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#AboutTrail Episode 9: Etiquette on the Trails

Being able to experience freedom on trails, submerge yourself in nature and explore wild and wonderful places on foot are the reasons most of us trail run. From cold misty winter mornings scrambling up mountain sides, to lazy summer evenings catching the last rays of sun, trail running is a truly magical way to connect to the earth and to nature. “Trail running is about natural beauty and stunning views,” agrees Modern Athlete Editor and event commentator, Sean Falconer, “so make sure you stop now and again, or at least slow down, to look around and enjoy the view.” Many trail runners are unaware that the view and natural beauty might not be around if we, as a group, don’t look after our trails. By abiding to basic trail etiquette not only will you be setting a great example of how to behave out on the trails, you’ll also be preserving them for future generations of avid explorers.

Safety on the trails

Taking safety precautions on the trails not only ensures your personal safety, it also keeps the sport relatively drama free, which helps to minimise the opportunities nay sayers may take to shut it down or deny access to beautiful trails. The Visitor Safety Unit at SANPARKS provided these helpful tips for staying safe on the trails.

  • Keep hydrated by carrying enough water – always take more than you think you’ll need
  • Wear the correct hiking gear and shoes, especially in colder weather
  • Don’t carry any valuables like cash, large cameras, iPads, etc, to avoid being a target
  • Only trail run or hike during daylight hours
  • Avoid running or hiking alone
  • Never leave home without telling at least one person where you’re heading and you planned route
  • If you run with a phone, programme the Table Mountain National Park Emergency numbers into your cellphone and save them as favourites

Stay on the trails

It sounds unnecessary to say it out loud, but staying on the trails is important to preserving the wear and tear of them, which will thus keep them around for longer. Simply put, if you decide to take short cuts or make your own path, you’ll do damage to the natural vegetation and cause problems for the future. “Wondering off designated trail routes poses threats to the natural environment such as erosion to existing trails,” cautions Tarcia Hendricks, the PR Officer of the Western Cape division of SANPARKS. By staying on trails and having a positive attitude about it, you can set an example for fellow runners to do the same. “If all trail runners and mountain enthusiasts became active ambassadors who relay this ethos to others, the trails would be far better off,” says organiser of Ultra Trail Cape Town, Nic Bornman.

Keep the trails clean

Ask Sean Falconer what he thinks trail etiquette is all about and the first answer he has, is keeping them clean. “Trail running is all about getting into nature, so leave the trails the way you found them - no littering, and no damage to the trails,” he says. SANPARKS are committed to educating people about the damage litter causes and encourages all trail runners to hang onto their own rubbish, and where possible, collect anything they may see that someone else has left lying around. “By not littering and picking up other peoples’ litter you’re contributing towards preserving the environment and specifically the mountain for a safe and beautiful experience for all,” says Hendricks.

Be friendly on the trails

Protecting and keeping the trails clean is important, but what about your fellow mountain users and how to treat them? “If you come across other runners or walkers on the mountain, always be polite: smile and greet them. Keep your eyes open and move aside when you can and thank those that get out of your way for you,” says physiotherapist Iain Sykes. A smile or greeting will go a long way, and maintaining a friendly, happy vibe on the mountains is as important as being safe and cleaning up your rubbish. The trails are available for all to use, dogs, cyclists, hikers and runners, and if we all fail to get along that availability may cease to exist.

Keep left pass right

While it may seem obvious, there is an unspoken ‘overtaking rule” worth mentioning. When someone catches up to you, always step aside and allow them to pass. If you want to overtake someone that may not know of this rule, ask them politely to move over when an opportunity arises. Never push past anyone on the trail, as you could put them in a dangerous situation. You have to be patient, calm and friendly. On that note, “if you are running on narrow trails or single-track with earphones in, turn the volume down or wear just one earbud, so that you can hear faster runners coming or asking to pass,” suggests Falconer.


Respect the mountain

Finally, it goes without saying that you must respect the mountain. In fact, if you can center your etiquette around that word, you’ll be fine. Respect the trails, respect nature and respect your fellow runners and hikers. “If you respect the people and trails you run on, your behavior will match,” says ultra-trail runner Armand du Plessis. Like anything in life, if you fail to respect it, you may end up losing it! Staying safe on the mountain is as important as behaving properly. Catch the latest #AboutTrail video where Rik de Decker of the Mountain Club of South Africa gives expert tips on how to stay safe on the trails.