Backpacking Etiquette: How to Not Be *That* Newbie

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24 trail-proven tips from seasoned backpackers who were beginners once, too.

Elbows off the table, hold the door for others (but don’t make them run) and stop hitting reply all already. Good manners make everyday life with others a little easier—and life on the trail is no exception to the rule.

With that in mind, I did a very unscientific poll of fellow backpackers—from weekend warriors up to multi-time thru-hikers—to find their biggest backpacking pet peeves and ways to avoid making those mistakes. Read on for their best tips on how to be a good human in the woods.

Hike Nicely

1. Stay on the trail. Erosion is easy to start and hard to stop. If you don’t cut switchbacks, trample fragile ecosystems and make mud pits bigger by going around them, everyone wins.

2. Yield to uphill hikers. Yes, uphill hikers can challenge this rule, begging to catch their breath, but you’ll get major brownie points for always letting them have the option.

3. Say hi. Isn’t it more awkward not to? Also, announcing your presence before passing on the left ensures your fellow hikers won’t jump and scream when you do.

4. When hiking in a group, let smaller groups or single people go past. Pro tip: Have your last hiker say “hiker back” to alert your entire group to get over to the right.

5. Take your break off the trail. It’s much easier for people to get around you if you find a flat spot away from foot traffic. Also, don’t camp directly on the trail. You’ll be happy when people don’t wander through your break or sleep site.

Backpacker making dinner

Be a Team Player

6. Communicate. Then over-communicate. Like waking up at 4 am? The rest of your group might not. Talk before you begin your trip to make sure everyone has the same expectations.

7. Set a pace that’s comfy for the slowest hiker. Or make it clear that everyone hikes their own pace and meets up at a predetermined location for lunch or camp. Speak up if the pace isn’t good for you.

8. Let slower hikers rest when they reach you. No one likes finally catching up to the whole group only to have them start up again immediately. One day you’ll be the last one, and you’ll be grateful for this principle.

9. Don’t hit people in the face with branches. Duh. Point out trail hazards too. It’s the nice thing to do.

10. Give other groups space. We all are in the woods to enjoy nature, solitude and space. Don’t get too close. That’s weird.

11. Don’t complain. If you’re not having fun, there’s no need to share. Everyone else probably hates the 2,000 feet of elevation gain in one mile just as much as you do.

12. Bring your own coffee … and knife, and multi-tool, and firestarter, and … Basically, have your situation dialed in. Everyone is miserable if coffee has to be shared.

Don’t Forget These Oft-Forgotten Leave No Trace Principles

13. Pack it in, pack it out. Even apple cores and banana peels!

14. Seriously though: Pack it in, pack it out. Even TP. Especially TP!

15. Don’t feed the wildlife. “Love her but leave her wild.” ―Atticus

16. Leave everything better than you found it. Your camp, the trail, your friends.

Find all Leave No Trace Principles here. Learn them well. You will be tested. You will be judged.

Backpacker in front of mountain range

Photo courtesy of Hiking Project user Jessie Morris.

Sleep Well

17. Backpackers go to bed when the sun goes down and get up when the sun rises. I’m a huge breaker of this rule and have probably annoyed many, many a backpacker. Don’t be me. Get to camp before night falls, and everyone will have a better time.

18. Watch your noise levels. The fastest way to make friends is to keep quiet. FYI: There are many strong opinions about playing music in the woods so it’s probably safest to just put in headphones.

19. Keep headlamps on red-light mode at camp. At the very least, don’t shine your light into someone’s tent.

20. Bring earplugs. If you snore, give them to your friends. If you don’t snore, put them in your ears because someone else is bound to.

Be Safe

21. Bring your Ten EssentialsEven if you don’t need them, you’ll be prepared in case someone does.

22. Read trip reports, check the weather and prepare accordingly. It’s just good manners to have everything you need to be in the woods.

23. Give a trip itinerary to a trusted friend and sign in at the trailhead register. Make sure people can find you if you don’t come back by your planned return time. Keep your ID on you too, just in case someone needs to identify you and you’re not able.

24. Have your pup under control at all times. Bonus: When you meet on-leash and respectful dogs, praise the owners. It’s hard work.

What did we miss? Is there etiquette you needed to know before you hit the trail? What’s your biggest backpacking pet peeve? Tell us in the comments below.

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