Trail Soft Skills: Have You Got Them?
Because there are people in nature here are some tips to help you interact effectively and harmoniously with other hikers.
How to read a map, how to filter water and the best way to cross a stream—these technical skills help to keep you found and safe when exploring the backcountry. However, just like life in general, there are also some soft skills that can make interactions with your fellow hikers a little easier.
Good communication with your hiking companions is key not only for a fun day, but also ensures everyone's safety and comfort. Before you start your day, discuss the goals of the trip and note if anyone has any concerns or potential limitations. It is important to have clear systems for communicating everyone’s comfort level with a hike at various points during the day.
A good guiding principle is that any member of your party can call off the trip if they are not comfortable continuing. Make this an intentional choice at every crossroad—a fork in the trail, a change in terrain, at a stream crossing. You want the consensus of the whole group to continue forward.
Here are some tips to guide the conversation:
- Talk through the scenario and options.
- Everyone should assess their skills, ability and frame of mind.
- Speak up if there is something you are unsure about. Your job is to ask questions so your group can make an informed and intentional decision.
- No one should be pressured to go further than they are comfortable going.
Providing feedback on trail etiquette
Sometimes when we see another hiker on trail not abiding by the Leave No Trace principles, it may put a damper on an otherwise great day.
First, it is important to remember that we were all new to hiking once and we've all had to figure out the rules and best practices over time. Here is your chance to share what you've learned with a new hiker. Giving feedback can feel uncomfortable for both sides, especially if it is unexpected.
Here are some steps to make it easier:
- Take a breath.
- Assume positive intent.
- Have a simple script, one that uses "I statements" and avoids accusing language. This tool can help you better express yourself and keep anxiety and emotion from entering your conversation. For example, "I think you dropped this." Or, "I wanted to let you know that ____ is against regulations, so you don’t get in trouble."
- Keep things chill and friendly, and don’t get sucked into an argument. Don't raise your voice, and demonstrate that you’re not going to react with anger. This allows others to respond in kind. Remember a smile goes a long way.
- Feeling too frustrated before you even open your mouth? Maybe choose another person or another day to give feedback.
Make any day a great day outside
Attitude is an important tool you carry with you every where you go, and how you use it can change your experience on trail. From staying positive in the rain to being grateful for a hike even if you have to turn around before your destination—you have the power to make it a good day.
Here are a couple of tips to help keep a spring in your step regardless of what the day throws at you:
- Be prepared. Doing your research and having the right gear can go a long way towards keeping you safe and happy on trail.
- Appreciate that you were able to get outside.
- Recognize the small joys, like hearing a bird call or discovering a mushroom popping out of the ground.
- If you aren’t having a good time—ask yourself what is one good thing about being out today and focus on that.
- Keeping a smile on your face while hiking can actually lift your spirits make you feel even better. Plus it is an extra boost for anyone you meet on trail!