Weʼre tired, weʼre hungry and we are blessed to walk these trails, but itʼs important to remember that we are essentially ambassadors to the very trails we choose to hike.
Itʼs important to be polite and courteous of others on and off the trail verbally at all times. What I mean by this is having respect and maintaining a positive image is essential to the longevity of the thru-hiking community.
When on trail itʼs important to always maintain Leave No Trace Principles, and with the increasing popularity of long-distance hiking in the US and worldwide thereʼs a lot of first-time hikers out there that do not necessarily adhere or understand the basic principle of LNT. Cutting switchbacks and building undesignated fire/ rings are good examples of what not to do. I know that the social aspect of hiking is big and a ”trail family” is a thing for some. You should adhere to the rules (under 8 people) and keep your group small. Larger groups put a lot of stress on resources of the trail/towns.
Resupplying and downtime are essential for most thru-hikers. Being respectful of places we visit and the people we interact with helps maintain a positive image for hikers. Iʼve have personally been to several towns that are not “hiker- friendly”. This meaning at some point in time thereʼs been a negative outcome involving a hiker. In my experience, it was due to a drunken bar fight. I know of many hostels that do not allow alcohol for this very reason. We like to enjoy our time in town/hostels and I for one like to drink, but some people get just one drop of alcohol in them and things go south. Itʼs also nice to be respectful of room occupancy rules in hotels. Weʼve all seen 12 hikers crammed into one hotel room, but if they arenʼt cool with it you shouldnʼt attempt it.
Also, when resupplying in town itʼs polite not to dump the contents of you pack and sort directly in front of a store. I have seen several signs in storefronts both on the PCT and AT asking hikers to adhere to this policy. So for the sake of our image stay in good form!
The Appalachian Trail has a magnificent shelter system from Georgia to Maine. The weather can be absolutely awful at times on the AT. When I hiked through VA in 2016 I recall it rained for almost a week straight! The shelters were a godsend. That being said, thereʼs a few does and donʼt for shelter etiquette. You donʼt wanna be “that guy”.
For one if the shelter and tent flats are full, move on if possible. By no means should you ever set up a tent inside of a shelter. Also if you are coming in late with the intention of staying in the shelter, and itʼs a must, be courteous of others sleeping, use those red lights and set up quickly. I personally do not stay in shelters because I like to sleep and I hike late and leave early. I always say “when you sleep in a shelter, you sacrifice your right to sleep”. Those that choose to stay in shelters should also adhere to strict LNT principles. Iʼve come across many shelters where people dump their trash either in the fire pit or strewn about the shelter, some times crammed and jammed into the walls, and worst of all Iʼve found garbage in privys. As many of you know whoʼve stayed in shelters the rodent problem is obscene at times. I canʼt tell you how many pieces of gear Iʼve lost to mice. Mice are one thing but there are several shelters along that AT that remain closed because of bear activity directly attributed to humans and garbage being left behind. Another thing to consider, which is a big no-no is graffiti in and or around shelters. I know weʼve all seen some dating back to the 50s and so on, but donʼt add to it. You are directly contributing to the degradation of the shelter/ trees/trail signs around you.
The thing that makes me really upset is people marking the blazes, which hikers rely on for navigation.
As for trail angels that take hikers into their homes, remember to be polite and minimize your stay so others can stay, keep it to two nights maximum then move on.
With all that being said remember, “donʼt be that guy”!
Educate those around you! Protect, preserve and most of all have fun out there! Pack it in-pack it out, leave nothing but footprints.