How to Go Hiking (Responsibly) during COVID-19

Hiking is one of the few socially-distant activities you can still do during the pandemic.  But not all trails are open.  Even if the trails are open, there might be new rules or limited resources.  Plus, there’s that whole issue about wearing masks while hiking.  If you want to hike during COVID, here’s what you need to know about staying safe and not being a jerk.


Wearing Masks while Hiking

The general consensus is that you don’t need to wear a mask hiking when there is no one around you.  However, whenever you see other hikers on the trail (even if they are more than 6 feet away), you should put your mask on.

If it’s a busy trail, that might mean wearing for the entire hike.  I know that sucks, but it’s to protect other hikers from any particles you might breathe out.  Be a good person and respect other people’s health!


Trail Etiquette when Hiking during COVID

Even with a mask on, you should practice social distancing while hiking.

  • When you see other hikers approaching, move off to the side of the trail so they can pass.
  • If you want to pass a hiker in front of you, call out “passing on your left/right!” so they have time to get out of the way.
  • Choose wider trails whenever possible. This makes it easier to pass while leaving distance between you.
  • Learn about hiking right-of-way. Hikers going uphill have the right of way.


***STOP after moving off the trail!!!***

If you keep hiking while on the side of the trail, it will damage the plants around the trail.  As Matt Robins noted, some trails have been widened by 6 feet because of this!

“People step off, but they continue in an arc motion, walking through vegetation. Then the next person does the same — and because of that, we’ve seen a really significant amount of damage to the natural resources. In the spring, we really count on those shrubs and grasses to sustain through the hot summer months. But a lot of those were trampled, and we don’t know if and how they’re going to come back.


Yes, Many Hiking Trails Are Still Closed

Carefully research the place you want to go hiking to see whether it is open, partially-open, or closed.

Tip: To get the most current news when using Google,

  1. Search for “Place Name COVID”.
  2. Click on “Tools”
  3. Select “Past Week”

search for lastest covid hiking information

Stay Local

Now is not the time to go hiking in far-off places.  As I talk about in this post about camping during COVID, local “gateway” communities in remote areas often lack medical services.  Visiting these places – even if it’s just stopping to get gas along the way – puts them at risk.

As a general rule, don’t choose a hiking trail which you can’t get to and back on one tank of gas.  Don’t stop anywhere along the way.


Choose Less-Popular Trails

Popular trails are likely to be busy and it will be difficult to maintain social distancing. How do you find less popular trails?

  • Look at reviews for trails. Choose the trails with the fewest
  • Use apps like AllTrails
  • Choose trailhead located further away from the parking lot.


Be Prepared to Leave or Change Trails

If you arrive at the trail only to see it is crowded, be prepared to leave.  Or have a Plan B, like driving to another parking lot and going on a trailhead near there.


Bathrooms & Leave No Trace

A lot of park bathrooms aren’t open.  As a result, rangers are seeing a gross amount of human waste on the sides of trails.  (1, 2)

It’s disgusting, inconsiderate, and harm local ecosystems.

So how do you deal with waste if park bathrooms aren’t open?

  • Pack out pee toilet paper (or use a pee rag)
  • Bring a trowel and dig a hole at least 6 inches deep for waste and paper
  • Or use a Wag bag for waste

Pee rags like the one shown above are reusable and mean you don’t have to bury or pack out toilet paper


Pack the Right Hiking Gear

Even though they travel shorter distances, day hikers are more likely to need rescuing than backpackers.  The reason? Because many day hikers have the mentality that it will be “just a short hike” and don’t pack the appropriate just-in-case gear.

Sh*t happens when hiking.  You can sprain an ankle. Get lost. Fall off a ledge…  You might have to spend an unexpected night in the wilderness.  Even if you think this won’t happen to you, BE PREPARED.

During COVID, preparedness is even more important.  Don’t be the jerk who puts search and rescue workers at risk because they had to come look for your irresponsible ass.

Here’s a list of gear you should take on EVERY hike.



Just because you are wearing a mask and maintaining distance, it doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly with people.   Even without seeing your mouth, I’ll still see your eyes and know you are smiling. 🙂

Image credit: NPS Photo / Valerie Martin

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