Be a Mindful Hiker


Most hikers love to be outdoors. It is good to be away from the rush of everyday life and the millions of other people that live in our city. Being in touch with nature and with oneself are entirely different things. Yet, they are things that many hikers enjoy too. In other words, hiking is good for the body and the mind.

But it is important to take care because some actions and attitudes can ruin a healthy walk in the woods. This article talks about the impact that tourism hiking can have on the environment, the dangers hikers face, and how hikers should treat other hikers that cross their path.

Environmental Impact

Most hikers are aware of the fragile nature that is part of their hiking environment. Many have made it a good habit not to leave any food, packaging materials, or human waste after they leave. Some take with them what they can or bury what they can’t. That is a good habit but, sad to say, not all hikers are that mindful.

A related impact of hiking is a campfire. On the one hand, it can scare animals away and provide warmth. But, especially during the dry season, there is the danger of forest fires. Hikers that lack experience or that do not abide by park policies, put in danger huge areas, together with the flora and wildlife that resides in it. A dramatic example from 2005, is a backpacker that burned down 5% of the total area of a Chilean national park as a result of neglecting to control a campfire.

Hikers that go off the beaten track will often have to make their own path through the bush. In the process, they may not be aware that they are damaging plants and animal nests. Some animals, even though we rarely see them, are very sensitive to the proximity of humans. That is something that is an especially big problem during mating season. Approaching can make some animals flee, abandon their young, or even become aggressive. For this reason, some parks do not allow humans to enter during certain parts of the year.

Dangers of Hiking

A certain sense of danger can be quite exciting. But there is a thin line between a sense of danger and putting our lives or health at risk. Here are some potential but real dangers of hiking:

  • Getting lost. Getting lost is very common among hikers. Sometimes it takes only a few minutes to find your way back. However, sometimes it can take much longer. The real danger is running out of food and drink. Hikers that split up may lose track of the members of their group. A good compass, a map, and GPS are invaluable tools for longer hikes in the unknown and isolated territory. It is smart to have reliable communication systems, like two-way radios or satellite telephones. Simple tools like whistles and flashlights can also save lives.
  • Animals. The threats of animals are many and can come in different forms. A simple bee sting can threaten the life of a hiker. Other insects, such as ticks, can pose a long-term threat. The presence of animals like snakes and spiders can go unnoticed. Larger mammals can be the carriers of rabies. Predators such as bears, and cougars usually do not attack humans but can be dangerous under certain circumstances.
  • Avalanches, landslides, and rockfalls are usually caused by hikers or groups of hikers. It is therefore important to know and understand the terrain. People who hike in dangerous terrain should know what to do in case of a mass slide.
  • Borders. Crossing from the United States into Canada is not a big problem. You need to inform the Canadian Border Services beforehand. Crossing from Canada into the United States is illegal on unofficial border crossings. Other countries may have much stricter policies and it is important to be well informed.
  • Physical injuries/infections. Injuries include sprains, broken bones, bruises, etcetera. It is also possible to get an infection. Both can have disastrous consequences.
  • Weather. Weather can change quickly and dramatically. Take note of weather forecasts and have a plan and supplies in the case of an eventuality.
  • Dehydration/heatstroke/hypothermia. It is important to take care of our bodies during a trip. Make sure that you know what the local conditions are like. Dress accordingly and have an ample supply of water and food.

Hiking Etiquette

Most hikers try to get away from other people. Yet sometimes you run into other hikers, cyclists, horsemen, or locals. That could lead to irritation or worse. Most hikers are aware that there are certain things to avoid and consider. What is appropriate is defined by hiking etiquette. Here are some (unwritten) rules.

  • On narrow paths, traffic that goes up has the right to go first.
  • Under normal circumstances, hikers don’t make loud noises. They avoid shouting, loud talking, loud music, and mobile phones.
  • Hikers should endeavor not to impact the environment. They stay on trails, if such exist, do not pick plants, disturb wildlife, or leave garbage.
  • Leaving food is another no-no. It attracts animals that can be dangerous.
  • Bikers usually yield to those on foot, including horses. Hikers in turn yield to horseback riders. If the path is designated for cyclists, hikers and horses need to yield to them.

Final Words

Hiking is a beautiful hobby. Let’s keep it that way by respecting the environment, the elements, and other nature lovers.