I know what you think I'm going to say here — something maybe to do with bears, and the thing that they are most known for doing in the woods? — but no. (Of course we have to poop in the woods — especially if we're there for more than a day)! But there are plenty of other things you DEFINITELY shouldn't do in the woods. So here's a little friendly advice about trail etiquette, and how to get more enjoyment of your time in the woods when you are out there.
Don't be loud.
I'm just going to get this one out of the way, because it's the most common faux pas of people who just don't get how to be a good citizen when it comes to hiking, camping, kayaking or otherwise being outdoors. The only exception to this is if you're in bear country, or it's hunting season. But then, only be loud enough so that you don't get mistaken for food.
I've been lost before; earlier this year I had to spend an unplanned night in the woods by myself (with only my dog Howie). My cell phone was dead (the last text I sent to my husband included the words "I'm getting a little worried"). It was pouring rain, night was coming on fast, and to add to the chaos, I had brought the wrong tent poles, so my tent was basically a pathetic, rumpled mess in the woods that barely kept me dry.
Did images of park rangers pulling my body from the river go through my head? Maybe. Did I panic and continue crashing around in the woods, even though it was getting dark and my feet were nearly hamburger after hiking nearly 20 miles in wet boots? NO. I did not. I stopped, took a deep breath, set up my misreable little tent, and trusted that the worst case scenario was probably the least likely thing to happen. Then I spent nearly 12 hours in a tent, dozing, reading and snuggling with Howie deep in my sleeping bag. Panic would have only made things worse.
Don't leave the trail
Going off the trail creates erosion, destroys local foilage, plus exposes you to poison ivy and possibly getting lost. So stay on the trail, making sure to follow the trail blazes along the way. The caveat to this is using the bathroom (bet you didn't think that reference would come up again!) — if you have to go, move 200 feet away from the trail and any water sources. Oh, and for pete's sake, dig a hole!
Don't NOT yield the right-of-way
If you're going downhill, move aside for hikers going uphill (same goes with mountain biking when the trail is bi-directional). Uphillers are working hard and you don't want them to have to stop their momentum when it's much easier for you to step off the trail. Of course, some uphill hikers want to stop and rest, and letting you pass gives them the perfect opportunity to get a short break. But know the rules so that you also know when to break them.
Don't leave your trash
If you packed it in, you pack it out. Nothing breaks my heart in the woods more than seeing people's garbage. Bring an extra trash bag, and plan to have any wrappers go straight into the trash bag after you finish that granola bar or foil packet. Not in the fire pit. Not shoved under some leaves. IN THE TRASH BAG.
Don't forget your book.
I love reading outside. Whether it's a guidebook or the latest trashy novel, don't forget to throw in something to read while you're on the trail, especially when backpacking. Sometime the best company are the characters who live inside the pages of a book, so make sure you bring them along for the ride.
What outdoors etiquette violations bug you the most? Rant in the comments below.
Jill Hinton Wolfe