First thing that a person should learn and keep in mind if he/she plans to engage in any activity or sports is to know the rules, regulations and the etiquette that go with it. Rules and Regulations are there to ensure orderliness and safety for everyone. Etiquette, whether they are written or not, are accepted norms which translate to good manners and courtesy among a group of individuals which encourages discipline and respect to one another.
In trail running or hiking the trail, a person’s etiquette gives some impact to himself, to others who are using the trail, and in general, to the preservation of the beauty of nature, the outdoors and our surroundings. If you know and apply etiquette on the trails, it is a reflection of who you are and the attitude you show to other persons and to the nature around you. In a broader aspect, you also try to maintain or preserve the nature around you.
For the past days, I’ve been reviewing my blog posts and trying to see if I was able to post a list of etiquette for persons using the trails. I found out that I simply made a link to a website where a Trail Etiquette was listed but that link is no longer available nowadays. So, it gave me the idea to come up with a list of Good Manners to observe while enjoying the trails so that anybody would have a reference or as a reminder. Most of the list of etiquette I will be posting are generally accepted practices but there will be some which are also emphasized for the local (Pinoy trail runners/hikers) to ponder and apply due to our culture and traditions in the locality/area.
- Strictly adhere to “Leave No Trace” Principle——This is the “umbrella” practice that should be strictly observed which covers almost all the detailed etiquette in the outdoors. It does not simply mean that you should dispose your waste properly but it should also mean that one should plan ahead and prepare properly before hitting the trails; do your running/hiking on established and durable surfaces; leave whatever thing/s you see or find along the route; respect the wildlife, whether they are plants or animals; and always be considerate and courteous of other visitors or co-users of the trail. In essence, do not alter or disturb the “cycle of nature” in the mountains, forests, and outdoors. Always consider yourself as a “guest or visitor” of the outdoors and you should stop the practice of getting “pasalubong” or gift for your friends or souvenirs for your collection or getting a physical evidence to brag about. A “selfie” picture with nature speaks a thousand words of appreciation or envy from your friends!
2. Stay On Marked And Established Trails——In the Philippines, most of the established trails were made by our tribal ancestors which they repeatedly used in “foraging” or hunting for food. Later, these trails were extended when they explore and expand their reach to other territories and lands or when they transfer from one place to another due to survival from the elements, wildlife, or from other tribes or factions. Except for the established communities and villages of our Mountain People/Tribes, most of these trails are single-track that became deeper and wider due to “flash floods” or raging waters coming from the peak of the mountains during the rainy season. These trails were used during those times when our forefathers were fighting against our foreign invaders during the Spanish, American and Japanese occupation periods. Now, insurgents, bandits, and illegal settlers/loggers/miners are the ones using these trails in the unexplored mountains, deep forests, and some of the known trails in the country. It is sad to observe that most of the trails do not have any names or any markings. There is no initiative from the central government as well as from the local government to establish these trail markings. Maybe, it will take another one or two generations for these trails to be properly marked. In short, in the Philippines, it is safer to run or hike on trails which are often and usually used by the locals and tourists. If one has to make some exploration, a runner/hiker must have an appropriate land navigation/map reading skills.
3. Leave Your Itinerary To Your Parents, Relatives Or Friends——Whether you are going to the trails alone or with a friend or group of group of friends, make sure that somebody who is left behind in your home/house knows your itinerary. Let him/her know how many hours or days you will be in the outdoors and if possible, provide an information on the expected time of the day that you will be arriving back in your house. In this age of Internet and fast communication or GPS technology, it would be easy to communicate to your loved ones through mobile cellphone connections or through the Social Media. In a group of hikers/runners, it is mandatory that at least one among the group is very familiar on the trail systems in the area who will be automatically designated as the official guide of the group. If not, get a local guide at the nearest barangay where the trailhead is located. In the Philippines, it is mandatory to inform the Barangay Captain or village chief or his/her designated representative of your presence in the area. Most of the barangays have a registry or logbook/journal where each of the visitors are required to sign in upon their entry to any of the trail system in the area. It is also a part of the protocol to inform the Barangay upon your exit from the area.
