One Dirty Magazine

A Guide To Trail Etiquette In The Age Of Coronavirus

As people pack onto trails, etiquette matters now more than ever.

Zoë Rom March 30th, 2020

A Guide To Trail Etiquette In The Age Of Coronavirus

As more and more people are looking outside for exercise and recreation, trails across the country are becoming increasingly crowded. Trails near Los Angeles, Chicago and the Bay Area have closed in response to crowds so large that social distancing becomes all but impossible. 

Other governments, like ones close to our home office in Colorado, have issued warnings that if trail users continue to neglect the rules of the off-road, additional trails will be closed. In an effort to stem the tide of bad trail manners and keep trail access open, trail runners are urging one another to be polite and follow directions.  

Remember that running is a privilege and should be treated as such, and that environmental considerations are as important as ever. Whether you’re a trail veteran or are a first-timer in need of a primer, here’s a guide to trail etiquette and stewardship in the age of coronavirus. 

Safety First

The coronavirus pandemic is an issue of life and death for many people, and your behavior should reflect that, on and off the trail. Make sure you’re keeping your trail runs chill and avoid as much risk as possible. Now is not the time to go for a technical, off-the-map ridge scramble or sustain an injury. Healthcare systems are already stretched in many areas, and trail runners should not add to that burden. Stick to runs that are within your regular routine. 

Follow all CDC social-distancing guidelines, and do not run in groups. If you see people not complying with social distancing, kindly explain what it is, and that continued trail use depends on everyone doing their best to respect those guidelines. It’s possible that people not complying are simply unaware and could be new trail users, so practice compassion and kindness. 

“If you need to recreate and you love our outdoors do it in communities close to your home,” said Colorado Governor Jared Polis in response to his stay at home order. “This pandemic is not a vacation.”

Don’t go out if you feel sick or have been in contact with those who have. Stay as close to home as possible, because the farther you travel, the more potential you have to spread the virus. 

“If you need to recreate and you love our outdoors do it in communities close to your home,” said Colorado Governor Jared Polis in response to his stay at home order. “This pandemic is not a vacation.”

Know Before You Go

Plan ahead, even if you’re going to an area you’ve run in 100 times. Make sure your activity complies with local guidance, such as shelter in place or lockdown orders, and that it’s close enough you can get there with minimal travel. Check your local public land management’s website to be sure the trails are open, and what closures might be in place. If parks are closed, don’t go. Be sure that trail conditions are good, as running on muddy trails can cause erosion. 

Make sure that your workout plans fit the time and terrain you’re aiming for, and don’t try to throw down a sick tempo run uphill through prime-time Boulder trail traffic. Avoid crowded trailheads, and use this as an opportunity to spread out to less popular spaces. 

Pack It Out

Even if your local parks and trailheads are open, be aware that services might be limited due to coronavirus. You might need to use the bathroom ahead of time, and be prepared to pack out trash. At all times, comply with Leave No Trace principles. 

Right Of Way

As more people take to the trails, it’s key that runners stay aware of their surroundings. If you listen to music, leave one ear open or the volume low enough that you can hear what’s happening around you. Politely give people warning if you’re going to pass them, and let them know which side you’ll be passing on. 

Mountain bikers should yield to all pedestrians, and pedestrians should yield to equestrians (them’s the rules!). Typically, hikers should yield to trail runners and downhill traffic should typically yield to uphill traffic (the thinking here is that it’s less cumbersome to stop moving downhill than it is to pause while you’re hustling up).

No Touching

On singletrack, it can be tough to give everyone the six feet of social distance that they need, so make sure you give people plenty of warning that you need to pass them. If you’re being passed on a slope, move the uphill side of the trail to avoid stepping on the “critical edge,” which is the downhill part of the trail that’s prone to erosion and can narrow over time. 

Since most singletrack is less than six feet wide, you might have to step off the trail slightly to allow others to pass (avoid running off-trail, as that will make it harder to prevent environmental damage than simply stepping off) and avoid stepping on delicate plants or soil. Stable rocks, if you can find them, are a safe bet. If you feel that trails are too crowded to pass safely, consider running at a different time or in a different place. 

Remember, you can’t catch the coronavirus from a smile, and it’s important to be friendly and wave as we share the trails. We’re in this together, let’s support each other out on the trails. 

It might feel like there’s suddenly a lot more folks occupying your home turf, but it bears remembering that we are the crowds. Being a runner, or a frequent trail user does not give you any additional privilege compared to a first-time user. Rather, it gives you the tools and responsibility to practice good communication and trail stewardship. Trails are shared spaces, and everyone should feel welcome for safe, outdoor activity. 

Remember, you can’t catch the coronavirus from a smile, and it’s important to be friendly and wave as we share the trails. We’re in this together, let’s support each other out on the trails. 

 

Zoë Rom is Assistant Editor at Trail Runner , host of the DNF Podcast and a trail running coachShe enjoys podcasts and pizza. 

