Building a better backpacker: six tips for town etiquette

By Kara Keiffer, PCTA P3 Hiker

During the course of a thru-hike or section hike, you’re likely going to end up in town where you’ll encounter people who don’t live outside and sleep in the dirt. Sure, you know the on-trail code of conduct — you know to yield to uphill hikers, to be respectful of your fellow hikers by hiking your own hike and are careful to keep your music quiet when others are around.

But do you know how to be an excellent ambassador for the hiking community when you’re in town? Below we’ve collected six tips that will ensure future hikers will be welcomed. A lot of these tips boil down to not taking advantage of people.

  • Remember you stink: City folk have not become accustomed to the unique scent of body odor, bologna and onions that is so pervasive among hikers. When presented with an opportunity to shower, take it. Or at the very minimum wash your hands and face.  
  • When in restaurants, use your indoor voice and tip your servers well: Just because hikers may accumulate a large bill doesn’t entitle you to act without consideration. Remember, as a thruhiker you’re a representative of the entire PCT community. Be the kind of person that restaurants will want to have back. 

  • Always ask before you light up, this goes for on the trail, too: For example, in California, it is illegal to smoke cigarettes within 20 feet of an establishment. And many trail angels don’t want you smoking in their homes.
  • Don’t download illegal content over other people’s Wifi: Not only is this stealing in the first place, but it also puts the person or establishment whose Wifi you’re using in a bad place, and in possible risk of being fined or having their service shut off. Being a thruhiker doesn’t make you an exception to any rule or common courtesy.
  • Ask before you fit extra hikers into your hotel room: Early on in Southern California, we heard reports of hotels complaining of folks paying for themselves and then cramming five other dirty hikers into the room. That’s stealing. This isn’t to say that room stacking is never allowed, but always ask first.

  • Find ways to give back to trail angels: These are people who go so far above and beyond in an effort to help hikers that we’ve literally started calling them angels. At the very minimum you need to be on your best behavior while in their homes and be meticulously clean and follow the rules. If they say no alcohol, respect that. It’s not your home. But just like the trail angel is going out of their way to help you, you can go out of your way to help them. Ask if you can help out with some chores. Showing your appreciation will never go amiss. Read the PCTA’s new guidance on trail angels and trail magic.
Kara Kieffer is one of the PCTA’s 2018 P3 hikers. For more of her writing, read her blog.

Kara Keiffer.

About Kara

Kara grew up a tomboy in Boulder, Colorado, where she spent most of her time outside collecting rocks in her overalls. On any given weekend, you can find her backpacking, climbing or running ridiculous distances up and down mountains, so much so that her friends refer to her as “an outdoor dog.” Kara later moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams in the film industry, working on Hollywood feature films, Super Bowl commercials and more. She’s now taking a little time to refresh and get back to her outdoor roots, embarking on another remarkable journey. Her mission is to help the hiking community become a better version of itself by being a voice who helps spread LNT ethics and inclusiveness for all in the community.