Trail Etiquette

It’s August 2020, the entire world is in a pandemic. With restrictions worldwide, there has been an interesting phenomenon – an influx of new hikers, walkers and runners, on trails everywhere. This is inherently a good thing because it means people are getting out, getting air, getting fitter and getting healthier. That being said with all these newbies on the trails, it’s worth delving into general trail etiquette.

The official definition of the word etiquette is “the customary code of polite behaviour in society or among members of a particular profession or group”

I did some scouring this is a list that I managed to come up with.

Clean up after yourself

This goes without saying. It is basic human decency to clean up after yourself. I would go as far as to suggest that if you’re on the trail and see some litter, pick it up if you can. The trails belong to all of us, it’s our job to look after them. When you go for a trail outing, make sure you leave nothing behind. Whatever you pack in, you must pack out. This includes both recyclable and non-recyclable rubbish, yes including things like banana peels. A good guideline is available at

Follow the trail rules

Most trails have signage with rules, and these rules vary per trail.

 Trail owners have compiled these rules for the safety of trail users as well as for the preservation of the trail and its ecosystem.

Stay on the marked path

It’s important to stay on the marked trail when running, walking or cycling. Stepping off the marked path can damage vegetation and cause erosion. The idea is to preserve the trail ecosystem and leave the trail as you find it.

Another simple reason is that you might get lost by wandering off the marked trail

Who has right of way?

The trails belong to all of us that means we all have to get along.

Horses have the right of way – every other person on the trail, hiking, running or cycling has to yield to horses.

Thereafter, Bikers are supposed to yield to hikers because they have a mechanical advantage, however. Bikers are faster hikers and runners will usually step aside for them, this is just common sense.

Hikers/ runners going downhill should yield to Hikers coming uphill, this is because moving uphill takes more effort and people coming uphill have a limited field of vision. The exception to this rule is when a runner is running downhill, in that case walkers and hikers have to give way. A runner barreling downhill faces a greater risk if they are forced to stop mid-run.

When passing (in South Africa) pass on the right. A simple “on your right”, “excuse me” or just asking politely before overtaking will work.

Peace on the trail

Visitors to trails are usually seeking peace in nature, you should speak in low voices and not play loud music on cell phones or electrical devices. Loud sounds will scare and disturb the wild animals on the trail. Remember, the trails are home to animals, we are just visitors.

Greet other hikers/runners

Apart from just general politeness, greeting other trail users is also a matter of safety. If you get lost or injured out on the trail, sometimes the last people you spoke to might be your saving grace, they will be able to remember when you were last seen on the mountain/ trail.


Always make sure your trail is pet friendly before taking your dog out on the trail. Keep your dog on a leash.

If the trail allows you to have your dog off-leash, the make sure you have your dog under control and within eyesight. There are so many things that could go wrong on a trail. Remember to also clean up after your dog.

Don’t Feed the Wild Animals

Feeding animals disturbs their natural foraging habits. Human food is not meant for wild animals, it could make the animals sick.

The most important thing to remember is to respect and preserve the trails so we can enjoy them for years to come. Studies show that the more time we spend in nature, the more likely we are to protect it. Hopefully, as we all spend more time outdoors we’ll learn to love and protect our trails.

Do you have any other rules that you would like to add to the list?

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