2 Ways Hikers Cause Damage To Trails! (4 Tips To Maintain)

How Do Hikers Cause Damage To Trails

Hiking is a great way to ease stress and enjoy the outdoors. Everyone should have an opportunity to relish nature. When you go out there, it’s important to maintain trail etiquette.

It would be nice to leave the trail in good condition so the next person will have a pleasant experience.

However, as hikers, you must know some unconscious habits that can cause damage to trails.

Hikers can damage trails by littering and ignoring switchbacks. Waste like plastic takes a long time to degrade. A pile of waste can block trails forcing hikers to take different routes. Furthermore, when hikers cut switchbacks, they can thread across weak vegetation. Doing so will weaken the soil and leave it prone to erosion.

In this article, you’ll learn how hikers can intentionally and unintentionally degrade trails. On the bright side, I’ll also highlight ways to mitigate these damages.

How Do Hikers Cause Damage To Trails?

How Do Hikers Cause Damage To Trails

One of the most common ways hikers damage trails is by walking through vegetation to cut through trail bends.

However, there are other conducts by hikers that can damage trails.

#1. Littering 

It is good practice to pick up anything you’ve dropped on a hiking trail. Food, leather bags, plastic bags, and fruit peels are some of the items that litter trails.

Dropping these items on a trail constitutes an unhealthy environment. You might think an animal might pick up your dropped food and clean up after you.

Most times, that isn’t the case; the dropped food can be left untouched and will rot. Rotten food produces foul smells that are repulsive to others. 

Hikers go out to enjoy the wild and its natural smell. Imagine a trail where you pick up this smell every five meters. 

It would cause someone to abandon the trail and tread across vegetation. Also, a littered environment is an unpleasant sight. 

No one wants to see waste at every turn when hiking. If hikers keep littering trails, these little wastes will pile up.

Littering trails puts hikers off from using trails. This pile can eventually block a trail, causing others to reroute. These reroutes can deteriorate soil structure and cause erosion.

An erosion close to a trail means the trail will eventually wash off. For this reason, littering is a major cause of trail damage.

#2. Switchbacks and Mud

A switchback is where the trail features a sharp turn around a tree, rock, or vegetation. Not everyone likes taking a long route, especially if they see a place to walk across.

A hiker might encounter switchbacks and walk across vegetation to beat the long trail. 

This practice has adverse effects since repeated steps through the vegetation will deteriorate soil structure.

Most trail designs recognize the sensitivity of the soil. A trail might have a sharp turn even when there’s an open field ahead.

This design is deliberate because the soil there might be too delicate and unsuitable for repeated threading.

The switchback is essential to preserve the area’s rigidity; therefore, cutting through can have adverse effects.

Also, sometimes a trail might get muddy due to rain. Hikers might find a different path to avoid the mud and not soil their boots or sneakers. 

This new pathway can be a channel for water flow and cause the eventual wearing away of the soil.

How Can Hikers Reduce Trail Damage?

It is the responsibility of each hiker to ensure that the next hiker finds a good trail. The following simple acts by hikers can go a long way to lessen trail damage.

#1. Keep Food In Refillable Containers

You can use refillable containers to store food. This act will stop you from unconsciously discarding the container along the trail. 

Ensure that you bring a container that you can reuse after the hike. It will help if you don’t have to throw away food containers. 

Also, you can decide to avoid bringing along plastic containers. If food is in plastic packaging, turn the food into a reusable pack. 

The table below will help you pick containers to use for your food.

Container Food 
Silicone bagsVegetables, lunch ingredients, and nibbles
Hydration packWater and other liquids
Beeswax wrappingSnacks 

#2. Collect Your Refuse

It’s best to avoid bringing anything that might become rubbish/refuse on a hike. However, this practice could be challenging.

If you have rubbish during your hike, you must prepare to collect it. For instance, you can come with a trash bag

If there’s a buildup of refuse, you can put it in the bag. Refuse can be snack packaging or energy drink packs. Dump any packaging into the trash bag. 

At the end of the hike, you’ll dispose of the bag properly. One way to avoid building up trash is by making homemade snacks.

This way, you’ll find convenient snack packaging, and you won’t have to deal with refuse.

#3. Maintain the Trail

Hikers need to maintain the trail as long as it’s passable. It’s not advisable to create shortcuts or walk through undesignated areas. 

Sometimes the trail can get muddy, which causes hikers to wander off. Nonetheless, with the proper footwear, you don’t have to dodge the mud on the trail.

There are waterproof footwears that can tread in mud and remain intact. Ensure that you maintain the trail during hiking.

#4. Watch Your Pets

Pets serve as wonderful companions on a hike; however, they can contribute to trail damage. A pet defecating along the trail will make people abandon it.

No one wants to be greeted by fecal waste after every step on the trail. If you need your pet with you, ensure that you come with a leash.

This way, you’ll ensure that the dog doesn’t wander off to defecate along the trail. Furthermore, bring a poop bag with you.

Since you can’t control how your pet defecates, you must learn to pack up the excreta. This practice will ensure the trail is free from foul smells and won’t put off hikers.

4 Tips For Hiking Trail Maintenance

As a hiker, you can always do your part to maintain trails and leave them in good condition. The following tips can help maintain trail structure.

#1. Report Trail Obstructions

As much as hikers cause trail damage, other factors also contribute. Hikers can find obstructions on the hiking trail when passing through.

The obstruction could be;

  • A dropped tree or branch.
  • A wild animal roaming within the trail vicinity.
  • A dead animal on the trail.

You might find any of the above on your journey. These situations can cause hikers to take another route during their hike.

Therefore, you must report any obstruction you find. It isn’t advisable to try fixing any of these issues yourself. You must report it to the agency managing the trial.

These agencies sometimes oversee large areas. They might not have enough boots on the ground to inspect trails. 

Therefore, your report and input will go a long way in ensuring passable trails. 

#2. Volunteer In a Trail Agency

Trail agencies have resources for trail maintenance. You can volunteer in any such agencies to add to their efforts. 

These organizations will give you tips on how to preserve trails. They’ll also have better means of maintaining the trail.

You can pass on whatever you learn from them to your hiker friends. Joining trail associations helps foster trail etiquette.

#3. Stay On Course

This practice is one of the best ways to maintain trail structure and mostly applies to bikers. If you’re using a mountain bike or bicycle, ensure that your wheels follow the trail.

These vehicles can significantly affect the natural setting. You must be mindful when steering to keep them on track.

#4. Maintain Trail Etiquette

Trail etiquette entails proper trail use when encountering other hikers. Uphill hikers have the ‘right of way.’ 

This right means that if you’re on a downhill hike, you must step aside for uphill hikers. The assumption made is that downhill hikers have used the trail before.

When you’re coming downhill, it means you know the trail already and must give way to uphill hikers. Downhill hikers will step off the path and allow passage for uphill hikers.

Hiking uphill means you’re struggling against gravity to focus ahead. In addition, hikers have a ‘right of way’ when encountering mountain bikers.

Horse riders, however, have the right of way with hikers and bikers. Giving the horse enough room is advisable so it doesn’t harm anybody.


Damage to trails can happen simply because of littering and stepping off the trails.

Littering trails with waste can make the trail unpleasant and cause hikers to tread off it. The following are some ways you can do your part to reduce trail damage.

  • Carry a trash bin.
  • Maintain the trail.
  • Pick up any waste you see.
  • Volunteer in trail agencies.
  • Report obstructions on the trail.
Josh Matthews

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