Seven of the most annoying behaviors on the trail

We love and revere the outdoors. It’s the place where we play, relax, recharge and find some peace. Usually, it’s a combination of all of those things, and a good escape from that which annoys us in our non-outdoors world.

But all too often, those annoyances follow us to our outdoor happy places. Getting outside is becoming more popular, and it would seem the newbies sometimes don’t know the rules, or like to transfer, shall we say, certain behaviors from the ‘burbs to the backcountry.

So let’s take a look at our top outdoor annoyances…

An embarrassing collection of summit signs.

An embarrassing collection of summit signs, thankfully hauled out by this guy (Ben Perry photo/14ers.com Facebook page).

Summit signs being left behind. It’s cool to bag peaks, especially the high ones, the tough ones, or even your first ones. A lot of folks will bring a piece of paper or cardboard with the name of the peak, its elevation and the date it was climbed and use it to pose for a summit victory photo. No problems so far, unless these people decide to leave their signs behind. This is littering, and a serious sin in the backcountry. Even if you’re leaving it for someone else to make their own bragging-rights shot, it’s still wrong. Bring that sign, make that photograph, slap it on Facebook. But don’t you dare leave it there. Pack that thing out.

Whether it's chalk art or something more permanent, this grates on me. Leave the rocks alone.

Whether it’s chalk art or something more permanent, this grates on me. Leave the rocks alone.

Defacing rocks. I really hate this one. I see this too often where I run trails, and I’ve seen plenty of photos of people making their own “art” on ancient rocks, or writing messages on stones. This can even be combined with the summit sign thing, where people will write, with a Sharpie, the name of the peak and its elevation, then pose for a photograph. Whether you’re this douche, or Casey Nocket (the Creepytings “artist”) or just some fool tagging rocks, please stop. No one wants to see your markings, even if it’s in chalk. Plus, defacing rocks is actually a crime.

That bear selfie might get you hundreds of likes in Instagram, but is it worth it?

That bear selfie might get you hundreds of likes on Instagram, but is it worth it?

Wildlife selfies. Talk about needless risks. I’ve come to grips with the fact that people are addicted to selfies of all sorts, and even carry selfie sticks for the purpose of making those epic self portraits more epic-er. Gag, but I get it. But next-level gag — the wildlife selfie — is dangerous. People who spot bears, buffalo, moose or other creatures of the woods have gone out of their way to get close, turn their back to the animal, then grin for their camera, only to get attacked by the creature. In two cases in California, a couple of guys took selfies with rattlesnakes. Both got bit, and were lucky to live. But they also got tagged with six-figure medical bills. Keep your distance, respect wildlife, and don’t take your eye off a wild creature until you’re a safe distance away.

Funny in a text. Not funny if you step in it on the trail.

Funny in a text. Not funny if you step in it on the trail.

Defecating/urinating on the route. I’m not sure this needs to be said, but since it happens, well, don’t take a crap on the trail. Don’t pee on a climbing route. Don’t leave your waste where other people are hiking or seeking handholds and footholds.

One day, 150 people, and this is what those people collected in trash on a recent trail cleanup day.

One day, 150 people, and this is part what those people collected in trash on a recent trail cleanup day.

Littering in general. You might not think your lone water bottle, soda cup or candy bar wrapper will make much difference. But it does, especially if enough of you knuckleheads feel the same way. It’s not nearly as bad in the deep backcountry, but in places closer to highways or otherwise easily accessible it’s a massive problem. In a few trail cleanup days, I’ve personally carried out a good 100 pounds of trash. And that’s just me. Yet I still see discarded water bottles, cups and other bits of garbage. Oh, and wildlife sometimes try to eat your junk, which can cause illness and even death. If you can hold on to that drink on the way in, you can carry it out.

Not really my thing, but if you're going to have music on the trail, confine it to your earbuds.

Not really my thing, but if you’re going to have music on the trail, confine it to your earbuds.

Music on the trail. It’s OK to jam to your favorite tunes in the trail. Runners and hikers do it all the time. It’s not really my thing — I’d rather hear the sounds of the woods. But I don’t fault people wanting to hear their playlists or podcasts. But here’s the thing — no one else wants to hear it. So keep the music flowing… through your earbuds. When I’m trying to bag a peak or run some miles, I don’t want to hear you Whip and Nae Nae.