4. Weather Forecast Means Everything——Whether it is sunny or with a chance of rain or thunderstorms, one must be able to prepare for any eventuality or contingency that may arise as a result of the situation. When it is sunny or dry, one has to prepare for hydration and appropriate nutrition. Depending on your rate of sweating (as per experience) you can determine the volume of water that you will be bringing with you. If you have planned for your route and know of sources of potable along the way, you can at least arrange for the proper re-supply of your hydration needs. In case of chance of thunderstorm, decide properly if you intend to push through or not with your outdoor activity, most specially if the place where you are heading is under the Area of Influence of the rain or thunderstorm. In crossing rivers and streams during thunderstorm, it is better not to cross the river and decide to look for a higher ground and establish your camp or look for a nearby village where you can rest and wait for a better weather condition. If you are with a group of trekkers/backpackers, make sure to always bring a considerable length of rope which could be used in crossing rivers. If you plan to be in a place where there is an occurrence of daily rain or thunderstorm, a water-proof jacket is a must in ones pack. Bottomline, do not fight with nature, it always win in the end!
5. Stay On Switchbacks——This is related to #2. It is with ease, comfort and feeling of being relaxed to be running and hiking a switchback towards the top/peak of a mountain. It is more energy-sapping and mind-breaking to be slogging it out on a direct, assault and steep trail towards the peak as compared to going along a switchback. However, on the way back from the peak to the foot of the mountain, it is very tempting to cut the switchbacks and take the direct route down the mountain taking advantage of one’s gravity/weight and this is where most of the violations occur. Aside from altering the landscape of the mountain and creating a footpath for others to follow, it will also have a great impact on one’s knees and quads to be overworked and stressed due to heavier load on the downward motion of the body. These additional paths due to making shortcuts on switchbacks will ultimately become another trail in due time and ultimately, the starting point of erosions during flash floods or heavy rains.
6. Warn & Say Something Before Passing A Runner/Hiker——If you intend to pass a slower runner or hiker on the trail, make a distinct sound to warn that you are behind the person. The sound could be a “fake cough”, a “tweet” sound from your lips, or a sound from the pounding of your feet on the ground. or a simple clapping of your hands. Once you are few feet or “hearing distance” from the back of the person, you can say that you are passing him/her on the left or right. Simply say, “On Your Left” if you are passing him/her on the left or “On Your Right” if you are passing on the right. If the person would stand aside or give way for you to pass, don’t forget to say “Thank You” or “See You Later On The Trail” just to be polite and very encouraging to the runner that somewhere along the trail, the person whom you passed will be able to catch you. If you are meeting somebody head on along the trail, the slower one should step aside from the trail and give way to the faster runner. This is best exemplified if the faster runner is going downhill on a single-track trail while the slower person is going uphill. Don’t try to impede or distract the speed and momentum of a faster runner you meet on a trail. Also, It is customary to greet anybody whom you meet along the trail with simple greetings of “Good Morning”, “Good Afternoon”, “You’re looking great”, or simply say, “Good Job”. It is best if you say such greetings with a smile! If you can’t speak, just simply nod or wave your hand with a smile to the other runner/hiker.
7. Know The Capacity Of The Trail——If you are a Race Organizer, you should know the Capacity of the Trail or the number of persons that could pass or use the trail without causing any damage, erosion, or that will cause the widening of the trail or establishing another new parallel trail from the old one. If the trail is single-track, make sure that the runners are spaced on a single file in running/hiking through it. Have a good judgement in conducting a trail running event if the trail can accommodate more than 100-300 runners without endangering the original condition of the trail. In my observation in the Philippines, trail running events shorter than a marathon distance with hundreds of participants is not “healthy” to the preservation of our trails, most specially of the event is held during the rainy season/months.
