hiking: the activity of going for long walks, especially in the country or woods.

On my most recent trip out to the Olympic Peninsula, I was reminded of something I’ve seen so many times before.. a populated trail with people who don’t know basic trail etiquette. During this trip, we tried many campgrounds that were full up and finally scored a perfect Hipcamp spot for the night, I’d highly recommend searching Hipcamp on your next adventure!

Something I wouldn’t recommend would be the Mount Storm King trail, which offers a stunning view of Lake Crescent at the top. I was really surprised to see both the danger level here and the overall popularity of this trail. I’ll let you in on a secret, it’s not worth it for the Instagram photo at the top! There are many breathtaking views along the trail on your way up. I could get into the unfortunate instances of the unlucky few that die taking selfies these days, but that’s a whole nother blog post! My hiking partner Marcella and I got about 95% up and then reached the rope section. At this point, my first inclination was to turn back and that I wasn’t so sure what would be past the steep roped trail, beyond what we could see. There was a line to go up, and a line to go down. We chatted with one of the men who had just come down, and he had mentioned that this part is as “sketchy” as it gets. As he and his friend walked away, he mentioned that we really ought to buy some hiking shoes and I looked back to see him wearing some very unfit shoes. Against our gut instinct, we said let’s just go for it! About 99% up the trial, we hit the most dangerous part of this trail at the very top. We looked up to see a steep and skinny crest trail on sharp and jagged rocks. We waited at the base of the final 1% to the top and ate the snacks we had packed. Once a few of the hikers who went to the top approached the rope section to descend back down, we asked them how it was and got a simple response “If you’re okay with seeing death on either side of you, go for it.” At that point, we were really certain that it just wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t worth risking our lives on a dangerous hike for a potential photo op at the top.

I’m not an expert by any means, but I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and have technically been hiking since I was in the womb! My mother has passed down a lot of her outdoorsy knowledge to me, and I’m so thankful for it. I love the phrase you don’t know until you know because really, a lot of these things aren’t as obvious as you’d think. I hope the biggest takeaway from this is general mindfulness. Be mindful, be respectful and try to get in touch with your surroundings in a more profound way. Here are a few tips on how to do so:

Top 15 Tips for Good Hiking Etiquette

1. Leave no trace.. really. Leave it better than you found it if you can.

2. Learn the “right of way” and the general rules of yielding. Uphill hikers have the right of way.

3. Be courteous. That means not assuming everyone else on the trail wants to listen to your music bumping from your speaker. That means if you’re feeling chatty, don’t assume everyone else is out in the wilderness to have a conversation with you and satisfy your need to chat. Though, saying hello and being friendly is always nice.

4. Always bring an extra jacket, a backpack, plenty of water, an extra pair of socks, snacks (even on a small hike). You’ll be hungry and the weather may be much chillier at the top. If it’s the rainy season, your socks could get wet, muddy or sweaty and uncomfortable. I doubt anyone has regretted bringing a fresh pair of SmartWool’s for a quick swap at the top. Wear the proper attire, including socks, shoes or boots and layers.

5. Listen to your gut. If you feel like you may be entering a sketchy situation, you probably are. Don’t do it even if everyone else is. Read the signs and be aware of the areas you’re permitted to be in.

6. Do your research. Go mid-week if you can at a time that’s less trafficked. Know how long the hike may take you, and how many miles it is. Look up trip reports to see if it may be closed, or if there’s anything to be aware of on the trail. Wear clothing that’s suitable for the terrain you’ll be hiking in. For instance, it may be cooler on a heavily wooded trail than a wide-open sunny trail through a valley.

7. Bring hiking poles and good shoes/boots. I’ve recently discovered the benefit of using hiking poles. They really do help with upward stability and downhill impact assistance. If you’re looking for a good pair, I love the Cascade Mountain Tech poles! I either hike in my Vasque hiking shoe’s or my Danner Boots. Hiking in unfit shoes like converse, vans or similar types of sneakers can cause a lot of discomforts and lead to blisters and will provide you with a lot less traction. Choose a shoe or boot designed for hiking. Pro Tip: Cut your toenails before heading out on a hike! This is easy to forget, but coming back down your hike will be so much more comfortable. 