Too. Many. Cairns. (downeast.com photo)

Too. Many. Cairns. (downeast.com photo)

Excessive cairn-building. Building cairns has been a practice that dates back centuries, usually to mark territory or places of significance. In more recent times, cairns are used to show people what direction a route is going. But people like stacking rocks. Rock-stacking has become sort of hipster cool, like quadruple IPAs, fancy lattes or vinyl records. That’s fine and all, but it’s getting out of hand in some places (and I’m not the only one who thinks so). A beautiful lakeshore can be riddled with people’s rock “art,” spoiling an otherwise notable view. Worse yet, a random cairn made for your enjoyment might confuse a hiker and send him or her the wrong way. This is a serious issue in the backcountry. So come on, people. Let’s give the optional cairn thing a rest.

Those are a few of mine. How about you? Feel free to share your gripes and groans in the comments.

NOTE: A couple of readers noted that a “bear selfie” image was actually a digitally altered photo. It’s been replaced with an actual “bear selfie” image. Thanks for the heads up!

Bob Doucette

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20 thoughts on “Seven of the most annoying behaviors on the trail

  1. 8. People who act entitled to public land as if it was their own private land, who are annoyed by the site of other trail users, and who post whiny blogs about other trail users because they don’t have any real friends

    • Yeah, me too. I have a local place where I do a lot of trail running and hiking. On the plus side, it’s in the city, very wild, and really close to home. On he negative, it’s in the city, so lots of people who don’t know any better or don’t care can get there as easily as me.

  2. As a geologist, nothing gets my blood boiling faster than people who deface the amazing rocks (big or small, anthropologically or geologically important) on trails around the world, but all of these are on point. Another huge annoyance of mine is when impatient hikers snap at or shove by slower hikers on a busy section on the trail–I get it, everyone hikes at a different level. But if you can’t be nice and considerate about passing or sharing space on a trail, (in my opinion) you don’t deserve to be hiking on any trail at all.

    And while I do preach trail niceness in most situations, I do think a little hiker rage is warranted in response to your list of annoyances.

  3. Another one that bothered me on a recent backpacking weekend up at Blue Lakes, below Mt. Sneffels, was people making campfires when signs clearly state “No Campfires”. So many people have made fires in the sites around the lower lake, and even in the wooded areas along the trail as you head up to the middle lake, I guess others think, “Oh, it’s OK.” I even said to a guy, in an in-case-you-missed-the-sign tone, “Did you know fires aren’t allowed in these areas?” and he just said, “Well, if we get cold…” Really? News flash: it gets cold in the mountains! I zipped up my puffy and moved on, still irritated. Another fire appeared later, in a site close to ours. We’d be leaving our tents and big packs the next morning, to climb the peak, so I didn’t want any problems while we were away from camp… This alpine area has enough high impact just from the volume of traffic. Adding morons setting fires to that – not good.

      • In addition to the risks of having a fire is Where are they getting the fuel for their fires? People aren’t packing in firewood; they were pulling branches from the trees. This area cannot afford this.

  4. I personally hate when people tell me I’m almost there without me asking them, just say hi and go on your way. It’s like telling me my trip will be over soon, and that’s the last thing I want.

  5. I like this list. For anyone that spends time outdoors there are some simple things to do to make sure everyone enjoys their time outside…like not looking at trash, rock ‘art’, or a sign on the trail. Thanks.

  6. Hello, I found your blog while researching trail running etiquette. Great list. I’d add defacing trees; so many people carve their names/initials/dates or pound nails into trees. Not OK.
    I’m not a runner, but I do a fair amount of backpacking. Lately, I’ve had a couple of unsavory encounters with trail runners. I’ve come around a corner and had to jump out of the way of runners, not a super easy thing to do when you have 30 lbs on your back. Just last month, a runner came up behind me in Desolation Wilderness blaring rap music through speakers. I couldn’t believe it.
    Anyways, I’m trying really hard not to be annoyed by trail runners but am finding it difficult. I’m generally a live-and-let-live kind of person and believe our public lands are there for everyone’s use. But I’m tired of jumping out of the way for runners, breathing in the dust kicked up by a pack of runners and being disturbed by their music. Probably preaching to the choir here, but any advice or wisdom as to how I can deal with or let this go would be appreciated.

    • I’m in both worlds. I’m a trail runner, a hiker and a backpacker. Generally speaking, I think it’s up to the faster moving trail user (runner or cyclist) to look ahead on the route and see where there might be obstacles, including other people on the trail, and act accordingly. In the same vein, those who can most easily make room for the other on a singletrack trail should do so (I usually clear out when I see cyclists coming; it’s just easier for me to do than for them).

      Whole other issue on the music. That I don’t understand, and if I were in a group of runners, I’d tell someone with a music player to use earbuds.

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