Sunday, July 8, 2012

Trail etiquette all kids show learn for hiking

NOTE: This blog entry by “Hikes with Tykes” author Rob Bignell originally appeared at “Hiking Trip Reports” in October 2011.

As with driving on a road or walking on a sidewalk, there are some unwritten “rules” of the trail that help soothe the social fabric. As parents, we have an obligation to fellow hikers (and to our own sanity!) to teach our children these basic rules:
g Let faster-moving parties pass - If hikers are about to overtake you, step aside at a safe spot and let them pass. If you find yourself to be the faster-moving party, don’t crowd and push aside the slower hikers but kindly ask them if you can pass.
g Don’t come to a dead stop in front of other hikers - Hikers behind you will either have to come to a dead stop, too, or crash into you. Both can result in injury. At the very least, it’s an annoyance. If you need to stop, pull off to the side of the trail so others can pass.
g Be casually friendly - Be friendly to other hikers by acknowledging them as passing and stopping to talk if they so desire. You may be able to share knowledge of the trail. At the same time, don’t give out too much information about yourself to strangers. While most people on trails are safe, you don’t want to unnecessarily put yourself at risk, especially if you have children with you.
g Don’t pet another hiker’s dog unless you have permission - Presuming dogs on a hiking trail are safe seems reasonable, but not all are child-friendly. Some friendly ones even may be startled by your child. Kids should stay away from a dog unless it is acting friendly and then not touch unless the other hiker stops and invites the child to pet it.
g Walk single file on narrow trails - If you can’t walk two abreast on a trail without crashing through branches or going slightly off trail, then walk single file. Widening trails destroys the natural setting and can create problems for other hikers. For example, a small rock avalanche can occur on switchbacks. Hikers below you won’t appreciate that, and the rolling rocks also will erode the trail. In flat grassy areas, a multitude of trails created by hikers trying to walk side by side can create confusion for future hikers as a map only shows one trail through the meadow or prairie.
g Know when to be quiet - Keep noise to a minimum and your conversations down when passing campgrounds or other hikers. Many come to the wilds for solitude and to escape the noise and bustle of city life. Respect them just as you would the customs of people in a foreign country when visiting their land. As Caroline M., of Glens Falls, N.Y., advises: “Shouts and whistles only should be used during emergencies. Turn off your cell phone, too. You went on the hike to be with your kids and enjoy nature, not to chat on the phone.”
g Never tamper with signs or other trial markers - Other hikers depend upon these markers so they don’t get lost. There are hikers who believe such man-made intrusions scar the landscape, and so they always knock over cairns, or man-made rock piles, when coming across them. I can understand this temptation in remote backcountry, but such behavior on day hiking trails that kids traverse endangers lives.
g Always close gates behind you - Some trails cross privately owned land, and through the good graces of that landowner, hikers are allowed to cross it to avoid an extensive detour. If you cross through a gate onto private property, be sure to close it. The gate probably is there to keep pastured animals from wandering onto public lands.
g Do not force your way through fences - Besides running the risk of scratching and cutting your-self, it’ll only enlarge the hole, rendering the fence useless. The fence is there for a purpose.

Read more about day hiking with children in my guidebook Hikes with Tykes.