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Streaker
Streaker
8 months ago

Good article. I’m not sure about lecturing people on a trail about the rules of social distancing. That could lead to problems:
https://www.aspentimes.com/news/coronavirus-stress-leads-aspen-man-to-cough-in-womans-face/?__vfz=medium%3Dstandalone_top_pages

John Bryan
John Bryan
8 months ago

My biggest issue with the increase in trail users due to the COVID19 crisis is the same as before the crisis – dog owners. Please, please, please leash your dog and clean up after it! If I had a buck for every time the owner of an unleashed dog explained to me “he/she is really friendly!” seconds before the dog displayed territorial/aggressive behavior I could stock up on black market TP! I keep my pepper spray handy and a (I’m sure pained) smile on my face. Adding the extra “piles” on the trail into the equation sure doesn’t make things better either. Just because it’s a trail folks doesn’t relieve you of your doody scooping duty.

WhistlingBadger
8 months ago
Reply to  John Bryan

Hear, hear! Louder for the hikers in the back!!!

Mark
Mark
7 months ago
Reply to  John Bryan

Also, please NEVER leave a plastic bag of your dog’s “creation” on the trail. Take it with you. It is even better to just kick it off the trail than to put it in a bag. There is nobody whose job it is to clean up after the garbage you leave.

Kenyon
Kenyon
7 months ago
Reply to  Mark

Nothing angers me more than seeing a plastic bag full of dog poop on a “loop” trail. Makes no sense.

Allan Holtz
Allan Holtz
8 months ago

I disagree with the who should yield – the uphill or downhill moving person recommendation in the article. I strongly feel the uphill moving person should yield. I find it much easier to step aside going slowly uphill as opposed to having built momentum going downhill. That in fact has been the normal rule observed in any of the many trail races I have participated in.

Ridelikeagirl
Ridelikeagirl
8 months ago
Reply to  Allan Holtz

The etiquette is actually correct. Downhill may be on a sweet groove, but should yield to uphill.

Enrique
Enrique
7 months ago
Reply to  Ridelikeagirl

Per Pikes Peak Marathon etiquette, downhill runner has the right of way for matters of safety, not “sweet groove.”

Josie
7 months ago
Reply to  Allan Holtz

I live in Colorado and have been trail running and mountain biking for thirty years. I also participate in trail running and mountain bike races. Even in those races when the trails are “open” to the public and not closed due to the race we are told to always yield to pedestrians. So no one should be “racing” on open space or on public-park trails. Every trailhead has or should display a Trail Courtesy Sign, which has graphics and arrows: Bikers yield to pedestrians; pedestrians yield to horses. I always stop and move off the trail when I see a pedestrian or horse. Trail etiquette has always been that bikers YIELD to pedestrians and horses as well as yield to all uphill traffic whether horse, bike or pedestrian. I have had mountain bikers yell at me when I am trail running to “share” the trail as they are barreling down the hill, refusing to move over or yield. So to those mountain bikers who do not know what yield means: To yield means let other trail users go first, to give them the right-of-way.

Kenyon
Kenyon
7 months ago
Reply to  Allan Holtz

A hiking trail is not, in fact, a race track – but a shared public space. Racing rules have no place in the public realm – think about drivers on the street. It is only courteous to allow the person expending more effort to continue on instead of barreling down the trail with little effort … mowing them down or forcing them to the side.

Marc
Marc
8 months ago

Quite frankly, stay home. The trails that we all like use regularly are usually easily accessible and are becoming over crowded which is making it difficult to keep a physical distance. It’s forcing serious trail runners to move deeper into the backcountry. This is now becoming such a big risk as SAR’s teams are the least likely to have PPE. PLEASE, the risks are too great at this time. The main focus as explained by Health Officials, stay home, self isolate. If you have to go out for the important life sustaining necessities (and that’s not Trail Running folks), practice physical distancing and wash your hands for at least 30 seconds often.

Our goal should be is to get this pandemic to flat-line and then see it decrease in infections. So I am saying, that this article can wait until there is a decrease in mass infections and Health Officials say that it’s okay to start spending more time outdoors. Just my 2 cents.

Josie
7 months ago

I live in Colorado and have been trail running and mountain biking for thirty years. I also participate in trail running and mountain bike races. Even in those races when the trails are “open” to the public and not closed due to the race we are told to always yield to pedestrians. So no one should be “racing” on open space or on public-park trails. Every trailhead has or should display a Trail Courtesy Sign, which has graphics and arrows: Bikers yield to pedestrians; pedestrians yield to horses. I always stop and move off the trail when I see a pedestrian or horse. Trail etiquette has always been that bikers YIELD to pedestrians and horses as well as yield to all uphill traffic whether horse, bike or pedestrian. I have had mountain bikers yell at me when I am trail running to “share” the trail as they are barreling down the hill, refusing to move over or yield. So to those mountain bikers who do not know what yield means: To yield means let other trail users go first, to give them the right-of-way.

Kelly
Kelly
7 months ago

Great article-thanks!

Enrique
Enrique
7 months ago

Sorry, but having just encountered a downhill situation today, I can’t let this bogus advice go. “Typically, hikers should yield to trail runners and downhill traffic should typically yield to uphill traffic (the thinking here is that it’s less cumbersome to stop moving downhill than it is to pause while you’re hustling up).”

I don’t know in what world it is less cumbersome to stop running downhill, compared to sidestepping while trudging uphill. Sounds like something a city runner would suppose, without having stepped on a mountain trail.

RICHARD ADAMD
RICHARD ADAMD
7 months ago

Running is NOT a “privilege” It is a right. Our constitution = “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” That is RUNING!!

 

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