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Trail Soft Skills: Have You Got Them?

Posted by Kindra at Nov 10, 2017 12:05 PM |

Because there are people in nature here are some tips to help you interact effectively and harmoniously with other hikers.

How to read a map, how to filter water and the best way to cross a stream—these technical skills help to keep you found and safe when exploring the backcountry. However, just like life in general, there are also some soft skills that can make interactions with your fellow hikers a little easier.

A helpful hand keeps a hiker from a wet landing!  by Mike Warren
It doesn't matter if you are out for the afternoon or for a week: being able to easily communicate your skill level and concerns with your hiking partners is key to keeping your group safe and happy during your adventures together. Photo by Mike Warren

Group Decision-making 

Good communication with your hiking companions is key not only for a fun day, but also ensures everyone's safety and comfort. Before you start your day, discuss the goals of the trip and note if anyone has any concerns or potential limitations. It is important to have clear systems for communicating everyone’s comfort level with a hike at various points during the day. 

A good guiding principle is that any member of your party can call off the trip if they are not comfortable continuing. Make this an intentional choice at every crossroad—a fork in the trail, a change in terrain, at a stream crossing. You want the consensus of the whole group to continue forward.

Here are some tips to guide the conversation:

  1. Talk through the scenario and options.
  2. Everyone should assess their skills, ability and frame of mind. 
  3. Speak up if there is something you are unsure about. Your job is to ask questions so your group can make an informed and intentional decision.
  4. No one should be  pressured to go further than they are comfortable going. 

Providing feedback on trail etiquette

Sometimes when we see another hiker on trail not abiding by the Leave No Trace principles, it may put a damper on an otherwise great day.

Mailbox on to of Mailbox Peak covered in graffiti. Photo by PNW_VGN_HKR

Seeing graffiti or litter on public lands can ruin a good day of hiking. But maybe you can make it a little better for everyone by educating the person responsible about proper trail etiquette.  Photo by PNW_VGN_HKR. 

First, it is important to remember that we were all new to hiking once and we've all had to figure out the rules and best practices over time. Here is your chance to share what you've learned with a new hiker. Giving feedback can feel uncomfortable for both sides, especially if it is unexpected.

Here are some steps to make it easier:

  1. Take a breath.
  2. Assume positive intent.
  3. Have a simple script, one that uses "I statements" and avoids accusing language. This tool can help you better express yourself and keep anxiety and emotion from entering your conversation. For example, "I think you dropped this." Or, "I wanted to let you know that ____ is against regulations, so you don’t get in trouble."
  4. Keep things chill and friendly, and don’t get sucked into an argument. Don't raise your voice, and demonstrate that you’re not going to react with anger. This allows others to respond in kind. Remember a smile goes a long way.
  5. Feeling too frustrated before you even open your mouth? Maybe choose another person or another day to give feedback.

Make any day a great day outside

Attitude is an important tool you carry with you every where you go, and how you use it can change your experience on trail. From staying positive in the rain to being grateful for a hike even if you have to turn around before your destination—you have the power to make it a good day.

Double rainbow at Artist Point. Photo by Clement Stevens

Packing a positive attitude can make any day outside a great day. Double rainbow at Artist Point. Photo by Clement Stevens

Here are a couple of tips to help keep a spring in your step regardless of what the day throws at you:

  1. Be prepared. Doing your research and having the right gear can go a long way towards keeping you safe and happy on trail.
  2. Appreciate that you were able to get outside.
  3. Recognize the small joys, like hearing a bird call or discovering a mushroom popping out of the ground.
  4. If you aren’t having a good time—ask yourself what is one good thing about being out today and focus on that.
  5. Keeping a smile on your face while hiking can actually lift your spirits make you feel even better. Plus it is an extra boost for anyone you meet on trail!  


ohia on Trail Soft Skills: Have You Got Them?

One trail-etiquette problem I've been encountering a lot lately is people who are very loud on the trail. The most annoying is when people play their music through speakers, especially in places where many people want to stop and be there for a while like summits, campsites, viewpoints, etc. Does anyone have suggestions for interventions that are both kind and also effective in changing this behavior?

Posted by:

datasaurus on Nov 19, 2017 08:46 PM

Kindra on Trail Soft Skills: Have You Got Them?

Shared campsites or summits can be challenging because people enjoy the outdoors differently. I think that the best practice here is to again, assume positive intent. The person playing music is not doing it to bother you but rather enhance their own experience. If you take a friendly approach and ask if the person is willing to put in headphones or turn down their tunes because you are trying to listen to the natural sounds I have often found they are happy to oblige.

Posted by:

Kindra on Nov 27, 2017 12:51 PM

Krishna on Trail Soft Skills: Have You Got Them?

Thanks Kendra for the words of wisdom. I know that words are very important - you can address your concerns in a constructive way and you will most likely have a very pisitive outcome. Knowing that might help but to actually come up with right words will need effort and practice. Showing empathy is key. Thanks for the article and the advice - I will try to practice this :)

Posted by:

Krishna on Aug 28, 2018 08:16 AM

SeaAnita on Trail Soft Skills: Have You Got Them?

I second the annoying music problem. I want to hear the birds, etc....not loud music. The biggest thing that annoys me, though, is off-leash dogs and people not packing out dog poop. I love dogs, but a lot of owners have no manners or common sense. A ranger once told me that they can't even tell a person that dogs aren't allowed on a trail, because of legal reasons (anyone can claim their dog is to help with a disability and they don't even have to prove it). Ok...just realized that I'm on a rant now. So, thank you to the dog owners who are mindful and follow the rules. I do enjoy stopping and interacting with well behaved dogs.

Posted by:

SeaAnita on Aug 28, 2018 09:42 AM

Bloodmooongrizzly2 on Trail Soft Skills: Have You Got Them?

Addressing the loud music. Thankfully these type of people are not typical trail users and the problem has been an issue for a long time since like the first portable Transceiver came around which later become the boombox. I found the best you can do is ask them if the could turn the music down. If they won't just go on your way no since in getting into a pointless argument over it cause not matter what they will always be right and you will be wrong. I speak from experience with that one almost ended with one of is jail. Yes Most of us hike to get away from the Electronics bullsnot, some people can't ever unplug and well if there is dangerous wildlife in the area who do you think is going to be dinner first. I've never been to mailbox point and it looks interesting i keep a bottle of Goof off graffiti remover stuff is awesome, removes ink, and spray paint even sharpie marks with out doing damage or little damage of paints under it. I shared this info with Utah's Park ranger when someone went out there and tagged rocks, they loved it. I can't count the number of gang banger tags i've removed for signs. If we don't clean this crap up they just keep adding on to it. Just as much as anyone else i hate cleaning up someones elses crap but sometimes you just gotta do it.

Posted by:

Bloodmooongrizzly2 on Mar 18, 2019 10:10 PM