If Miss Manners backpacked, she’d agree with us.
Every game has rules you can’t learn from a book. In basketball, if you make a basket while shooting around, you get to take another shot. If the car behind you on the highway flashes its lights, he wants to pass you. After a blizzard, any cleared parking space marked by a plastic lawn chair is someone else’s claim. We learn these rules through observation and experience, not from exams.
Outdoor recreation is also guided by unwritten but generally accepted rules. These conventions direct trail traffic, promote cleanliness, and protect domestic tranquility. They aren’t commandments, but if you don’t follow them, a more experienced hiker might notice the infraction and give you an educational scolding. To make sure you remain on the good path, here are five of the unwritten rules of hiking.
1. Step aside on slopes
Vehicles making turns from traffic lanes enjoy the right of way. A similar rule applies to head-on encounters on the trail. If you’re descending a steep trail and you see hikers coming up, step off the path to let them pass. Since gaining elevation requires more energy than going down, it’s polite to give way to the person burning more calories. If the ascending hikers want to stop for a rest break, they can wave you ahead.
2. Let cairns be
I have a certain friend who loves toppling cairns–the pyramids of small rocks that mark trail routes and decorate mountain summits. He justifies his destructive habit by claiming manmade objects have no place in the wilderness. He also scoffs at hikers who rely on cairns to find their way. His style seems too extreme to me. A better approach is to respect the status quo. Don’t destroy rock cairns, but also refrain from adding a rock to the pile to make them taller. Take only photos, leave only footprints, and let cairns be.