The most basic and important rule with hiking is to ‘leave no trace’, which is the main principle of the UK Countryside Code. This means that you must take every precaution not to damage or alter the environment you travel through. For instance, it is not acceptable to light a huge fire on private or protected land.

When two groups of hikers meet on a steep trail, often the group moving uphill has the right-of-way or, in other situations, the larger of the two groups should give way to the smaller. This principle is generally adhered to in order to avoid conflict.

Hiking in a group increases personal and group safety, but hikers generally hike at different rates. It is important to keep to a comfortable walking pace to reduce the risk of injury or fatigue. Often a group will encourage the slowest hiker to hike in the lead and have everyone match that speed, or an experienced hiker will keep to the rear to make sure no one gets separated or lost.

Hikers should avoid making noise unless they are in danger, so all walkers can enjoy the peace of their surroundings. It is also safer and kinder to the surrounding wildlife not to make loud or sudden noises.

If you have to open a gate, be sure to close it after you and, if you are crossing fields, stick to the pathways along the edges where possible. Don’t trample the farmer’s crops unless an animal is chasing you and you need to take the quickest route out of the field! See the noise guidelines above and you should be fine though.

Hikers must avoid trespassing on private land without prior permission. Therefore, they should stick to marked routes and always take a map to avoid accidental trespass. It is dangerous to wander into private woods or farm land, particularly during hunting season!

If a hiker encounters an obstacle such as a low branch or patch of nettles, they should warn other hikers in the group or nearby, particularly if the branch is going to snap back. If the branch is particularly thorny or hazardous to other walkers, it is acceptable to cut it back, but any damage to surrounding wildlife or vegetation is seriously discouraged otherwise.

In rural England, when two groups of walkers meet, they will always greet one another out of courtesy (either verbal or just smiles and friendly nods). To pass another group without some kind of friendly gesture is considered very rude.

Human waste can be very damaging to hikers and their environment. Bacterial contamination can be avoided by digging cat-holes 10 to 25 cm deep (4 to 10 inches) and then covering after use. Cat-holes should be dug at least 60 m (200 feet) away from water sources and trails to reduce any risk of contamination. Mark cat-holes with sticks stuck in the ground to warn other hikers about their location.

Fires should always be built in open spaces, taking care to make sure there is no material near by, such as a hedge or pile of twigs that will easily ignite. Make sure you have a pot of water nearby to put the fire out should you need to. Never build a fire around wildflowers, they could be protected species. Equally, do not build a fire near livestock or grazing animals as it will spook them.

Hikers with Dogs

Hiking with Dogs

Hiking with Dogs

Rather than travel alone or in a group, many hikers choose to bring a dog along with them. If this is the case there are extra rules to consider:

  • Check if dog hiking is allowed in the area you plan to travel to. It’s unlikely to be banned in more remote or inhospitable areas but, if you plan to go near livestock, through farmlands, fields and grazing areas, it’s worth checking beforehand.
  • Dogs are usually allowed anywhere as long as they’re kept on a leash. If you’re crossing a field of cows or sheep, your dog must be kept on a leash, particularly if he or she is a Collie!
  • Make sure you have your dog trained to respond to your call and that they wear a collar with tags at all times in case they get lost.
  • Very old dogs or dogs under the age of 14 months should not be taken on hikes as they can get extremely tired or unruly.

Trim your dogs toe nails before you go on a long walk in order to protect their feet.

  • If you are going on a long hike and your dog is wearing a pack, it cannot carry more than 1/3 of its bodyweight. Check with your dog’s vet first before you load it up!
  • Feed your dog after, not before your hike, unless of course you’re walking for more than one day. Also, bring enough water for your dog if you don’t know whether there will be reliable drinking sources available on the hike.
  • Clean up your dog’s mess. The easiest thing is to bury it in a cat hole, as you’re unlikely to find disposal bins in the countryside. Make sure to clear mess away from streams or any kind of water supply.