, to include the friend you brought for his or her first hike, will decide to grant you a wide berth. Best keep it to yourself considering the next safety tip.
Try to avoid hiking alone.
This year I completed my second solo section hike on the Appalachian Trail (AT). It was 24.4 miles with two nights of camping. I had a wonderful time. Though I have years of experience hiking and camping, I took some safety precautions.
My solo section hike occurred on a weekend, and on a part of the AT which is popular.
There were other hikers at both of my campsites.
I made sure my family and friends knew my route, and I checked in with them periodically when I had coverage for my mobile phone.
I practiced Leave No Trace principles, to include remaining on or near the trail.
Every year hikers get themselves into trouble. Things happen. When they do, it is good to have someone near who can help, or find help. Here are some of the common mishaps hikers experience.
Severe ankle or knee sprain, even with the proper footwear.
Dehydration or heat exhaustion.
Allergic reaction to an insect sting.
Hypothermia due to an unexpected thunderstorm and no raincoat.
After confidently stating, “I have an iron stomach,” the day prior when you drank untreated water, you wake up and begin spewing liquid from every orifice of your body.
In each of these cases, your hiker buddy can help you get to an area with easy access to medical people. Conversely, if you end up with dysentery, your friend may decide to leave and return with medical professionals. Just sayin’.
One of my favorite mantras; hike your own hike.
Do you enjoy a leisurely stroll, stopping often to snap pictures of colorful foliage? Awesome. Do more of that.
Enjoy listening to music while you hike. That’s cool. But use ear buds.
Are you the type of hiker who wants to turn off all electronics and escape the world? Rock on!
I like to remain connected. I enjoy sending my wife beautiful pictures when I have coverage. When hiking with my friend Andy, we keep the volume of our mobile phones up to hear when a text comes through. But when entering a shelter area along the AT, I turn my phone to silent mode. I want to respect other hikers who may only want to hear the sounds of nature.
Hiker etiquette on the trail mostly comes down to being respectful. On the trail, if a hiker appears to have a faster pace, I will move aside and let him or her pass. Here are a few other tips.
When traveling downhill, yield to hikers going uphill
Unless the uphill hiker is tired and needs a break because this stupid trail seems to want to go uphill forever with no end in sight and I really wasn’t prepared for this and my crappy map did not illustrate how big this stupid mountain really is.
If taking a break, move slightly off the trail, while keeping the trail in sight.
Keep your pet under control and make sure it is on a leash when other hikers are near
When hiking in a group, do not take up the whole path when hikers approach in the opposite direction. Move to single file or yield to the side entirely.
When relieving yourself, move to a spot off of the trail which affords both you and any other hikers privacy. I mean, no one really wants to see that.
This is actually a point of danger. Hikers have become lost going to the bathroom. Think about where you are going and know exactly how to return to the trail. If alone, consider tying a rope to a tree next to the trail and extending it to your location.
Let’s Go Hiking
A common mistake among new hikers is carrying too much. Whether it's a backpack for a multi-night adventure, or a 7-mile day hike with your brand new daypack. Though you should seek advice on what to carry considering the trail and expected weather conditions, it is okay to over pack a little. Instead of trying to become the ultimate lightweight hiker on your first journey, allow time and experience to dictate what you carry in your pack.
Expect it to rain. If you expect rain on every hiking trip, the weather will not likely ever disappoint.
Consider a lightweight tarp for your daypack. Your friends will think you are cool when you pull it out for lunch during the rainstorm, which appeared from nowhere.
Your physical condition required to hike depends upon many factors. The best advice I can give is to at least do some fast walking in your town or neighborhood. You know yourself better than anyone. If you are confident you can handle a 10-mile hike on steep terrain, go for it.
Remember. You want to be a cool hiker. Carry plenty of water. If you have never hiked on rough, steep terrain, expect it to be significantly tougher than you are imagining.
There are no experts when it comes to hiking and backcountry camping. Avoid sources which claim otherwise. There are those of us with experience, gained mostly via mistakes. I learn something on nearly every trip to the wilderness.
About The Author
My name is Jerry. Trail name "Monsoon." In addition to running a hiking club, I also own and operate a coffee shop & bookstore. Check it out here.