Leave Nothing But An Impact

By Lauren Gertsen, Girls Who Hike Georgia Ambassador

The fierce community of hikers, backpackers, and campers is growing mightier and mightier as nature has become an "in thing". Whether it be for therapy or fun, whatever your reason, it's awesome that this world is being explored! However, with exploration comes the need for appreciation and rules. While many places don't have a listed set of rules, I interviewed friends with years of experience to compile a list of trail etiquette and unwritten guidelines of the land. In order to make the best of each adventure, maintain safety, and still preserve our rights to explore, this is something that I believe is essential to understand. While it may seem basic, and many go out with the attitude they don't care, I can't express enough how important it is to take these extra steps of wilderness courtesy.

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Trash

This is the most commonly mentioned topic but with good reason. If you don't understand this concept, please do some more research on the detrimental effects to the environment and our access to lands. If litter continues, what currently is available for public access could face the threat of being shut down or made off limits. Take it in, PACK IT OUT. Leave no trace!

  • The fire is not a trash can! Don't burn anything that's not wood. If it's not wood, it's likely not emitting good fumes to the environment.
  • While something may be biodegradable and not disrupt the ecosystem, litter is litter. Orange and banana peels are not indigenous to most mountainous regions.
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• Bring cans or plastic if you are camping instead of glass bottles. No matter how hard you try not to, something always gets broken. Glass does not decompose and can pose a risk to other humans as well as wildlife.
• In terms of toilet paper or wet wipes, pack them out in a sealed plastic bag! If you absolutely cannot pack out your toilet paper, I suggest to dig a small hole off trail and bury it. Just make sure to note toilet paper can take 2-5 months to decompose.
• Doggie doo-doo, bury it or pack it out! I know it's stinky, but it's not a native smell to the area. Especially don't leave it on or near the trail and if you can't pack it out, please bury it!

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Noise

While not illegal and while it may not harm the environment, it can be
rude if not moderated.

  • Keep your conversations and music volume to a moderate level. We are not at a Metallica concert. Most people are trying to connect to nature, not Justin Bieber. If you must listen to music while you hike, use headphones.

    • Note: I don't usually suggest playing music, even in headphones during a hike, because you may miss out on warning signs (a human screaming for help, a bear or rattlesnake warning you that you'e too close, a sign that water or a storm is near).

  • When hiking at night or approaching campsites, keep noise and conversations to bare minimum in order to respect those camping or trying to sleep.

ETIQUETTE AND RESPECT (HUMANS AND NATURE)

Being friendly can go a long way. The golden rule should always apply, treat others as you would like to be treated. People out on the trails are typically very friendly and many may be able
to offer you a wealth of knowledge from their experiences.

  • Don't be a grumpy hiker. Say hello, wish someone a good day or happy hike.
  • Don't smoke or vape. We are all trying to enjoy nature and the fresh air it gives us, not your secondhand smoke. Also, cigarettes are one of my biggest pet peeves. They are a major contributor to litter and the unfortunate wildfires.
  • While hiking in groups and approaching others, make a single file line or even step off to the side. Don't meander around the trails, be aware of your surroundings.
  • Many devoted hikers suggest bringing extra snacks, first-aid and water for those on the trail that may need it. Generosity is unmatched out in the wild.
  •  Make sure you utilize the bathroom away from campsites, areas heavily trafficked by people and water. Not only does it create aesthetic issues, it decreases water and trail quality. Fun fact- Water-borne illnesses are most common among backpackers and are correlated to incorrect human use of an area and most of these illnesses can NOT be removed by a filter!
  • Make sure to give backpackers the right of way. Their packs are heavy, the pace is set, and they are likely travelling much further than you. Move aside, say hi, even wish them luck!
  • Don't be rude or inconsiderate. If someone is trying to take a picture, don't hang around a landscape or waterfall for an inconsiderately long amount of time. In addition to this, respect photographers and their equipment. Don't be doing crazy moves or splashing water near their set up. If they are there before you, give them the right-of- view to take a few photos. Without photographers, the place you're visiting wouldn't have been as likely to pique your interest to explore, so kindly let them do their job and respect their art.
  • Don't cut down trees thinking that's how you're going to build a fire. The logic is, if it's green, it ain't gonna burn! Don't destroy things that are alive. Work to collect dead branches and sticks. 
  • On the topic of pets, only allow your trained and behaved dog off leash in areas where it is allowed. If you do so, have the leash handy for quick grab in case of oncoming hikers or wildlife spottings. If your dog is not well trained, is prone to wander off, or just does not listen well, just keep them on the leash, it doesn't mean you can't bring them. Some people on the trails do not love your dog like you do, so be mindful.
  • This is something I can't stress enough, PAY YOUR FEES. If you are hiking in an area with a fee, this is not an obligatory donation, this is mandatory to maintaining the trails, protecting wildlife and paying employees for their contributions. Just because there isn't always an attendant around, be polite and pay! If you want the opportunity to go out, explore and have fun, pay the small asking price to do so, it is not going into the hands of corporate mongers.
  • Know the guidelines to an area before leading a group hike! Many national parks, state parks, forests and trails have size restrictions. For instance, it is a rule to keep group size 25 or below anywhere on the Appalachian Trail. This prevents the trail being overcrowded and also prevents trail erosion.
 Girls Who Hike group hike

Girls Who Hike group hike

Safety

This sometimes can go hand in hand with etiquette and respect, but let's touch on a few points!

  • Many of the outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen I interviewed said, "Don't be afraid to ask others for guidance". Seriously, I would say 97% of people I have met on the trails are friendly! If you have a question or concern, ask!
  • This can also go with etiquette and respect, but also for your safety. Avoid mud to the best of your ability and stay on the trail area. Slippery accidents are usually caused from mud or wet objects, and we also don't want to be the cause of trail and area erosion.
  • Research where you're hiking before you go. If it is a historic or sacred place, make sure you're showing the proper respect. Also, researching can give you ideas of what to prep for and expect on the trail and the level of skill it takes to complete a hike.
  • Always tell someone where you plan on going, and anywhere you plan to stop en route.
  • Don't go to places that are off limits, they are not a part of the trail for good reason. They can be dangerous, or needing to be preserved. The park service works hard to preserve nature, wildlife and off trail areas. If an off-trail, against the rules photo gets posted on social media, we may risk that person ruining the trail access for others. It's also a great way to get hurt and make it a lot harder for others to help you.
 Girls Who Hike Georgia Meetup!

Girls Who Hike Georgia Meetup!

Remember, knowing and choosing to follow simple trail etiquette is what keeps our access to these beautiful wonders of the world! As the saying goes, "Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures, and kill nothing but time".  Pack an extra bag to pack out trash others so carelessly leave. If you see someone in need, help them. Offer a friendly smile to everyone that passes you. And most of all, enjoy your time!

Thanks to this tribe for the feedback and contributions: Kristyn Ashleigh, Alex Brown, Josh Brown, Kelly Caudell, Kyle Dropik, Avery Hayden, Jess Miller, Andrew Norcia, Adam Onnebon, James Phillips, Anna Sims, Carlos Sorto, Jake Tepikke


Lauren is the Ambassador for our Georgia chapter. You can join her local meetups and discussions through the Georgia chapter by clicking here. To become a member of Girls Who Hike, click here.