Here are a few etiquette tips that will no doubt be useful to you this season. (Illustration: Brendan Leonard)

Answers to All the Trail Etiquette Questions You’ve Been Too Afraid to Ask

Can I cut switchbacks? What about smoking on the trail? And what do I do with all those rocks?

Brendan Leonard

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

The summer trail season is here, and you may or may not have questions about how to properly utilize America’s public lands. Questions like “Should I tip National Park rangers $10 or $20 each time they answer one of my questions?” (Answer: Your call). Or “Do I have to use a hydration pack or can I just carry my water up the trail in a five-gallon bucket?” (Answer: You can carry any size bucket you’d like.) Here are a few etiquette tips that will no doubt be useful to you this season.

Right of Way

Hikers coming uphill have the right of way. The proper thing to do as you’re hiking downhill and hikers approach is to give them some space to pass. As hikers pass you, it is generally acceptable to offer some encouragement, such as “You’re almost to the top,” or “You’re obviously a self-motivated go-getter who deserves a higher salary at your current job, as well as more respect and way fewer meetings.” Do you have a pan of cupcakes with you? Feel free to offer a cupcake to any or all passing hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, or people who are riding another type of animal.

Right of Way, Continued

Grizzly bears, which are very capable of crushing your skull between their jaws and/or mortally wounding you with a single swipe of a claw, always have the right of way, even if you have perchance beaten up a really big, really tough, really mean guy one time in a bar fight several years ago. If you are lucky enough to see a bear in the wild, the best thing to do is immediately fuck off.

Doffing of Caps

Doffing one’s cap when encountering other trail users is optional.

Proper Clothing

You can wear whatever you want* on the trail, whether it’s a brand-new outfit of technical hiking clothing, jorts, a prom dress, a banana costume, or a full New York Jets uniform.

*Subject to local laws about public nudity.

Bags of Shit

Please take your plastic bag full of shit with you.

Zip-Off Pants


Cutting Switchbacks

Shortcutting trails causes erosion and is poor form, not to mention is almost always paradoxically less efficient. The only time cutting switchbacks is allowed is when you have been given express permission by a Level 7 Wizard.


Sure, smoking cigarettes is cool, but you know what’s really cool? Not starting a forest fire.

Passing Other Trail Users

If you encounter another trail user who is moving more slowly than you, alert them to your presence by saying “On your left,” or “Passing on your left,” or “I beg your pardon,” and once they are aware of your need to pass, make your way around them and say “Thank you” or “Thanks” and then hand them $10 or a Baskin-Robbins gift card.

Trekking Poles

Using more than two trekking poles per person is generally considered a faux pas.

The Rocks

The rocks are probably doing just fine right where they are, thanks. The forces of nature, which have had the primary responsibility of moving Earth’s rocks for several billion years, will move rocks at the right time.

Double and Triple Word Scores

When a blank tile is played on a pink or red square, the value of the word is doubled or tripled, even though the blank itself has no score value.

Sorry, Ignore That Last One

I guess that’s actually one of the rules of Scrabble, not trail usage.


Whenever possible, try to not sit down or lie down in the middle of or across the trail, unless you are near death, actually dying, or injured and need assistance in order to avoid death. If the trail you’re on goes through nature, there should be plenty of square footage and other options for sitting and/or lying down.

Fucking with the Trees Out Here

Please do not fuck with the trees out here.

Trending on Outside Online