Hiking Etiquette in the Time of Social Distancing

hiker practices social distancing on the trail during COVID-19

April 01, 2020

For outdoor lovers, sheltering in place is something we like to do in a tent, on a mountain, for one or two nights at a time.  Quarantine isn't exactly our cup of camp coffee.  Luckily, many states still have hiking trails open to the public during COVID-19 (for the full list of national and state park closures click here).  What better way to get out of the house for some socially distant exercise than a hike?  But before you hop in the car and jet to the trailhead, make sure you know the social distancing trial etiquette needed to keep yourself and your fellow hikers safe and healthy.

#1: Don’t hike if you or a loved one is sick!

This might sound obvious but even if you think you “just have a cold”, you don’t want to be that person who gets someone else sick (regardless of COVID-19).  Wait and rest up until you’re fully recovered before hitting the trails.  This includes people who know they’ve come into contact with a COVID-19-positive person.  The incubation period before one shows symptoms can be up to 14 days!  Even if you don’t show symptoms, you could still be a carrier and put others at risk.  Although we are all going a bit stir-crazy staying inside all day, it is important for all of us to do our part to flatten the curve.  While you’re waiting out your isolation, live vicariously through others by binge-watching some outdoor adventure docs.  Could be worse, right?

#2: If you do hit the trails, stay 6 feet from other hikers.

Everyone says “stay six feet apart” but what does that really mean?  Two yards. 72 inches.  Maybe spacial distance isn’t your strong suit.  To help conceptualize this distance while on the trail, here are a few examples of what 6 feet looks like:

  • 2 extended trekking poles
  • 1 and a half shopping carts
  • 3 paces (steps)
  • The width of your car
  • A moose's antlers
  • 2 golden retrievers nose to nose

To keep it simple, hold out your extended trekking poles on either side of you.  That’s your bubble.

hiker practices social distancing trail etiquette during COVID-19

#3: Stay Local.

You might be asking yourself “why do I have to stay local? Wouldn’t it be less crowded to get out of town?”.  Chances are, if you’re thinking this, everyone is thinking this!  It is important to stay local to reduce the potential spread of the virus and protect isolated, vulnerable communities.  Often, the towns where trails are located are smaller, more rural, and have fewer resources to fight the virus if they were to have a rapid outbreak of COVID-19.  Be responsible and help keep these communities safe.  You never know if you are asymptomatic or not!  Better safe than sorry.

#4: Check your local parks/trails to make sure they’re open.

Due to several state-wide shelter-in-place orders as well as a national declaration of maintaining social distancing until April 30th, some locations might be closed off to the public.  Before heading out, make sure to check if the trail you want to hike is open.  It would be a bummer to drive all the way there just to get turned around.  And, if a park or rec area is closed, please respect the closure. Not only could you be fined for disregarding it, but you might also encourage others to follow suit, harming our progress in flattening the curve.  Remember, they’re closed for a reason and the sooner we flatten the curve, the sooner we can get back out there! 

To find out if a park is closed, check our blog on national park and state park closures related to COVID-19

hiker practicing social distancing on a trail in Moab

#5: Pack it in & Pack it out.

We can’t overstate this one.  If you are going to an outdoor recreation area that is indeed open and you believe that you can practice safe social distancing rules, make sure to pack any food and supplies you’ll need for the day.  Gas up near your home and make sure to pack out everything, especially if facilities are limited, you may not have waste disposal on-site at the parks.  By not patronizing gas stations, restaurants and other facilities near these remote areas, we can protect the nearby communities.

#6: Don’t take unnecessary risks.

This should go without saying but our emergency responders are exceptionally busy right now, handling the COVID-19 pandemic.  That means search and rescue missions are delayed.  And the last place you want to be right now is a hospital.  If you intend to hit an open trail, please be careful and do not take unnecessary risks that might require EMS or SAR to come and help you.  Being rescued requires a lot of personnel in close quarters, increasing the risk for transmission as well as pulling some of them off the frontlines of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Have fun, be safe and #keepontrekking!

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