This is part 7 of a 7 part series exploring the why’s and how’s of practicing the seven principles of Leave No Trace.
The seventh principle, be considerate of other visitors, provides guidelines that help you think about how your use of the outdoors may impact others’ use of the outdoors.
Why be considerate of other visitors?
You can probably think of a time when you ventured out into a park or wilderness area for a quiet day and had the mood shattered by one or more other visitors to the area. With technological gadgets becoming cheaper and easier to access, this is becoming more and more common. But with these technologies comes the responsibility of knowing when it is and is not appropriate to use them.
We are all in this together. And believe it or not, different people have varied ideas of what’s appropriate to do in shared public spaces. In order to prevent conflict with other users and to preserve the access we currently have, it’s important to be aware of usage regulations in a particular area and to be mindful of other people sharing the same space. Even if there’s not a “rule” in place, use common sense: if there are other people around, think about whether your behavior is a nuisance to others. And know that just because you want to party to loud music at your backcountry campsite til 2 am, chances are your neighbors do not.
How to be considerate of other visitors?
Many inconsiderate behaviors, such as improperly discarding trash, carving into trees and leaving your dog’s poop on the trail are covered in the first 6 principles of LNT. But there are other ways you can be a considerate backcountry user:
Let nature’s sounds prevail. Cell phones, bluetooth speakers and drones can really disrupt a person’s experience outdoors. These devices can be loud and annoying, and in some cases dangerous (just ask about the guy who flew his drone into me). The last thing I want to hear while out hiking in the woods is someone yammering into their cell phone or blasting music out of their backpack. But if you enjoy listening to music in the woods, you still can. Use headphones to keep the sound to yourself. As for drones, first check and see if it is legal to fly them where you’ll be traveling. Wilderness areas prohibit drone use. If you are a drone user, your responsible drone use will help protect your ability to fly them. If you break the rules, you’ll set a bad example for the rest of the group and land managers will be more likely to restrict access.
Be courteous to other trail users. Hikers: classic trail etiquette is to yield to uphill hikers (they’re doing the hard work). In the actual world, though, many uphill hikers will gladly take a rest and let you by. But don’t assume: when in doubt, just stop and let the other person or group pass. I also consider group size. If I see a large group coming the other way and I’m hiking alone, it’s much easier for me to stop and let them by then to ask all 12 of them to stop. Also, consider the terrain when letting other hikers pass: find a disturbed patch of ground to step aside. Avoid trampling the vegetation on the side of the trail and widening the trail.
Also, hikers: yield to pack stock. Step to the downhill side of the trail to let horses pass.
Mountain bikers: you yield to hikers and equestrians in all situations. Yield to uphill mountain bikes. Stay on the trail and do not widen the trail by riding off-trail to get around other users. And only ride in areas that allow mountain bikes. Rogue riders ruin access for everyone. Follow current rules and advocate for more mountain bike access if you feel there’s limited opportunities to ride near your home.
And for all users: if you open a gate, close it behind you. That gate is there for a reason!
A special note for winter trail users: Skiers, snowshoers and hikers should use separate sets of tracks. It’s inconsiderate to snowshoe or hike (post-hole) on ski tracks. Likewise, it is rude to post-hole through snowshoe tracks. Post-holes make excellent ankle-breaking traps for skiers and snowshoers. If you’re going to walk in soft snow without the right footwear, at least do it to the side of established tracks.
Mind your pet. Dogs can harass people as well as other animals (pets and wildlife.) Because of this, know whether or not there are leash restrictions on the trail you’re using. If leashes are not required, know your dog! Does your dog reliably respond to voice command? Or does your dog say “hi” to everyone she meets? Know that other people may not love your dog the way you do. Take it from a person who is allergic to dogs: the LAST thing I need to deal with on the trail is someone’s dog jumping all over me. I have been barked at, jumped on, followed by and nipped at by dogs. Also, just a thought: when the owner says “oh my dog never does that,” instead of controlling their animal and apologizing, is no consolation. This is not acceptable. Please take care of your animals that you bring into public places. And of course, pack out their poop (see LNT 2: Dispose of Waste Properly).
Mind your space. Have you ever pulled into a spot in an empty parking lot and had someone pull right in next to you? Weirdly annoying, right? Well the same feeling comes up when camping and hiking. LNT.org recommends you “take breaks and camp away from other visitors.” No doubt, you’re trying to be friendly by pitching your tent 10 feet away from someone else in a wide, open landscape but your new neighbor might not see it that way. Last summer I camped on the side of the road in a pull-out, enjoying some peace and quiet away from the developed camping a couple miles away. As I was cleaning up after dinner, A couple in a pickup truck towing a trailer full of toys pulls in right next to my camp and sets up shop, without even acknowledging I was there. I was livid! There were plenty of other places to camp nearby. Why they thought they needed to snuggle up next to me, I can’t begin to understand.
Consider your colors. Okay, this is the one LNT point I have a beef about. I’m on board with every other suggestion they’ve got. But the idea to wear only muted, natural colors seems ludicrous. Especially from a safety and SAR perspective. A brightly colored tent is much easier to find when you’re returning from a mountain climb than one that camouflages with the environment. I’ve even had hikers comment on how useful it was for me to wear a bright purple hat so it was easier to follow me (on a group hike). And I’m much more irritated by actual crowding in an area than perceived crowding because of a handful of brightly colored tents in the distance. So, if you follow this tenet I’d love to hear your story to understand your perspective.
I hope you’ve found this series practical and informative. Do you still have questions about how to practice Leave No Trace? Do you have any stories to share? Leave a comment below!