8. Expect To Be A Dirty Trail Runner——Expect a lot of dirt, dust, mud, debris, and skin scratches in a trail running event. It is a given fact that a clean runner at the start will become the dirtiest and most obnoxious runner at the finish line. This is true in the country due to our extended rainy season/monsoon rains and the presence of stream and river crossings. To add to the dirt & mud, we have a lot of leeches, snakes, mosquitoes, ants, ticks/biting insects and sharp grasses & thorny bushes in our mountains and forests. If you are a victim of leech-attacks, expect to have your blood to be flowing on your body. If you fall on slippery and muddy trails, expect your shorts and shirts to be dirty and your butt to be full of bruises. However, there is always a chance to come out clean if the trail passes through a flowing stream or river where one would have a dip and a chance to wash the dirt and mud from ones apparel or body.
10. Unload Your Body Wastes Properly——I am already an expert in urinating while I am trotting or jogging on the trail provided nobody is around to see me doing it. As for the ladies, it takes a lot of guts for them to pee on their tights while running. As practiced by many, a person would look for a place where he/she could hide while urinating in about some distance from the trail and this is a good practice for everybody. However, if the time on how fast one can do it will be considered, there are a lot of techniques that one could follow to pee efficiently. These techniques are efficiently done if one is using the traditional running shorts. For men, one way to do it is to pull down the front waistband of the shorts and bring out ones “thing” and let the urine flow. The other way is to pull the inseams of the shorts (bottom of the shorts) inward and let ones “thing” out of the panty-liner of the shorts and allow the urine to flow. If you want to be nearer to the ground, you can take a “lunge” position or kneel to the ground while peeing. For the ladies, it is fast for them to bring down their shorts as they squat nearer to the ground and once the shorts is clear from the flow of urine, their problem is solved. The other way is for them is to grab and stretch the inseam of their shorts while they squat nearer to the ground until there is no impediment as to the flow of their urine. If these techniques are put into practice during training, there will be lesser time to be wasted during the race. For the more difficult task of taking a crap on the trail, it is either you do it in the Aid Station (if there is a facility) or do it along the route but it should be far enough that the smell of your crap & fart would not affect the breathing of the other runners passing the place where you take your crap. You can prepare a shallow hole or depression on the ground where you can “shoot” your crap and then cover it with soil, debris, dry leaves, or anything that you could see on the ground. Make sure to bring your toilet paper or used “wet wipes” with you for disposal at the next Aid Station. If there is a stream or river along the trail or near the trail, it is the best option to relieve yourself on the water and let the flowing water clean your butt!
11. Of Burps, Farts, and Vomits——Whether you are a casual or serious trail runner, hiker or outdoors lover, you will not miss having some GI (gastro-intestinal issues) due to what we are eating or drinking during our activity. Drinking carbonated liquid or sodas results in burping, as always. Last year after one of the many treks to the peak of Mt Baden-Powell in Wrightwood, California, I immediately drank one can of ice cold Coca-Cola from my Ice Chest at the back of my car parked at Vincent Gap and took a sit at the baggage compartment. In a few seconds, I had the loudest burp in my life that it created an echo within the parking area. A lady who was fixing her things in her car after coming from the mountain had an immediate reply to the sound by saying, “I heard that!” I immediately replied, “I am sorry!”. She was laughing and brought out her arm with a thumb’s-up sign! If you are in a company of other runner or hikers, you can burp while covering your mouth with your buff or hands and if you can not control the sound, just release the sound and then say that you are sorry. Farts or farting on the other hand are totally different matter or situation that could be dealt with properly with “class” or proper demeanor. Whether your fart has sound or not, you must step aside from the group or go behind the group but make sure that nobody is behind you when you release the air! If you can not control the release of the air, you can alert the group that a “good fart” is coming! It is best to accept that you are the source of the “bad air” if you are the “silent-type” of hiker/trail runner. You can also jokingly say that you stepped on a frog or you can create a loud sound while doing your fart. As for vomits, simply step aside from the group and the trail and let your “food burst” come out of your stomach and mouth. There is no harm with nature if you just leave what you vomit on the trail, the liquid form will be absorbed by the ground while your digested food will be devoured by the insects and/or animals around the forest/mountain.
