Experienced hikers, backpackers, and backcountry managers have evolved, over a period of time, a variety of “Dos and Don’ts” (often referred to as trail and camping etiquette). Below is a comprehensive list of these behaviors for your consideration, organized into five separate categories, which you can jump directly to by clicking on the following: General, Trail Etiquette, Camping and Eating, Campfires, Dog Etiquette.
Proper Backcountry Behavior (General)
Use common sense; be considerate of the needs of others; be courteous to others.
Be a good companion; be willing to share transportation and group gear; arrive on time.
Carry gear adequate for the trip you are attempting; carry at least the “ten essentials” so you can deal responsibly with most emergencies that might arise.
Help others who are injured or in peril; notify the appropriate authorities when outside assistance is required.
Obtain some training in wilderness first aid.
Keep groups small (usually no more than 4-6 people) even though the legal limit is often 12 or more.
Hike and camp quietly; void hollering, loud talking and rowdy behavior in camp or on the trail; if you are hiking with a group, work out a plan to stay in touch with each other that doesn't require making loud noises.
Leave your cell phone off; if you decide to use it, move away so that others do not have to listen to your conversations.
Do not liter; carry out your garbage; if you carry it in, carry it out.
Do not feed, scare or injure the wild life.
Obey signs prohibiting smoking, firearms, motorized vehicles, fireworks, etc.
Do not collect souvenirs; if you come across old cabins and mines or other features of interest leave them as you find them.
Stay on established trails; do not disturb fragile areas; do not take shortcuts or cut through switchbacks.
When hiking off-trail do not leave colored tape, cairns or other markers; consider leaving markers established by others.
Respect "no trespassing" signs; seek permission before hiking onto private property; any fenced gate you go through should be closed immediately.
Do not roll rocks when traveling in steep areas.
Allow faster hikers to pass without delay; when overtaking someone announce your presence.
Downhill hikers yield to uphill hikers (unless uphill hikers want a break); mountain bikers yield to hikers; hikers yield to horses.
Yield to pack animals by asking rider which side to step off on if in steeper terrain; if no preference yield by climbing the slope to get above the animals in case they dislodge rocks, gear or themselves; get as far away from the animals as possible since they will likely get nervous with you above them.
When it is dry and dusty, make an effort to pick up your feet so as not to stir up any more dust than is necessary for those that come behind; wear boots with shallow lug soles in order not to tear up the trail and camp areas.
Don’t follow too close; allow people ahead to get at least 10 feet away so they don’t have to worry about you getting hit by branches they pull forward, and so they don’t feel like you are crowding them.
Camping and Eating Etiquette
Do not put your hands into the food bags of others, or allow their hands in your food. If sharing food back and forth, do it in a way that is hands-free.
Share the cooking and cleaning duties when involved in group cooking. Sterilize your hands before cooking preparations.
Practice minimum impact camping — camp in well-used and established sites.
When camping in pristine areas that have seen little or no use, spread out well away from other campers.
Do not contaminate water sources; no camping within 200 yards of lakes and streams.
When smoothing out your bed site, do not carry out any excavation beyond what you can fully repair afterward.
Use established latrines or outhouses when available; bury human wastes in several inches of organic soil; carry out your wastes when so required; pee water should be deposited on rocks because animals will often dig up urination sites searching for salt.
Respect the need for space; provide as much distance as possible between your camp and surrounding camps; if you snore loudly, make your camp well away from others.
Use an approved bear canister, bear wires or other methods of storing food and other items having a scent away from being accessible to critters, big and small. Feeding even the small rodent critters will make them a nuisance for the next group of campers. Improper storage might contribute to getting large nuisance critters destroyed.
Do not pick, cut, chop, smash, carve, stab, or otherwise offend living plants; use care in stringing hammocks.
If You Have a Campfire
Don’t build fires in the higher alpine regions; use a stove instead (even if not required).
Create only small fires in safe areas.
Don’t build fires near anyone’s nylon shelter; embers can easily burn holes.
Use only downed, dead or dying trees and limbs.
Use existing fire rings, where possible; when no fire ring is available, remove all forest litter and decomposed material (duff) exposing a wide circle of bare dirt.
Do not leave a fire unattended.
Make sure campfires are cold before leaving; do not leave unburned trash in the fire pit; carry it out!
If possible, remove all traces of the fire when camping outside of established camps.
Obey signs prohibiting or restricting pets.
Do not take dogs on trails unless well behaved around strangers; do not let them steal or beg for food.
Keep dogs on a leash or under strict voice command at all times; never let them chase wildlife.
When meeting other hikers, keep your dog close; keep a tight leash even if you are confident the dog is safe around strangers.
Realize that some people have an aversion to or even strong dislike for dogs; don’t assume others will want to pet your overly friendly dog.
Grab the dog’s collar when around pack animals, small children or other dogs.
When meeting pack animals or in the presence of wild animals, grip your dog’s throat to prevent barking.
Do not let your pet drink from places where people draw their water; either have them drink well downstream from all people or drink from a container of water provided by you.
Do not take dogs camping if not confident they will be quiet at all times, especially at night.
Remove dog feces well away from the trail or camping areas.
Be a responsible dog owner; do not give others more reasons to promote further restrictions on pets.
The above listed behaviors have been synthesized from many sources. Most should be obvious to the experienced backpacker and are not meant to be controversial. Many are published in handouts, on websites and on trailhead bulletin boards. Many are legal requirements set by the administering land agency. Whether legal or illegal, there is still the question of proper behavior (right and wrong) in the backcountry. Even more to the point is which of these recommended behaviors will I follow, especially when it is not convenient and it is unlikely I will be caught violating them.