5 Rules of Trail Etiquette Every Hiker Should Know

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2. Let cairns be

I have a certain friend who loves toppling cairns–the pyramids of small rocks that mark trail routes and decorate mountain summits. He justifies his destructive habit by claiming manmade objects have no place in the wilderness. He also scoffs at hikers who rely on cairns to find their way. His style seems too extreme to me. A better approach is to respect the status quo. Don’t destroy rock cairns, but also refrain from adding a rock to the pile to make them taller. Take only photos, leave only footprints, and let cairns be.

3. Take a long walk before taking a dump

The seven principles of Leave No Trace—commonsense outdoor rules to reduce human impact—are written down. The first point advises hikers to move 200 feet from a trail, campsite, or body of water before digging a cat hole to deposit human waste. Two hundred feet equals 40 adult paces, but hurried hikers often shorten that distance. But here’s why 25 feet isn’t as good as 200 feet.

The distance you walk is like the radius of a circle. The farther you travel, the bigger the circular area of your potential dumping zone. For example, if you walk 25 feet from the center of a campsite, taking one more step (approximately three feet) increases that circular zone by 500 square feet. A second step adds 550 sq. feet. You get the picture. The larger the radius, the bigger the zone, and the less the probability of someone stepping into your squishy cat hole (or you discovering someone else’s). Trekking the recommended 200 feet creates a circular pooping area equal to 2.9 acres–or more than two football fields. * Continue reading on the next page.

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