12. Be Courteous To Others——In the country, while in the mountains, you will encounter locals in the area who are involved in farming/“kaingin”; illegal loggers; charcoal makers; hunters; other hikers/backpackers; firewood gatherers; armed security guards in private areas; patrolling soldiers or policemen; or if you are lucky, you can meet also armed insurgents or bandits. It is for this reason why one has to register at the nearest barangay hall (local government unit in the area) where the trailhead is located upon arrival and then upon departure from the area. The best way to deal with these people is to greet them and communicate with them briefly by telling them that you are a visitor in the area and that you want to share the use of the said trail. Talk to them nicely with respect and good intention. In other countries, you could meet bird watchers; painters; photographers; equestrians; shepherds; mountain bikers/cyclists; hikers/backpackers/campers; rock climbers; and other outdoorsmen. Simply greet them if they are on your way or pass them with “Good Morning”, “Good Afternoon”, “Have a good day”, or “Good Job”.
13. Right Of Way——In other countries, there are trail markings that states who has the right of way. These trail markings could be seen in most of the Parks in the United States and in other countries which is depicted in a triangle which says that a Hiker gives way to an Equestrian; a Cyclist gives way to a Hiker and an Equestrian. However, there are also trails that are exclusively for Hikers Only.
14. Follow The Rules——In countries where I have visited, like Hongkong, Taiwan, Singapore, and the United States, the use of the trails is FREE but each user is responsible to strictly follow the rules stated in the trailheads. If there are no rules/regulations posted in the trailheads or in the Park Stations, “common sense” and good manners is the way to go for you to enjoy the outdoors. In the United States, there are Parks within the City and populated areas which are FREE but one should be able to park his/her car on designated parking areas or street curbs without red or yellow paint (No Parking areas). In Mountain Parks, there is a need for a Permit or Pass which is displayed on the Dashboard if one needs to park his/her car/vehicle in the trailhead/Park Station. Such permit/pass is called “Adventure Pass” (California) which is worth $5.00 for a single day-use or $35.00 for One Year to any of these Mountain Parks. In higher elevation mountain parks, one has to make a request for a schedule of visit in the park through On Line or e-mail on the Park’s Website. Such request is efficiently answered if your request is approved or denied. Just the same, always bring with you your Adventure Pass.
15. Help & Give Back Something To Others-—In my exposure to trail races abroad and in the company of trail runners, I have observed that they stop and ask the condition of a runner who is on the side of the trail resting or simply sitting. In one of my races abroad, I have experienced tripping with my knees and arms landing on the ground. The runner behind me immediately stopped behind me and asked if I am okey and if I am hurt. I immediately forced myself to stand with his help and answered him that I was alright. Whenever I stop at the Aid Stations, I would be greeted by my FB/Ultra running friends and ask what I need to eat or ask if I need a refill to my hydration bottles. If I am being passed along the route, they would leave me with encouraging words like, “You got this!”, “See you at the next Aid Station”, “You are looking good and still strong”, or “See you at the Finish Line”. One time in a mountain race, I saw a pack of unused Amino Acid Liquid Mix and a Power Bar on the ground which I think was dropped from the pack of a runner ahead of me. Since there was no runner within my sight, I picked it up with the intention of leaving it in the next Aid Station. However, after trotting for about 15 minutes, I saw a runner ahead of me and asked him if he dropped the said liquid mix and he said “No”. So, I offered him to have the liquid pack and the energy bar since I observed that he was walking along the trail. He accepted the offer and thanked me. He said, “This is why I love this sports, runners take care with each other!” And I replied, “You are right, my friend!” There are so many ways for these ultra runners to give back something to the community. They volunteer as support crew and/or pacer to other runners new to the sports; they serve as marshals or personnel in the Aid Stations in Races; they help in the marking of the trail as well as in collecting these trail markings after the race; they also act “sweepers” for the last runner and race; they also provide HAM Radio Communication for the event; and volunteer as “cooks” for the food served at the Finish Line. What is good about these ultra runners is that they BLOG about their detailed experiences whenever they finish or do not finish their race. I think this is the only sports where the elite, average, and “back of the pack” runners SHARE their experiences through a blog on their training, nutrition, racing strategy & techniques, and racing experiences.
Always remember, be good to nature and nature, in return, will be good to you! Everything about etiquette is COURTESY & COMMON SENSE.