Backpacking Etiquette

2020 Has seen a huge explosion of newbies on the trail. Believe it or not, us outdoor veterans really are happy to see you out there. Welcome to the wilderness! But realizing that you’re new at this, its time to learn some backpacking etiquette.

backpacking etiquette
(Not An Actual Beginner Backpacker)

Don’t Eat Where you Sleep

Please don’t eat in lean-to shelters or next to where everyone else has set up their tents. The smells and tiny traces of dropped food you leave behind attract animals. Sometimes you’ll get a bear, but much more often you’ll get mice and other small animals that spread disease and chew through equipment.

Some high-use backcountry sites have designated eating areas and a host that will direct you to use them and show you where to store your food. Most primitive campsites don’t have this luxury, but you should try and eat away from your sleeping area anyway.

backpacking etiquette
St Greg Eats in Designated Dining Area at Imp Campsite

Make Sure Your Food Fits in your Canister

A lot of people store their food canister empty on the outside of their pack and keep their food on the inside of their pack. Their plan is to move the food into the canister at night when the get to camp. That’s great, but you should test if all your food at home. You don’t want to get to camp and then realize your canister is too small.

Respect Other People’s Space and Solitude

A lot of people are out in the woods to get away from it all. Give them space. Don’t set your tent up right next to someone else’s. Listen to music with headphones. If someone doesn’t seem interested in talking to you, leave them alone.

Plan Ahead and Know the Rules

If you’re out for a weekend backpacking trip, there’s no excuse not to know where you are going to camp. You should have a plan and know the rules for camping at your destination. Is sharing campsites allowed? How many people are allowed to camp in a site? Do sites in that area usually fill up early?

Know The Rules! Don’t Be Surprised!

Be Aware of Hiker Bubbles and Peak Seasons

Long Distance Trails like the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails see waves of thru-hikers every year. Most people start these trails around the same date and hike at about the same speed. As a result, large “bubbles of hikers pass through certain areas at given times. You shouldn’t plan your weekend trip to an area where you know the bubble is passing through, especially if you’re bringing a big group with you.

Some regions have “Peak Seasons.” Its usually in the summer when the weather is nice and kids are off from school. You should be aware that campsites will fill up early in the day during peak season. If you show up late in the evening, you may disturb people as you bump around looking for a place to sleep.

An Overused Campsite with very little soil to put tents on.

Don’t Set up Your Tent or Hammock in Shelters!

Its usually illegal. Its always rude. If you have a tent, you don’t need to sleep in the shelter. Set it up on the ground in a designated tent spot. Shelters are designed for people to sleep right on the deck, lined up like sardines. Preferably, they’re for people who show up late because they’re trying to hike a lot of miles each day. If you hike 2 miles from your car and take up half the shelter with your tent, its really inconsiderate to folks who have hiked 20 to 30 miles and arrive at camp after dark and just need a place to sleep.

backpacking etiquette
Don’t Set up your tent in a shelter.

Quiet Hours and Hiker Midnight

Hiker midnight is shortly after the sun goes down. People who live in the outdoors for extended periods adjust their body clocks so that they sleep when its dark and walk while its bright. This way of life is actually much more natural for humans. Be respectful of people who want to sleep when it gets dark. Its not party time.

Pack Out Your Trash

Yes, all of it. That goes for apple cores, banana peels, pistachio shells… A lot of newbies think its ok to throw organic waste on the ground. Its not. It takes years for that stuff to break down. Not only is it unsightly, but it attracts animals to hang out near the trail.

Pack out your trash. Your mom isn’t following you.

Keep Your Art and Music To Yourself!

No one is out there to see your painted rock or listen to your favorite music. Please be courteous to others and refrain from sharing. If you want to listen to music, use earbuds. I’d suggest leaving one earbud out so that you can still hear and be aware of your surroundings. If you’re following good backpacking etiquette, other hikers will never know you were there.

Be Self Sufficient – Learn to Navigate

Get a real map and a real compass and learn how to use them. Downloading the map or route description from a website doesn’t do you very good if your phone battery dies or all the trails are blazed the same color. (Harriman State Park in New York has no fewer than 5 trails marked with white blazes and some red “shape” in the middle. Its confusing for everyone.)

Its OK to ask for help when you need it, but you don’t want to become a burden. You really don’t want to cause a search and rescue situation with dozens of emergency personnel out in the woods looking for you.

Your battery might not be the only thing to die!

No Politics!

Starting a fight in the woods is not good backpacking etiquette. Do I need to say anything else about this? I didn’t think so.

Don’t Be that Guy.

Every once in a while, you run into someone on the trail who’s a complete mess and causes inconvenience for everyone. That person usually ends up the subject of discussion for other hikers for the rest of their trip and all future trips. DON’T BE THAT GUY.

Leave No Trace IS Backpacking Etiquette

Aside from knowing some backpacking etiquette, you should follow the rules of Leave No Trace. Don’t know them? Learn them here!