8. Get proper permits. A good example would be the Cape Flattery trail in the Olympic Peninsula. This trail is located on Makah Indian Reservation. For any activities in that area, you must purchase a Makah Recreation Permit first. Be sure that wherever you’re going, you have the permits you need or know where to purchase them.

9. Set your pace with intention when starting your hike. Don’t begin racing up and get too tried halfway through. Think of this as a slow burn to your energy level, instead of a quick and fast burn when you’re pushing yourself too hard at the beginning (while you still have the energy to do so).

10. Don’t listen to headphones.. be aware of your surroundings and enjoy some few and far between moments away from your phone!

11. If you keep thinking “are we there yet?” or if you get impatient on the trail, track your time from the start and estimate how long it will take you. If it takes you half an hour to hike the first mile than it will probably take you two hours to get to the top if it’s a four-mile hike. If you need to know how much further, challenge yourself not to ask all the people you see coming down the trail. Enjoy the moment and the fact that your alive and so incredibly capable!

12. Use the logbook if there is one at the trailhead and let at least one person know when and where you’re going, and when to expect you back. Especially if you’re going alone! Be sure to check in with that person once you’re done hiking so they don’t worry about you.

13. Going to pass someone? Don’t be too quiet and potentially scare them. Say hello in advance so they know you’re trying to go past them. Pass with care and stay on the trail if it’s wide enough.

14. Stay on the trail and don’t damage or take anything. It seems obvious.. but carving your initials into the beautiful madrona trees isn’t worth your special moment. Everyone will see this damage to the natural landscape we’re all out there seeking. Keeping a souvenir from the trail will add to your personal clutter and contribute to the disruption of the natural ecosystem. If you like knick-knacks and finding hidden goodies along the trail, join a Geocaching community!

15. Though there are so many photo-worthy spots on hiking trips, I can’t stop my momentum every 5 seconds to get my phone out and snap a photo. Don’t be one of those people constantly taking photos on their tablet or cell phone. I have become a lot more deliberate with the photos I do take, and do my best to enjoy being in the moment and soak up the beauty around me. I bring my phone but store it in a hard to reach pocket of my backpack so I’m less inclined to get it out. When I bring my camera, I attach one of my lighter-weight lenses and leave the rest of my gear in a safe place in the car, home or campground. I cushion it in my backpack with a jacket or layer and only take it out after first soaking in my surroundings and be sure I’m in a safe spot to pause for a moment. 

5 More Tips for Outdoor Photographers

1. No photo is worth tampering with the environment, or putting your personal safety at risk! Whether that looks like sparkles or confetti at your outdoor shoot or climbing just a little bit higher to get THAT shot.

2. Don’t post on Instagram and geotag exactly where you were. Generalize by the state you’re in or the nearest city. The potential damage Geotagging causes is something photographers have recently become a lot more aware of. Geotagging can draw an overwhelming increase in traffic to areas that just can’t handle that, and ultimately it can damage the natural habitat. This typically draws a lot more inexperienced hikers out to these beautiful locations seeking that spectacular shot they saw on Instagram. The thing with these spectacular shots photographers are pining for is that the backstory isn’t there. The 12-mile hike to get there might not be included in their caption, and people show up unprepared. 

3. Don’t ruin it for others. Ever have someone walk into your shot and apologize? Be sure to tell them that it’s no problem since they have the right to be on the trail more than you’re hogging it. Unless you’re shooting on film, we have a pretty endless amount of digital shots and we can wait to make that happen. Photographers that claim a portion of public space and feel entitled to it, that’s just not cool. Public space is for everyone to love and enjoy. I recommend moving around on a location or tucking away to a part of the area that’s less traveled.

4. Timing is so important. Time your session based on the best lighting and weather. I personally love any overcast day which allows a lot more flexibility for optimal shooting hours. Also, go during the time of day or day of the week you anticipate your location to be less busy. 

5. Be careful with positioning. Positioning is key to ensuring your subject is in the best location for lighting and with a good backdrop. If there are other hikers off in the distance, move your subject in the foreground to block them, or position that hiker behind a tree by moving your shooting position.