A breath of fresh mountain air has never been as desirable as it is today. After weeks of being inside, people are flocking to the trails to soothe their minds while observing the rules of social distancing, only to realize that some trailheads are almost as busy as an underground station in rush hour.
To recreate responsibly, there’s no other way but to follow a set of rules designed to keep you—and others—safe. Sure, they might take a bit of spontaneity away, or even seem stringent, but it’s a small sacrifice when you get to enjoy the great outdoors.
The good news is that once understood, the new hiking rules and etiquette are very easy to implement.
Plan ahead: stay safe
Start by Googling
Before setting off, check the current stay-at-home restrictions for your county, as well as for the area that you intend to visit. If you suspect that the online information for the area you want to visit is not complete, or not up to date, pick up the phone and call the local ranger station. If you can’t get through, assume that the park is closed.
Pack it all in—pack it all out
Heading out to hike away from home doesn’t mean you have to hit the shops, gas stations and other facilities along the way. Plan a one-tank trip and take all of your food and gear with you to avoid coming into contact with people whom you could put at risk.
Remember that many facilities, including toilets, are closed. Be sure you are ready to leave nothing behind, or, at the very least, bring a hiking shovel.
Don’t forget your COVID19 essentials
Bringing a face mask and hand sanitizer is a must—just in case you need them!
On the trail: stay kind
Avoid busy trails
Only choose to hike trails where you can comfortably pass others. Remember that continually stepping off the trail to let others pass may cause soil erosion, or even destroy the rare cryptobiotic soil found in the desert. Think of how you can maintain the minimum distance of 6 feet and if you can’t achieve that, be ready to change your plans for the day.
Have a face covering ready
Despite your best efforts, it’s possible that you will still have to come into contact with people, even if just passing them by. Pop your face mask on—even a simple face covering will do—as a courtesy to both your health and theirs. A brief wave or an audible “hello” are both great options to stay friendly as your smile is no longer visible.
Avoid any developed facilities
Using a communal bench for your mid-hike lunch is no longer an option, so prepare a picnic that you can have on the go, or sit on the ground in areas where it’s ok to wander off the trail.
Some hikes are more involved than others. Choose trails that you know, or ones that you’ve researched well. Adjust the technical difficulty and trail finding so that both are well within your abilities.
Whatever you do, clean-avoid-cover is the basic principle that guides us in both daily lives and on the trail.
Clean stands for washing or sanitizing your hands as often as you can. Avoiding is for steering clear from anybody with flu-like symptoms. (And if you have been in touch with any sick person, it is best to postpone your hike to avoid spreading germs.) And lastly, always cover your face with a tissue when sneezing or coughing. While there seems to be no consensus on how long the virus can hover in the air outdoors, it’s a simple courtesy to whoever might be hiking the trail behind you.