Hiking Ethics: 9 Tips For Behaving In The Wilderness

Just as with a job, relationship, or friendship there are ethics to follow when venturing into the wilderness. Establishing hiking ethics is crucial and should be done before embarking on your next journey.

When I set out on a hike, I do so mostly because I want to get in touch with nature and taking in a new experience, while also experiencing the world in its natural state – a space that is rarely altered by man. Hiking in the wilderness gives me a sense of peace, relaxation, and reduces stress most of the time even when the hike becomes challenging.

The world has mostly been explored with little uncharted territory remaining. Even frozen environments that maintain little life have been ventured. Since the wilderness is becoming smaller as the world develops around us and there are so many of us out there wishing to venture it, there are hiking ethics that should be established before hitting the trails. There are nine hiking ethics I hold myself accountable to following each time I embark on a hike that may prompt others to consider.

Hiking Ethics: 9 Tips For Behaving In The Wilderness

  1. Behavior – Perhaps the most important hiking ethic is to behave in the wilderness the same way you would wish those that came before you had behaved. If you’ve ever hiked into a beautiful area and noticed someone has left behind a beer bottle, you know how this can hinder your experience. Just as you’ve heard treat others how you’d like to be treated, treat the environment how you’d like others to treat it.
  2. Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints – This old adage, which you’ve probably heard before, is a hiking ethic worth following. It means not digging trenches, cutting down plants, disgracing property, or altering the wilderness unless your very survival depends on it. It also means not building another fire ring or blackening more stones when one already exists. This same principle applies to any pets you might bring along. You are responsible for their actions as well as your own.
  3. Group Hiking Etiquette – If you will be hiking with a group, establish a plan for remaining close together at all times. Not only is this safer for the entire group, but it also prevents members of the group from roaming off the marked trail and potentially getting lost or damaging wildlife.
  4. Follow The Rules – Many trails, especially those maintained by the National Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), county, city, etc. outline clear rules to follow on paths. Abide by these rules and follow exactly what is recommended. Remember these rules are to protect you and the safety of others.
  5. Respect – A golden rule in hiking is to respect the land you are entering. Remember that you are a visitor in the places you travel through. Respect the creatures that inhabit this land just as you would if you were a guest in someone else’s home.
  6. Everything You Pack In Must Be Packed Out – Everything you take with you on a trail – whether it is snacks or a solid food meal – should be taken back out with you or properly disposed of if trash cans are along the trail. Repackage your food into re-usable containers or Ziploc bags. Avoid tin or aluminum cans or glass. Consider investing in a Camelbak as your water supply source.
  7. Resist Temptation – It may seem tempting to take home a beautiful rock you discovered or a colorful bird feather you encounter. Resist the temptation to take home souvenirs. No matter how compelled you feel to take something think of it as stealing – you wouldn’t swipe your friend’s fine china so why take something that is not yours while hiking?
  8. Minimize Your Use Of Fires – When possible do not build fires. Instead of building a campfire for your cooking, use a small backpacking stove. Not only will your food be less likely to get contaminated but you will also be eating much quicker than you would if you had to build a campfire. Fire leaves behind charcoal scars and blackened rocks, and could unexpectedly spread out of control.
  9. Watch, Do Not Touch Animals – If you happen to encounter wildlife on a hike, observe from a respectable distance. Do not feed the animals as they may develop a taste for human food and associate humans with food – leading to campsite raids. If you will be camping, camp at least 200 feet away from water sources. Animals coming to drink water may be scared off by your campsite if you are too close to their water source.

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